The next destination was Vilcabamba but the journey was far from straightforward. Vilcabamba is in the far south of Ecuador, not far from Peru. So I had decided to break the journey from Quito by getting a night bus to Cuenca, have a stop over there and then continue on. I had my night bus ticket so all was going well and all I had to do was keep my self busy. Dropped my laundry off and shopped. Even managed to get a sleeping bag cover for my Alpaca blanket (which I have decided to take with me) from a small shop were the little old man spoke no English. It was so much fun as he had no clue what I was saying and I didn't have my dictionary. So I had to use actions and any props that I could find in the shop. He then went off and started pulling out boxes until he was able to produce the perfect sleeping bag cover. Both of us were laughing by the end. Finally went back for my laundry, to find it had closed early for the day!!!! They have their own rules over here. So virtually all my clothes were locked up. There was no way I could go anywhere. Ahhhh!!!! So off I went to the bus station to see if they could change my non transferable ticket. The bloke had no English. So I rolled up my sleeves and started to explain with actions, expressions and any Spanish words that I knew my predicament. At the end I was breathless, I smiled and went 'Entiende?' He replied 'No'. So I was relentless, I did it all again. I would wear this man down. This time I just looked and he went 'Manana'!!!! Yeahhhhhhh!!!!! Lets hope the laundry opens on Sundays! It was and I left the following night for Cuenca. However not before watching what would be England's last game in the world cup. We were pants and Germany were good. It was mortifying to watch but doubly so because I was surrounded by Germans and wearing a England shirt. Then I had to kill time. Wandered the streets, helped an old lady push start her car, watched CSI, drank cocktails with some American dudes and overall had a real chilled out day.
This was my first night bus on my own and I was so nervous. Got to the station and was approached by a bloke in jeans wanting my ticket. I didn't know what to do - was he a scam or just an employee. No one wears uniforms over here. I gave him my ticket and he started walking away, so I followed dragging my 24kg backpack behind me. He tried to stop me but I thought 'No way sunshine, me and that ticket come as a package!'. He was legit and he got it stamped and I was ushered onto the bus. It was a horrible journey - with 'more than I could count' speed bumps, tight bends with brakes that did not sound healthy, and the constant risk of pickpockets. It was a long 11 hours and I was shattered when I arrived.
Cuenca was really lovely and a day was perfect to see everything. I did a self guided city walk. Wandered around the main square, visited a couple of churches, and meandered along the river. The river was so beautiful and in a bizarre way reminded me of the River Idle in Retford (my home town). Walked onto the Pumapungo ruins - the highlight actually being the well tendered gardens. Really stunning. Visited a Panama Hat museum and got to see how the hats are made. It is very impressive and the real high quality ones are definitely a cut above. I felt so pleased with myself as when I arrived I felt like hibernating in my hostel room but I kicked myself up the butt and had an excellent day.
The next day I carried on my journey to Vilcabamba. First, I had to catch a bus to Loja. The Cuenca bus station was really dodgy but I knew the company I needed so I persevered until someone would point it out. With ticket in hand, I decided to try and find something for breakfast. Ended up in a joint that makes the greasy spoon cafes back home look posh. One hard boiled egg, juice, cup of hot milk and one slice of toast - not the best but filled the hole. On the bus, my seat was taken by s mall boy. A family of 12 had bought 4 tickets and had spread out. The bus inspector was not happy and unfortunately for me I was in the middle of it all! It finally got sorted but they were all sat on top of each other. There were many stops and all sorts of people would get on and off. At one point a very large lady in traditional dress got on with a baby strapped to her back. No seats so she sat on my arm rest which wouldn't have been too bad but my arm was on it! Didn't seem to bother her. Neither did the fact that ever time we went round a corner, the baby's head would smack into mine. She was also very smelly. It was so unpleasant. Something had to be said so being British, I said - nothing!!!! I am just far too polite for this continent. Really glad when they finally got off. I breathed a sigh of relief and clean air!
On arrival at Loja, I realised one of the down sides of travelling alone is being able to go to the toilet. I had to go, so me and my 24kg backpack squeezed into a cubicle. If you think that sounds hard, well imagine trying to actually get up with the back pack attached from a sitting down position. I couldn't stop laughing - I thought I was going to bring the whole partition down. When I finally managed to free myself, I caught the next bus to Vilcabamba which as luck would have it actually passed my hostel. I am so glad it did as the hostel was up a very steep road. So was it worth it??
Vilcabamba is beautiful and I could have stayed here ages if there had been more people around. The town is set in a valley at the bottom of a huge mountains. The hostel, which is by far the best I have ever seen, is up one of the mountains and overlooks the town. The views are stunning. It is the sort of place that you just feel at peace with everyone and everything. I would love to one day go back and spend even more time there.
They have a terrace restaurant and the food was amazing. I had pizza, Bavarian stroganoff, pasta, salads - all of it tasted superb. The rooms are spacious. They have a pool, bar and games area. They call it a resort for backpackers by backpackers.
There is lots of trekking here but given I was on my own I decided to opt for the horse riding. A brave choice after the last experience but I was well rewarded. The horse was beautiful and really well trained. We spent 4 hours traversing the valley and its undulating slopes. Some of the paths were incredibly narrow and steep but the horse never once made me feel nervous. The guide was confidence inspiring and he even got me galloping. It was so much fun and a much easier way to see the surrounding countryside. As the day got hotter, I was thankful I was riding not walking.
There really weren't many people here. Though I did meet 2 blokes who gave Mel Gibson a run for his money on conspiracy theories. America is going to collapse - this year; money will become a thing of the past and we will be back to bartering; politicians from around the world are in cahoots and have personally managed the economy crisis. The solution apparently to this is leave America and live in Vilcabamba doing sod all! Not speechless very often but these blokes had me gasping for words. Fortunately for me on my last night in Vilcabamba met the lovely Karen who was also going into Peru. I had met my border crossing buddy. So it was time to leave this idyllic haven. I was very sad but I know I will return.