A Travellerspoint blog

March 2012

Vilcabamba to Piura, Peru using Macara border crossing

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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.

Posted by dariusz 15:38 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Quilotoa Loop Day 4 - Taking the Milk Truck to the Market

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The last day of our trek was not really a trekking day. We needed to get from Isinlivi to the market town of Saquisili for the weekly market which is known to be one of the most authentic ones in Ecuador. The problem was two-fold. First of all, the distance was far too great to walk, and secondly the only bus leaving Isinlivi was at 3am. Waking up at 2am to catch 3am bus to be at the market at 5am did not appeal to us very much. Thankfully Joanna studied her Lonely Planet carefully and found that there is another way to get to Sasquili and it involves jumping on the back of a milk truck. The approximate 9am (South American time, so give or take an hour) departure time of the milk truck appealed to us far more than waking up in the middle of the night after having hiked for 6 hours the day before.

The milk truck journey turned out to be amazing fun and a great cultural experience. Thinking about a milk truck through our North American paradigm we expected that it would be a vehicle that goes around from house to house or village to village and delivers milk. We were in for quite the surprise since the Isinlivi milk truck does the exact opposite and in hindsight it makes perfect sense. The milk truck goes from farm to farm and COLLECTS milk from the farmers and then delivers the milk to the city. The locals are either standing with buckets of milk to deposit or there is just a bucket of milk sitting there by itself by the side of the road. As the truck stops one of the guys on the back of the truck runs out and deposits the milk in the buckets into the large containers sitting in the truck. The buckets themselves are left behind. I never saw any money exchanged so I am not sure how the depositors get paid and how everyone knows how much each person contributed but it all seems to somehow work.

Here is a short video and some pictures:

Here is our driver picking up some of the more creatively arranged milk buckets:


Here is one of the other passengers on the milk truck:


We finally arrived at Sasquisili in the early afternoon when the market was already winding down. However, we did manage to have an excellent lunch and even bought a couple of ponchos. All in all a very successful and colorful market day.


These giant red bananas were DELICIOUS!

Posted by dariusz 10:43 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Quilotoa Loop Day 3 - From Chugchilan to Isinlivi

The third day took us from the quaint village of Chugchilan to another mountain top village called Isinlivi. This time we had amazing sunny weather and it was probably the most visually stunning day on the Loop.

Like the previous hikes on the Quilatoa loop the canyon views were stunning, the bridge crossings made one acutely aware of their mortality, and the people were very approachable and helpful. There were children who happily demanded to have their picture taken. One woman freely offered her child for a photo-op! Also, we encountered many animals, both approachable and not. The most vicious of which was a raging goose. Seriously – they are malicious!


During this trek, S.A.M. had run ahead a little earlier than usual. Although he wasn’t with us, he kept his presence known by creating many little arrows and signs made of twigs or drawn into the ground for us to follow. Despite all of his effort, we still became lost and took a very long route to Isinlivi.


Fortunately, S.A.M. found an amazing hostel with an incomparable, panoramic view. The hostel was much less expensive than Llulu Llama, the only other hostel in town whose monopoly in Isinlivi was finally going to be challenged. For only $12 USD per person we were provided with a private room with ensuite bathroom, the best dinner we had during our entire trip in Ecuador, a delicious breakfast, and the warmest reception from the owner and her family. As the common area was still being built, we were treated to having dinner at the family dining table in their home. It was memorable and absolutely lovely.


Posted by krisses 05:48 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Quilotoa Loop Day 2 - heading to Chugchilan

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It was raining most of the night so we woke up really early hoping that maybe we could catch a nice glimpse of the Quilotoa crater lake and maybe snap a few photos before the clouds move in. We learned from Cotopaxi that the best time to get a good view was usually in the morning. It was cold and dreary but thankfully as we made our way into the crater it wasn’t raining.


The views were pretty impressive as you can see but you may have noticed there are no pictures from the bottom near the lake. We made one large mistake as we started out in the morning, packed ALL our things and took our backpacks down the side of the crater. Note to self, next time you have accommodations until noon, and you are doing a ROUND TRIP 2 hour super difficult trek at 6am, DO NOT take all your stuff with you! Leave your stuff in the hostel! We only made it about half way down before realizing that if we continued there is NO WAY we would make it back out. We turned around and accepted defeat and it was a good thing because soon after we turned back it started to rain. I was so sweaty after this miserable attempt that you can actually see the sweat evaporate from my shirt in this picture.


We waited out the rain at the hostel and then set out for our next destination, Chugchilan. When we started it was still quite foggy but as the day went on the weather improved. It’s a good thing too because unlike the previous day and its paved road this was a real trail and it had some absolutely stunning views. The trail starts out going around the Quilotoa crater and goes about a 3rd of the way before veering off towards a tiny isolated town and then a gorgeous canyon. For the most part it’s not a very difficult trail but it did take us about 5 hours or so to do and you do cross into and out of one very steep canyon. The trail is not all well marked but there are maybe only 2 or 3 spots where the trail splits. Once again the locals are so wonderfully friendly that we never really felt in danger of getting lost and we even had some children going back from school escort us through a part of the trail.


While overall the trail is fairly easy there are a couple of places on the trail that are a bit harrowing. Here are the pictures so you can judge for yourself:


When I say it took us 5 hours to get to Chugchilan I mean the 3 of us mortals. S.A.M got a bit restless with our pace and ran ahead. He had time to go check out every single one of the hostels in town, bargain with each owner, and then make it back to the trail head to welcome us to town. I am convinced he was waiting for us for quite a while!

View of the canyon we descended into and climbed out of from the Chugchilan side

Our hostel in town, S.A.M did an excellent job scouting ahead!

Posted by dariusz 13:16 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Trekking the Quilotoa Loop clock-wise - Day 1

An amazing trek for seeing authentic Indigenous culture in Ecuador

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These days there are very few places in this world that remain relatively uninfluenced by western culture. Wherever we go its remarkable to see how similar the customs and day-to-day lives of regular people have become. I don’t mean to say that there aren’t any differences, there are tons, but the basic outline, the sketches of their lives are very similar to our own. I mean DirectTV is everywhere, as are Cinemas, malls where teenagers hang out with their friends, grocery stores, department stores and even the movies played on buses are mostly American. It’s a good thing in many ways since people all over the world strive for the comfortable life we live and many of them are now achieving it.

However, as a selfish traveler, I want to see a bit more of the traditional ways of life. I want to see the Indigenous people dressed in their traditional outfits working their land. I want to see the milk truck make its run through remote villages and farms picking up buckets of fresh milk and delivering them to a small town on the other side of a 5000 meter high pass. I want to see children laughingly make their way home from school dressed in the cutest traditional dresses crossing canyons that make hardened trekkers queasy. If you are a traveller who loves to not only observe but also immerse yourself in completely different cultures then you absolutely need to come to Ecuador and the trip you have to do is the 4 day hike around the Quilotoa Loop.

As far as hikes go this is one of the best ones we’ve ever done. We set out from Lacatunga early in the morning to Zumbahua by bus with our group of 4 adventurers. We joined forces with Joanna, a polish girl from New Zealand, and S.A.M an American guy from [***censored***]. We did the loop clockwise rather than the usual counter clockwise direction recommended because we heard it’s a bit less climbing and decided that was a good thing. We first met S.A.M in Colombia as he was on his way to Venezuela to [*** censored ***]. We learned that he has lots of experience in trekking from being in the US military and speaks perfect Spanish which would both be great assets on our trip. We also learned he likes to chase armed people for fun and once spent an entire month in a forest in freezing cold weather with nothing to survive on except what was around him. This is as much as I’ll write about that because I don’t want to hear any helicopters landing on top of the hostel because we know too much.

The first leg of the actual trek was about 5 hours walking down a paved road from Zumbahua to Quilotoa, which is where the amazing crater lake from which the loop and the city takes its name is located. The walk was pretty but the best part about it was the fact that we walked by a school just as classes were done for the day. The kids, dressed in their traditional clothing, surrounded us and were all introducing themselves. They were so curious to find out where we were from and decided to walk us all the way to town. We felt like a bit like a walking school bus. They wanted to know more about the countries we were from so S.A.M pointed at me and told the kids the reason Canadians are so tall is because they eat children. So there you go, that is the now the rumour going around Ecuador, though thankfully I don’t think the kids believed him. As the kids started running off to the sides going back to their homes all of a sudden one of the girls waved goodbye to us and disappeared into the canyon. It was a very steep canyon so I asked one of the boys where the girls home was. He pointed to a small dot on the other side of the canyon and said “that’s her home!” in Spanish of course. It was all an amazing cultural experience.


We finally arrived at the Quilotoa town exhausted (all except for S.A.M of course, who probably could have ran the entire way) after seriously misjudging the last uphill and were greeted by the coldest weather we’ve felt in months. It was probably around 10 degrees when we got there but it most likely got down to just above the freezing mark at night. This may not seem that cold until you realize that none of the accommodations in town have any heating and we were all armed with just sweaters and wind breakers. It was fine during the walk because we were keeping warm by moving but once we stopped walking and the night fell it felt colder than it does in Toronto at minus 20. We played a game of hearts sitting right next to a small wood fire oven and continually drinking hot tea to keep warm. S.A.M won of course, probably using his x-ray implants to read through the cards, so we headed off to bed to get some rest. The lake would have to wait until tomorrow.


Posted by dariusz 15:05 Archived in Ecuador Comments (8)

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