Friday, 24th October
We woke up early again, I think the boat has trained us now to get up early and be ready for an activity. The only problem is that we have no activities planned for us today. I take the laptop into the cafe for breakfast and some blogging whilst Kirsty continues to rest. We don’t have any plans as I mentioned so there’s no hurry to get going anywhere. We hang around a bit at the hostel, drinking coffee and tea. We noticed at our hostel a face we recognise, it turns out that Ingrid who was working at the hostel ‘El Cafecito’ in Quito is travelling through South America and is now in Cuenca for a bit before heading on to Peru so we might be seeing her again. At around 12noon when we head out for lunch. We have a shuttle bus booked from a few doors down from our hostel to out next hostel in Vilcabamba so we can leave our large bags at ‘El Cafecito’ whilst we go out in search of a lunch of the day deal. We find just the place, ‘Don Colon’, set on the main square, Plaza Abdon Calderon. We meet ‘Don Colon’, the owner of the restaurant, who upon hearing we are from Australia, lets us know that he once cooked for Olivia Newton-John. We’ve had a taxi driver previously tell us he gave her a ride in his cab. They seem rather fond of her here in Ecuador. We have the lunch of the day for US$4 each which gives us a soup, main course and dessert with a fruit juice to drink. These ‘lunch of the day’s’ are real bargains and can be found everywhere with varying quality, of course. With the time being around 1pm we head back to our hostel to pick up our bags and walk the ten metres or so to another hostel from where we catch the shuttle bus to Vilcabamba. We could’ve caught a public bus, three times, to get there but this is only a few dollars more and it takes us door to door so there wasn’t really a decision to be made as I see it.
The drive takes up into the clouds again as we make our way, first to Loja, then a bit further South to the town of Vilcabamaba. Cuenca is at around 2,500m meters above sea level and Vilcabamba is at around 1,500m, so we have come down in altitude a bit. Our hostel, ‘Izhcayluma’ is around 2km out of Vilcabamba town itself and has sweeping views over the ‘Valley of Longevity’ as it is known. When we arrive though it’s dark so we don’t see any of the view. We have dinner at the hostel which is really nice, we both have a chicken and red wine dish and Kirsty treats herself to a reasonably priced glass of Chilean red. She also books in a massage for tomorrow, this hostel offers yoga, tai chi and massages amongst other treatments. I might just go on a hike, that being more my scene. For tonight though, we take it easy and have an early night with there not being too much to do up here in the dark. It’s a hostel but more of a hotel vibe, people keeping to themselves.
Saturday, 25th October
A mosquito keeps us up most of the night so we don’t wake feeling that great this morning. I have read somewhere that you don’t mosquitos above 800m. This is a lie as there are definitely mosquitos up here albeit not that many. All it takes though is one in your bedroom at night to drive you insane. Being up early I head to breakfast soon after it starts to get a table by the edge of the balcony so we can get an uninterrupted view of the valley below us. The views from this ‘hosteria’, as it terms itself, are breathtaking. Not unlike other views we have seen on this trip but we have mainly seen these views on drives and walks. Not many hostels can boast a view such as this one. The breakfast is a buffet style but nowhere near what we have become used to of a buffet since the cruise. Kirsty can’t have any as it’s all gluten and lactose based. I fill up on granola and bread then we think about what to do today. Kirsty has a massage booked in for 4pm so we have until then. We had thought about a hike but the altitude has got to Kirsty a bit and she isn’t feeling too good so we opt just to walk the twenty minutes into Vilcabamba town. On the way we find the mobile phone shop that doubles as a bus ticket office and purchase our tickets that will take us into Peru tomorrow night on a overnight bus.
Located in a historical and scenic valley, Vilcabamba is a popular destination for travellers, in part because it is believed that it’s inhabitants grow to a very old age here. Locals assert that it is not uncommon to see a person reach 100 years of age and it is claimed that many have reached 120, even up to 135, which would make it an area with the oldest inhabitants in the world. For this is gets it’s name, the ‘Valley of Longevity’. There is a strong sense of a lot of people from North America and Europe having come here to set up shop of simply relax in their retirement. Along with this there are a lot of ‘hippy traveller’ types that frequent the meditation schools, make jewellery (never seen anyone actually buying any I might add) and some dabbling in a bit of juggling. All this creates a town with a strange atmosphere. On the one hand it’s an Ecuadorian town with locals going about their day but on the other hand you have people sitting around the main square, sipping fruit juice blended smoothies, playing the flute or engaging in some other creative past-time. On the whole it’s a nice enough town but the scenery is what you come here for, not the town. It feels like we could be somewhere in North America, maybe a Portland, when you listen into some of the conversations people are having around us.
We find a cafe on the main square and Kirsty orders some gluten-free waffles. At least one good thing has come of the influx of North Americans. She suddenly starts to feel dizzy though and it seems as though the altitude has got to her so after breakfast we just catch a taxi (pick-up truck) back to the hostel to rest. Altitude sickness is by no means definite and there are a range of symptoms that can affect everyone differently. We have both felt some discomfort from altitude on this trip. Whilst Kirsty rests I catch up on some blogging and watch the local bird-life. Amongst others I spot some bluebirds and a woodpecker. Whilst Kirsty gets her massage later in the day I sit in the restaurant and admire the view of the valley over a plate of chips and a local beer (Pilsner). We then bring out the Monopoly Deal deck, something we have neglected lately, and I think we end up winning one game a piece. We have lost count on the aggregate total I’m afraid although I suspect Kirsty is winning. For dinner Kirsty has the same again (chicken in red wine sauce), after the kitchen being out of steak and I go for a German dish. There’s a very strong German contingent here, this hostel is run by a couple, and the menu reflects this. The food is good here though and we are enjoying the range and quality or it all. We go to bed crossing our fingers that the mosquito has died during the day.
Sunday, 26th October
Today we ‘sleep-in’ until around 8am after which we get up and pack as we have a bus booked tonight from the nearby town, Loja, at 11pm to take us into Piura, Peru. For this, we have to get a bus from Vilcamaba at around 8pm so we still have the whole day pretty much to check out the local area. We have breakfast then settle our bill and after some digesting I set off on a three hour hike around the local area whilst Kirsty takes it easy at the hostel. She has a hair treatment booked, making the most of the hotel perks whilst we are here. My hike was easy going although I do set off at quite a pace wanting to get it done quickly so I still have time to laze around at the hostel in the afternoon. It takes me through some countryside, farmland and a local village (Chaupi) and beneath the Mandango mountain (believed by some to be a sleeping Inca king) before looping back around and coming through Vilcabamba town back up the hostel. I return to the hotel knackered having set off too fast and and completely worn out. It is lunch time by now though so we settle down into some lunch at the hostel restaurant.
In the afternoon we relax in some hammocks for a few hours, reading, napping and blogging. I have a lot to catch up on since the Galapagos Islands as you will see from the all the albums I have uploaded. In the afternoon a storm rolls in which covers the surrounding hills in a dense blanket of mist. With the light fading we move from hammocks in the bar lounge area back up to the restaurant area and stake claim to a table with a view. From here we continue to read and both have a hot chocolate, feeling like an appropriate drink for the cold, damp weather. A couple sitting at the table next to us ask if we’d like to share a taxi to the Loja bus terminal which we agree to. They are also going to Peru tonight. We were going to catch the public bus with the trip budget in mind but sharing a taxi makes the jounrey a whole lot easier and it’s only US$15 between the four of us for the one hour ride from Vilcabamba to Loja. We have our last dinner at the hosteria, we shall miss these hearty dinners, and get ready for the overnight bus ride to Piura in Peru. We get to the bus terminal around 10pm and board our bus with plenty of time to spare. We booked the front two seats behind the driver thinking that this would mean no reclining seats in from of us and mire leg room but alas, we forgot they partition off the drivers in the buses of South America so we have less leg room than normal. No stretching out tonight. The bus is full and we leave for Peru at 11pm, in the darkness. Before we manage to nod off though the conductor puts on the movie ‘Castaway’ on the tv screen which annoys us to say the least. They always feel the need to play a movie in the buses here. It’s 11am and we are due at the border at around 3am so I’m sure we’re not the only ones that want some sleep and not Tom Hanks shouting ‘Wilson’ keepng us awake. Next stop Peru.