A weekend in Vilcabamba
We hired a friend’s Hyundai Tuscon and off we went early on Friday morning. It is still a beautiful site to drive through the many mountains we have here in Ecuador. The asphalt roads along most of the way have now been replaced with concrete. Some parts are still under construction and sometimes you have to wait for up to 30 minutes to let traffic come through from the other side of the road. The concrete should be completely completed within the next 12-18 months. The drive from Cuenca to Loja will then be much faster.
At these road stops there are always vendors who have made makeshift stores on the side of the road. From little gas burners they send family members to sell cooked corn on the cob and other food and drinks to the travelers. I said to John what would be fantastic was if they had a good coffee machine and come around and sell coffee to us. John’s reply was that it would only be me who was after the coffee. There are few places in the smaller towns where you can buy a good coffee.
Whilst at one stop I was watching an older indigenous person with his donkey. The donkey was laden with bricks and the old man was unloading onto a verandah. He was continually talking to the donkey and it seemed at times he was growling. I wound down the window to take a photo. After he had finished unloading the very strong little old man turned around and gave me “the finger”. Shock, horror………………I don’t know if he was angry that I took his photo or annoyed with the large traffic hold up and probably many people watching him. Quite funny really. I certainly had no intention of upsetting him.
As we drove up to the top of the mountain I noticed the different dress of the indigenous people. Most are dressed in black and the men wear three quarter pants. I was later told that these are people that many years ago fled from Bolivia and settled in this particular area.
The people here seem very happy……………oh with exception to the old man and donkey. There are crops in the fields and on the side of mountains where you and I probably would feel that we are going to fall down. I saw women milking cows and then strapping big milk containers to their backs and walking up to their homes along the side of these mountains, talking and laughing.
John let me drive for awhile while he had a sleep. I have not driven for months so I thoroughly enjoyed it. It takes a little bit of getting used to because I am not familiar with driving on the “wrong side of the road”. But it did give me a sense of independence and freedom. Funny how driving a car can give you that freedom feeling. I passed a young woman on a horse with the tiniest baby strapped to her back. She probably has the same sense of freedom as I do when I drive.
We stopped in Loja for a late lunch. Although it was not a long stop we observed that it seemed like quite a busy city. Then we went on for another 40 minutes to Vilcabamba, and quickly found our way to the town square. The town is quite small, but is definitely not a one horse, one car town. The city square is filled with some amazing characters from different parts of the world that have now relocated and live here in this wonderful valley. You can also choose from a wide variety of different restaurants.
You will always find an expat or two or three in the town square at most times of the day. As I said above there are some amazing characters in this part of the world. Some reminded me of different characters in movies I have seen.
We stayed in a B & B called “Montesuenos” (Mountain Dreams) which is owned and operated by author/scientist/ex-astronaut Brian O’Leary and his wife, visionary artist Meredith Miller. They have created a wonderful mountain top retreat. They moved to Vilcabamba in 2004 and have created a very creative place to stay. The gardens are an extravaganza of floral and greenery
We met some other guests who were also most entertaining and we quickly became good friends. One even travelled back to Cuenca with us, and then took a drive down to Ayampe with John. Both these guests have now returned to their homes (UK and USA), with full intention of completely selling up and returning to Ecuador as soon as possible.
Another friend who we met last September in Cotacachi, has since purchased a large block of land very close to Vilcabamba. He has just returned back to Ecuador with his family after relocating from New Zealand.
As it turned out these NZ friends were renting a home just down the bottom of the mountain from where we were staying. The next morning whilst enjoying our fresh coffee and enjoying the view and company our friend Pierre came knocking on the door. The next day he met us in the square and we all went and checked out his property.
It is a very beautiful block of land and extremely lush. The property is fronted by a beautiful river which looks extremely clean and refreshing. We walked up the property to one of two homes. The first home was built around 50 years ago and obviously someones pride and joy at one stage. Now it has been left abandoned we could still see the remains of the previous tenants. It’s incredible to find that in this somewhat remote part of the country even Avon cosmetics comes calling. There was an Avon booklet on an old table.
Pierre walked us to the now overgrown vegetable plot which had an abundance of plants. There is a coffee plantation, bananas, orange trees, papayas and so much more. Cauliflowers that had now gone to seed, cabbages and great fresh runner beans.
John and I left the group to walk the rest of the property, which by the way was all uphill. I did not have proper walking shoes on. Well that’s my excuse.
I think for us John summed it up in one paragraph he wrote to a reader recently.
“I loved Vilcabamba. It has a great community feeling about it and there are many expats there – some for over 20 years. The town center is fantastic as a social area – better than both Cuenca or Cotacachi. If I was going to live in a rural retreat area in Ecuador, it would be Vilcabamba. I have lived in remote areas of Australia and this community runs rings around any of those places I have lived in. But it is not vibrant enough for us at this stage of our lives. Some land prices are incredibly high in different estates compared with other parts of Ecuador. “
John says above that he loved Vilcabamba. I thought it was very beautiful but I can’t say I fell in love with it. We will definitely go back for a visit but personally I would not go and live there.
We both love the coast and are looking forward to dividing time between the coast and Cuenca.
On our way home we stopped into “San Joaquin”. Click here to find out more about this beautiful property also described as an Oasis in the Andes.