3 hours south of Loja we came to the hippy, backpacker town of Vilcabamba. It was said that locals enjoyed a longer life then average due to the rich water, pleasant climate and happy lifestyle. This had attracted a host of hippies from all corners of the world. The place was now full of veggy restaurants, juice bars, organic stores, yoga studios, meditation centres, Jewellery shops. But it was prettier then most of the other towns in Ecuador and we liked it immediately.
In the street we met a chatty old American guy called Merrel. He was travelling about for at least a year. He jokingly said, “this is it for me now, I’m over that career hump that you are probably trying to avoid!” He recommended the vegetable crepe at the cafe around the corner – it was heaven to eat something different. He also told us to stay at a place called Rumi Wilco, just out of town. This was a youth hostel, campsite and nature reserve with a network of trails through beautiful untouched jungle. It was run by two Galapagos nature guides from Argentina. The campsite was in a secluded spot, hidden between the trees, with a bamboo kitchen and a jungle toilet.
We decided to stay another night in Vilcabamba, to take advantage of the good food and explore the nature reserve. The following day we climbed the ridge trail for a view over the valley and in the afternoon we lazed around in the cool cafes on the main square.
And then we bumped into someone we knew! Robert, one of the German volunteers from Simiatug, where we had been two weeks before. He had escaped village life for a while to do some travelling.
We left the next day and on the first hill out of town we bumped into more people we knew! Ecuador was turning out to be a small country. It was the Austrian couple from the Casa de ciclista near Quito. Three weeks later our paths had crossed again.
We spent the rest of the day cycling with them, exchanging stories of our adventures, over a misty pass at 2700m and down towards the village of Valladolid. On the descent a wild dog ran after us and Toni, the Austrian man, went running after it with his machete that he kept tied to his cross bar, just for that purpose.
On the edge of town some bored policemen asked me for my passport and then got very confused over the stamps inside. And you are cycling just for pleasure? They asked in even more confusion? Yep, I replied. I couldn’t think of a better reason.
In town Stefan had to spend some time convincing the woman in the restaurant to change channel on her TV for the Germany world cup game instead of her Telenovela. He ordered some rice and chicken to convince her. We got to watch the game but he suffered for it later as he got terrible food poisoning.
The road to Zumba had a reputation amongst cyclists for being a very rough and muddy ride. We went ahead of our Austrian friends and hit the mess just before the village of Palanda. We slowly rolled over the thick crunchy mud, past many work sites. I was starting to question whether Ecuadorians actually knew how to build roads, they seemed to making a big muddy mess, pulling down half the hill side. One cheeky construction worker said to me, but don’t you want an Ecuadorian companion in your travels? No, I said laughing along with him, I already have one from Germany!
The muddy roads went on and on, through the never ending thick scenes of Jungle. We took a break in a tiny village shop to watch the world cup with the owner and her family. We were supporting Switzerland while they were all supporting Argentina. When our team lost, the mother of the family came over to shake stefans hand and between laughs said sorry.
It was a giant relief to arrive in the last town before the border, Zumba. Due to Stefans illness of the night before we checked into a little hostal to relax, hoping for a peaceful night but the Ecuadorian family in the room next to us started playing music at 5am. I got up and told them to shut up! We were both ready to get out of Ecuador!!
I went to the shop to buy some supplies and met a man buying alcohol at 9am. He took one look at me and said, core…! What a beauty. They don’t make ’em like that in Ecuador!! When he realised that I could understand him, he warned me that there were many thieves in Peru, “Its not like here, its very tranquilo here!”
On the way to the border at La Balsa, I dropped my purple fleece, the one I had bought in Otavalo. I went back to look for it but it was gone. When you have so few possessions each one becomes precious so it was quiet a blow to loose it.
The ride to the border was so steep and rocky. I couldn’t believe that this was the way to Peru! On the final uphill I stopped for a drink and a truck full of soldiers pulled up beside me. They had a good long stare at me and then drove off without saying a word.
After all that wiggling through the jungle we finally arrived at La Balsa. It was a very tranquil place to say the least! We found the Ecuadorian immigration officer having a beer in a nearby cafe, while it took us half an hour to track down his Peruvian counterpart on the other side of the river. We finally found her in a locked yellow house on the corner, 100m from the bridge. We met one German backpacker, and the three of us must have been the only ones to cross the border that whole day.
We cycled off into Peru, in a golden afternoon, on beautifully smooth and empty asphalt. The road was so quiet the local villagers dried their coffee beans on it, spread out over large plastic sheets. The gradient of the road was also much kinder to cyclists. We climbed so smoothly until sunset, when we found a flat space on the roadside.
I asked a passing man on a donkey if it was alright for us to camp there. He said, of course! Aqui no pasa nada! – no trouble around here – I stayed to chat with him while Stefan put up the tent. I love talking to people in the countryside, I always ask them about the weather, how many animals they have and what crops grow in the valley. Then their accent is usually so strong I just smile and nod along. We then shake hands and say Adios Buenas Noches.