Vern: Another early start. We took a five-hour bus south to Loja and then switched to another which after an hour delivered us to the lovely little hamlet of Vilcabamba.
The little town sits in a luxuriant green bowl with high mountains all around it and blue mountains on the horizon - 360 degrees of rocky brilliance! It is full of expats, mostly German and French it seems, and is supposedly famous because people say that its residents don't kick the bucket. They all just keep on tickin' in the stable climate which sits at 24 degrees or so all year round. The hills are dotted with Spanish-tile-roofed mansions and a lot of land is for sale - the locals cashing on foreign demand I presume - so it won't be as green in a year from now but luckily at some point the slopes will be too steep for development to continue and the town will still be quite lovely even at capacity.
Two kilometres from town, sits Hosteria Izhcayluma, where we'd booked our beds and as soon as the taxi dropped us off we were delighted with our decision to spend a few days here. It's sort of a backpacker resort, with spacious dorms (no bunk beds, and double beds for couples - a first!), a mid-range restaurant on a terrace, a pool, a thatched outdoor bar and even a cheap spa (though not cheap enough for us cheapos!). It's very cleverly located in southern Ecuador near the border with Peru as travellers have likely spent several days busing south through Ecuador (like us) or north through Peru - both long multi-bus journeys with little of interest on the way. So this little haven, in its picture-perfect spot, is just what the doctor ordered.
Exhausted, we ate both lunch and dinner at the hosteria's restaurant and did little in between. After dinner, we played some ping pong in the bar area then sat around the bonfire. They even had one of those giant chess sets that one usually finds in time share resorts. I was as confused as pickup-stix, sitting on a log next to the fire, when two of the chess pieces came bounding toward me. The pawns are revolting! I rubbed my eyes and when they opened again, two Labradors were fighting over a large piece of fire wood near my feet. Nearly identical in size and shape, but one was snow white and the other coal black.
We slept soundly in our solid wood bed in the bush-lodge-like stone dorm, and awoke to a hearty breakfast: lots of fruit and CREPES! Bliss. We decided on the 'Introductory Hike' with a difficultly rating of 1 out of 5 and described as a good overview of the area. The receptionist called it the "all-ages hike" when he handed us the map which made us feel a bit amateurish but we weren't here to exert ourselves. The three hour walk across the hillsides around town was mostly uninteresting (which I suppose we deserved) but as we walked back into town we found half its populous watching a volleyball game. It seemed to be an important fixture and we were particularly impressed when we noticed that the man at the net on one of the teams had only one arm.
The following day we found a book exchange and swapped our novels out for some new literary entertainment and then spent some time uploading photos in an internet cafe. That night we ate dinner with a couple from North Carolina, who had had a disappointing day looking for property in Vilcabamba - this wasn't the first story we'd heard about this town turning tourists into property hunters - as prices are already inflated. They were much happier selling us on their home town of Durham, North Carolina and we listened intently. We were to leave very early the next morning, before breakfast, and were amazed that the hosteria put together a packed breakfast for the road and gave it to us before we went to bed. A very nice touch.