Photo Gallery: Andean Drugs And Natural Medicine In Cajas National Park, Ecuador

Cajas National Park is located near Cuenca, Ecuador, and is a very important natural site for the country. In fact, it may soon be considered a World Heritage Natural Site. The park is 28,544 hectares, and features over 150 bird species and unique flora, almost all of which can be used for drug and medicinal purposes.

I was lucky enough to take a tour of the park with Gray Line Ecuador, a popular and reliable tour company in the country. My guide, Juan, picked me up from my hostel promptly at 8:15 am and was friendly and comical from the start. He spoke great English, but also taught us many Spanish words while imparting knowledge on Inca culture, Ecuadorian history, and the flora and fauna of Cajas National Park.

About The Park

One great thing budget-travelers will love is that Ecuador’s new socialist president has decided nature should be free, so there’s no longer an entrance fee for the park.

Cajas is the perfect example of an ice age park made by a glacier. All the lakes are glacial lakes, with beautiful and vibrant colors. In the park there are five eco-systems, with the lowest one being a primary cloud forest at 10,171 feet. The highest point in the park is 15,092 feet, although the highest we went on the tour was through the spooky yet magical Quinoa Forest at 13,124 feet. The area (pictured above) is full of twisting trees and legends of spirits and elves.

Incan And Andean Medicine

The Inca, who inhabited the area 500 years ago, had a use for almost every plant in Cajas National Park. Moreover, majority of the flora in the park are non-poisonous. Because I’m interested in herbal and holistic medicine, Juan was nice enough to enlighten me on the uses for the various plants:

Called “floripondia”, this is an extremely strong hallucinogen used by shamans, as well as criminals. One trick criminals play is making the plant into a white powder and placing some on a piece of white paper. They will then go up to an unsuspecting person, pretending they are looking at a map, and ask for directions. Once the victim touches the contaminated paper, the drug seeps through their skin and affects them so strongly, they are basically at the mercy of the criminal.

Locals call it “human flesh” because it looks and feels like skin. You chew it, suck down the juice, and it cures altitude sickness. Just be warned, it tastes horrible and burns when you swallow.

Who knew salvia was so pretty? Many Andeans enjoy smoking this plant for an intense hallucinogenic experience

Known as “chukirahua” or “fire flower” in English, this plant is used to make teas and warm up the body when ill

“Globita”, or “balloon” in English, is good for nerves and stomach problems.

These fleshy mushrooms are 100% healthy and edible

In these flowers are “chocho”, which area bean-like and used to make ceviche

This plant is what’s used to make the popular drug Valium

Called “entorcha”, or “the torch” in English, this plant is helpful for easing period cramps

“Calelazo”

During the included traditional meal on the tour, which included a potato, avocado, and cheese soup called “lucru de papa”, a meal of trout, rice, vegetables, and yucca, and a medicinal drink served hot called “calelazo” (pictured above). It’s made with cinnamon, sugar cane alcohol, and “ataco”, a medicinal plant that cures chills and illness.

Overall Impression Of The Tour

Overall, this was one of the best tours I’ve been on during my trip through South America. Along with learning about natural medicine, Juan took us on some scenic hikes through cloud forests and the Quinoa Forest, and also taught us about Incan and Ecuadorian culture. I would highly recommend this tour to anyone who loves the outdoors and wants to learn more about the place they’re visiting.

This post was made possible by Gray Line Ecuador 

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