Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ecuador – Vilcabamba, we could grow old here

Life in the slow lane...
Welcome to Ecuador
Entering Ecuador is as easy as it gets, a small form, a bit of small talk with the bored immigration officer and here we are – the 10th country on this trip

We are arriving in Ecuador from one of the more remote entries. It's quite off the beaten track as we arrive in La Balsa/Peru (see previous post) and walk over the bridge into La Balsa/Ecuador. A river separates the countries but they seem to share the same name?!
This is the official immigration
office in La Balsa, seriously!
There is only one other foreigner crossing over this morning and we need to wait for the first Ranchera (a quite unusual form of transport that is apparently common in the very remote rural areas here).

There is absolutely nothing to do on the Ecuadorian side of the border only a couple of Tiendas (shops), but most of them are closed. This is quiet at its quietest.

The Ranchera was supposed to leave at 12:30, but the diesel engine started roaring just before noon and off we go half an hour too early. Good thing that we didn't cut it close leaving from San Ignacio this morning as the next Ranchera leaves at 8:30 pm.

The Ranchera is an flat bed truck
with a tin roof and wooden planks
that act as seats.
Segment VI of our multi day border crossing from Chachapoyas to Vilcabamba is on a very bumpy road and we can't decide if our first Ranchera ride is fun or torture, certainly the narrow bench and the wooden plank in the back doesn't offer much support. It's like 90 minutes of riding a mechanical bull...but the views are great! Jungle as far as the eye can see.

We arrive in Zumba with all our bones still intact; and lo and behold, the next (and final) bus to Vilcabamba is already waiting at the brand new terminal that looks way too big for this little town. We nearly get lost in all the empty space.

Segement VII of our border crossing escapade leads us on a narrow dirt road through more lush tropical scenery – we are almost blinded now by the green-ness after more than 2 months in the Andean desert. .

The trip from Zumba to Vilcabamba takes exactly 6 hours, although we spent more than an hour idling due to road closures. This road seems to be in eternal repair as there are landslides of varying degrees throughout the trip. Luckily, it's not raining today as we don't want to witness one in action after seeing the after-effects everywhere on this cursed road.

Vilcabamba, at last!

After 2 days, 7 different vehicles, 15 hours on the road and 61 dollars later we have arrived at our destination: Vilcabamba – the place of "Eternal Youth".
You read correctly, this little mountain community had a brief moment of fame in the 80's when it was featured in Reader's Digest for its unusually high number of residents that have ages in the triple digits. The rest is history: European and American retirees started flocking here. Isn't everyone trying to find the fountain of youth?

Toilet for people with an
open mind
We arrive in the dark and pick the first available guesthouse to get some much needed sleep, hopefully there's not again a Karaoke Maniac next door. Ironically, Sam (the only other Gringo that crossed over form Peru today) had a sleepless night in San Ignacio in his hotel with a neighbor that had his TV at max volume all night listening to the local "Mariachi MTV" channel. We all take the first available hotel as it was dusk already and the first hotel was full, the second closed down and many of the other 1-2 kms outside of town. The next morning together with Sam, we all go house hunting again to find a better place. And we found paradise! "Rendez-vous" is a wonderful hotel run by a French family. We feel like in a resort set around a lush green garden – reminds us a bit of Bali, actually. Everything is well maintained and designed. The attention to detail and cleanliness reminds of Switzerland. They for instance built a little bird house on a pole to house the wireless network router, this way there is singal in all rooms. It is very rare to find in a hotel that is purpose built and very well thought out, all this for only $20 which includes one of the best breakfasts to date.

Why leave our guesthouse
when paradise is right here?

So what do we do after 2 days of non-stop travel in a beautiful resort? Exactly: nothing!
It's amazing how fast the hours are flying by when all you do is "chillax", catch up on emails, update the Blog, read, research where to go next, etc.
We only leave our little refuge to get some fuel into our stomachs. Ice cream is plentiful and we stock up on a few variations. This is what traveling should be like. We could definitely grow old here!

But it's not all just ♫sun, fun and nothing to do♫  for Patrick, he's started his job search and spends many hours contacting head hunters in Singapore and Switzerland, so if you want to offer him a job just click on the "contact us" link.

The blog, scrapbook, and email office
On day two, we actually manage to leave our resort for a couple hours to wander around the area and walk up to a German run resort 2km out of town. Patrick's mouth starts watering when he sees the menu: Gulasch, Käsespätzle, Sauerbraten, etc. but we resist; we have a dinner appointment with Sam. Maybe it's better that way, the last time we had German food at the "Kulturcafé Berlin" in Sucre we were quite disappointed. The sizzling Fajitas at "La Terazza" made up for the missed German food

We could stay for many more days in Vilcabamba, actually many people come here for a couple of days and end up spending a week. But, we really need to move on. We have a deadline to meet: September 24th (four weeks from today) we are flying out of Bogotá back to another reality. This means we still have 1800km (1120miles) of bus rides ahead of us and we haven't really seen anything of Ecuador nor Colombia yet. Do we have to switch gears from being Travelers to becoming Tourists? Neh, don't like that idea. We'll just keep moving according to what strikes our fancy.