It's amazing to think that it was already over a week ago when this trip to the south was embarked upon, and it just goes to show how quickly time can pass when you're kept busy and occupied. With another three months left in Ecuador, I really hope all my time passes this fast. Although my time here has been rewarding and highly enjoyable, sometimes home comforts prove far more appealing.
After the appalling weather a day earlier in Ingapirca, I had no expectations for today's day trip to the nearby El Cajas National Park, a place shrouded in rain and mist for most of the year. Leaving Cuenca, sun bursting through the quickly evaporating clouds, I wasn't that optimistic that such weather would be found at the end of the hour journey to the parks entrance. Seemingly though, a certain high and powerful person had decided to smile down nicely today and for the duration of the day only the chance of sunburn proved a problem.
Although so close to Cuenca, it's amazing how much of a change can take place in such a short time. Wilderness is the only word I can use to describe the location. Add this to the normal lousy weather experienced here and it's not hard to see why visitor numbers are constantly low, so low in fact that only six other visitors were met during my time spent here. This only adds to the tranquillity.
Tranquillity and wilderness was virtually assured, but I wasn't quite prepared for the unbelievable beauty on offer, losing count of the lagoons and lakes visible in only a short walk from the main road, surrounded by tiny colourful flowers and Quinoa forests, the twisted, crooked trunks and branches looking like they came straight from a horror movie. On entering this strange forest, light quickly disappears allowing you to stumble your way through drenched mosses and a variety of weird looking fungus.
El Cajas certainly wouldn't have the same beauty if it was flat, and the hilly, sometimes mountainous environment only adds to the attraction, creating rippling and cascading sounds every turn you make. Of all the places visited in Ecuador, including the Amazon and the Galapagos, El Cajas has to be the most picturesque and boasts picture perfect scenery. I could have happily hiked and camped here for a few days, if the good weather held out and I wasn't confronted by sub-zero night time temperatures, but with the last bus back to Quito passing by at 4pm, then only a few hours worth of hiking was possible. This went surprisingly well considering the steep terrain and a nasty tumble at the start where I slid down a 10m hill nothing but the smoothness of my behind.
There was no problem flagging a bus down back to Cuenca and my last night in this mesmerising city was spent eating Mexican for the eighth straight day and observing a startling number of badly dressed transvestites, their feminine wigs easily noticed. I was able to avert my eyes from such an attractive sight long enough to watch the moon rise over the surrounding hills, it's orange glow for a minute making me wonder if a nearby volcano was erupting, rather than a harmless little moon rising into the night sky.
With an eight hour bus journey needed the following day, where sleeping certainly speeds up the journey, back to my home on the slopes of Cotopaxi Volcano it was a good job a spot of shut-eye wasn't a priority. Throughout the night piercing sirens wailed across the city, as though World War III had broken out, joined by the spontaneous ringing of church bells and loud whizzing fireworks. I have a feeling all three were connected in some religious way, but their exact meaning will always remain a mystery.
The following day sadly saw the end of my current bout of travelling, finishing with the very uneventful eight hour bus ride back home, and my current job of teaching young children the joys of the English language. With such a thought on my mind, you can't really blame me for pigging out on more or less every type of bus food imaginable. From fried pig skin to ice-cream nothing seemed to satisfy my hunger cravings. Before returning back to work the following day, I still had time to play around with my weeks worth of facial hair growth, disgusting my girlfriend by turning it into something even the legend Hulk Hogan himself would have been proud of. It soon bit the dust upon the realisation I would never be receiving another kiss from my future wife ever again.
The time spent travelling through the south of Ecuador was a highly rewarding trip, and something that exceeded all my expectations. There is such a diverse range of landscapes here, both urban and natural, which will always keep you on your toes. If having more time on your hands, you could easily end up spending many a week in this part of the country.