Micah: Unmitigated

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Posts Tagged ‘Cuenca’

Bedtime Story

Monday, August 16th, 2010

(Editor’s note: I have gotten a little bored of my normal format and will try some different things. I hope to at least entertain myself. Thanks)

There are a few stories out here on the backpacker trail, you kind of need to sort through them and decide which is real and which is legend. The one that intrigues me the most, is about a man working his way down from Colombia to Bolivia. He is known only by the name of “Micah” and despite just a few confirmed sightings, the myth is growing.

He is believed to be a 6 ft tall American, with hair and eyes the color of dirt. His clothes are plain but efficient and his footwear is generally open toed. The ladies describe him as ruggedly handsome due to his perennially unshaven face and hair the has not felt the touch of a comb since the Reagan administration. I have yet to personally meet the man, always seemingly one step behind, hearing tales of his visit in each city I come to.

Most stories tell of a stingy spender, always choosing the cheapest form of satisfying his needs. During one bus ride from Cuenca to Loja, he didn’t donate any money to the 3 youths who played music he greatly enjoyed. He is quoted as saying that it just didn’t feel right giving to 3 kids dressed in nice clothes, when he didn’t give to the disabled man asking for change just 5 minutes before. Then, in Loja, he stayed in a $4 a night hostal despite the fact that the smell in the shared bathroom made his eyes hurt. And, he began to indulge in the Southern Ecuadorian treat known as “salchipapas” (small hotdogs placed on top of a pile of french fries and covered with ketchup and a flavored mayo, normally served in a bag with a small plastic fork, and sold for 2 quarters).

One bar story states: While walking to catch the local bus in Loja, he felt a man unzip the small pocket on his backpack, and single-handedly (his right hand) fought off the would-be thief while eating an empanada with his left. I don’t know whether to believe that or the other version that goes: On a city bus to the Loja terminal, some friendly passengers alerted Micah to a pocket being open on his pack, and kindly zipped it up for him. He immediately checked the contents when he got off the bus to find nothing missing. And, he will never know whether it was opened by a person looking to pilfer or left open during packing. Both stories sound feasible to me.

He was then spotted an hour south, in Vilcabamba, strolling around the center plaza. Known as the “Valley of Longevity”, they say he drank the water there and will now live to be 123 years old. I also have heard from multiple sources that he hiked the “Mandango”, a rocky summit south of town. A French couple said they met a man at the locked entrance to the trail who crawled under barb wire fences and plowed through thorn bushes, helping them find the main path.  He had a lollie pop in his mouth and for some reason asked them if they were English, despite the fact they clearly spoke to each other in their native tounge. Thus adding another layer of mystery to this man.

The Mandango

The Mandango

Reports have him reaching the cross at the summit in record time before traversing the entire length of the ridge. One story says that he out ran 2 rabid dogs while cheating death hugging livestock trails over dizzying dropoffs. I think it is more likely that he heard dogs barking in a field down below, and decided to walk along the other side of the ridge and stay out of their sight.

from the end of the ridge, looking back toward the Mandango

from the end of the ridge, looking back toward the Mandango

Then he descended via a rough ridge, scraping his arms and legs. One group of three hikers spotted a man sitting on a rock down below, snapping pictures of them silhouetted against the blue sky. I can only assume it was Micah. It is said he finished the day six feet under a cemetery, but after I attempted to retrace his steps, I think he probably climbed up a 6 ft dirt wall to get up to the cemetery and the main road back to town.

The next day (Wednesday, August 11th), after his bus had a part changed in the middle of the road, he began heading south toward Peru. The trails grows a little cold from there, at the remote border crossing known as “La Balsa”, where they see less than a handful of gringos per day. But one lady told me that her best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who’s going with a girl who saw Micah hop off the bus and wander out into Podocarpus National Park, to live out his last 91 years the way God intended. Or, if you want some more crazy rumors, he spent that night in San Ignacio, Peru at Hostal Dorado in room #402.

I guess that is why I like this myth so much, who knows what to believe? All I know is that I hope to catchup with him someday, if he does exist, and buy him an empanada. Y usted como debe así

Plans

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

The story of my time in Cuenca is one filled with cool temperatures, changed plans, little sleep, and turned off alarms. I didn’t do as much as I wanted, but I think I tackled the city fairly well.

On Wednesday, 8 hrs on 3 different buses took me up over 8,000 feet. I was ignorantly not ready for the cool temps and effects of altitude. I walked around all day Thursday, checking out the churches, parks, and museums, wearing myself out. Then I attempted to go to sleep early, so I could wake up the next day and see Ecuador’s most important ruins (Ingapirca), about 2 hours north. No such luck, because this halfway done thing is really getting to me. When I embarked on my trip, I had set a few vague goals that have yet to be accomplished. So, my head has been churning the past couple nights, trying to plan the rest of the trip and post-trip. That kept me awake Thursday night, until the group of Ecuadorian yutes decided to play music and talk outside my window. They looked like the ruff and tumble type, that would stab me just to look at my watch and get the time, but the music they listened to said otherwise. I would compare it to the musical stylings of Richard Marx, which they gladly sang along to. I was kept awake until 4 am, and promptly shut off my alarm set for 7:45am.

It turned out to be a good thing. Looking at pictures of the ruins online, they didn’t seem all that impressive and not worth the 4 hrs of bus travel. I opted for the Museo Pumapongo and it’s collection of shrunken heads, artwork, and large backyard filled with ruins, plants, and birds. It was free and entertaining. I later walked toward a hill for panaramic city views.

The 2nd day trip I had envisioned for myself, was to Parque Nacional Cajas, about 30 km west of town. The bus ride in to Cuenca came through the park and sparked my interest. The setting is a stunning Paramo, which is high altitude grass/shrub land, dotted with lakes and peaks. I set my alarm again, this time for 5:50 am, and again attempted an early bed time. But, good sleep was not to be had. Thoughts of possible travel destinations and future jobs, filled my head. After an hour or 2 of sleep, I awoke at about 3:30 am and decided to move that switch to the off position. Thus, Saturday was spent checking out the craft markets and posting pictures. I contemplated attempting a Cajas trip today, but I know there are more amazing hikes ahead of me down south. Though, the weather today was sunny and perfect, after 3 days of clouds.

After all of those sleepless nights and that time spent inside my head, I feel I have figured a few things out. I will enter Peru in a couple days, crossing over at a remote location to see some hidden ruins. Then head to the coast and make my way down to Huaraz, with some of the best trekking in the world. I don’t know how much I can do without equipment, but it should be fun. After that, I shall cruise past Lima and check out the southern coastline before cutting over to Arequipa and some impossibly deep canyons.

I also decided over the last few days, that I want to cut through the northern tip of Chile to enter Bolivia. Initially I had wanted to roll past Lake Titicaca, but that can be seen later. In Bolivia, I will live cheaply and explore everthing it has to offer, especially the desert region of Salar de Uyuni. From there, I will hopefully find a good deal on a flight from La Paz to Bogota, in order to catch my plane home. Roughly planning on 1 month in Peru, 1 week in Chile, and 2 months in Bolivia.

So there it is, all laid out perfectly. This plan and the memory of my 100th empanada, a delicious bread pastry filled with spicy ground beef and topped with a creamy salsa, I take with me as the fruits of 4 long nights in Cuenca. Now, all I have to do is execute and take pictures. Next up: Todo lo que necesito es un plan para el resto de mi vida.

E = 100