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Friday, September 30, 2016

I Went for an Afternoon Drive...up into the Cajas!!!

The primary route to get from Ciuenca to Guayaquil (the largest city in Ecuador) is via the Cajas.  The name Cajas, in Spanish, means 'boxes' which doesn't make any sense...why call the mountains surrounding Cuenca 'boxes'?  But, in actuality, the name comes from Quechua (ancestral language of the Andes indigenous people) and means 'gateway to the snowy mountains'.  That makes MUCH more sense even though it rarely snows in the Cajas.

Leaving Cuenca at about 8,200 feet you travel about 21 miles before you reach Tres Cruces which is the summit (for the highway) at over 13,000 feet.  Most cars are huffing and puffing at that point!  Then, it's another 44 miles zig-zagging down, down, down to sea-level before you cruise on the flats to Guayaquil, another 55 or so miles away.

The highway only skims along a small edge of the Cajas National Park, which is comprised of over 70,000 acres.  There's very little you can see or explore of the rest of the park (without hiking) because it's set aside as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.

Anyhoo, come along with me as I show you just a small part of a trip one can easily take in the course of just a few hours.  Within the first 30 minutes outside of Cuenca, you'll see waterfalls, trout farms, rivers, valleys, alpaca and llamas!!  You can drive this route dozens of times (which I have) and see something different and more awesome each time.

About half way up, there's a stretch of numerous trout farms.  Some are private, some are public.  At the public ponds, you can rent a pole (a stick) and try your luck in man-made ponds stocked with large trout.  You pay for what you catch.  Some places make for fun with playground equipment for kids, mini-waterfalls, fountains, and small cafes.



A restaurant along the highway and a hosteria (further up the hill).

Hosteria Dos Chorreras (2 waterfalls) is one of my favorite stops.   The restaurant, banquet rooms, and accommodations are built around huge bolders...letting the outside in.  They even have an indoor pond loaded with trout and a small glass-covered creek that traverses the interior!


It's rare that you DON'T encounter Alpaca or Llamas along the way.  Which do you think this fella is?
(Answer:  Alpaca)

If the other guy was an Alpaca, this must be......?
(Answer:  Llama)

At 13,000 feet, the topography becomes very moorish.  There are hundreds of lakes throughout the entire park.  Only a few can be seen by car.  This photo was taken just before reaching the summit.

Reaching the summit, I decided to continue on a bit further down the other side.  One of my favorite stopping points for taking in a view (cloud ceiling cooperating) is at KM 55.  As a driver, it's hard to take everything in because you have to pay attention to the curvy road or careen off the side, never to be seen again.  If you can pull over and get out of the car you'll be awed.  I took the next photo by walking a few feet from the shoulder of the road.   LOOK at how far down that goes!!!!  And, believe it or not, there are HOUSES down there!   But, to this day, I have no clue how one accesses them.  BTW...that's a river down there, not a road.



Because there are so many trout farms along the highway, there's also a lot of cafes enticing you to come in and enjoy a meal...of trout.  This place always intrigued me because of its thatched roof, mosaic wood exterior, and enormous urns in front, so I had to pull in and take a look-see.


Everything was made of natural wood, sanded and polished and assembled into works of art (like the front desk above) and furniture.



On the back side of the restaurant was their trout pond where I presume lunch was restrieved.


The urns I mentioned.

The highway goes up this valley flanked by two dramatic high ridges.

I noticed another restaurant, larger than the former, and I was ready to eat.  This stiff Incan greeted me upon entry.  Is that a fireplace under his feet?



My lunch (which I had already begun to eat before I realized I should take a picture).  Two trout, rice and hot sauce, fried plantain (which I hate) and a glass of blackberry juice.  $7

You can see the highway in the distance and the little glint of white above and to the right is two large waterfalls racing down the hill and through the Hosteria Dos Chorreras property.

I walked out onto the balcony of the backside of the restaurant and discovered this maze of trout ponds, each with different ages of fish.
Lastly is this video which I shot from the balcony.  It shows just how beautiful this area is and why it's such a treat to go for a short drive out of town and into another world.


video


Til next time.....

Dano

For those of you who want to get 'out there' but don't own a car here, there's still hope for you.  Check out Cuenca Car Share online.  Juan and David have a handful of new/new-ish cars for rent at far less cost than renting from Avis or Budget and the like.  Their cars are ALREADY INSURED so there's no gouging on extra fees.  Regular tax (verus city tax, airport tax, user tax, special tax, and football stadium tax) is the ONLY tax.  Then, a small amount per KM.   It's a very affordable way to 'get up and get away' for a couple days, a week, or whatever.  Don't know your way around?  They can provide a GPS.  And, all you need is a valid drivers license (from wherever).  Oh, and they have a presence in Quito as well!

Click here to see Cuenca Car Share's website!!

Or...there's plenty of private drivers for hire here and many of them speak English.  Cost is about $12 an hour which includes their time, gas, wear/tear on car, waiting, etc.  Gringo Post is an excellent resource for finding drivers.  Just go to the website CLICK HERE and do a search for "driver".  You'll see many of them listed as recommendations by others who've used them before.  Using this forum helps to reassure you on reliability and safety concerns.

Get some friends together and split the costs!

About Me

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Cuenca, Azuay, Ecuador
This is all about my transition from an American lifestyle and culture to my newest adventure, life in Cuenca and greater Ecuador. I'll be recapping some of my day-to-day experiences (and mishaps) to highlight what it's like to live here.

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