February 6th
written by Bullet-Point Ben

Not every adventure is a rollicking success.  The first warning sign for this particular outing started when the taxi driver who took us to the bus station expressed great surprise that we were headed up to Las Cajas.  He kept saying “muy frio” and mimicking shivering.  The next warning sign came when the bus dropped us off along the side of the road, deep in the Andes and there was no big “Buenvenidos a Las Cajas” sign to greet us, no visitor center and gift shop bustling with tourists.  Just cold wind and rain and a shack with “abierto” (open, like a store) written on a piece of paper stapled to the door, some chickens out front and rocks holding the roof on.

Not the Las Cajas Visitor Center

Not the Las Cajas Visitor Center

We went inside and learned that the bus driver had dropped us off deep in the park, probably as a little joke at our expense because the actual visitor center is hard to miss.  But the helpful people at this strange local restaurant suggested a scenic hike that would take us to the visitor center where we could catch a bus home.  So we set off.

It was rainy and windy but not especially cold, so we weren’t really worried.  We set off on a ~5 hour hike toward Tres Cruces across beautiful alpine scenery.

Around this time we started joking that it felt like the beginning of an episode of “I Shouldn’t Be Alive”, but we weren’t worried.

Beautiful Scenery

Beautiful Scenery

IMG_5688 (1280x960)


IMG_5692 (1280x960)


The hike was long and challenging and the wind and rain were gradually increased continuously.  Eventually we were soaked in spite of our rain jackets and the increasing altitude began to have a noticeable effect and we started to get really cold.  As we neared Tres Cruces after 5 hours of uphill hiking (never encountering a single other person), we were cold and wet and miserable and doing the high altitude stumble, barely able to put one foot in front of another.  (Tres Cruces pass is at 13,671 ft).  We talked about how nice it would be to sit in the visitor center and warm up with some hot chocolate.

Cold and miserable

Cold and miserable - you can't see the wind or the rain in the photo, but believe me it's there.

Tres Cruces

Tres Cruces

When we reached Tres Cruces, however, there was no visitor center; we had somehow misunderstood the map and directions.  Worse still, we had passed to the other side of a mountain and were blasted by wind and rain that we had apparently been mostly protected from for most of the hike.  Freezing cold and wet, it was not a pleasant moment looking at a sign that said nothing but “Tres Cruces” wondering if we would ever be warm again.  We headed along the road toward Cuenca and soon found a sign informing us that the visitor center was another 3.3 km on.  So we hiked down the road for 2 miles, assaulted by wind and rain.

Colder and more miserable

Colder and more miserable

Eventually we got to the visitor center and things actually got worse from there.  Normally we’re pretty rugged travelers and wouldn’t even mention an unheated visitor center or having to wait outside in the wind and rain for an hour for a bus (the Visitor Center is 100 meters back from the road so you can’t wait there), but that was the icing on a very miserable cake.

But we survived, and I don’t think “I Shouldn’t Be Alive” will be optioning our story any time soon.  I’m not sure if the moral of the story is “be prepared” or “don’t trust Ecuadorian bus drivers”.  Probably both.


  1. 03/13/2010

    I think that you and Ben should try to get on the show Amazing Race.

  2. Sandra

    ick! how miserable! Hope it’s warmer and nicer in Turkey!!

  3. 03/14/2010

    @Betty – I know, that would be so fun! I looked into it once, but there’s an extremely long application process. The questionnaire is at least 20 pages with all kinds of detailed questions… so I gave up.

    @Sandra – unfortunately we came back to winter in the northern hemisphere. It’s fairly cold in Istanbul right now, highs around 45 degrees. But we’re going to Egypt and South Africa after this, I expect it to be warmer there!

  4. Clay

    lol =D