We've reached a few milestones in our trip - we have started a second country, started our third container of peanut butter, finished our second bottle of pepto bismol, and so many more show-stoppers! Keep reading for other more-than-you-wanted-to-know gems..
We last left off with our heroes crossing the international bridge to Ecuador. Our trip took two days and the route was as follows:
Chachapoyas > Bagua Grande > Jean > San Ignacio (spend the night here)
San Igacio > La Balsa to cross the border > Zumba > Vilcabamba
The rides were relatively uneventful and included lots of busses, taxis, combis. San Ignacio was relatively uneventful - we found a cheap simple hotel and wandered the streets hoping for vegetarian food. After many places saying they had no vegetarian food (what does that mean? you serve plates of chicken stuffed with beef and a side of pork with sausage juice?) We found a nice looking hotel with a restaurant and asked the same question as always. We got a short blank stare, then a thoughtful moment and he mentioned a salad... after a few minutes of bumbling, he reached below his desk and pulled out a
plate of completely vegetarian food fully prepared (looked like a plastic display case item) and we said - yes, that. Rice, yam, egg, and potato. Our meals came with huge salads as well.
What else is note worthy about the crossing... the immigration office on the peru side was a small building with one person working and stamping. The bridge was completely unguarded, we walked across at our leisure. And on the Ecuadorian side, the immigration office was 'open' but empty. We asked a little kid who told us they were down the street playing basketball. Eventually they came back shirtless and sweaty to stamp our papers and we boarded the ranchero to Zumba. What is a ranchero? Picture a dump truck but without walls, with a roof and with boards of wood across the bed as seats. Thats a ranchero and it was our ride to Zumba.
We arrived into Vilcabamba in the dark but we could tell from the sent of good coffee and stale hippies that we would like the town. The spot Sara picked out was outside of town, a $3 taxi ride away (by the way, Ecuador uses US dollars as their currency
and it was weird to get used to) called Cabina Rio Yambala. Owned by a british/american couple, this place is set in the mountains just above a rushing river, there are four wood cabins, each with an entire wall that opens out to a beautiful view. We arrived late, buzzed Charlie, the owner, who showed us to our room (up a hiking trail in the dark) and, with pity, brought us a quickly made dinner.
We spent the next day relaxing from our travels, enjoying the views and walked an hour into town to use the internet and see the sights (there are none). We also organized a two day horse trek through Charlie for the following day. We returned in time for dinner at the Cabina, which was a delicious vegetarian meal.
The next day we started after breakfast with Jorge, our guide, up the twisty trailed mountain toward La Palmas Reserve, a private reserve owned by the hostal. The trail was mostly involved crossing postcardesque rivers and went high up onto the mountain that is the reserve. After a tough but fun two hours, we arrived at our cabin - a single building on the top
of mountain surrounded by valleys and other mountains. The cabin was comfortable and complete with flushing toilet, running sinks, gas-run stoves and comfy beds.
Jorge took all the straps and saddles off the horses and let them graze on their own, telling us that we would hike today and tomorrow morning and only use the horses to get back to the hostel. We ate lunch of an avocado and cheese sandwich, lightly toasted of course. Then spent some time restinng our sore behinds - I was surpised that we were done on the horses but also relieved.
After resting we did a hard but short hike straight down the mountain into jungle-esque territory to see some beautiful waterfalls. On the way back up to the cabin, we stopped to cut firewood for the night. Ok, fine - Jorge did the cutting but I dragged an entire small tree back on my own.
The evening was really nice - Jorge made a big fire in the fireplace and cooked up a delicious dinner, while I busied myself trying to make a flute out of peice of bamboo (successfully - if it survives the rest of the trip, I
can show it to you). It started raining during the evening and turned into a pretty loud rainstorm but we were well protected and plenty warm.
The next morning we had a great breakfast and then hiked an hour or so, also a pretty tough hike down steep, slippery narrow paths to an area that had been rigged up for a zipline canopy tour. Thats right, Jorge was not only a horse guide, hiking leading, trail clearer, chef and wood cutter but he operated our canopy tour also. We hooked in one at a time and zipped down the first length which was short but had some good speed and nice views, we walked over a much-scarier-than-it-looked horizontal ladder-bridge over to the second zipline. I´ll try to upload some videos if I can.
We hiked back, got lunch and boarded the horseback express! We could see right away (because of our mountaintop locale) that a huge storm was heading our way from the otherwise of the valley. He said we had to hurry a little to finish the mountain top part because the trail would be hard for the horses if it got wet. We did that successfully
but there was no change of out running or out galloping the storm, which came on in full force in the matter of minutes - barely giving us enough time to get our rain jackets on. But the cold hard rain came and we had no choice but to continue on - it showed no signs of slowing anyway.
Jorge got off his horse quickly, saying riding int he rain was too cold for him - Sara was soon to follow, the ride was cold and the steep drops on the horse were getting scary as the rain kept on. I decided bravely (read: stubbornly) to keep on the horse for the remainder of the ride. We arrived an hour later soaked to the bone, freezing but feeling victorious (and sore).
We spent the next day relaxing and catching up on the internet in town - and sampling the belgium chocolate-making restaurant, which was great. The day after we left for Cuenca.
I will do the next few days in very quick summary because I've spent too much time on the internet already: Cuenca is a big city with nice restaurant. I decided to start taking my
stomach pains more seriously and we went to check out a clinic recommended in the lonely planet - saw a great doctor who ran some tests and comfirmed that I have not one, but two intestinal parasites! She prescribed a heavy dosage of antibiotics, painkillers and probiotics and sent me on my way. We spent a sleep sunday in Cuenca and the next started a rough, painful 8 hour trip to Banos - to enjoy a cute town, great hot thermal baths (118 degrees F!) and... start that trip back in reverse to arrive in Cuenca last night!
Why? We are closing in on our flight date by ten days and have to get all the way back to Lima, so we decided instead of continuing north, we will start south and break up our trip into smaller pieces.
I don´t have many pictures of cuenca or banos, so enjoy these great graffiti shots from Cuenca!
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