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Monday, April 6, 2015

Cajas Virgins No More

In preparation for our trip to Peru, we've been trying to increase our workout regimen and we finally (after all this time!) made it up to Las Cajas, the national park outside of Cuenca. The park is over 28,000 hectares of Andean beauty, with lakes (filled with trout), crags and tors and rolling grass lands cutting through the spires of the Andes. The park is between 3,100 and 4,450 meters in elevation, which sits above and to the west (ish) of the city.

The park is only about a half hour outside the city and can be accessed from several parking places. We were cautioned about safety in the parking lots, if there weren't a lot of cars, don't park there, as it's not 100% safe to park alone. This was sad for me, as I've always felt safe in Cuenca, but we are in a third (or arguably second) world country with wrenching poverty, which can affect personal safety, especially in areas without strong police presence. It was a hard reminder, but one that bears repeating.

The weather can be unpredictable up in the mountains, so you have to take rain gear, wool hats, sun screen and hat, but we lucked out and didn't get a single drop of rain. There are amazing plants, such as the cushion plant, that is lovely and squishy to walk on and protects you from the water accumulating across the boggy ground, plus all these charming little flowers that spring up in unexpected places. 
Andean "Tulips" - actually a type of gentian flower 

Beautiful, but spiky

Like a large "cushion" plant in flower

No idea what these are, but really amazing colours.

"Cushion" plants - like walking in a bouncy castle
You might feel badly that the pictures show mostly overcast skies, but trust me, if the sun had been out it would have been scorching hot and, at least for me, impossible to complete the hike. You cannot underestimate the strength of the sun at high altitudes.
Sky and Ron

Sky and Holly

Everyone but me (convenient, no?)

Axel and Ron at the end of our hike.

We did a ten kilometre guided hike, happily with some friends (they guide for a living) and another friend who just makes things more fun. Since I was just coming off a bit of a cold, I was worried about making the grade, but we did not too badly, considering the extra elevation and my general girliness. (Yes, that is actually a thing.) Sky (our guide) was disgusted by my statements of "Ewww, mud!" and "Pretty!" (This on coming across some interesting plants and flowers.) She actually cut me more slack when I huffed and puffed up the steepest part of the hill like the little engine that could. 

It took us about three hours to complete the trail, which means we only need to do that twice more to complete ONE DAY of the trek in Peru (based on time, not distance). Blame Ron, he's the one who chose the trek on the Salkantay Trail. (Salkantay translates to "savage" in Quechua...his idea, not mine.) A few more times in the Cajas should get us nicely prepped. (Or so I like to tell myself.)
Crazy plants growing in the water.

What we did discover is that we will likely need better hiking boots for the trek, sorry Blundstones. Which we have to get in the next few days, so we can break them in properly, oh and wicking liners and good hiking socks (we have now purchased). Wish us luck!


  1. Good luck guys! You can do it!

    1. I need the luck, for sure, but I think Ron will be okay. Thanks Maria!

  2. Nice pics and interesting write up (Shahbaz).

  3. Thanks Shabaz! Glad you enjoyed it.

  4. Pretty good feat considering the altitude, really shows how you both have become acclimatized. Great pictures of the flowers.
    Must be exciting to know your treck is coming up quickly.

    1. Wait until we complete our "long" hike this coming Saturday...up to 8 hours long...cross your fingers for us!