Sunday, 22 May 2011

Cajas National Park

Travelling west out of Cuenca for about half an hour, one ventures into the Cajas National Park.  El Cajas is easily visited as the main highway from Cuenca to Guayaquil crosses right through the park.   You can get there by public transportation as well as car.  There's no fee if you are simply travelling through the park but fees apply if you plan to spend the day there. 

In the Park and the surrounding areas, more than 150 species of birds have been discovered. Their diverse value is amplified because they are unique species. El Cajas is an older area of the Andes without any active volcanoes. The peaks are therefore more eroded and thus lower. The region is great for hiking and trekking although reading blogs seems to indicate one would need a pretty good map or a guide if one wanted to go very far.

The park reaches its highest point at 4000m.  This high altitude region boasts of over 250 small lakes and ponds.  Those lakes are ideal for raising trout and sport fishing is allowed in them.  There are also several restaurants just each side of the park that specialize in trout meals.

Last time we travelled through the Cajas we asked our host how many llamas lived in the park.  He didn't know but when we went through the check gate he asked the guard there and was told there are 22.  We were also advised the llamas were from Chile.  Apparently neither llamas nor alpacas are indigenous to Ecuador although we were told vincunas are.  Wikipidia tells us that "llamas were not always confined to South America;  abundant llama-like remains were found in Pleistocene deposits in the Rocky Mountains and in Central America.  Some of the fossil llamas were much larger than current forms and some species remained in North America during the last ice ages."

This great park is also home to mammals such as the white-tailed deer, spectacle bear, puma, paramo deer, rabbit and the Andean tapir.  The Park also features some archeological Inca sites in the area of Molleturo.

Llaviucu is located at the eastern entrance to Cajas National Park.   Here you can find one of the few humid Andean cloud forests.

The name "Cajas" is derived from the Quichua "cassa" meaning "gateway to the snowy mountains" or "caxa" (Quichua:cold).  It has also been linked to the Spanish word "cajas" (boxes).

Cajas provides about 60% of the drinking water for the Cuenca area. Two of the four rivers of Cuenca originate from Cajas, the Tomebamba and Yanuncay rivers which eventually drain into the Amazon river.  As the park straddles the continental divide, its western drainage, the Balao and Canar link to the Pacific ocean.

It's an austere, humbling, varied vista seen while driving through the park and if you're lucky enough to get out of your vehicle, the air is crisp & clean & invigorating.