04.03.2012 - 07.03.2012
Why a post about leaving Vilcabamba without a post about Vilcabamba first? Well, it just seems to suit since we really couldn’t wait to get out of there. To be sure the city of longevity famous for its 100 year old inhabitants sits in an absolutely gorgeous valley with a perfect climate. This seemed to be our kind of place on paper and we really did enjoy the day hike we did to a beautiful waterfall in the area.
The city itself however had a vibe we did not like. The first thing you notice when you walk around is that there is a definite divide between the Ecuadorians and the expats in the area. There are posh expensive expat restaurants all around the main square (though with crappy food) where everyone speaks English and no locals go to, and then separately, there are Ecuadorian restaurants where the price is a fraction and the food is actually better. For the most part the expats keep to themselves and the locals go about their own business, however, we could just feel the tension. We found out from one of the other tourists in our hostel that apparently there has been a huge influx of American retirees into the area over the past couple of years. This drove land prices through the roof and drove up the costs of everything in and around the city. This combined with an apparent lack of interest the new rich residents had in learning the language or the customs or even getting to know the existing residents, and it’s not really surprising an unfavourable vibe developed. It's too bad because the city looks like it could be quite charming.
We decided to leave Vilcabamba and go to Peru through a much less travelled border crossing in Macara because of a couple of reasons. First, it would be very time consuming to backtrack to the Panamericana, and secondly, we heard a large number of horror stories about the Huaquillas border crossing. Apparently in Huaquillas you are required to disembark your bus and take a Taxi through a 2km border zone which can lead to problems. In some cases we’ve heard of the taxis taking people to garages and robbing them blind, and in other cases we’ve heard of people never finding their bus or the luggage they left on it once across the border, and having to pay an expensive taxi to Tumbes the first real Peruvian town. Unlike Huaquillas, the Macara border crossing is extremely relaxed, there is no need to take any taxis, and you always have your bus in sight. You do need to get off the bus and do the immigration formalities yourself but you walk maybe a total of 50 meters across a bridge and you are already in Peru. You then just get back onto the same exact bus and it takes you to Piura in Peru where it’s easy to catch and onwards bus. The following is the list of times and buses we took:
1) Bus from Vilcabamba to Loja at 5:15am – takes approx 1hr 30 mins
2) Direct bus from Loja to Piura, Peru at 7am (Transportes Loja is the company) – they say it takes 8 hrs, in reality it takes around 11hrs
3) You arrive in Piura around 6pm where it’s a short walk from the Transportes Loja station to any number of other Peruvian options such as Cruz del Sur, Ittsa or El Dorado.
It was a very long day starting with a wake up call at 4:15am and ending at our final destination around 10pm. However, the entire experience was stress free and very easy, and I would highly recommend this route for anyone trying to get from southern Ecuador to Peru instead of backtracking to the Panamericana.
PS. After we had already left we learned this happened in Vilcabamba. It's very unfortunate and we hope she recovers quickly however we're not extremely surprised that something like this happened.