It rained a little yesterday afternoon and is raining again this morning. After a quick check for news about the Galapagos we headed off to the bus company to get our bus to the Cajas National Park. Rather than going from the main terminal, we went with the Occidental bus company who have their offices on the outskirts of town. It's obviously one not many tourists use because the taxi driver had to radio to base to check where it is.
|Doesn't show the sounds or smells!|
The bus office was a colourful place. There were two other backpackers there but this is a service for the locals. All sorts of bags, boxes and sacks of vegetables were loaded on board. A couple of women in traditional dress struck up a conversation with us, in the office and later on the bus. They were intrigued by the combination padlocks we have got on our day packs, not needed here but they were in some of the cities and definitely on the night buses. They were telling us that it gets cold and very wet in the park. I think they were concerned we would get cold because we were just sitting in shirtsleeves, our fleeces and waterproofs were in our day packs.
On the way our of Cuenca the bus stopped many times, as usual. We passed through an area of large, well maintained houses, obviously one of the smarter parts of town. Then we started to climb. It was still raining and the clouds were also hanging low around the mountains. We are in for a wet walk around the park and regret not bringing our waterproof trousers as well as our jackets. Our fleeces are our before too long - it quickly got colder the higher up the bus went.
We showed the Lonely Planet map of the park to the conductor indicating where we wanted to get off. He seemed confused and Stef reckons that he has not seen a map like this before. A little while later he came and got the book from us and took it to show the driver. The bus came to a sudden halt and we were ushered off - they had already taken us beyond where we wanted to go. It was a ten minute walk downhill to the nearest ranger station - still not where we wanted to be.
There they admonished us slightly for not yet having paid the park entrance fee, gave us a map and pointed us in the direction of the ranger station we wanted, the one by Lago Toreador. We paid our entrance fee (£10 each for us, $1.50 for Ecuadorians) and discussed options with the ranger. We could either do a two hour circuit of this lake or do a two hour walk through the park, passing lakes along the way, back to the main control/entrance point. We opted for the latter. It was downhill pretty much all the way so I hoped I would be OK with the altitude.
Outside the ranger station there was a large tour bus and a few mini vans. It looks like the "tours" from town drive your here, give you time to walk down to the lake and back up and then they take you back to town again. We are both glad we came here independently but the park rangers did seem a bit surprised that we were not on a tour. Later, reading the back of the map they had given us I understood why, the rangers recommend that you come with a tour!
It is a shame it is so wet and windy because it is beautiful in the park. The ground is very peaty, mossy and rocky and it reminds us of walks we have done in Scotland with Mark and Eliza (check Mark's websites www.scottishwinterroutes.com and www.scottishwintermountaineering.co.uk for some serious Scottish walking). The only difference is that on this walk we have just gone downhill and have not had to do the uphill leg first! We are both cautious of slipping and unusually for me I only had one near miss and no falls. Normally I end up flat on my back at least once every time we go walking.
The path was clear to see for the most part and it was an easy walk. We saw no signs of local fauna other than the droppings they had left behind! At one point we saw a small group ahead of us, and someone camping on the other side of one of the lakes, but otherwise it felt as if we had the park to ourselves. Despite the rain it was good to be out in the fresh air and stretching our legs.
|This bit of Wales looks a lot like Ecuador (or was it the other way round?)|
The park must be a stunning sight on a clear day. The whole area is just dotted with lakes and lagoons and you could spend days exploring. Were we not both feeling so soggy (due to lack of waterproof trousers) we would have carried on to do another route. But, not long after we got to the park entrance and Cuenca bound bus came past and we hopped on. We subsequently got a gringo tax on the bus, they charged us double what it had cost to get here. Not much money in the overall scheme of things but we resented being conned in this way.
Rather than heading to the main bus terminal, we hopped off at the end of Gran Colombia and started to walk into the centre. It was a bit of a boring walk, past offices mainly, so we jumped onto a local bus. The conductor looked like he had been in some horrific accident, half of his face was squashed in, but he was very friendly and told us where to get off for the centre. Both hungry we decided to stop for lunch and walking past the Lonely Planet and locally recommended Mexican we stopped. We had a shared plate of DIY tortillas (a la Peking duck) with chicken, beef, mince, cheese, beans and guacamole as fillings. Lonely Planet says the portions are small, we were stuffed and had not finished it all! I had a tamarind juice to drink and will not be repeating the experience!
Still feeling soggy we headed back to the hotel to dry out and catch up on diaries. We we are both a few days behind and it is really hard to remember the essence and atmosphere of what we have seen as well as the "we did this and that".