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The International Writers Magazine: Ecuador Cajas: Fishing

The Quirks of Cajas
Tyrel Nelson

She looked like a big banana. But a few minutes earlier, she didn’t.
Without warning, the skies turned overcast and a light rain began to fall, which was typical for Ecuador’s El Cajas National Park; sporadic weather was the norm. Consequently, my next-door neighbor, Sheik, unveiled the bright yellow poncho that matched her blinding rubber boots. Removing the plastic shawl from her backpack was the easy part; putting it on, however, proved to be much more challenging for the lanky lady.

Like a bug desperately trying to escape a spider web, my spindly, dark-featured friend struggled mightily as she tried to wear her lemon cloak. Sheik just couldn’t seem to locate the appropriate holes for her head and arms as she constantly punched in all directions. To make matters worse, the powerful mountain winds violently flapped her saffron wrap, making the poncho puzzle even harder to decipher. Finally, after a thorough process of elimination, the long-haired Costa Rican popped her head through the right place. She looked exasperated.

Watching my graying friend the entire time, I couldn’t help but burst out when she finally got the raincoat on. The Tica heard my cackling and whipped around to stare at me with an evil eye.
"Ha, Ha, Ha..!" Sheik yelled, mocking my laughter.
Then, as if someone was playing tricks on her, a strong gust suddenly blew by my neighbor and practically stripped the poncho from the Costa Rican’s body. The wind abruptly lifted the wrap over Sheik’s arms and threw it around her neck to make it look like she was wearing a sunny apron. I crowed even louder.
"Shut up! I don’t even know why I brought this thing!" the annoyed woman exclaimed.
Quite irked, she then stomped off, heading towards a distant lagoon to catch up with her husband, Juan José. My frustrated friend also stuffed the burdensome poncho back into her bag while she marched. Keeping my distance, I followed Sheik, figuring that I should join her because we made the hour-long trip from Cuenca to supposedly "fish with Juan Jo."

On this gloomy Sunday, Sheik and I were nonetheless chasing her Spaniard spouse instead of fishing with him. Be that as it may, I wasn’t surprised. I had been through this before. The previous time I fished "with" the bald man, I hardly saw him. The middle-aged, soft-spoken Spaniard invited me to El Cajas six months earlier to spend a relaxing day of fishing in the peaceful national park. But as soon as we arrived at Laguna Luspa, Juan José bolted.
The avid angler couldn’t stand still. He continuously threw his line into the far-reaching, pristine lagoon while rapidly skirting the shoreline until he disappeared into the foggy distance. An eternity later, Juan Jo returned to the same spot where he had abandoned me, sans fish and ready to go back to Cuenca. It definitely wasn’t the best Sunday I had spent during my 9 months in Ecuador.

Therefore, I was armed with a Canon, not a pole this time around. I knew I wouldn’t be able keep up with the fleeting fisherman and wanted something else to do rather than lose Juan Jo’s lures and freeze while playing the waiting game. Very familiar with her hubby’s restlessness, Sheik, too, brought a camera.

As the midday clouds periodically sprinkled rain on us, Juan José ceaselessly searched the rugged terrain for the best spot to cast his line. Sheik and I followed far behind, keeping the tall fellow within shouting distance as we snaked across the verdant hills and snapped endless photos of our peaked surroundings. Besides taking pictures of lagoons and vegetation, the Costa Rican and I even got some close-ups of several llamas eating from the grassy hillsides. I was actually surprised at how unconcerned the llamas were about our presence. Based on their obvious apathy, these animals had most likely seen humans before.

Eventually, Juan Jo decided on a place to park. Going with his gut, he stopped at the bouldered bank of a small creek, which slowly flowed downhill from a vast lagoon. Furthermore, the Spaniard’s intuition was apparently right because he caught three small trout within a span of fifteen minutes.

Sheik, who was by his side for the third catch, was ecstatic.
Seeing that the fish were continuing to bite, Juan José then yelled for me to grab his tackle box, which he left on the rugged bank further downstream. Quickly approaching, I scooped up his gear and just as I was about to make my way towards the couple, I lost my balance on the stony shoreline. I frantically reached for a jagged rock to regain my balance, but landed on my butt and sliced open my right hand in the process. To add insult to injury, Sheik and Juan Jo didn’t even notice my fall because they were too focused on the water.

My paw a bleeding mess, I immediately grabbed a white bandana from my backpack. I winced as I delicately wrapped the painful laceration. And when I approached my neighbors with a tackle box in one hand and a bloody cloth in the other, the Tica and her husband felt it was time for a break. The three of us went to a nearby patch of land to eat lunch on a trio of boulders, which made for great seats. Grimacing from the gash, I focused on my enormous bologna sandwich. Several bites later, I suddenly realized that Sheik was staring at my injury. She put her sandwich down, walked over, and kneeled in front of me.
"Let me see that," the Costa Rican said as she grabbed my wounded hand.

Unimpressed with my shoddy wrap, my neighbor shook her head and untied my loose bandage. Not only was Sheik dressing the cut in a much better fashion, but she was also doing it in half as much time. I was a bit embarrassed.
Then, the Tica smiled at me.
"This is what you get for making fun of me," Sheik said while tying the final knot.
Even though my hand was throbbing, I chuckled at her wisecrack.
Still trying to ignore the sharp pain in my paw, I subsequently joined my companions’ discussion about the on-again-off-again weather we had been experiencing. As I thought about the park’s ever-changing climate, I also reflected on the other things I had witnessed that day.
I recalled my first llama sighting in El Cajas, Juan Jo’s random discovery of a spot teeming with trout, and my tumble on the rocks. Moreover, I pondered how my first two visits were completely different from each other and how this trip was nothing like those ones. Fully living up to its erratic reputation, the park had been predictably unpredictable.
Glancing at my watch, I noticed it was just after 1 PM. I knew Juan José would want to make use of the several hours of daylight which remained. And while I wondered about the upcoming afternoon, I could only imagine what else Cajas had in store for us.

© Tyrel Nelson December 2008
Rambling through Rotary
Tyrel Nelson
Sunday morning. That’s always my answer whenever I’m asked what tops my list about Cuenca.

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