“Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.”
National parks were set aside by countries all over the world to, amongst many other reasons, give people a chance to escape into the natural world to see how they measure up against forces beyond their control. In this sense, Cajas National Park is a glacially-carved wonderland of uninhabited landscape waiting to be explored. This last weekend I ventured into the park with Zeke, a fellow ex-pat who has put in a considerable number of hours and days making his way through the contours of these mountains. New to backpacking, Zeke has learned backpacking as "trial by fire" in the misty, grassy, and often uniform peaks and valleys of the park - losing and finding his way out of a few incredible solo adventures. For his last jaunt, he imagined a grand north to south route through the park, and together we found a brief description in my hiking and climbing guide to Ecuador that gave us the gusto we needed to plan the trek. By Friday at 2:45pm, we were departing the small pueblito of Miguir along the main highway to Guayaquil in hopes of reaching Soldados on the southern road three days later. The thing was that this trail is not on the park map, so our plan was to route-find our way north to south across the park.
“The old school of thought would have you believe that you'd be a fool to take on nature without arming yourself with every conceivable measure of safety and comfort under the sun. But that isn't what being in nature is all about. Rather, it's about feeling free, unbounded, shedding the distractions and barriers of our civilization—not bringing them with us.”
Most of our friends, and most of the country for that matter, decided to head to the beach for Carnival. Somehow the promise of crowds, cocktails, and 24/7 bass beats didn't inspire Lynsey or I, and luckily our friends John and Janet proposed an intriguing alternative: hiking Ecuador's Inca Trail for three days to Ingapirca (Ecuador's most famous Inca ruins site). Vamòs, it was decided - we would spend Carnival with good friends and open space through yet another spectacular portion of this little gem of a country.
This pretty much sums the coast up
Four buses got us from the mountain to the coast. The vibe couldn't have been more different from the intensity of Cotopaxi, but it was a welcome change. Much of our experience on the coast blended together as a mix of hammocks, sand, sun, and caipirinhas. I do, however, want to share the story of an unforgettable day in Muisne, a strange and remote island town where we had a ¨tour¨ we wouldn´t forget anytime soon. Before that, here are some photos from our first explorations of the northern coast at a quaint little ´eco-refuge´called Playa Escondita.
“...just the bare bones of a name, all rock and ice and storm and abyss. It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars. It has the nakedness of the world before the first man – or of the cindered planet after the last”
― Fosco Maraini, Secret Tibet
We met our guide, Cristian, at about 10:30 am for a gear check at the hosterìa before heading to the mountain. Gulliver Expeditions, the guide service, promised to provide the technical and high-cold equipment, and we were responsible for the rest. As Cristian went through the checklist I quickly pulled them from my pack - layer after layer that would keep up warm above 15,000 feet. Cristian looked our personal gear over and commented, “You have good equipment,” to my immense pleasure and satisfaction. I stole a glance at Lynsey to say, “see, this is why we have all this stuff!” but she only gave a slight roll of the eyes at the positive gear reinforcement I'd just received from our guide. We packed up a beat-up Land Cruiser and headed for the park.
Happy new year friends, family, and web visitors! Two days ago Lynsey and I got home from a 20-day circuit around Ecuador, and there is much to share. We´ve decided to break the trip up into three parts: Volcanic mountain fun, the Cotopaxi experience, and our cruise down the coast. We hope everyone had a great holiday with friends and family, and know that you all were missed! We figured the next best thing to being with those closest to us would be to tour around and get to know our new country - so here are some things we discovered! The map below denotes the first two legs on the journey. It´s interactive so you can zoom, switch to Google Earth, etc. to get a better sense of the landscape. Enjoy!
View Discovering Ecuador in a larger map
Our most recent jaunt in El Cajas National Park was inspired by the extra two days we had off for Cuenca Independence Day. Despite there being plenty to do in the city, we both knew that we wouldn't have another chance to get in an overnight backpack in the park before December - so we jumped on it!
Again, I marveled at the fact that the park sits only $2 and 45 minutes from our house. It's our western backyard. For the overnight we decided on a popular hike that begins at a spot along the road called “Tres Cruces.” Those who have seen a park map (or just know the place) may understand our trek as “the 4 to the 7;” taking trail 4 south from Tres Cruces until you hit Trail 7 and then heading west on the old Inca trail to its end spot on the road.
"To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts."
This mega entry will do its best to catch everyone up on our first week in Cuenca! It's been seven full days of exploration and learning without work, and to sum it up: we're very happy we chose this place. Here are some observations on the four C's that have been the highlights of our week - read a little or read a lot, como quieres!
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