The Adventurous Trails of El Cajas

In my odyssey to explore all countries in the world (160 so far!) me and a dear travel companion and colleague ended up in Quito, Ecuador. From Guayaquil we visited the colonial city of Cuenca in the south-eastern of Ecuador. We passed through an empty landscape of mountains and lakes at high altitude. We liked it so much that we decided that we’ll come back here to enjoy the nature.

Our bus is groaning up the mountain road through the El Cajas National Park. It breaks down before reaching the mountain pass. We walk to the information booth, get a map of the area, and start hiking under a drizzle falling from the low-hanging clouds. We walk around small, black lakes, through brown sedge grass on the hills, pass several llamas. Soon we only hear our own breathing.

Big dark blue spot
Ahead of us, a big dark blue spot is working its way up the mountain trail. When we get closer, it turns out to be a man carrying a heavy load on his back. His head is not much higher up than his hips. His back is like a big table on which a shapeless bag has been placed. When we catch up with him, he turns around, and a big white smile appears on his weathered, dark face. We sit down on a rock, and chat with him. We offer him liquorice, which he seems to like. He turns out to be on the way to a far-off village that can only be reached on foot. It is still three hours away. His bag is full of clothes; the supply for his village. He is the only person we meet on the trails of El Cajas.

All colours brown
We climb until we reach a pass at around 4150 meters. Before us, we see brown grass-covered mountains, and small lakes everywhere. Heavy clouds sail through the sky just above us, adding to a dramatic look to the surrounding landscape. The sun makes an effort to burn holes in the grey cover. It looks like there are spotlights in the sky pointing to random spots in the scenery where the brown of the grass turns yellow. We pass waterfalls, bromeliads, and a small forest on our way to the main road again. Before we know it, a car has stopped to take us back to Cuenca. Dinner that night feels like a reward for our efforts.

My Personal Tips:
– Take a bus or taxi from Cuenca (a half hour), or even directly from Guayaquil (a few hours’ drive).
– Arrange to be dropped off at the information booth (-2.783467 S, -79.222393 W).
– Hiking times are estimated very conservatively; trails often take half the time given by the guides.
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