Sunday, August 29, 2010

Ephemeral Ecuador

We first met Eugene from Melbourne at the end of May on a bus from Foz do Iguaçu to Campo Grande, where we parted ways. You can imagine our surprise when we ran into him at the Linea bus station in Chiclayo nearly 3 months later. He was heading south to Trujillo and we were heading north to Piura on our way to Ecuador. We chatted about our various adventures and exchanged some recommendations. Eugene passed us a card for Izhcayluma Hosteria y Restaurante saying, “I was booked in for one night and ended up staying for 5.” Now that is a recommendation; Jace and I decided to check it out.

After crossing the border from Peru to Ecuador, we made it along the winding mountain roads towards Loja. The bus, which had only been ¾ full in Peru, became very crowded with standing passengers after our first stop in Ecuador, Macará. Jace had an older man standing next to his seat for over an hour who was clearly three sheets to the wind and reeked of booze. The man kept on trying to talk to Jace despite Jace’s insistence that he didn’t understand him or speak Spanish. The man was slurring his words so that even I couldn’t figure out what he was trying to communicate. Jace pretended to sleep to avoid the awkward drunken conversation, and eventually the man himself drifted off, half-sitting on Jace’s armrest, and occasionally slipping onto Jace as the bus curved around the bends.

Meanwhile, I played peek-a-boo with a 3-year-old boy on the seat in front of me and went through the photo pages in The Long Way Down, twice, while he counted the motos: “Uno, dos, tres, cuatro, ocho, nueve, diez.” Sure kid. Eventually I got tired and pretended to sleep too.
Finally we arrived in Loja and jumped in a taxi to Vilcabamba.

Happy Hiker Heaven

It was dark when we arrived at Izhcayluma. We were shown down some barely-lit stone pathways to our private room, dumped our stuff and immediately went up to the open-air restaurant for dinner, which was delicious. The lights of Vilcabamba shone below us while the stars twinkled above. I breathed the fresh mountain air and relaxed.

Izhcayluma is owned by two Germans, Peter and Dieter. We got talking to the blond, dreadlocked Peter one day and he told us how after leaving the navy, he decided to travel the world and ended up in Vilcabamba. He started the hosteria 12 years ago, when they didn’t have a phone connection and mobile phones didn’t exist in that part of the world. In order to get a taxi for guests, he would jump on his bike and cycle the 2km to town, find a taxi, put his bike in the back and head back to Izhcayluma. Looking at the hosteria now, with its WiFi and beautiful buildings, paths and gardens, it’s hard to imagine what it looked like at the beginning.

We had originally booked in for only one night as there were no private rooms available for longer, but after our first night in our lovely stone and wood room with its rain showerhead and hammock on the balcony, we knew we had to stay for longer. Fortunately, there was a double bed available in a dorm so we booked for two more nights. And after one more day, we booked three extra on top of that.

The pool

The bar

Chess anyone?

The restaurant

Breakfast view

Our days were spent hiking four of the seven local trails, swimming in the (freezing refreshing) Izhcayluma pool, reading in the hammock, and enjoying great food in the hosteria’s restaurant – top pick is the chicken Bavarian stroganoff – as well as in town – top picks are the fajitas and the strawberry smoothies at La Terraza.

Hike 1: Chaupi Loop

Wait, what are bottlebrush doing here?

Farmer Jace

The entrance to Vilcabamba

Hike 2: San José Trail

Hike 3: Izchayluma Loop

At 2100m (Vilcabamba is at 1500m)

Jace at 1700m

Hike 4: Waterfall Trail

Ground orange means…

… tree oranges!

After a steep climb

Butterflies were everywhere

Our goal achieved

All too soon, our last day came and we spoiled ourselves with full body massages – well deserved after 4 consecutive days of hiking!

In the afternoon we tried several times to get a taxi to take us and our packs (which had a combined weight of about 50kg) to town, but for some reason they were all busy. Would we have to walk to town or just miss our bus to Loja? Fortunately, Peter came to the rescue and left his post at reception to drive us down and we just made the bus.

Izhcayluma Hosteria y Restaurante: 10/10

Quaint Quito

Quito is a strange place; it doesn’t feel like a capital city at all. Perhaps it has something to do with the shape: it’s in a narrow valley, which makes the city long and thin, and at 2,850m, it’s high and cool as well.

We stopped in Quito to (a) see if we could get a great deal to the Galapagos, and (b) break up the journey to Colombia. Unfortunately, there were no great deals to be had, so Jace decided to take advantage of the South American Explorers Clubhouse to finish some study while I explored the city.

SAE was in New Town, near an area known as El Mariscal, aka Gringolandia (it’s actually marked that way on a map I picked up) because that’s where a lot of gringos hang out. There wasn’t really much to appeal to me, except that I did find good coffee and a new Osprey day pack to match my backpack. No more sore shoulders, thank goodness.

For me, most of the interesting things to be seen were in the Old Town, whose colonial buildings have been preserved and protected as a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1978. I wandered the cobbled streets among the lovely buildings and visited the San Francisco monastery and the Gothic Basilica del Voto Nacional, climbing up the basilica’s belfry via many stairs and steep ladders. This is noted in the Lonely Planet as the “deadliest view” of the city.

A quiteñan take on The Last Supper, as seen at a local café

More Nutcracker soldiers outside the Government Palace

A stunning example of colonial style on the Plaza Grande

One of the many beautiful streets in Old Town

The Monastery of San Francisco

Inside the monastery

The walls of the monastery have several of these stone plaques. This one says, “Here lie the bones of General Joseph Maldonado and his heirs.” Unfortunately, an internet search has revealed nothing about the mysterious general.

The Basilica del Voto Nacional

The main doors of the basilica

Detail of the main door depicting a priest blessing an Indian, while a conquistador stands behind and another Indian stands to the side with his llama

The basilica is covered with scary animal gargoyles, including these armadillos

And these sea birds

Beautiful rose window

Challenge #1: Climb this tower

View of New Town from the tower

Challenge #2: Climb the belfry on the left

Back down a steep ladder I go

View of the tower I just climbed from the east belfry, which was much higher and had more steep ladders

I also climbed the hill behind our hostel to the large Parque Itchimbia (with the LP’s “most sweeping view”), stopping at the (surprisingly empty) Café Mosaico for a delicious souvlaki gyro (and the LP’s “tastiest view”).

Stairs to the café and the park – oh boy, more stairs

View from Café Mosaico of Old Town with El Panecillo and the Virgen de Quito on the left

The Centro Cultural Itchimbia in Parque Itchimbia

Interesting portrait of Ghandi made up of words, part of an exhibition at the Centro Cultural. There were over 100 portraits in this style.

Another work in the exhibition

Orchids in the Centro Cultural

Our visit to Ecuador was short and sweet. Both Jace and I agreed that there was a lot we still wanted to see, most particularly the Galapagos Islands, and that we would definitely be back some day. For now though, we were looking forward to the coffee plantations and Caribbean coast of Colombia.

1 comment:

  1. Looking at all these great photos makes me realize I hardly took any while in Quito...