From lush green mountains to dry and dusty desert

It was a very early start today as I had a 7am bus to catch to take me over the border and into Peru. I had bought my ticket the day before so that I didn’t run the risk of them being sold out. I needn’t have worried as there were plenty of available seats, which was lucky as I had ended up with seat no 1 which was right behind the driver and had no leg room, so I was able to move to a seat further back.

View from the bus
View from the bus
Waiting for the bus driver to have lunch in Macora
Waiting for the bus driver to have lunch in Macora

We spent the day travelling up and over some extremely high passes. The scenery was spectacular. After an hour and one pass, we stopped at the small town of Catamayo so that the driver and conductor could have breakfast. I decided to take the opportunity and have a much needed cup of coffee. Milk seemed to pose a bit of a problem but I was eventually presented with a cup of very pale milky liquid. Not much caffeine in that so Israel, a Spanish speaking English man who was travelling with his Dutch partner Effje, asked for more coffee. I was given a jar of dried up instant and just about managed to dig out enough granules to give the liquid a marginal bit of colour if not taste!

After that, it was onwards and upwards. At times we were on level with the mountain tops in the distance and the clouds were beneath us. The mountains were all very green. We stopped at various towns where locals got on and off but by the time we reached Macora, near the border, there were only 9 foreigners and one Spanish speaking (possibly Ecuadorian) couple left on the bus. Here, we stopped for the driver and conductor to have lunch. The bus station was small with some fairly undesirable bathrooms but needs must……

Interesting topiary in Macara
Interesting topiary in Macara

I had a wander around the town, which had an airport next to the main plaza, which must have been very convenient for whatever passengers alighted, as well as some ‘interesting’ and motivational murals on the side of the Catholic school. We were there for about 30 minutes and it was then a very short drive to the border and immigration. It took about an hour to process us all, with the Ecuadorians being turned away on the Peruvian side for incomplete/inadequate documentation. Otherwise, for the rest of us, it was all very straight forward and friendly. I wasn’t asked for my ticket out of Peru so booking my bus onwards into Bolivia was unnecessary, but you never know.

Once we were on the road again, the scenery changed dramatically within a short space of time. We went from lush green mountains to flat dry desert. Around Macora, there were a number of rice paddies and some sugar cane but into Peru, the terrain was very, very dry and dusty with dirt roads in the towns and villages and very poor housing. Tuk tuks were everywhere.

One of the Peruvian towns we passed through
One of the Peruvian towns we passed through

We reached Piura at about 4pm. We had not arrived at the anticipated bus terminal and the bus driver himself did not seem to know where to go and had had to ask for directions several times. As soon as we got off the bus, we were hassled by taxi drivers, which raised my stress levels immediately. All around us was bedlam. In addition, no one had Peruvian money as there had been nowhere to get any at the border. I tagged along with the English/Dutch couple (which I am sure they really appreciated) and Israel negotiated with a taxi driver to take us to a bank, then to my hotel and then to take them to the bus terminal for the bus to Chiclayo. I don’t know what I would have done without them (cried, I expect!)

This was all achieved and I arrived at my hotel, where I was made to feel very welcome. I had air con and a sort of outside window, and it was a nice room. I set off for the shopping centre down the road and the supermarket contained within, in anticipation of a cold beer. However, once out on the street, I felt more alive than I had done in Ecuador as the streets were buzzing. Traffic chaos reigned and it seemed to be each man/tuk tuk for himself! There were traffic lights at intersections, some of which even had pedestrian lights but it was still necessary to pay attention as there was a danger of being run over by a tuk tuk or motorbike. There was much tooting of horns!!

Water tanker 'damping' down the dust in Piura
Water tanker ‘damping’ down the dust in Piura

I ended up walking quite a long way towards the centre but it was a bit too far to reach and return to the hotel before dark so I got as far as I comfortably could and then returned to the supermarket, which was very large and had a good range of everything. What a difference to the Tia supermarkets in Ecuador! I made my purchases for the evening, noted the lovely range of wine (but decided I couldn’t possibly add a bottle of wine to my already overweight baggage) and returned to the hotel for a much needed shower, beer and food in my lovely air conditioned room.

On to the next adventures

Centre of Vilcabamba
Centre of Vilcabamba

My last day in Vilcabamba was as relaxed as the previous few days. It started with a yoga class, which, thankfully, was a lot easier than the previous one, breakfast and then a leisurely hour or so before walking into town to meet up with Angela and Carmen.

Cafe tables under the verandah in Vilcabamba
Cafe tables under the verandah in Vilcabamba

We had a wander around, looking at the many jewellery sellers, both hippie and Peruvian/Argentinian, who had their creations spread on cloths on the pavement, made a purchase or two and then it was off for lunch at the creperie cafe, where the other two had crepes and I had the most delicious spaghetti with pesto sauce (very Ecuadorian fare!) Afterwards, we caught a taxi back to the hosteria so that Angela would be in time for the Air Yoga class, which, when we went to watch, appeared to be like yoga on a trapeze! It looked fun but was apparently quite hard and certainly, in my current very stiff state, would be virtually impossible to attempt. (There are different yoga classes held each day at 4pm which tend to be more advanced than the free morning classes.)

Our final evening was spent over bowls of the excellent vegetable soup and, needless to say, a glass of wine or two or three (me and Carmen). We are all ready to move on now and looking forward to the next adventures, having been massaged and therapied to the max!

Street in Vilcabamba
Street in Vilcabamba
City Gate in Loja
City Gate in Loja

Wednesday dawned bright and early with the Australians in the room opposite ours making very loud conversation at 5.45am. They had been the same the previous day and we were not impressed. I went to say goodbye to Angela and Carmen as they were leaving early, Angela to Guayaquil and the Galapagos and Carmen back to Cuenca. I wasn’t in a rush and went off to the early morning yoga class, which wasn’t happening today! This was a bit disappointing as I was quite looking forward to it so I ate a lot of breakfast instead. Each morning, breakfast has comprised homemade granola, fruit salad, coffee, fresh juice and homemade bread/toast with homemade marmelade. One could get a little food obsessed here!

I packed up and then, as luck would have it, a group of girls were going into town and had ordered a taxi, so I was able to join them for a ride to the bus stop, from where I caught the bus into Loja. I was reluctant to go but had a very early bus to catch to Peru the next day so would have struggled to get to Loja in time otherwise.

The hotel was a little (very) disappointing after Izcayluma but then anything would have been, I think. The room was very small and had no outside window, something about which I am a little obsessed, and so was very claustrophic. However, it was only for one night and very cheap.

Santa Domingo in Loja
Santa Domingo in Loja
Columns in Loja representing the alliance between Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and Venezuela
Columns in Loja representing the alliance between Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and Venezuela

After checking in, I was off in search of lunch, a haircut and possibly some more glasses, as I had broken the arm off one pair and the lenses keep dropping out of the others. I was very pleasantly surprised with Loja as it is, in fact, a pretty town, with not many tourists as they tend to just pass through it. I had a menu de dia (or ‘almuerzo’ as it is often referred to, which just means ‘lunch’), went to the market and purchased avocados (dinner!) and then found a hairdressers, in which the hairdresser danced whilst she cut my hair. That left the glasses problem, which was solved when I was walking back from the City Gate (the only tourist attraction I visited) and chanced upon a glasses shop, where they tightened the frames so the lenses didn’t drop out, at no charge. The afternoon was complete with a cup of good coffee, which is surprisingly hard to find, and a people watching half hour in the main plaza. All in all, Loja was very successful.

Cathedral and central plaza in Loja
Cathedral and central plaza in Loja

I also had one ‘amusing’ incident, whilst at the City Gate. I was approached my an almost toothless man who had seen me taking photographs and attempted conversation, some of which I understood and some I didn’t. It appeared, after a little while, that he wanted my phone number and to meet later for conversation. Hmmm… I thought not!

Back in my claustrophobic room, I spent the evening researching Peru on the internet (sometimes it pays to have a little information ahead of time) and then had an early night.

Part of a Simon Bolivar mural in Loja
Part of a Simon Bolivar mural in Loja

Stress free!

The sign says it all!
The sign says it all!

For the last few days I feel as though I have been on a tranquil retreat from the world. Vilcabamba is known as the valley of longevity and for all the good energies that circulate from the mountains and I have certainly felt that.

The hosteria is located 2 or 3 kilometres out of town and has the most beautiful views across the valley to the mountains on the other side. Many people book for a couple of nights and end up staying longer, myself included. Ex pats and hippies alike are drawn to the town so there is an abundance of dreadlocks and baggy trousers on display! There are also many places for yoga, meditation, massage and alternative therapies and healing.

A country lane outside Vilcabamba
A country lane outside Vilcabamba
Late afternoon sun on the mountains
Late afternoon sun on the mountains
Cabins of the hosteria are in the bottom left hand corner
Cabins of the hosteria are in the bottom left hand corner
Central Plaza in Vilcabamba
Central Plaza in Vilcabamba

The days have passed very quickly. There is yoga in the morning for anyone that wants to go which I did on the first day. However, I was a bit too achy before I even started so it turned into an hour of agony. After a couple of days of rest and relaxation, though, I tried again and this time enjoyed it.

Breakfast is held in a restaurant overlooking the mountains and Carmen, Angela and I usually met for this and then went our separate ways during the day, meeting up again for dinner, although on one occasion we met in town for a crepe lunch.

In the meantime, I have done a little walking in the countryside, had a massage and relaxed in the hammock. It is such a hard life!

The food in the hosteria has been good, the wine is cheap and reasonable and the rooms are very comfortable. It is easy to see why people want to stay.

However, I now have to gear myself up to travelling on my own again and heading off to Peru, the first stage of which will be tomorrow. It is going to be very strange for a little while until I get into the rhythm of being on the road again.