Standing on a cliff whipped by rain and wind, I look into the distance on a cascade of lakes. I am trying to draw a pattern to unlock the phone and check our position, but the character is portrayed by the blood that flows from my fingers. After a moment of effort I unlock the screen and realize that we climbed another mountain and we got lost …. Welcome to Cajas, to the national park, where water and wind dominates.
Cajas National Park is located 30 km from the city of Cuenca. Park covers 29,000 hectares, it is home of over 250 lakes and lies at an altitude of 3800-4200 meters. The park can be reached by either classic buses on the route Cuenca – Guayaquil or a bus, which runs from Cuenca only to the national park. Of course, you can use one of the tour operators running an organized one-day trip.
We decided that we would sleep three nights in the park. So we bought food for 60USD (at home we realized that we obviously do not need half of it), we left our unneeded stuff (laptop, hard drives, swimwear) in a kitchen a local hostel and we went …. We arrived by a USD 2 / person bus to a Ranger station, where we registered ourselves, were advised of the best route and to take a picture of a single map of the park, which was hanging on the wall and paid for one night 4USD / person.
We walked out of the house and the whole excited we got lost in the area of the ranger station. For about 15 minutes. We wandered around the parking lot trying to find the way to go. After expertise, we found out that we have to go 30 minutes by road and then to go into the wilderness. Our goal was clear, a camping area marked on the map about 10km away.
That will really not be a problem to walk in six hours. From the road we had to hike the first hill. We began to rise slowly and the cars were less and less audible. While the route occasionally ceased to exist and there was more and more mud. We climbed the hill and had our first lunch, an empanadas. Although we had Chinese noodles ready, but our goal is not far and we’ll have a good portion of chili con carne with pasta as soon as we get there. At least that was our idea.
The wonderful thing about the Andes is that when you look at them they’re just green-beige mountains and look extremely compact, as if they were covered by a perfectly cut grass. Such a view, we had during our lunch in the valley. Appearances can be deceiving, and through the valley, we found that the velvety surface of the Andes is a meter high grass, which might be harmless, but sometimes there is a clump, which at a quick touch lops your skin. Combination of a biting grass which you are grabbing, if you fall in the mud, can be very uncomfortable for your fingers. On the other hand, nature is so pure that wounds heal in a few minutes.
We descended the valley fairly quickly and as a reward we were at a pointer. By this time we saw the path and went after it. Pointer pointed to a 4,100 meters high mountain. That meant once again to climb 150 vertical meters. There was no path from the pointer. Well, of course, we were well equipped. I pulled out a compass and I set a goal for the largest lake in the region and therefore to the camp. The landscape looked like as from a different world and the views were fantastic. At 17.00 we arrived at the lake. But camp was nowhere.
At six o’clock the sun goes down and it is impossible to walk this land after dark. Handbook for Survival in these situations says come out on top and look around. That’s what we did. Again, we gathered our last strength and climbed the hill and looked around to see neither a soul nor the camp, only a red sunset sky. So we have found the only place where we were not threatened by flooding in case of rain, high above the lake.
The headlamps on the heads, we spread a tent, made the long desired dinner and slowly went to sleep, when suddenly … suddenly sounds that were rubbing on our tent started to worry Veronika. Well, if you saw the movie Wild, you know what’s going on. Yes, of course, it is out there, the threatening animal that wants to eat us. I went out and relaxed the tarp outside the tent, and tighten it better. Until midnight I could not sleep, how everything hurt me. After ibuprofen, I slept like a local bear and the only thing that distracted us were two storms that swept over us.