I found gringoland…

Today is an awkward day because checkout at my hotel is at 11 AM, but I don’t get on my 14+ hours of bus rides until 8 PM. Entonces I’ve got 9 hours to kill in a very little town with absolutely nothing going on. I could take a hike, but considering how humid it is, I’d like to spare myself (and the person next to me) from smelling nothing but BO on the bus for that many hours…

I spent the first half of the day in Loja on Monday. I wasn’t as charmed by the city as I thought I would be, but I did make my way to the botanical gardens, which were lovely and a great excuse to take lots of flower pictures with my DSLR. (Don’t worry, I’ll spare you.) After lunch and checking out of my hostel at 2 PM, I made my way to Vilcabamba, a quiet town an hour and a half south of Loja on the edge of the Podocarpus National Park.

Despite some on and off again rain, yesterday was a great day — I went on a two hour horseback ride into the hills with a beautiful view of the national park and the surrounding mountains. Pinto, my red- and camel-colored horse, and I had a lovel time, but we did lots of trotting and galloping, which has resulted in an inordinate amount of back pain. (Yes, I realize I sound like an old lady). After my ride, I had a quick lunch and then went on a walk through a nearby nature reserve. Regardless of the fact that I got horribly lost and walked for way longer than I should have in a gigantic loop (this time I couldn’t even blame South American maps, it was just my own, stupid fault), the nature reserve was beautiful, with well marked paths (who knew that was even possible in Ecuador?!) and beautiful flowers, trees, and plenty of butterflies to see. Afterwards, I lay in the hammock, finished The Lost Girls, read the copy of Vogue I’ve been hanging onto from cover to cover, and went to bed at 9 PM. It was a perfect vacation day.

A little slice of heaven…

Vilcabamba has lots of gringas and gringos who now call the town — which is approximately 5 blocks long and another 4 blocks wide — home. This morning after I checked out, I grabbed a smoothie and made/studied spanish vocab cards at a juice place on the main square, which apparently is the place to be if you’re white and speak English. There were at least a dozen older, clearly retired, couples with American accents talking about neighbor drama or their newest born goat (I kid you not… pun intended). Another four or five younger couples with kids under the age of 5 also joined the pack, letting their kids run around with each other as they chatted about what they were going to be for the big town Halloween party tonight.

Personally, I’m not sure I get the appeal of Vilcabamba, but I have admitted and confirmed my city girl nature, and this is yet another reminder of why I belong in a bustling city. That being said, I definitely liked Mindo more than I like Vilcabamba. And though my hostel is breathtakingly beautiful, you can only stay at a hotel for so many days. I guess if you’re looking for a tranquil – and cheap – place to retire, this is your pueblo, but I’m happy to be moving on.

Unfortunately, moving on means approximately 14 hours on 3 busses across the border into Peru and down to Chiclayo. Stay tuned for that blog post, and cross your fingers that I have uneventful ride(s)!

Tienes un mapa?

Six hotels/hostels later (including my own) and I am still mapless. Who would have thought the city of Loja doesn’t believe in maps? Not I, that’s for sure.

I took a 4 hour (in Ecuadorian time, so really, 5 hour) bus ride from Cuenca down south to Loja this afternoon. The ride was, for the most part, easy and unexciting, sans the girl next to me who was doing some sort of needlepoint and kept elbowing me every 5 minutes, and the fact that our bus driver thought he was driving a race car, not a gigantic bus. But you know, totally normal for South America.

Once I got to Loja, I had a cab take me to the hostal I’d looked up online yesterday. For some reason, HostelWorld, HostelBookers, TripAdvisor AND LonelyPlanet had no way to book a Loja hotel of a decent price online. I hate arriving in cities without accommodation, but since I got in during the day with plenty of time in a very small city, I wasn’t too worried. Of course the hostal I showed up at was locked and nobody was there. A nice gentleman told me they might return in “one or two hours” so I walked next door into the Alcapulco Hotel.

My spanish conversation with the receptionist:

Me; Hola, tu tiene habitacions esta noche?

Receptionist: Si, si

Me: Ah, bien! Cuanto es por una por una noche?

Receptionist: Trece, por agua calliente, internet, y desayuno en la manana.

My brain: Treinta

Me: Ah, si. Una pregunta, tu tienes un mapa de la ciudad?

Receptionist: [points to the counter] Sî, aqui, pero solo esta una.

Me: En este barrio, hay otra hostals y hotels?

Receptionist: Si. Qué es lo que desea pagar?

Me: Quince, mas o menos?

Receptionist: Pero aqui es trece…

Me: Ah! Trece. Lo siento. Mi espanol is no bien, yo pienso tu dice trente.

For those of you who don’t know how to use google translate (ha), essentially I thought the receptionist said a room for the night was $30, not $13. Fitting perfectly into my $15/night, breakfast and wifi included budget requirements, I apologized and took a room.

Since my hotel didn’t have any maps, I took a wander around town, asking every open hotel or hostel in sight if they had one. No luck.

A quick screenshot of my itinerary over the next few days — Cuenca > Loja > Vilcabamba > Chiclayo (possibly via Piura, depending on the busses)

I wandered in straight lines so I knew I wouldn’t have trouble finding my way back (it was getting dark), and stumbled upon a plaza with women selling colada moradaguaguays de pan! I was very excited because in our Quito Spanish class, we read about some upcoming Ecuadorian holidays and traditions, including the Dia de los Difuntos  known to us in English as the Day of the Dead or All Souls Day. The colada morada is a berry-based drink, made also with cinnamon, sweet pepper and various other fruits, and represents the blood and pain of those who have passed away. The guaguays de pan are loafs of bread in the shape of babies, many decorated with icing to depict the face and clothing. For a whopping 70 cents I tried both – totally delicious!

Despues, I bought 3 oranges and 2 bananas for 40 cents (have I mentioned I love Ecuador) and wandered back to my hotel. I’ve resigned to spend the night inside, doing some research on Loja and Vilcabamba, my next destination, a quaint rainforest town very similar to Mindo that’s only an hour(ish) south of the city. I got a room at Le Rendez-Vous, an amazing sounding hostel I found via TripAdvisor.

I’m currently sitting in the lobby — the only place where the internet seems to want to cooperate — and listening to the child of the owner ding the service bell over, and over, and over (and over) again. Upstairs, there is a gaggle of kids I was previously sitting amongst, before I relocated for better wifi, screaming and chasing each other around the hallway, “walking” the younger kids with scarves and shirts as if they were dogs. Needless to say, not exactly how I pictured spending my night, but considering it’s Halloween season and Hurricane Sandy is approaching the east coast (Halloween and bad weather, two of my absolute least favorite things) I’m not exactly missing the United States right now either. I’m looking forward to my next two days of exploring Loja, then heading to Vilcabamba for horseback riding, hiking, and relaxing with my reader in a hammock!