Thursday, 27 March 2014

19) Cajas here we come!

The taxi arrived at 6.30am. Annoyingly we'd had to pack up all of our stuff to take with us, including all the bits that we wouldn't need in the field. With our rucksacks slung in the back of the pickup we were ferried to the bus station where we paid the $1.50 for our tickets to the park. The bus wasn't bad and for an hours drive was damn cheap. The change in temperature was instantly noticeable when we were deposited outside the "Toreadora" section of the park. Nearby was the small refuge, recognisable from the pencil drawing on Paul's ´85 paper, though thankfully with a proper roof as oppose to the thatched one from back in the day.
Inside was a compact but functional kitchen and table, 3 rooms with bunk beds, and upstairs was a loo (minus the seat) and the gaurds quaters. It was by no means warm inside the refuge and you certainly felt it on your cheeks on the toilet, but was at least out of the wind.
Me and Jamie claimed the bunks by the kitchen, unloaded some of our stuff and waited outside with Alejandra for our guide called Wilson Puya, funnily enough.
This guy knew what we were in for
A short and stocky chap came over and introduced himself as Wilson. He would be taking us to the mapped areas to help find some suitable wetlands for Alejandra's work. He started limbering up and I wondered what we were getting ourselves into. Out of the refuge area we were met by a herd of llamas blocking the road. After shooing them off back into the park we followed Wilson slowly along the busy road bisecting the park until we reached a sign denoting a path for us to follow, and as soon as we got onto uneven terrain Wilson upped the pace so that it was a swinging arms kind of walk to follow. It wasn't a very well trodden path, and before long I was swerving left and right of deep muddy pools and leaping over boggy land. Before I go on I should mention that the park is absolutely stunning. It's very different from the "puna" terrain we were working on in Peru, with much greater diversity of plants and geography, and contains over 200 glacial lakes. From the moment we'd entered the background noise of cars faded, and was replaced with a constant ribbeting of unseen frogs, the trickle of countless streams and the wind whistling through the grasses. It's pretty special.
We trekked for a good couple of hours until we hit a sign pointing N,E,S,W. Here we had some options apparently. South read "Moderate, 3 Hours" North (the way we came) "Moderate 2 Hours" West "Difficult 6 Hours" and East "Difficult 8 Hours". Well you can imagine which one we took. At Cajas, when they say "Dificil" they aren't fucking around. They don't mean "Not suitable for wheelchair users", they mean "Not suitable for anyone other than hardy mountain goats with something to prove".

"Wilson I'm sorry!"
We followed Wilson up and over tall ridges, down near verticle grassy slopes, through deep and drenching bogs and streams, over white water rivers, through Polylepis woodland and along cliff edges for hours. At the start we joked that we each had three "lives" for slipping over, and I'd burned through mine in the first 4 hours, as had everyone else.
At one point Wilson slipped off of a rock and nearly rolled off a cliff edge, and I have to say I was a little disappointed that I couldn't scream "WILSOOOOON" like Tom Hanks on Castaway, but that's just because my brain was fried from concentrating on the ground for so long. Also, since I'd recovered from my bout of explosively discharging food my stomach had gotten quite used to the idea of lunch and was protesting loudly at missing it. We stopped briefly at one of the enormous lakes; "Mamamac" and Wilson pointed out a rocky outcrop we could camp on, telling us we wouldn't even need a tent (fat chance).
Level: Jurassic park
It was another 3 hours of navigating all sorts of obstacles before we hit the end of the trail and the guard post at this entrance to the park. The hike had been quite fun, but damn exhausting. If someone had asked me if I wanted to walk for nearly 8 hours I'd have told them to do one, but we had all managed it and had seen a lot more of the park than the average tourist does. At the gaurd post we plonked down in rocking chairs and assessed the damage. All caked in mud, feet sopping and knees creaking, we chowed down on our food stash. Turns out 50c noodles don't include flavouring but they disappeared soon enough. The next issue was getting back to Toreadora. Luckily shortly after setting off down the road a pickup came trundling by and stopped for us to hitch a ride. We climbed up into the back of it and we were off. The cobbled road wasn't exactly forgiving on the derriere, but I was glad of the lift because the route back to the main road was a good 15 minute drive and it was also quite nice looking back and watching the scenery retreat as we bumped along. As we approached the main road it started spitting with rain. The truck was going right and we needed left so we hopped out but Wilson stayed in; his days work was done. We crossed over as the rain really started and hoped to hitch back up to Toreadora. It was a long and fruitless wait, gradually reaching that "wet as possible" threshold as even buses raced by. Thankfully after half an hour one did stop, and we dragged our sopping wet and aching bodies inside. It was a further 20 minutes drive back to the refuge. Getting inside I threw my stuff down and changed immediately into some dry clothes though it was still cold, and by now getting dark. There were a new couple around the table, a Dutch woman and an Italian-Ecuadorean. We ate our soup and chatted with them to will away the time in the freezing refuge. The man was very animated and also spoke good English, and he was particularily impressed by the English culture of drinking from 7am - 6am. We spent the evening watching our breath come out in clouds, talking mostly in Spanglish (switching between the two at random), and drinking several cups of tea to keep our hands warm.
Come 10.30 we all retired citing early starts to do the same thing again tomorrow.
I slept badly due to my feet being frozen solid and the Dutch woman getting up to chunder a few times.

1 comment:

  1. Are you dead? I've had like 10 days of no Tom's Blog :'o( Jack claims you're not dead but says you have spawned the prerequisite Fieldwork Beard at last? You need to blog some photos (of the majesty and grandeur of the landscape and of how shit your beard is!).

    Jack is still alive just about but I've had to take him to the vets twice.