01.01.2006 - 04.01.2006
We caught a flight from Quito to Loja, in southern Ecuador, saving us 15 or 20 hours of road travel. From there we were unsure of whether to go straight to the Peruvian border, another 6 or 8 hours by bus, or to stop in Vilcabamba, a hippyish sounding place we had read about in the The South American Handbook. In the airport we talked to a young norteamericano who happened to be teaching English there. She told us it was a wonderful place. That decided it, and we shared a cab with her for the hour ride to the small town.
As it turned out Vilcabamba, was one of the highlights of our trip. Located somewhat lower than the surrounding highlands the climate is semi-tropical, though it is surrounded by imposing mountains. Everything is incredibly lush with many species of plants, both tropical and nontropical. True, it was the rainy season, but we heard that it was green all year long. The afternoons were hot, and often punctuated by a thunderstorm or two, while the mornings and evenings were comfortable and mild. We had some rain on each of the days we were there, but it came in short bursts, and the sun was out for most of the time. Every day we could see rainbows, sometimes two at a time, stretching from the valley floor all the way into the distant mountains after the storms would roll in
Often the high mountains would still be overcast while the valley was sunny. We stayed in Izhcayluma, a German run small hotel on a hill overlooking the valley. There were elaborate gardens, a small, but beautifully landscaped pool, and good meals in an open-air restaurant. We decided to go for broke at $30US a night, and had our own cabin, complete with terrace and hammock facing the hills in the back. Staying in the hotel were several German's, not surprisingly, a family from Quito, and an afro-american woman from California, another psychologist.
View of Valley from the Hotel
Wandering around town we discovered a central plaza, and in it a small cafe that served, what they said, were organic crepes and yogurt smoothies. It was obvious that some of the more decrepit building were being repaired, and sizable new hotels and houses were in various stages of construction. We talked to another American, our age, who was in the process of building a house in the hills. He was far from the only one it seemed, and slowly Vilcabamba is becoming something of an expat community for retirees, mostly from California. Despite the considerable rise in land prices fed by foreign dollars, the town still felt like a sleepy village. Perhaps the hippie element, such as it is, was best expressed by the funky bar I stopped in for a beer and sandwich. It had a disheveled garden in the back, with banana palms strung with Christmas lights that looked as though they had been there a while. Inside, the bar stools were made of saddles, while the wooden walls had newspapers for wallpaper. I was the only customer, but it was, after all mid-afternoon.
Another day we climbed part way up Mandingo, the base of which is an easy walk from the hotel.
It turned out to be more challenging and exposed than we thought. We climbed to the first cross, and could see that the trail continued on a knife's edge with loose rock, to where we could see another cross. We had been warned that the hardest part was beyond that. So the first cross was it. Nearby were several cows, who seemed to think think they were goats. They had no fear of us, or of falling off for that matter.
We rested here, and admired the views across the valley.
On the way down it began to get hot, and we stopped at one of the few internet cafes, close to the trail head. The cafe which was on the 2nd story had a roof, but otherwise it was an open terrace. Naturally the net was slow, but we had an expansive view of the village and the mountains beyond.
I thought that there could not possibly be a more beautiful place to compose a letter.