After a long night on a bus with very little legroom, we had to change transportation one last time in Loja, Ecuador. We took a bus along a very scenic route, according to our travel guide at least, I was asleep and drooling against the window for most of it, to Vilcabamba. According to our travel guide, again, this small town in the south of Ecuador was ‘liked by tourists and expats alike’, so I didn’t exactly expect us to be the only gringos in town, but I wasn’t quite ready for the vast amount of Americans and Europeans in this little pueblo.
At least half the bars in Vilcabamba were owned by Americans and most of the customers where either from the USA or Europe. Being in Ecuador, we were already paying in US dollars so ordering in English and making smalltalk with lots of Americans living there was a bit of a bizarre experience. Vilcabamba presents itself as a centre of longevity, so maybe that is were the appeal to spend one’s retirement dollars there comes from. The excellent climate and beautiful surroundings might have something to do with it as well.
It was also obvious that most of the people that had left their homeland for Ecuadorian paradise had done so because ‘of what was going on back home’. Let me tell you, we heard a fair amount of different conspiracy theories while enjoying a beer on one of the lovely terraces. One of them about the harmful radiation in the USA. Told to us by a lady while smoking her 20th cigarette of the day. I would suggest a little more consistency in lifestyle choices.
After one day of recovering from the long trip, we decided to hike up one of the hills that surrounded the town on our second day. The views were amazing, and the path challenging at times when we had to basically walk along the ridge of a mountain. After we reached the top we decided to go back along a different path, because we didn’t want to backtrack. Foolish! We ended up having to follow cow tracks through fields and dense bushes, getting various cuts along the way and having to dodge lots of horrible looking spiders. We were pretty relieved when we finally got back onto the main road. That’s what you get for trying to be adventurous!
The next day we tried to visit a nearby national park because I was convinced we’d see the Andean Spectacled Bear (an endangered species, I can be a little overly optimistic sometimes) in there and had another little hiking fail. After the first checkpoint we had to walk for 8km to the entry of the park in the cloud forest. After about 5km it started tipping it down with rain, leaving us no other option than to carry on and get absolutely drenched. At the entrance we were told that the actual trails were way to slippery, but luckily we got a nice dry ride back into Vilcabamba by, of course, an American couple.
After Vilcabamba we moved on, in a minibus with American pensioners, to Cuenca where we mostly just relaxed, went to food markets and cooked..
After two days of not doing much, we traveled a bit further north to Baños. The reason for our stay there was the possibilty of doing some outdoor activities. We decided on white water rafting and after comparing several tour agencies and realising they were all offering exactly the same tour, just picked one at random. It had rained consistently during the night before our much anticipated rafting experience and even on the way there and while paddling for our lives it still rained slightly. Our guide warned us beforehand that it would be a quick ride (as in 10 minutes shorter than normal!) because of that rain, but it was so much fun! When we tackled the first rapids I was convinced we were all going to fall out and die, but after that didn’t happen I was mostly screaming and laughing out of excitement.
After all that adrenaline we had a very relaxed evening before setting out for the capital, Quito, the next day.