Did it! Climbed over 600 feet almost straight up to reach an altitude of 14,200+ feet above sea level. Still, the Andean peaks were another 1,000 feet higher in Cajas National Park, just outside Cuenca, Ecuador. The park contains over 1,000 lakes/lagoons, and I could see them in every direction from my vantage point. As our tour bus drove into the park, we were astounded by the sights—deep valleys cut between towering peaks, rivers flowing and waterfalls feeding the flow, pine forests and then grey green cliffs and mountain sides and, all along the way, small lakes to large lagoons.
Kathy and I felt guilty–our beautiful tour bus belonged to us! No other tourists had booked and so we had the bus, chauffeur and guide to ourselves. It turned out to be a private tour for the day, and it only cost $70 for the two of us. The majestic sights soon drove the guilt away! Our first stop was to the holiest place in Ecuador, Sanctuario de la Virgen del Cajas, an outdoor pilgrimage site where the Virgin Mary was said to have appeared to an indigenous woman. The setting was amazing, a valley running one direction and high peaks the other. A tall crucifix stood to one side with a mountain chapel with straw roof, and across from the chapel stood the rock upon which the apparition of the Virgin was said to have occurred. Our time here was both tranquil and uplifting.
We stopped at lagoons, and at the the “three crosses,” a short climb to a vantage point with three crosses where pilgrims place rocks in honor of those people who have died in the mountains. Of course, we also took “the climb” to the vantage point. Honestly, I was huffing and puffing at these high altitudes, but I was determined to see the sights. As the tour ended, we stopped at a restaurant in the lower park and had a wonderful traditional mountain meal of trout, lima beans, rice and marinated salad. We also got a glass of steaming hot agua de tipo, an indigenous drink made of medicinal mountain plants and drank to give energy for these 13,000-15,500 foot heights…all for the cost of $9 for the two of us.
Once we arrived back at the hotel, we were ready to put our feet up for awhile. We also thanked God for His beautiful creation and for blessing us with the opportunity to experience it! WEG