Thursday, December 23, 2010

Lost in Cajas...

The patter of rain on the tin roof of my little terrace room has been unrelenting for the last three hours.  The clouds moved in quickly engulfing the blue skies darkening the entire city, then with a deafening burst of thunder they began to erupt, flooding the colonial streets of Cuenca.  The rainy season has arrived, and being in the middle of a storm has made me realize how much I miss it.  There is something comforting about a heavy rain, it makes any building that you are in at that moment seem like home, and then when it stops and you emerge outside, it makes everything seem clean and fresh.

I’ve returned to Cuenca for a part of my holidays.  The cold mountain air in this quaint, quiet city seemed like a good place to come and find some calm for Christmas.  For the last two years I’ve experienced Christmas on the coast in El Salvador, and as fun as that was, I’ve grown weary of bright flashing lights, vodka, and obnoxiously loud Latin Christmas music.  Instead I wanted to come here and relax and perhaps pass Christmas Eve with a local family.  

Today, before the rain began I made my way to Cajas National Park about forty minutes above Cuenca in the Andes.  They say that Cajas means the “gateway” to the snowy Andes Mountains in the indigenous language of Quechua, and that ancient travelers have always used this pass.  I arrived early, the first one there, and set out on a hike that was supposed to take five hours to complete.  I asked the guide before leaving if the path was well marked, and he told me that it was easy and I’d have no problem.  After twenty minutes of walking I came to the first post and it read that solo hikers must have a map and a compass and that the next post was in 221 meters.  I had a map but no compass, and as I continued for about a half hour on what I thought was the path I realized that I had passed 221 meters a long time before and had not come to any post.  I wasn’t incredibly worried because I knew that if I just headed in a certain direction I would eventually reach the mountain highway, but it is interesting to reflect on the thoughts that go through ones head at the possibility of being lost in the wilderness.  The night before a friend had told me I shouldn’t hike solo, that years before her professor had gotten lost for two days in Cajas.  I started considering my supplies.  I had a knife and a small bottle of water, an apple and some peanuts.  I could survive on that for a couple of days I mused, but then I remembered how cold it was.  I was in my Alpaca sweater and could still feel a chill, and this was with the sun pounding down on me.  There was no way I could survive a night in these frosty mountains without a fire, and I didn’t have a lighter.  I tried to remember how Survivorman started a fire from scratch, but then I remembered that the episode was in a dry forest, not in the misty mountains of the Andes where everything is moist.  I opted to keep walking in an attempt to find the path again.

The landscape of Cajas is magnificent.  The mountains are wide and round but not very steep, with the exception of the occasional face of dark rock that juts into the sky above you.  Everything is a dark, moist green that is spotted heavily with cold and equally dark shaded lagoons and lakes that make the entire mountain range shine like an emerald jewel.  As I walked I came across small waterfalls and rushing streams; long grasses and marshy plains.  There were the occasional thick groupings of what are called “paper tree” forests that are skeleton like and seemed out of place yet complemented the setting perfectly.  Often I would walk across marshy grass that almost had the appearance of coral, and when I stepped on it I sunk in and water rose over my shoe.   
I was certainly lost, but I felt good.  The hiking and the landscape combined to evoke images in my mind of ancient nomads traversing this same range, equally uncertain as to what came next but fully prepared to face it.  It inspired me to keep moving.  Hiking is an interesting activity that we put ourselves through.  It can often be arduous and even miserable, especially when you are deep in the mountains and cold and short of breath.  But then when you come around that bend and you suddenly see miles and miles of mountains and lakes unfolding into the distance, and all you hear are the sounds of a nearby stream and singing birds, you remember why it is all worthwhile. 

I came to large rock plateau on which I decided to drink some water and take the following picture of myself.  After five more minutes of walking I came upon a wooden cross, signaling some sort of human contact, I had found the path again.  I emerged on the highway about an hour later, after about a three hour hike.  I don’t think I was ever really lost in retrospect, but rather I went astray and somehow found a short cut. 

I’m back in Cuenca now enjoying the rain, tomorrow I´m going to watch one of the most popular Christmas processions in Latin America and then eat a traditional Andean dish – Guinea Pig.

1 comment:

Tristan said...

Merry Christmas Persaud. You are one I applaud.