¡Hola a todos!
Vilcabamba was a late addition to my travel itinerary: I had originally intended, in my haste to press on north and include Colombia in my final five weeks of travel in South America, to journey directly to Cuenca, Ecuador’s old, charming capital, roughly six hours of bus travel north of Loja. As it was, Seb proved capable of swaying my mind, promising only a couple of days exploring the fabulous local scenery before continuing to Cuenca.
I am very glad that Seb was able to change my mind. Vilcabamba sits nestled among some gorgeous rolling hills in the deep south of the country. Tinkling clear streams splash playfully over rocks, shaded by tall, imposing foliage that also provides relief to the weary hiker, fighting that age-old battle with the sun’s ever-powerful rays. Woollen clouds float gracefully across an azure sky, dabbing patches of shadow over the landscape below. Shepherds mirror the breezes above, herding their own woolly charges across fields of green in place of blue, a white relief against the building multitude of varying hues. Here was a place that Time seemed in danger of passing by, left forgotten by its usual ravishes. The locals certainly seem to bear testimony to some such practice, boasting of a greater number of centenarians than can be found anywhere else in South America and, if their figures are accurate – it is impossible for clinical tests to prove ages with absolute clarity – then a number rivalling that of any other “health spot” on the planet. Indeed, local testing has supposedly revealed the 80 year-old retina of some such locals as being at least as healthy as that of a 45 year-old Ecuadorian from a city-dwelling. Cause to pause for thought I am sure...
We arrived into a near-deserted main square, beautifully proportioned and with a lively array of flowers and trees populating its inner quadrangle. Seb and I took a taxi two kilometres or so out of town to ‘Hostel Izhcayluma’, a wonderful, German-run establishment more reminiscent of a plush mountain-lodge retreat than of a backpacker-priced hostel. In fact, a dormitory did cost significantly more than we were accustomed to paying in Peru (and have been paying henceforth in Ecuador) but, the prices were not far removed from those paraded in Chile and Argentina and the hostel was among the very best that I have had the pleasure of resting within on this trip – indeed, on any trip. The rooms were large, light and airy; the breakfast was healthy, wholesome and filling, taken from a terrace with breath-taking views out into the valley within which the hostel sits and down towards the town of Vilcabamba itself. The name ‘izhcayluma’ is itself of local Quichua descent and simply means “the place between the two hills” – a valley then. The hostel provided free pool-table, table-tennis table, giant chess set (i.e. life-size), large-screen TV with DVDs available for rent and a well-stocked bar, negating any need it seemed for visiting the town.
In fact, Seb and I spent much of our two days at this wonderful abode out roaming the nearby hills. We saw some brilliant sights, my favourite of which were viewed on the first day’s walk from a high ridgeline trail and on the second day from high above the valley, shortly after walking through a partial cloud-forest. That second day also included a short hike to a waterfall, where Seb, myself and two female hiking companions from the hostel stripped down to our swimming costumes and took an impromptu (and freezing) shower beneath the falls. Seb confirmed my worst fears, held ever since learning of his and Kelsey’s doomed hike down in El Bolson all those months previously by trying his best to get us lost within five minutes of hiking on day one and finally succeeding on day two, when some shoddy attention to detail on my part also aided in our walking an extra two hours atop of that necessary to reach the waterfall (we walked straight past the turning for it and continued on up into the hills). Still, this detour, or “short-cut” as I affectionately saw it, did at least allow us to explore the small cloud-forest and emerge the other side to the best views of either of the two days we were walking.
Our evenings were spend lounging around the restaurant at the hostel, eating sumptuous German-inspired concoctions and making friends with the chatty, hospitable folk on the surrounding tables, followed by fun and antics in the bar area back towards our dorm. We even indulged in some round the table ping-pong, similar to that played in Mendoza, Argentina when Kelsey was also present – we both miss her company greatly and talk often of our times together as a threesome. I was also reminded of boyhood trips to France, where my family and I would visit adventure camp-sites and similar epic games of round the table would occur – sometimes up to thirty people around a single ping-pong table! These were brilliant times and experiences that I hold in my head and my heart even now.
Again, all-too-soon our time in Vilcabamba drew to a close and it was time to hit the road once more and, finally, to aim for Cuenca. Seb had decided during our time in Vilcabamba that he would forego Cuenca (“just another dull, boring city”) in order to continue north to Riobamba and the territory around Mount Chimborazo, Ecuador’s highest peak at 6,310m. I still intended to see Cuenca, inspired by talk of my parents, who had also wanted to visit but, alas, ran out of time on their own trip. Therefore, the next day Seb and I parted company yet again and I tailed back to Loja and from there headed north on the road to Ecuador’s old capital and adventures anew.
¡Saludos a todos!