First—there are more than 50 of them. (Let’s get that clear right here at the beginning.)
Second—we noticed these abundant shades in a new way this past weekend, once we’d climbed into the higher elevations of Ecuador’s Cajas National Park, around 14,000 feet. There we saw the sky as we hadn’t even 15 miles to the east in Cuenca, a city that sits at 8,200 feet above sea level. (If you travel to Ecuador, note that the Cajas are an Ecuadorian arm of the Andes that separate Guayaquil, the country’s second largest city, on the Pacific coast, from Cuenca, approximately 120 miles inland.)
This shift in awareness got started, actually, when we moved from the US to Ecuador 6 months ago. Then the clouds began to seem almost human, hovering over the mountains that circle the city we’d settled into.
This meteorological phenomenon is caused partly by geography. Cuenca sits in a basin, surrounded by peaks that reach nearly 15,000 feet. Most days the skies above the city change hour by hour, sometimes minute by minute. Mornings are often blue-skied and sunny, but the day darkens as late afternoon rolls around and clouds thicken. Light deepens and purples as evening approaches. Sometimes weather patterns accelerate these shifts, transforming the mood in a matter of minutes—overhead a youngster, blue-eyed and blonde, morphs into a brooding old man, graying and hunch-backed. He ages eighty years in less than as hour.
When, on Sunday, we set out by bus from Cuenca (buses leave Terminal Terrestre every 30 minutes), we didn’t have far to go before we noticed these changes, only 30 kilometers. (Note: we took the luxury bus to Guayaquil that stops in the Cajas, so we paid a $2 fare per person. We could have paid closer to a dollar, but the more expensive bus happened to be leaving just as we arrived at the terminal. We paid more for the sake of convenience.)
We arrived in the Cajas to clear skies and slight winds. There was a chill in the air, but it wasn’t cold, as some have warned these mountains can be.
Be aware, however, that the terrain even at the entrance to the Cajas National Park is uneven, so the excessively clumsy, like me, should be careful. I twisted my left ankle and scraped my right knee not more than 10 steps from the bus.
Still, it’s not like me to let a few bruises or even a bit of blood dampen my enthusiasm. I set off with friends Fred and Juan to explore our new surroundings.
Many of you have met Juan in past posts, but Fred, in the event you’ve forgotten, is a psychologist who epitomizes senior citizen determination, trekking with a bum knee, far from his wife, as Juan and I did from our partners, as well. While we were off adventuring, our respective spouses Susan, David, and Sara, chose calmer kinds of exploration, near the park’s entrance and welcome center. (To visit Susan’s site on e-publishing, click here.)
As you may have guessed, the sights were stunning—but not just for those of us who forged ahead, but for the three who chose quieter activity, as well.
In the photos below you’ll see some of the differences in our two groups’ experiences. These are largely variations in how stillness or movement affected our awareness of the landscape and sky.
Juan, Fred, and I chose to roam fairly far, and in our forward motion we took ourselves to new sites, new views of mountains, and even a few wild llamas.
First up—the members of our trekking team. Notice, how, for the most part, the landscape embraces us. The sky is evident but not dominant in any of the next few photos.
But in forging ahead, we took ourselves to the sights. Here’s what we saw.
Then, we came upon some llamas foraging for food on the rocky cliffs. Juan got the better pictures.
Sara, Susan, and David, on the other hand, allowed change to come to them, seeing how the sky impacted their perspective on the surrounding mountains.
This second group didn’t bother taking photos of one another. They had better things to look at, and mostly they were looking up.
Except for when they weren’t.
Okay, so I looked down once, as well.
And, damn, if Sara didn’t catch me doing it!
But, seriously, there was lots of looking up, as well.
Sara didn’t go far from the park’s main entrance. Rather, she let the camera find us. The clouds came to her.
Sara got another shot of me taking a photo–this one of Juan.
So, here’s the photo I was taking.
Sara took lots of mountain photos. I think they’re amazing. Notice how the sky grays over the course of the following images.
Once our two groups rejoined one another, we took the bus to a nearby restaurant and lodge a mere 5 miles closer to Cuenca.
The restaurant-hotel complex is called Dos Chorreras—Spanish for the two waterfalls that overlook the resort.
There, we enjoyed an amazing lunch of fresh trout (entrees between $10 and $15) and discovered a gorgeous place to overnight, as well.
If Ecuador travel is in your future and you are interested in staying at Dos Chorreras, note that the rooms are lovely but pricey, at $150 to $200 a night–the most expensive thing I’ve discovered in Ecuador, so far.
However, the hotel’s common areas also boast fireplaces.
Activities at the lodge include horseback riding, kayaking, and hiking. Riding costs $10 for 3o minutes. We didn’t spring for that.
The hotel grounds house deer and fowl of various kinds. This deer was inside a large enclosure. Others were roaming freely.
Eventually, we left Dos Chorreras and waited inside this roadside restaurant for a bus to take us back to Cuenca.
But the bus never came, or, rather, the ones that did pass didn’t stop. Thus, we taxied home, as the skies nearly blackened and it began to rain. (Cab fare from the Cajas to Cuenca is $12 to $16, depending on the number of passengers, time of day, and weather conditions.)
So you see, clouds are more complicated for me than they used to be. They not only predict rain and now store data; they also prove there’s more to gray matter than some might imagine. Maybe that’s why Sara says I have my head in the clouds.
When you go to new places, do you set out to explore or prefer to sit quietly, watching and observing? Have you ever visited a place where your experience of the sky was different than where you came from? Is there a place you haven’t visited yet that is on your bucket list?