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Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Walk In The Park (Not!)

We really have to stop underestimating the intensity of these "walks" around lakes in Ecuador.

We have been thoroughly spoilt by the ease of visiting national parks in the United States where you can drive your vehicle right up to a series of lookout points throughout the park, or board the park shuttle free of charge to the main points of attraction. The paths leading to the vistas are usually well marked and paved. Rangers are on site to provide any information you need or guide you on the correct path, or simply to hand out information leaflets about the park.

Similarly in Singapore, a walk through any of our nature reserves is a simple affair. Want to stroll along the island's eastern shores at Changi Point? Just follow that nice broadwalk for the best seaviews. Crossing the Southern Ridges is less of a sweat now with the 2 new bridges linking the hilly route. You can even stop for a breather along the curvy Henderson Wave bridge while taking in a view of the cityscape high above the ground. And so on - Bukit Timah, MacRitchie (and the treetop walk), Labrador Park, etc.

Noting the cloudy, chilly morning skies upon leaving Cuenca for the Cajas National Park, 40 minutes by bus from town, we thought that we would just pop into the park for a short walk around the lake:

Jackets? check.
Water? check.
Biscuits? check.
Cameras? check.

It somehow didn't dawn on us that the guidebook's description of the park's "moor-like" terrain and "afternoon fog" translated to "seriously damn bloody cold place" in layman's terms. Which meant that the list went on:

Gloves? missing.
Warm hat? missing.
Fleece layer? missing.
Buffs? missing.

The moment we stepped off the bus, the biting wind gave us a tight slap in the face. And whipped at our skin through our clothes. Nevertheless, we thought we would still do a quick march around the lake, which was within easy reach of the park entrance and ranger station. We estimated that we would only be out there for a couple of hours at the most. After all, the route looked pretty straightforward:

Just a quick stroll around the lake right?

Okay, so we didn't expect that the trail would lie a few hundred metres from the actual edge of the lake. So that meant walking a much larger circumference than we had assumed.

Bit far from the water, no?

Longer route? Never mind. We took the time (and extra distance) to marvel at the wide variety of plant and animal life along the way:

Alpacas grazing

The thorny ones

The spiky ones

The spongy ones

The candy-coloured ones

The ones with the wraparound leaves

The funny sticks in the ground that were taller than Dan

Some really colourful lichen on the walls

One of the unique feature of the Cajas National Park was the presence of Podocarp trees, said to be native to Ecuador.

Shadows in the sky

Reaching down from the skies to make contact with passing humans

The papery bark up close, which hosts a variety of other plant and animal life

Beautiful landscape

Podocarp arching over a little brook

After about an hour or so, we thought that we would have covered more than half the distance around the lake, and should be midway through our return leg by then. We looked around - and realised that the trail had curved away from the original loop. The lake looked much bigger than it did from the ranger's office - much of it had been hidden behind hills and trees. And erm... where was the ranger's office once again? Uh-oh.

We look around for directional signs, which had dwindled greatly in number and frequency since we first set off. We spotted a couple - but could not sense of the brief, cryptic info on them. Not a single soul in sight. My watch pointed to three o'clock. The guidebook had advised that we complete our trek before 4pm, which was when the thick fog set in, making it difficult to spot the trail.

Panic, panic, panic.

The lake no longer looked like the nice, simple oval we had thought it to be
The scary point of realisation that there were many lakes in the park...and not just one

We tried various trail options but none of them seemed to lead us back towards our starting point. Thankfully, a fellow trekker appeared from amongst the thick grasses and we hurried towards her to ask for directions. She pointed us to the left and told us to just keep going, and we would soon catch sight of the ranger's office.

I've never been so relieved to spot a tiny wooden hut appear from behind a slowly-thickening curtain of mist before! Fighting the heightening cold and increasing breathlessness, we hurried to the park entrance and collapsed onto a bench, panting. Then made our way to the bus shelter (which was no match for the strong winds and cold rain) along the highway for the next bus back to town... which came a blustering 45 minutes later.

When will we ever learn that a walk in the park here is well, not just a walk in the park?


Tracy Su said...

Aw, you guys, sorry to read this! Must have been a plenty anxious day. Yeah, it's so easy to get caught up in wildlife and the time has flown before you know it!

The shots are cool (as usual) though, if that's any consolation. Especially the plant ones. I feel rather envious reading this as a new urbanite who hasn't had a chance to discover the green spaces near me yet!

Yi Lin said...

Yeah, I've never been so happy to get up onto a rickety bus before, to bring me back to Cuenca - which was super sunny, blue skies and all!

Dan found the strange plants interesting, so he took all those pix. Yeah, lots of green spaces in England to enjoy. Bring your sock-dollies out for an outdoor photo shoot!

Stephanie said...

love those pictures.:)

Jennifer Goh said...

The plants look so aawww!!! Must have be amazing seeing them for real and being able to gently "touch" them! :)
Sorry been m-i-a on writing comments on your blog. Wanna let u know i still do read your blog and Brandon does too on a regular basis! And yes!! You and Dan are still very much in our thoughts :) we spoke about you guys very often.

Dannie said...

Hi Jennifer!

Yes, we missed your comments! You must put yourself on the Top Commentators Board!

The plants here were really nice. There was a good variety for such a -short- walk!

Yi Lin said...

Awww, Jen, you still love us! :) Good to hear from you.. and that you're still reading (and Brandon too! Thanks for reporting for him.. heh) I think of you alot too, like, every time I put my shoes on... (good gift idea... You clever!)

Yes, I've since learned that I prefer these "walks" to actual treks. I need time to look around, touch things, smell the air and enjoy the environment I'm in (provided it's not too damn cold.) We just tried a multi-day trek. I found the group in such a hurry to get from the start point to the campsite. I was looking on the ground the whole time and trying to catch my breath. Totally no mood (and no time) to snap good photos and soak in the environment.

Well traveling is all about self-discovery: I've discovered that nature walks are nice. And long mountain treks are a no-no for me!

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