Cajas National Park is only a sixty minute bus ride from Cuenca. Ryan had read that it is best to visit the park early in the day, to avoid the mist which will impede the view. So we got up at 5:30 am (earliest alarm to date) and took a taxi to the bus terminal. Once there, we watched the pigeons and kept trying to get on the wrong bus. Luckily, the drivers kept us in line. There was one particular driver who wagged his finger at us as soon as he saw us approaching, saying “No no no (with a bunch of other mystery words). His message was clear enough however, and we waited for another bus.
The third bus was the ticket and it was good that we waited because OUR bus was very nice, more like a Greyhound, with reclining seats and individual air vents. I immediately relaxed, as controlling my temperature is the first step in controlling my issues with motion sickness. The terrain on our way out of the city became lush and green. The towns (or neighborhoods?) grew smaller and smaller. The hilly landscape opened to reveal countryside much like that of the kingdom of Rohan, in the Lord of the Rings.
We were dumped beside the road with a small walk down the hill to the visitor center. As usual, Ryan had done his research and knew that we needed to check in at the office. We told the woman (the best we could) that we were intending to take Route 2 which is estimated to take around five hours and ascends a mountain up to 14,000 feet to afford the best view.
A restroom break and we were off, removing layers as we went. The early air was cool and the morning sun was shy, darting in and out of cloud coverage. Route 2, marked in green paint on rocks and planks, branches from Route 1 (the easier trek) marked in pink about twenty minutes down the trail. I was in high spirits, galloping about, pretending I was a stout dwarf or a lean cool elf entering Rohan for the first time, on a quest. The mountain we would soon be ascending loomed before us along with a sign that read, Ruta 2 Muy Dificil.
I proposed we make a short video for friends back home, pretending to apply that magical Agua de Florida, which aids in preventing altitude sickness. You pour the oily liquid into your palms, quickly rub and clap them together three times, bring them to your face and breath in the citrusy, spicy aroma. Then you run your hands up over your head, brushing the remaining fragrance into your hair. After all, it had worked for us in the Andes and 14,000 feet was nothing to take lightly.
Ryan wasn’t thrilled with the idea about the video so we began to climb instead, slowly yet steadily following those often hidden green trail markers. The mountainside, step as steps, rose and opened before us. Slowly and steadily we continued on, breathing heavily until I suddenly lurched to the side of the trail, vomiting into the brush.
“It’s okay,” I told Ryan, a few minutes later. “I actually feel much better now.” At his insistence we walked more slowly and took more frequent breaks, climbing higher and higher until…”I have to sit down!” I said. I was dizzy and nauseous all over again. I sat with my head in my hands until my stomach lurched without warning and I was up, tramping through the high brush off the trail, out of sight until I could find a more private place to drop my drawers. I was sick again, but this time, it was not nausea.
We went down after that. I tried to continue on, following the pink markers of Route 1 but I didn’t make it very far before I began to feel dizzy and nauseous again. It was clear that there was only one thing to do after that. I felt defeated on the way back to the visitor’s center, although I did begin to feel much better. We passed an adorable group of school children on the way who greeted us cheerfully in English. “Hello! Hi!” they said excitedly. We even found a short-eared rabbit to watch for a while and I convinced Ryan to let me make a video of him munching.
The restaurant was open when we got back, even though it was only quarter til eleven. We each ordered fish. My trout was fried and his was dressed in garlic from head to fin. (His was better.) Two steamy glasses of rich dark chocolate and my spirits were nearly restored. We sat in silence taking in the restaurant’s beautiful view of the park and the lake below. And further out, that mountain–I decided to call it Devils Peak–that had chewed me up and spat me back out.