Saturday, December 31, 2011

Cajas Beauty

Parque Nacional Cajas

Up we drove via rented car and driver to the beautiful lakes of Cucheros and Toreadora.  A reduced entrance fee of two dollars and twelve dollars an hour for the chauffer gained us entry into this jewel of the southern Andes.  Our sky alternated between ominous clouds and a nearly Carolina blue sky.

Both are beautiful high altitude lakes in the huge Cajas National Park. It is like Cuenca has Rocky Mountain National Park half an hour to the west. It has 240 lakes and lagoons, and many miles of trails, some of which require a guide. Be prepared, the altitude is 4000 meters or 12,000 feet. In minutes the weather can change from sunny and temperate to cold and windy with potential storms.

Cucheros is the first Cajas turn off only 30 minutes west of Cuenca. A gentle hour’s walk took us around the pristine lake, past the remaining buildings of a defunct German Brewery and over a covered bridge shading a rushing brook. Seven llamas and an equal number of alpacas placidly monitored our movements.

Another half hour west we found Toreadora Lake; it’s a bit higher and wilder. From the visitor center several trails offer a variety of views and terrain. We chose the 90 minute walk around the lake. Tiny alpine flowers were beginning to break out in yellows, reds, and violets. The results of spring rains remained everywhere, forcing detours into moist mossy meadows where the spongy turf met our feet like a relaxing sponge.

Ahh… we shall return.