Gina’s elaborate checklist for Cuenca is slowly getting checked off as our weekend comes to a close, and Gina, Andrea, and I have saved Cajas National Park for last. After we have filled ourselves delicious meals, see the cityscape from afar, and delight in Cuenca’s unique streets of sweets, markets, and street art, we anxiously plan our hike through Cajas National Park. Having done extensive research, Gina is already aware of the best trails to fit our physical fitness and need for photo opportunities. We’re no longer a trio when our La Cigale roommate, Tim, from Kent, United Kingdom, is no longer a shadow in the room and a companion on our journey. Backpacks and cameras ready, we arrive to fog and a chilling wind that howls in the Visitor’s Center. Immediately I wish had thought to wear my purple Hello Kitty pajama pants under my jeans and bought an alpaca sweater Gina and Andrea were intent on finding in the market. But it’s too late to change course now. I must brave the cold and adopt J.R.R. Tolkien’s words of advice, “Courage is found in unlikely places.”
Ironically, staying on course isn’t the case for the trail we venture on. We quickly change to a different trail since we’re told the route we wanted to take is too cold to take today. We head along the recommended trail, following painted arrows on rocks and other markers to lead us on our journey. The fog surrounding the mountains appears to be thick, but as I make way through this unique landscape, I find there is more than I expected. Woods thick with twisted tree branches, swamp marshes, and luscious green plants cover the hillsides we climb. Weaving our way through the small forest of spindly branches, Tim compares it to The Lord of the Rings. Making my way through the trees, I’m amused by his comparison as I begin to hear Howard Shore’s composition play in my mind. Like Pippin I have my goofy moments reciting Finding Nemo that entertains my friends, like Merry I am motivated to play and collaborate with my colleagues, like Samwise I am fiercely loyal and protective, and like Frodo I sometimes find myself at seemingly impossible odds both personally and professionally. I stay at the end of the group, cautious as I find ways to get my short legs to jump over thick mud and catch my breath as the cold air that dries my throat. Being at the end, however, doesn’t mean I am behind. As Gina, Andrea, and Tim take the lead, I take opportunities to absorb the varied and fascinating Cajas National Park.
Walking along a stream, we lose our way, directing ourselves back to the missing trail link. We find unique ways to forage ourselves up a hill to find the trail marker, relieved we are not lost. Although I recall the frustration from numerous times I endlessly searched for my destination in the suburbs of Denver, Colorado or along the circling highways of San Diego, California uncertain of where I missed a specific road sign, I never forgot that getting lost is how I really got to know my new residence. It’s quirks and obscurities is where I learned to feel at home. Staying on the familiar hiking paths cleared of plants and grasses only leads to one conclusion, but being tested in the unknown is where you find who you really are. Like hobbits, we are eager for food and a hot drink and find our desired prize at a Cafe/Gift Shop. Unexpectedly, a park visitor offers a ride back into Cuenca, after Tim runs after a bus and fails to catch it. We have wandered a great deal to day, but we have found our way home. We embody J.R.R. Tolkien words from The Fellowship of the Ring, “Not all who wander are lost.”
This post is a part of Weekend Wanderlust hosted by A Brit and a Southerner, Travel Photo Thursday hosted by Budget Travelers Sandbox and Friday My Town Shoot Out, Weekend Travel Inspiration hosted by Reflections Enroute, The Crowded Planet, Contented Traveller, Albom Adventures, Safari 254, Families Go! and Malaysian Meanders, Monday Escapes hosted by My Travel Monkey and Packing My Suitcase, The Weekly Postcard hosted by Travel Notes and Beyond, and Fly Away Friday hosted by Life in Wanderlust and Time Travel Blonde.
Life in Wanderlust