Recently, Michael and I had the pleasure to be on a gorgeous hike exploring the magical forest in the Cajas National Park with our friends, Bill and Darby. And it truly is magical, even enchanted.
Our ride to the Cajas National Park was the first step into the magic,
even as I realize that I see our new hometown of Cuenca as pretty
magical. My husband and I moved to Cuenca from the USA back in May of
this year and we are still in awe with the beautiful skies and clouds,
the stunning views of the mountains surrounding Cuenca (translated from
Spanish as "basin"), the rock-filled rivers where many wash their
clothes daily, and more. Now, traveling just minutes from Cuenca, we had
gorgeous scenery as we drove through towering mountain peaks and
relished the blue skies with puffy clouds.
For those without a car, it's an easy bus ride - go to the bus terminal and get a bus going to Guayaquil and ask to be let off at the Cajas National Park. Coming home, flag down a bus going back to Cuenca. We've heard it's an easy trip.
I loved the Cajas National Park Visitor Center - small but packed full of wonderful snippits
about the Cajas, done in a very tasteful way.
We started on the hike,
and immediately descended upon a lake that had me oohing and aahing.
We're high up - over 13,000 feet above sea level. There were teeny tiny
flowers on the ground, and you could tell from the gnarled branches and
tree trunks that the weather is rugged here, and nature had adapted
well. Especially, we loved paying attention to the tiny instances of
floral beauty hidden under foot and to the unusual quality of the trees'
and bushes' growth. I was enthralled with the variety and individuality
of the natural wonders. What a treat!
The scenery was constantly changing, and around this bend, up a slight
incline or simply a few steps more, the scene changed completely, again
I remember saying I wish I could take a few steps, then sit for an hour
and appreciate the gorgeousness, then take a few more steps, and sit for
another hour, and do that again and again. I'll probably come back and
do just that. That's my idea of meditation - to breath and drink in all
the beauty, in nature's silence.
You can see the breathtaking scenery in the photos - in person, it's even more amazing.
Everything felt so primal and vibrant. I remember appreciating some of
the plants, flowers, trees, clouds, etc. and saying silently to them,
one at a time, as my gaze rested on each one, "You are beautiful!" And I
could swear I heard from each one back to us, again and again, "You are
beautiful!" It felt like they were appreciating us and our recognition
of them as much as we were appreciating them. And yes, I did feel as
though I'd been transported into another universe where those
conversations seemed perfectly natural.
We were aiming for what's known as the highest forest in the world. And
as we entered the forest, the stillness and grandeur stunned me. It was
like entering the aliveness of the Avatar's movie, the magical fairy
tale landscapes of Alice in Wonderland, Wizard of Oz, Lord of the Rings
and more, as well as the vibrancy of the Redwood Forest and the best of
National Geographic specials.
I knew I was seeing in 3-D, after all our world is in 3-D. But as I
closed my eyes and opened them again, the 3-D effect seemed magnified as
the landscape leaped towards me. I felt deliciously enveloped by the
aliveness all around me.
The energy here is profound. There seemed to be a buzz in the air. There
are fallen trees and branches everywhere, and trees that are almost
growing horizontally, until they twist again in another direction. Eons
ago, boulders had crashed into the forest, and some are partially
submerged, and more are camouflaged by trees and foliage, and yet others
form the foundation for hidden caves and crevices. Perhaps as a
possible residence for the Wawa Grande (South America's name for Big Foot or Sasquatch) and family. There's a gorgeous
sponginess to the forest floor, like many layers of moss and leaves all
There was one tree in particular that my husband, Michael called my
attention to. As he was hiking past the tree, he felt the unmistakable energy of the tree and was drawn to it immediately. Connecting with this magnificent wise quinoa tree
essence was a treat. Like in Avatar where they show the interconnected
source energy, it felt like this magnificent tree was that source. In connecting with the tree by first with my hands, then arms, then full body hugging, the
energy coursed through me. Looking up towards his branches and leaves
above me, they waved in unison and synchronization, seemingly delighted
to feel us and be with us in such connection. I felt literally
energetically, almost magnetically glued to this beautiful tree and his energy and when I tried to disconnect, it felt
like I was a layer that had become attached to the tree that didn't want to be
separated. I felt almost sucking noises as we pulled apart reluctantly. I
could barely remove myself to continue our trek. As I was disengaging from this precious tree, it felt like I asked his name and he told me
his name was "Tomas", and as I turned away, he continued, "Or Tomasina,
if you prefer." I turned back in amazement - had he really spoken to
me? Again, another magical
spot where I would like to luxuriate for an hour or a day, in silent
Once we got into the forest, the path took us in a straight line out to
other vistas, but that was not for us. We climbed over tree trunks and
branches, tested the sponginess to make sure there was solid footing
underneath, avoided holes to the right and the left, climbed up and down
on rocks and basically made our own path. We knew we couldn't get lost
and we were on an adventure!
I'll have to admit that at times this part of the trek felt beyond me.
Sure footing was essential as one didn't want to have one leg sink into a
deep endless layer of moss, or slip on a rock going up or down hill and
not be able to navigate the next steps safely. I was grateful for the
offer of one of Bill's walking sticks (ski poles), everyone's
encouragement, and even a helpful shoulder or hand, and I simply went
slowly and surely. Everyone was very understanding, and perhaps they
were experiencing much of what I was. Anyways, it was enormous fun and
I'll do it again. I kept remembering to drink and breathe in all that
beauty, and finally we emerged out at a lower level right by a lake.
And it was quite marshy in spots. This is where Bill was leading the
way, and all of the sudden he sunk in up to his knees. That would have
been a great photo op, and later on, when he removed the boot and poured
out the murky black water.
We continued along the lake, being careful to avoid any other
quicksand-like spots. Our socks and shoes did get soaked as we squished
our way through. Such childlike fun!
Coffee, water and snacks stops were so appreciated. Bill had brought
coffee (even with milk and sugar, as we desired - such luxury!),
delicious Ecuadorian dark chocolate found in the mercados, and
nuts/dried fruit. We rested, munched, sipped, and onward!
We identified our way back, knowing we had plenty of time before sunset,
but would we make it back before the rain? At this point, we were going
uphill a lot, and I found that short frequent rests were helpful. My
legs were a bit jelly-like - even though we walked a lot around Cuenca, I hadn't exercised like this for a
while! Even though we were at high altitude, I found that I had pretty
good breath, but my legs were needing to process more oxygen like they were used to at lower elevations.
I've probably bored you with my descriptions of the scenery, but just
because I haven't mentioned it much on that way back, well it was just
as glorious and delectable! Copy, paste those appreciations here!
As we completed the last leg of our hike, it was starting to sprinkle
lightly. Perfect ending to feel the cool wetness - so refreshing. And we
ended up at the delightful cafe, where Bill's recommendation of the
"best hot chocolate ever" was so appreciated. And at Ecuadorian prices,
it was a bargain at only $2.00 per cup. We tried their empanadas as well
- I can highly recommend the $1.50 "pollo" one - with a flaky fried
crust, it was a delicious handheld chicken pot pie. We had brought some
"cachitos" or croissants which were perfect for dipping in the hot
This is exactly the type of adventure that Michael and I love! Getting
off the beaten path, creating our own adventure, and discovering the
hidden treasures. We were grateful that even though we were pretty tired
at the end, that we slept well, and barely had any soreness the next
day. If you ever get close to Cuenca, Ecuador, visiting and hiking in
the Cajas National Park is a highly recommended treat. It's not always
easy to get out of your comfort zone, especially in a new country,
different language, and we loved joining Bill and Darby
on this amazing day!
We'll be back often - so eager to be in the
forest, and with Tomas and other beauties of nature again!