Tuesday, 8 April 2014

20) The Eternal rain of Cajas

Sorry for the lack of blogging folks, I've been busy and without access to a keyboard! Anyway, back to Cajas.
The next day we began our journey back to Laguna Mamamac. It took us longer than on the first day. Looking at the map we worked out that Wilson had taken us on a huge a shortcut the day before. Some hours later we got down to the edge of the lake and set up camp, encountering some difficulty with Paul's novel shaped tent. Despite not seeing anyone both days the spot was apparently popular for randy campers, with the remnants of a fire and some condoms littering the area. By this point we were already soaked and we decided to batten down the hatches and set about work the following morning. That evening an eagle of some description crash landed outside our tent and made a massive commotion which was pretty startling!
You don't say.
Jamie set about finding more Puya to sneakily gather seeds from, and myself and Alejandra went to find a suitable wetland for her PhD work. Just over a hill from the lake was perfect and before long we had the job done, using a GPS to mark the borders and any large pools and streams within the wetland. Jamie needed some help collecting the seeds, and in the absence of a ladder we used our combined heights (me on his shoulders) to grab as many as possible without me plummeting to an inevitable death in the rushing river below.
Jobs done earlier than anticipated we decided to stay that night and head off early the next day as we wouldn't make the refuge before nightfall. It rained hard that night, and I was already down to my last pair of dry socks, having totally given up hope on ever having dry shoes again. Dawn crept over the mountains and we shook off the night's damp sleep, eventually got the tent packed up in the tiny sack it came in, and headed off into the mist back to the trail. About half way back Alejandra found another wetland that needed mapping and we stopped whilst she disappeared into the never ending fog. After 20 minutes we were bloody cold and starting to worry a little, but just as we were discussing our chances of finding a body in the bogs, her baseball cap appeared over a hill and I breathed a sigh of relief. Back on the trail again and having stood on the wrong patch of mud a couple of times resulting in every footstep squelching, I gave up trying to avoid puddles. The final slope before the downhill part to the road was visible and seemingly close, but there felt like a limitless number of ridges to climb up and over before we finally reached the last one. Two hours after the last wetland, we sat atop this final ridge catching our breath, eating peanut butter for sustenance, and looking back across the park. Where the mist thinned you could see the track that we'd followed to Mamamac and it looked deceptively close.
Base of operations
Finally down the slope and back to the road, we headed back to the refuge. I noticed the sign for a restaurant and we all cheered when we found it open and serving food. Back at the refuge we dumped our stuff, and I put on the only dry things I had, which we had left in the care of the park guard. These consisted of a jumper, some baggy trousers and flip flops so needless to say I looked like a right twat. In the small park restaurant we ordered hot chocolate and a badly translated meal. I could have kissed the woman when she came over with two steaming mugs. Unfortunately Ecuadoreans don't do hot chocolate like we do, and it was a bit of an anti climax, but it was hot and with some sugar in tasted pretty good and for a moment I was in heaven. It's surprising what 3 days spent cold and wet, certain of getting trench-foot will make you appreciate. From the warmth of the restaurant you could see out over the park. It looked deceitfully tranquil and dry from up there. Bellies full and feet aired, we packed up our stuff in the refuge, I slung my sopping boots in a carrier bag, and we went to the bus stop to wait for one heading in the direction of Cuenca. There was a small shelter covered in messages from people all over the globe, mostly joking about freezing to death waiting for a bus. It wasn't raining and luckily it wasn't long before we were hopping onto a coach, having left our own message in Spanglish on the stop asking anyone who found any lost toes/fingers/dignity to return them to Bristol, England.
Apart from the rain it was epic
Back in Cuenca, we asked the taxi man to take us to Hostel "Pearla Cuenca". It sounded alright (Pearl of Cuenca) and was cheaper than the previous one. He agreed but after 10 minutes it became clear he didn't have a clue where he was going. He also didn't realise that Alejandra could speak pretty good Spanish (being Ecuadorean), and tried to tell us that a totally random building said "Hostel" on it. Realising that he couldn't mug us off any longer he admitted he didn't know where he was going, and neither did we, so we just told him to take us back to the previous hostel. They were glad to see us again, and this time me and Jamie got a much better room (it had a door handle and was also right above the wifi). That evening we found a tiny Mexican diner that was suspiciously dead. Inside was just about as stereotypically Mexican as you can get, all sombreros, piñatas and mariachi. I was a little disappointed when the man didn't come out from the kitchen on a donkey with a huge moustache but ordered a chimichanga none the less. What I actually got was a burrito, but as it had taken nearly 40 minutes to arrive I didn't complain, and it tasted great anyway. Afterwards Jamie went off to a bar, but being laden with Mexican goodness I couldn't stomach the thought of gassy beverages so waddled back towards the hostel with Alejandra. In the beautiful central plaza in front of the cathedral, a choir of women were singing and dancing. They were dressed in traditional Cuencan clothing consisting of a long dark blue skirt, white blouse and broad hats. They were being filmed and were excellent so we watched for a while as they drew a crowd. The conductor stopped them and made them lose the hats before starting them again, although one in the middle was totally out of time with the dancing and it was the same song so we decided to leave at that point. 
Cajas had been stunning, but hard work, and that night I slept like a narcoleptic log in my warm and dry bed.

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