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Weekend Outing – Vilcabamba

For Easter, Martha and I decided to visit Vilcabamba, about 4.5 hours to the South of Cuenca. Renowned for its residents’ longevity, this lush, fertile valley is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever experienced firsthand.  During our visit, we stayed at Izhcayluma (ish-guy-loom-uh) – a sprawling local resort / hostel just outside Vilcabamba proper.

Day 1:  Departure from Cuenca

Mural at La Cigale

We began our trek on Thursday afternoon, departing from a local hostel, La Cigale (Honorato Vásquez 6-28, Cuenca, just off  Calle Larga at Luis Cordero).  The owners of La Cigale have done a great job of turning their hostel and restaurant into a travel hub, with daily van service to Vilcabamba and back.  We got to La Cigale about 20 minutes before the van was scheduled to depart, so we took the opportunity to grab a light lunch off the menu before boarding the van.  The van itself was a modern, 10-passenger model – all in all pretty snazzy…  Right on time, the van driver arrived, loaded up everyone’s luggage, and we headed off to Vilcabamba!

Random art on the back of a gas station in the middle of nowhere

The group we travelled with was quite diverse, including a mix of expats, tourists, and locals, and the general vibe of the ride was friendly – there were lots of ongoing conversations, filled with some awe-inspiring views as we traversed several mountain ranges.  About halfway there, the driver stopped at a roadside gas station/tienda for a short break, and in true Ecuadorean fashion we were approached by some locals selling delicious, hot empañadas stuffed with sweetened cheese.  Sadly, they were so delicious that none survived for pictures ;).  After everyone had a chance to stretch (and gorge on Empañadas), we all hopped back in the van and continued on our merry way.

That’s my kind of zone.

After a couple more hours, we finally arrived at Izhcayluma!  The check-in process was relatively smooth, even accounting for the fact that we were basically 15 simultaneous arrivals.  The resort itself is lush, covered in a combination of landscaped and natural flora, and sprawls over a seemingly-endless area.  As we were arriving, there were also a couple of artisans offering wares in the arrival area, so we picked up a couple of pieces to celebrate Martha’s birthday and commemorate the trip.  After checking in, we worked our way through the dining area, down cobblestoned walkways to our quad-plex unit.

 

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Fresh coffee anyone? This coffee tree was directly outside our front door.

Our room was relatively compact, with a bed, desk, and chair, but the show-stealer on the interior was the 2.5 meter2 shower area, where the showerhead was actually 25cm above my head (a first in Ecuador!).  Outside the room was a beautiful deck area surrounded by vegetation, along with conveniently-located hammocks for extra relaxation.  It was amazing how tightly the rooms were integrated into the surrounding nature – the only time I’ve seen anything similar was a resort I worked at in Durango nearly 25 years ago, and it was breathtaking to get to experience it from the guest’s perspective.

After settling in, we met some friends for dinner at the resort’s restaurant, then headed over to the bar area for some spirited billiards (Martha and I are pool sharks – in fact, we originally met while shooting pool nearly 20 years ago…)  As the evening rolled on, it was interesting to watch the crowd, which consisted of solitary travellers, families, and everyone in between, and from all over the world.

Once we had our fill of pool, we headed back to the room to crash so we would be ready for the next day.  We were lulled to sleep by this:

 

Day 2:  A First Look at Vilcabamba

Some cool art along the highway in Vilcabamba

After a good night’s sleep, we headed off to the restaurant for a tasty breakfast including fresh-squeezed juices, eggs, toast, and a delicious homemade muesli mix.  Fully-fuelled, we set out for Vilcabamba, walking the roughly 2.5km into town.  Along the way, we were treated to more spectacular views, some cool street art, and many friendly waves from the locals.

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DUI Alien wants to check your ID

In terms of area, Vilcabamba proper is pretty small – as in a few blocks square…  That said, it’s a pretty vibrant little town with lots of activity in the town square and surrounding area.  There was also a nice arts fair going on, showcasing different artworks and products from local artisans.  We picked up a bunch of tasty things there, which I’ll be reviewing in a future post.  After meeting with some friends for a delicious lunch of pad thai, we headed around the corner to the (real!) French bakery to grab a loaf of sourdough, then made our way back to the resort.

A quick nap later, and we were ready to go wander around and see more of what Izhcayluma had to offer.  I was nearly overwhelmed by the sheer variety of plants and foliage, it was almost as if it were a movie set instead of a resort carved into nature:

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Following a delicious dinner of Currywurst(!) at the resort restaurant, we headed back to the room, tired but satisfied…. Zzzzzzzzzz…

Day 3:  Return to Vilcabamba

Some whimsical fountains at the art show

After another delicious breakfast, we ended up heading back into Vilcabamba to wander around and eventually meet up with some other friends…  The art show was still going on, so I took the opportunity to load up on some delicious handmade herbal teas, then we headed off to find our friends’ house.  Remember what I said about Vilcabamba being small?  Well, that’s true of the town, but not so much of the surrounding valleys, which are criss-crossed by roads that would be rustic by Victorian standards.  We ended up hopping in a Mixto (a common hybrid pickup truck/taxi service) and gave them directions and off we went!

The ride was pretty uneventful at first, but after about 4 minutes we were outside of town and headed down a single-lane dirt/rock road, pitted with potholes and medium-sized boulders.  As we went on, the road got progressively more exciting, including two detours into riverbeds to get around small landslides that had blocked the road, but after about 30 minutes we arrived at our destination.  The funny thing to me was how nonchalant the driver was – as if to say “no big thing, we drive through rivers all the time here, bro.”  After hanging out awhile, we headed back to do more exploring at the resort (literally, it’s huge):

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Day 4:  Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

Alas, on Sunday our vacation had come to an end.  We awoke, packed, and enjoyed our final breakfast in the restaurant, then bundled into the van for the return trip to Cuenca.  The return trip had a different group of people, but still carried the same vibe of camaraderie as the outbound trip (and the same delicious empanadas at the pitstop).  When we eventually got back to La Cigale, we paid the van driver and finally hopped a taxi home…

In all, it was a wonderful weekend in a beautiful (and warm!) environment, and I look forward to going back again, perhaps this summer!

 

 

 

 

 

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