Sunday, February 6, 2011

Cajas Mountains Here We Come!

Cuenca is surrounded by the Cajas Mountains (El Cajas), as in the Andes Mountains, up to an elevation of 16,000 feet.

Because Cuenca is located in a basin and the mountains surround us on all sides—north, east, south, and west—we certainly don’t feel their immensity until we start “climbing.”

I’m often tempted to refer to them as “those hills over yonder” because we’re located at about 8,600 feet (mas/menos depending if you live in a penthouse or not!). You almost start to take them for granted. That is until you start going on some day trips. Only then do you realize you're actually being transported to another world.

There are signs posted throughout the park alerting you to the dangers of altitude sickness and to take it slowly, but some folks have not heeded those warnings and have ended up not feeling so well or worse yet; they have ended up in the hospital. Actually, altitude sickness has nothing to do with “being in shape”; it’s a pre-genetic disposition.

Thankfully, Mark and I fall into the category where the altitude doesn’t affect us that much. We drink mate de coca tea, drink plenty of fluids and take rest steps as we walk.

Last week Mark went on two trips to the Cajas—one as part of a fishing expedition and the other as a cyclist with Jim Miller.

I have to admit that the fishing didn’t bother me, but the biking really gave me a scare. Almost three years ago, Mark was in a devastating biking accident that shattered his hip and femur. The orthopedic surgeon suggested that Mark never bike again. He has rods, pins, screws and nails in his leg holding “Humpty “Dumpty” together again. But as with all traumatic events, time is a great healer. And it’s time to say, “Cajas Mountains Here We Come!”

There’s a beauty in the Cajas that can’t be found anywhere else. Because it’s a cloud forest the vegetation, flora and fauna are diverse. Once you get beyond the tree level, it’s almost reminiscent of sagebrush and dessert, but with grass and lakes (over 230 of them). When you enter into the National State Park, you are given a map, a booklet containing all the different types of birds, flowers, and lakes to be enjoyed. The admission fee is $1.50 with residency status (this has recently changed); before it was more expensive.

The weather in the Cajas can change drastically (typical of cloud forests), so it’s important to wear warm waterproof clothing in layers, sun block, bring a thermos of water, rich calorie food like chocolate, binoculars (for bird watching), a compass, and comfortable waterproof shoes. If you plan to spend the night in the park (there are designated areas for camping) and you will need to bring a cook stove as fires are not permitted in the park.

If you don’t have a car, buses leave from the main bus terminal every hour for $1.50 or $2.00 round trip. And if you wish to travel beyond Lake Toreadora and Lake Llaviucu and your group consists of eight persons or more, you must hire a naturalistic guide qualified by the CNP (Cajas National Park). If you’re traveling in a group of seven or less, you must notify the park ranger regarding the route you are taking and have a compass or GPS, and a CNP map.

There are also overnight accommodations at Lake Llaviucu which can be arranged in advance at the cost of $2.00 for Ecuadorian citizens and $4.00 for non-residents. There is a charming lodge that is privately owned in accordance with CNP regulations, but reservations must be made in advance by e-mailing:

The best time of the year to visit the “El Cajas” is during the months of July through January, although the park is open year round.

We’re thankful for this beautiful treasure in our “backyard” and for the ability to visit often—Cajas here we come!

Until next time...hasta luego!

Connie and Mark

Llama Country

Lake Toreadora

You got me?!?

Tres Cruces -- The Continental Divide

Purdee Flowers!


Debra said...

Simply beautiful. Oh how I'd love to visit one day. Definitely something to put on my heart's desire list for the LORD. Thanks for the wonderful information. blessings!

Connie Pombo said...

Thanks, Debra. It is amazing -- the cloud forest -- and to know that it's 20 minutes from our doorstop makes it all that more special. Blessings to you!

Anonymous said...

Great photos and wonderful introduction to the Cajas. I'm looking forward to seeing the park in person next month. Nice to know there is some trout in the lakes too. Do you need a fishing license to fish in Ecuador? Mike

Mike said...

Don't know what happened to my Screen Name above...I tried to comment using my AIM account. Well anyway my name is Mike Wallace. Thanks again.

Connie Pombo said...

Thanks for your comments, Mike. No you don't need a fishing license in Ecuador. In front of our balcony, we're about 50 feet from the Tomebamba River and when it's high (like today); they just cast their nets (no poles). It's great; hope to see you when you arrive and maybe you can go fishing with my hubby!

Mike said...

Do you really think Mark is going to want to reveal his secret fishing spots? Even if we don't go fishing I would love to stop by and say Hi. I'll be in Ecuador later this month and will be in Cuenca the week of March 14th. I'll be following your blog, love it by the way, and will post again when I get in the Andes. Mike

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