Sunday, July 11, 2010

Vilcabamba or Bust

As Shelley was continuing to feel snuffly, Brian and Fredi ventured downtown on Sunday without her and picked up Brian's roast pig. This was the first time Brian was actually holding Fredi when he bought his pork. The woman who normally sells pork to Brian was enchanted by Fredi and gave her 2 large pieces to snack on. Later on in the afternoon we attended a pizza party celebration of the U.S.'s 4th of July. It was a wonderful afternoon with camaraderie, good natured ribbing, lots of stories and yummy food.

We've been planning a holiday for what seems like months now. First we were going to go out to the coast and next we thought we'd visit the big Banos. We finally centred our thoughts on Vilcabamba and then couldn't manage to get there. With 5 different blog people arriving in Cuenca during June, we thought it would be churlish of us to leave then. Eventually we booked a room at the Izhcayluma Hostal for July 7th through 10th and then Shelley got her cold. She's been babying herself trying to get over the darned thing and it just keeps keeping on. We're planning the trip with another couple and again it seems churlish to cancel due to sniffles. We bought something called Dayflu and Nyflu (ask at a pharmacy counter) for the trip and hopefully Shelley will be drugged up enough to enjoy herself. Brian did our Monday chores with Fredi in tow but left Shelley behind. Upon arriving back home, Fredi was given a bath and dried off and then given a flea treatment. Cuenca has virtually no fleas (expect a couple of weeks here and there) but when we leave Cuenca we always make sure that Fredi has had a flea & tick treatment.

Previously when we've been to Vilcabamba we've always stayed at Jardin Escondido because unlike Izhcayluma which is a couple of miles out of town; Jardin Escondido is right smack dab in the middle of Vilcabamba. We chose Izhcayluma this time however, because they have some separate cabins and we thought Fredi might enjoy this more. Tuesday we ventured downtown and got haircuts. There's nothing like a good hair cut just before an adventure. Shelley printed out her packing lists for us and Fredi and we packed 2 small back packs to take with us plus Shelley's travel purse. Vilcabamba is a few degrees warmer than Cuenca and we're kind of hoping it'll prove true for our trip.

Bright and early we got up Wednesday morning, ate a snack and ventured to the bus stop where we had arranged to meet the other couple (Barbara & Howard). We wanted to leave town somewhere around 8 o'clock in the morning but as it turned out our bus didn't leave until 9. We arrived in Loja at 3:15 and almost immediately caught the bus to Vilcabamba. As always, the countryside out the bus window was vast and beautiful. Our cabana at Izhcayluma had a queen size bed and it's own balcony complete with hammock and picnic table. That evening we ate at Izhcayluma. Most dishes are around $5.00 and a veggie burger was $2.50. They have a big menu including Bavarian & Italian. Fredi was quite suspicious of everything and low growled the whole evening. Shelley slipped off from everyone at 7 pm and went to the room to rest and read. Fredi came with her and proceeded to stalk the room until Brian showed up.

Fredi woke Brian up at 7 am the next morning whereupon Brian announced he'd caught Shelley's cold. Breakfast is included in the room price at Izhcayluma and was tea, coffee, sliced pineapple, watermelon, ham, 3 kinds of bread and eggs. We did our first walk downtown and it took us about an hour to walk the close to 2 Km downhill excursion. We always tell people that the main entertainment is to sit in the middle of the park downtown and watch other people in the park and that's exactly what we did. Shelley checked out a few stores looking for "hippy pants" but didn't find any and then we went to a restaurant for some water & beer. We were going to go to Jardin Escondido for lunch and have their famous tortilla soup but the owner was concerned her 2 large german shepherd type dogs would be aggressive to Fredi. We wandered around a bit more and found a restaurant that served home made soup and sandwiches and then we caught a truck cab (mixto) back to Izhcayluma. Everyone went down for a nap and read for a couple of hours before dinner. Once again dinner was at the Izhcayluma restaurant. We'd like to recommend their pizza (!) Shelley says it may be the best she's had in Ecuador.

Shelley asked Barbara & Howard is they could stand 2 more days of this virtual nothingness and they both agreed they could.

The valley Vilcabamba is in is absolutely beautiful. There are flowers & fruit & corn growing everywhere and every compass point provides a great picture. The weather is also warmer than Cuenca so what with Cuenca's rain & coolish weather lately, we really enjoyed the sun. It's warm but not too hot there. One of the things that strikes you first when you arrive at Izhcayluma is the awesome quiet. Even though Cuenca isn't that large, it still has it's share of traffic noise and the white noise that accompanies any city. The big noises we heard at Vilcabamba were donkey's braying and roosters crowing. Also Brian & Howard noted that the sky was crystal clear at night and the stars felt so close, you could reach out and touch them.

After a breakfast of fruit salad, eggs, crepes & coffee we again walked to town. This time we discovered muscles unknown to us previously. Walking downhill for close to 2 Km exercises your calf muscles and the large muscle that one sits on. We walk every day in Cuenca and are convinced it was the down hill slope that brought these new muscles into play. Upon arriving in town we engaged a Mixto for 2 hours to take us up to the Hacienda San Joachin complex and provide us with a mini tour of the valley. The complex was stunning but quite a distance away from Vilcabamba. Our mini tour took us through some of the back roads in the Valley and into the back side of Podocarpus Park. Later, Brian, Howard & Barbara ate at Jardin Escondido while Shelley & Fredi had another bowl of home made soup, continued to seek "hippy pants" and checked up on our emails. Back to our rooms at 2 o'clock for a late nap, we met at 5:30 again to take a cab to Craig's Bookstore for an Italian meal. While the food wasn't Four Star, there was plenty of it and of a quality you wouldn't expect in an Ecuadorian backwater. Craig died in a tragic accident several years ago and his wife has remarried an ExPat potter from the United States. He regaled us with various stories and invited us to a Gallery Opening the next day.

We all agreed on Saturday that walking downhill was definitely exercising muscles not normally used. While we all looked to each other for an excuse not to do the walk, none of us was going to be the first to give in so... we all undertook the mighty walk once again. We arrived in the village, having made our best time ever and sat in the park deciding what to do next. Unfortunately, Barbara took a spill on an uneven sidewalk and bruised several parts of her body and scraped skin off several other parts. Not wanting to walk her around any more, we caught a cab to Izhcayluma and had a lunch of pizza & burgers. The gallery showing that evening provided 10 minutes worth of entertainment with the usual crowd you seem to see at most Gallery Openings. (How do they know?) Back at Izhcayluma the ladies had a German dish of oven baked potatoes, vegetables and cheese while he boys had stroganoff and a chicken dish. Knowing we were returning the next day we had a bit of a party.

Up bright and early Sunday morning, we all ate breakfast together and then Brian & Shelley caught the bus home. Barbara & Howard had arranged to take a cab back to help alleviate some of the pressure on Barbara's knees due to her fall. The bus ride back was largely uneventful except we caught all of our transfers one right after the other. Our week's holiday from retirement living met all our expectations and we thoroughly enjoyed the time spent with our friends. They were truly great company!

If you'd like to see more pictures of Vilcabamba (To, At & Around) click here.

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