A Travellerspoint blog

Vilcabamba to Huaraz

sunny 29 °C
View South America tour on hughw's travel map.


My last stop in Ecuador was Vilcabamba, close to the border with Peru in the south. The inhabitants of the town and surrounding valley have a reputation for longevity. Strange then that in addition to 'Vilcagua' brand bottled water, the shops in the town also sell 'Vilcacigarillos'.



The ultra-chilled atmosphere has attracted all sorts of immigrants from Europe and North America, starting perhaps with the fruitarian, often-times hermit, self-proclaimed reincarnation of John the Baptist, and general crackpot, Johnny Lovewisdom. These days it counts a number of English-speaking expat retirees amongst its population.

My first night I stayed in a super-dingy but super-cheapo hostal near the bus terminal. Rule #6 of the hostal states 'please don't make scandal', which I rather liked:





Teaming up with two Americans and a Spanish guy, I set off on a walk into the hills above Vilcabamba. More amazing views, warm weather and clear air.


Though the perilous ridge-top path didn't exactly seem conducive to long life...


My first horse ride

A slightly unfortunate episode in the saga of my travels. We hired some horses and after some brief instructions from our cowboy-esque guide on how to steer the beasts, set off up a track towards some distant waterfalls.

I tried to take a photo, and ended up some distance from the rest of the group. You can see the beginning of the troubles already...


We were supposed to be able to vary the speed by squeezing the horse with our feet to go faster (never necessary), or pulling up on the reins to slow down (never effective). But the horses made the same journey every day, and had their own idea about the appropriate pace, that can be summarised as 'go slightly faster than the terrain permits'. So without any encouragement they galloped whenever possible. Quite alarming (and surely unsafe) for a first-timer. But lots of fun.

We arrived at the promised waterfalls.


At this point, it being a hot day, I stripped down to my undies and jumped in. On the way back therefore I wore just my very thin cargo pants. I didn't think much of the strange sensation from my backside until it was too late.

Dear reader, I will spare you the grisly details, but suffice to say they were the biggest blisters I have ever seen. And they weren't anywhere the sun shines.

Travelling to Peru

After a final evening in Vilcabamba in which I met one of the two local mayoral candidates, attended the vote (basically a giant piss-up), and shared a drinkable consolation with the candidate when he didn't win...


I embarked on the journey south to Peru, having opted for the super-remote border crossing at La Balsa.


Several hours of unpaved roads on either side of the border:


Once at the border outpost I had to go and rouse the police officer and immigration official, who were sitting around by a coffee stand, to get them to unlock their little huts and give me the necessary stamps. A nurse asked me if I was suffering from flu. I said no.

The border itself, a tiny river, was spanned by a huge concrete bridge, tarmac'd and sturdy enough to support a 4-lane motorway. But then at either end led away a single-lane track of mud and stones.


Getting to Huaraz

From Cuenca, Laura had jetted off to Ecuador's Galapagos islands. I'd arranged to meet her in Huaraz, northern Peru. Peru is much larger than Ecuador, and at over 1000 miles from north to south, combined with the worse roads, my happy days of 3-hour bus journeys were over. It took two days to get from Vilcabamba to Huaraz, passing through Jaen, my first taste of the omnipresent dust that filled the air, clogged the nose, and browned clothing all the way to Chile...


... Chimbote, a running joke in Peru as the continent's stinkiest town -- a well-deserved reputation, as the town is a hive of fish-processing factories (town crest below) ...


... and the spectacular climb up between the Cordilleras Blanca and Huayhuash:


Aside from the copious religious icons that decorate all south american buses, the names of the transport companies themselves started to have a religious theme:


It's worrying when it seems to be a matter of religious faith whether your bus will arrive at its destination.


At last I arrived in Huaraz:


And went climbing!


Posted by hughw 03:00 Archived in Ecuador Comments (1)

Baños and Cuenca

semi-overcast 23 °C
View South America tour on hughw's travel map.


The Guayanas aside, Ecuador is the smallest country in South America, just a little larger than the United Kingdom. This means bus journeys are relatively short: my next stop, Baños, was less than 100 miles to the south of Quito. Set on the side of Ecuador's largest mountain, Tungurahua, Baños is named for its hot springs, which are a major attraction for tired Quiteños and foreign tourists. It also seems to have become a hub for adventure sports in the surrounding countryside.

Teaming up with American Laura and Swiss Benoit, I set off on an all-day downhill bikeride towards the town of Puyo, 60km away.


We descended a spectacular gorge, with many waterfalls cascading into the river from the opposite side. Each waterfall had a little cablecar spanning the valley, conveying fearless tourists to and fro. You can just see a little red car in the picture below:


There was an equal disregard for the safety of cyclists: to our dismay we entered a road tunnel on our bikes, only to discover the tunnel was unlit, long, and full of traffic. Here's a pretty shoddy photo having come out the other side, chased by quad bikes too:


And me running through a waterfall on our side of the road:


Before long, we came to a road bridge. A nice chap convinced me and Laura to jump off the bridge (attached by a rope):


Though we both had misgivings...


The guy at the top said 'jump on 3' and counted '1... 2... 3...' but I'm pretty sure survival instinct prevented me from jumping, and the guy just pushed me instead.
[Thanks to Laura for the photos]


I think I was trying to shout something on the way down, but no sound came out.

Here's the happy jumper afterwards:


On the way back we hitched a ride in the back of a truck. The driver left one of the doors open for 'ventilation', through which we could observe that he was overtaking in the long, unlit and busy tunnels...


By the way, this is what we look like when travelling between towns



Laura with the rhinomobile:



Laura (and later her mum too!) became my travel companion for the next 6 weeks. Another 150 miles south by bus took us to Cuenca, a center of Panama hat fabrication. The traditional Panama hat design actually originates in Ecuador, but since they used to be shipped to Panama before being distributed to the rest of the world, the misnomer stuck.

We looked round a hat workshop:


Where we saw how hats were woven, hammered and steamed into shape:


And of course tried on some hats:


To my delight I found an XXXL hat that actually fits my gigantic head. A bargain at $15. Though my hat very rapidly deformed, a process of decay you will be able to observe over the next few entries...


Posted by hughw 12:56 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

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