International Writers Magazine::
El Cajas National Park, Azuay Province, Ecuador.
Flaws with Cajas
some free time at last, I felt relieved as the monstrous bus roared
westward through the green hills just outside of Cuenca. Given that
I had spent the previous six weeks learning the ropes of my new
job with CEDEI (Centros de Estudios Interamericanos) and finally
securing a place to call home, this was actually my first time leaving
the capital of the Azuay province.
While the coach
continued to angrily snake its way through Ecuadors Southern
Sierra Andes, I was suddenly distracted by something in the corner
of my left eye. It was my fellow English teacher, Emily, looking
at me with a concerned expression on her face.
"I hope we know where to get off," she said to me as we
approached some cabins to our right.
I knew the bus ride
to El Cajas National Park was approximately an hour from Cuenca and
we had been on the road for about that long, but I, too, was unsure
of our drop-off point. Not taking any chances with missing our stop,
I turned to the old Ecuadorian gentleman across the aisle with whom
I had been chatting.
"Do we get off here," I asked.
"Well, what do you want to see? Countryside? Lagoons? Did you bring
your cameras," he inquired.
I relayed the questions to my fair-skinned friend and she confirmed
that she wanted to appreciate the scenery.
"Yeah, we want to see it all," I told the Ecuadorian.
"Dont get off here then," he advised. "Let the
bus take you up higher. There are beautiful views and many lagoons you
can see. Plus, its easier to walk downhill when you get tired."
From out of nowhere, the stocky cobrador (fare collector) appeared in
front of me.
"What part of Cajas do you want to see," he asked.
Before I could respond, my newfound bus friend told the dark-skinned
youth about a lagoon up the road some ways. The fare collector nodded
his head and quickly returned to the front of the bus.
A few minutes later, the cobrador shouted that we were almost at the
point where Emily and I should exit. I quickly stood up, shook hands
with the frail fellow, and thanked him.
"Its been a pleasure," he said.
I agreed and wished him well. Trying not to fall down, Emily and I made
our way to the front of the rocking vehicle. The door opened and we
followed the cobrador off.
"When you want to go back to Cuenca, just come to the road and
wave down a bus. They pass by often," the energetic Ecuadorian
said with one leg in the doorway.
While quickly shaking his hand, I thanked the youth and the bus rumbled
Turning our backs to the large cloud of exhaust, Emily and I then faced
the Andes, looking for an entry point. Within a few minutes, we arrived
at a large map of Parque Nacional El Cajas, which was posted next to
an empty building just off the highway. The map showed different hiking
trails and after consulting my guidebook, Emily and I decided on one
of the paths closest to our location.
Walking uphill for several minutes, the two of us slowly marched along
the shoulder of the road until we arrived at a clearing on our right.
After catching our breaths, Emily and I noticed something that resembled
a trail, so we decided to give it a shot.
Our hunch was right. We spent the next five hours on lush mountainsides,
taking pictures of waterfalls as well as meandering around and in between
pristine lagoons on paths that faded away and seemed to reappear out
of thin air. The peaked panoramas were endless; it was hard to believe
that Emily and I were witnessing such majestic landscapes.
Moreover, we were surrounded in silence. It was rare if the two of us
heard anything more than an occasional bird chirp or the soothing sound
of distant cascades. In fact, the peaceful feeling I got from absorbing
the beautiful scenery was truly unexplainable. I couldnt remember
the last time I felt so calm.
our excitement turned into exhaustion. As the mid-afternoon sun
warmed the backs of our necks, Emily and I steadily ascended and
descended the rocky terrain in the direction towards the highway.
While trudging around several water breaks, we could see small stretches
of the interstate snaking through the far-reaching hills. However,
this proved to be frustrating and mirage-like. Sometimes, Emily
and I could see the highway and, subsequently, would get our hopes
up. This optimism lasted until we rounded a bend or made it to the
other side of a mountain and saw no sign of asphalt. It was like
someone was teasing Emily and me, yanking the road from us like
pulling a string away from a cat.
and I came upon a creek, which we followed through soft and wet ground
until it ran into a half-collapsed fence line. From there, the two of
us crossed a makeshift bridge over the stream and continued along the
trail of fence posts and barbed wire until we discovered the interstate.
With tired legs and soaked feet, it was at this point where Emily and
I realized that we had hiked a LONG way. We ended up much further down
the highway than from where we had started our journey. Then, like clockwork,
a Cuenca-bound bus rounded the mountain curve a few minutes later. Emily
and I quickly climbed aboard and plopped into our seats.
As we headed east, Emily and I reflected on our day in Cajas. Having
heard from others that the weather in the park could change on a visitor
without warning, we both decided that we had lucked out, especially
since Emily had seen precipitation on the Doppler.
On two prior occasions, Emily correctly predicted that is wasnt
going to rain in Cuenca, which was impressive because it ALWAYS rains
there (at least for a little while most days). That morning, however,
when I asked my light-haired friend what she saw in the forecast for
our trip, she told me that we were probably going to get wet.
Im glad Emily was wrong.
© Tyrel Nelson
<email@example.com - June
I was fresh off the plane and going to visit the Mirador Turi, the
lionized lookout that Id only read about in my guide book.
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