Friday, February 7, 2014

Welcome to the Paper Tree Forest

Most people have a Bucket List of places they very much want to visit before the one-way trip to the next plain of existence. Tops on mine is Turkey.

One place that wasn't on my Bucket List, because I didn't know it existed, was the Paper Tree Forest in Cajas National Park outside Cuenca, Ecuador. However, it was such a magical experience, I would urge you to put it on yours.

Stepping into the Paper Tree Forest was like instantly being transported to a magical, enchanted land. The trees are so different from anything I'd ever seen before, and so different from the surrounding bogs and mountains of the Cajas, that it very nearly took my breath away...or was that the elevation?

 The official name of Paper Trees is polylepis, which is Latin for "many layers." That's because the trees don't have rings like other types of trees, but more resemble onions. They can literally be peeled apart and the layers used for writing paper or to roll cigarettes. As you can see from these pictures, the lack of a strong inner core causes the trees to grow in some fascinating ways, winding, bending, and turning like a hermit's fingernails.

In Australia the trees tend to look more like scrubs. However, in the rain forests/cloud forests of the Cajas, the trees grow much taller and wind in fascinating ways.

When llamas munch on them, they also tend to fall over, but can continue growing. Therefore, you might see one growing along the ground or winding in a circle. (Having said that, I am anything but an expert on Paper Trees. My only experience was hiking the Cajas and stumbling across this magical kingdom.)

Our guide said many of the native peoples of the region saw/see the forest as enchanted. Not hard to see why. If you have ever wondered what it would feel like to step inside a fairy land, visit the Paper Tree Forest.

Our guide said there are actually a number of tales from the native peoples that happen in the polylepis forests. As I began writing The Ecuadorian Deception, my intention was that much of the book, especially the chase scenes.

If you have read the novel, you know that while the Paper Tree Forest is certainly there, it has a much more minor roll...more of a backdrop scene than a centerpiece.

In spite of that, or maybe because of it, I wanted to take time to encourage you that if/when you visit Ecuador, make time to visit the Cajas (pronounced Cah-haas). When you first begin your hike, you will go through a rain forest, move into bogs, and then eventually make the Paper Tree Forest. Having said that, you don't have to be in top shape to make the hike, but you do need to be able to trudge at least 10 miles in high altitudes.

It's not recommended to do this on your own, either. If you get lost in the Cajas, it can be very dangerous. That's probably not so different from national parks in the United States, where getting lost is also not a great idea.

The bogs along the Inca Trail.
For those of you who have hiked the Inca Trail or visited the Paper Tree Forest, I'd love for you to share with us in the comments section. Further, if you have other "magical" destinations, feel free to recommend them.

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