Hi Ho! Through the Andes Mountains we go!
We've struck a definite pattern traveling through South America, zig-zagging back and forth from the beach to the mountains. Riding through the curvy roads that twist around the peaks is definitely a lot of fun, but trying to beat the afternoon rains isn't, and our forays back to the coast give us the much-needed sunshine and warmth to keep our motivations and morale high. Travel fatigue is still an issue and having to travel through the noise and traffic of large cities just hammers that weariness home.
Neda waves: "Bye-bye, Cuenca!"
We're headed to a place that the folks at Ecuador Freedom Bike Rental guys recommended, Vilcabamba. Aside from being a chill place to relax, take in the nature and hike, we're told that there are frequent UFO sightings there, and all sorts of alien encounter enthusiasts descend on the town hoping to catch a glimpse of ET, Alf, Mork or Mindy. I want to believe, too!
Back through twisty mountain roads
Neda found a great place called Izhcayluma Lodge, which is about 5 minutes away from the town of Vilcabamba. It's in the valley overlooking a scenic chain of mountains in the distance. Owned by a German, the ambiance and (especially) the restaurant offered a bit of a change-up of the Latin American fare we've been trying to get away from lately. We initially booked a room for a couple of nights, but deep down, both of us knew full well we'd be staying a bit longer than that...
Scanning the skies over Izhcayluma lodge.
No UFOs yet, but a nice double rainbow. Because, you know... rain... *sigh*
It was a very relaxing time for us. Neda got a lot of reading done, I pretended to work on the blog, and we both enjoyed being surrounded by nature.
All Ami and Nieve do is lie around all day. We have a lot in common.
There are two resident dogs at Izhcayluma, Ami and Nieve, and they immediately attach themselves to us, because we're the only guests that play fetch and roughhouse with them. Every morning, they wait outside our room and then follow us back after meals. The other guests start to miss them because they're always with us.
We can't help it if we're the cool kids that the dogs want to hang around!
Bored vendors at the lodge passing away the time
Group yoga class
Izhcayluma Lodge is a bit Granola. But that's okay, because Neda is a Granola-Wannabe. She doesn't really get full acceptance by the Birkenstock-crowd because she prefers to hug trees using her dirtbike. Funny story: next time you talk to Neda, ask her about the time she forgot to air-down the tires on her WR250F after riding street, and literally "hit" the trails...
Neda's favorite breakfast is Yoga-rt with Granola
Other than UFOs, there is another peculiar phenomenon in the Vilcabamba. The area around here is known as the Valley of Longevity because the native population, known as the Hunza, are said to have unusually long lifespans, averaging 120 years. Studies in the 1950s concluded that it was combination of natural foods, clean air and an active lifestyle. Who knew all that stuff was actually good for you? Mindblowing...
A lot of the eco spas and granola lodges really capitalize on this Valley of Longevity reputation. I did all of this research while munching on a delicious German bratwurst.
A man goes in for his regular medical check-up and asks, "Doctor, will I live till I'm 100 years old?"
Doctor responds, "Do you smoke or drink?"
Man replies, "No."
Doctor asks, "Do you eat red meat?"
"Do you drive fast cars, gamble or chase after women?"
Doctor frowns and asks, "Then why do you want to live to be 100?!"
One afternoon, Neda pulls me away from my very important task of doing absolutely nothing and we ride into town looking for UFO hunters.
I think Neda is well on her way to living to be 100 years old!
Vilcabamba's only a one-church town - tiny place!
There's only a couple of main streets in Vilcabamba intersecting at the town square, and a few smaller residential roads surrounded the square. We stop into a cafe for brunch and got to talking to a lady from the US who had the same bike as Neda. Disappointingly, she was not a UFO hunter though. The search continues.
A burst of activity in this quiet town when school lets out
Reflecting on our trip
We extend our stay at Izhcayluma a few more days. We do this because we still haven't seen any UFOs yet. Neda tells me that we may see some if we go hiking...
Neda says we might be able to see UFOs from that mountain ridge on the right.
I dunno... it looks kinda far...
But I get conned into it.
Izhcayluma hands us a rough map of the hike up to the ridge. I think it was about 14 kms round trip! There really isn't a trail to get there, as we have to walk through a couple of places that are marked private property. We got lost trying to find start of the ridge and had to follow another European couple from the lodge - the only other people that we saw up in the mountains.
Neda doing her Hindu Indian Deva prayer to help find our way. The view is spectacular up here!
Hiking along the ridge of the mountain
This was probably the most scenic hike we've done since leaving Utah! It was amazing getting a 360 degree panoramic view of the Vicabamba Valley and at one point, the ridge narrowed to a thin pathway about a foot wide with steep drops on either side. Exciting!
The ridgeline trail seemed to extend forever into the distance
You can see the town of Vilcabamba at the top-right hand corner
The trail ended here and then we were lost again...
The way down was not very well marked and we were unsure of whether we were on the right track or not. I was glad we didn't have our GPSs with us or we would have gotten even more lost for sure.
When we reached the valley floor, we were unprepared for the long and arduous hike back, which the map told us to follow the creek all the way back into town. The problem was that there was no trail beside the creek, just the thick undergrowth of trees on either side with thorny branches. Tired of our arms and legs being subjected to hundreds of tiny slashes, we ended up walking in the creek, slogging through calf-high waters.
I was wet, tired and cut up from the thorns and I took every single opportunity to complain and curse loudly. Neda just nodded her head understandingly, which made it even more worse because every single whine and complaint from me, dug me deeper into a hole that I knew I'd have to dig myself out later with a ladder made of apologies. :(
No UFOs too.
So nice to be greeted by friendly, panting faces when we get back!
Note shoes drying on the balcony...
We ended up staying at Izhcayluma for over a week. It was a really nice break, but after a month and a half in Ecuador, we're eager to head south and see more of this continent.
Ami looks so forlorn that we are leaving! :(