El Cajas National Park

Around here, during the cold months of January and February, my woodworking comes to a standstill as the result of a yet unheated shop (to be addressed in the warmer months of 2013). As such, it provides a needed break to reflect, re-evaluate and otherwise get a grip on where things are headed in the coming months. It also tends to be the time my lady and I take our holiday as it works well for both our schedules.

This year we were fortunate to be able to travel to Ecuador for a few weeks. Below is a panoramic from El Cajas National Park, just 45 minutes or so from a lovely Andean town called Cuenca or in the local vernacular, Santa Ana de los cuatro ríos de Cuenca, which basically describes the place of confluence of four rivers, two of which flow down from El Cajas.
IMG_1537The area pictured sits at about 13,000 ft, which is where we began our hike for the day. We actually drove up to one of the highest peaks in the park, Tres Cruces, just to see the view-it was pretty cloudy, but beautiful all the same and topping out at 13,617 ft. Tres Cruces, or Three Crosses, also marks the South American Continental Divide. From here it’s a either a short jaunt to the Pacific or a more circuitous route via the Amazon to the Atlantic Ocean.

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One obvious difference is tree line. In Ecuador, it’s about 13,000 ft. And so the experience of being at this altitude is entirely different than say, Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s humid, green, misty and otherwise like the Scottish Highlands. Loverly, really. Above tree line, and below snow line exists an area known as the Paramo, a kind of high, tropical, montane vegetation zone.

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And below that, a kind of magical place, the Paper Tree Forest. Think Lord of the Rings meets Avatar. It’s just plain incredible. These are the highest forests in the world, and the one we hiked through was over 2,000 years old. Hard to describe really in words or pictures, but here goes:

IMG_1532 IMG_3273 IMG_3276 IMG_3278Imagine walking through knee high grasses in a rain cloud and suddenly finding yourself immersed in and embraced by living beings several thousand years older than you. These trees were sprouting when Jesus was hoofing it around Galilee. Wild.
IMG_1555The quiet at El Cajas reminded me of quote from Roshi Joan Halifax,

“when you are in a state of deep internal stillness, you see the truth of change, the truth of impermanence that’s constantly in flow moment by moment. So that becomes a kind of insight that liberates you from the futility of the kind of grief that disallows our own humanity to emerge.”

Somehow the rain made it even better.

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