My time in Ecuador wound down last week and I couldn’t help but feel a little empty spot as I moved on to Peru. I had such a wonderful time during my entire stay in that country. The people, the food, the atmosphere, and the scenery were so incredible. I could not have picked a better country to begin my completely solo travelling!
After leaving the Galapagos, I flew directly into Quayaquil and hopped on a bus to Cuenca. On board, I made friends with the wonderful bus attendant and spent the entire trip taking turns practicing Spanish and English phrases together. (Sorry we never got that salsa dance, Jose Luis! I know you are reading this in Google translate!) Cuenca was an incredibly beautiful town ( like a small Quito) with lots of grand churches and a cute river running through the middle. My time there was a bit short as there was no one in my hostel that spoke English, and I’ve pretty much determined that 5 days is my limit of no decent interaction that consists of things other than greetings and asking for things. So after a few days of exploring and catching up on sleep/laundry, I made my way down to the hippie gringo town of Vilcabamba.
Ahhhhh Vilcabamba. Life was SO good there. I made my way into the town after a couple of bus connections and landed at Hostel Izcahluma – a backpacker resort. Yeah that’s right, an unbelievably beautiful property with a restaurant, pool, bar, hiking trails and SPA! Jajaja it was like heaven. After a month of traveling, billing things to my room, lounging by the pool and having my body beaten to pieces by a little Ecuadorian masseuse was killer.
On my first full day in Vilcabamba, I decided to go on a 4 hour horse ride through the Andes to an awesome lookout point. The ride was a ton of fun with alternations between walking, trotting and galloping, but after 4 hours, we all were in such intense pain that all we could think about was getting off. And after 4 hours in the intense heat and on the rocky paths, the horses got fed up too. What a funny looking group of gringos we must have been with our horses going in all directions and completely ignoring our attempts to handle them.
I made fantastic friends while I was there and enjoyed drinking games and embarrassingly bad games of pool every night. I was also lucky enough to be there during a Saturday night, so a huge group of us from the hostel headed down for a night of salsa dancing and way too much drinking. At the bar, the hostel volunteer insisted that the group order pitchers of Canelazo, a hot drink made from aguardiente (fire water), fruit and cinnamon. The upside to this drink – it kept me very warm the entire night; the downside – I thought I was the best salsa dancer out there and was determined to show it. The night also consisted of an Ecuadorian birthday cake fight, people whacking each other (and us) with a belt for birthday “licks”, and a late night ride in the back of a taxi pick-up truck. The morning AFTER the Saturday night sloppiness, the group decided that it would be a fantastic idea to go on a 6 hour hike to the waterfall while nursing a hangover. All I can say is OUCH. That was brutal. The sun was so strong and the path was so steep that I was ready to turn back after the first 30 minutes and go hang out with the Ecuadorian women that were passing the afternoon lounging in the local river. But I charged ahead and made it to the waterfall with the others – and of course it was beautiful and totally worth it. And the sunset views on the way back were just stunning.