Train rides, the most excellent city in Ecuardor and the valley of the old......
Vilcabamba Travel Blog› entry 10 of 31 › view all entries
Right then, lots to catch up on as I have been really slack of late and nowhere near the ubiquitos internet cafe full of slightly smelly gringos for a while, so here goes :
Following on from last time ( I think as I never re-read these things) we left banos for a hick town called RioBamba (insert richie valens tune here ). there is really no reason to go to this town except for one, the "famous steam railway", that takes you down the "devils nose" a steep as shit set of mountains in the south of ecuador. The train ( no longer stram Im afraid) leaves at 7 am so you basically have to go to the town on the day before, and because of this a whole tourist industry has built up ( although not a very good one ! :-)
You start at the markets where the enticing smell of roasted pig greets you as 20 or so aproned matrons try to attract you to their stall to sample their porcine delights, now anyone who has ever had a hog roast .. thats HOG not spit !! ( and thats most of you.. adrian and simon´s weddings respectivly) knows this is great, its even greater as the matron in question rips the flesh from the carcass bare handed and slaps it on a plate with some rice and a beanesque concoction.. what is not great is the price we "tourists" get charged, which was approx 3 times the going rate ( we later found at a less touristified market), but as this was only 5 dollars anyway, nothing to cry home about and the Pork and crackeling was DELICIOUS !! ( note, the food here is pretty spectacular).
After this there really was sod all to do except drink and wait for the next day´s train ride. Which came VERY early in the morning as we got to the station at 5.45 ish and it was already crouded ! The train was a sell out.
The key feature of the journey being that you are encouraged to ride on the roof !! what larks, rooftop riding down andean paks with a 500 ft drop off the side ! Well anyone who has travelled budget airlines will know that "unseated" transport brings out the worst in people, especially tourists and the crush to get on the roof was not something we were prepared to get into, so while they fought to get on in the cold ( it was 1500m above sea level at 6am) and hard ( you could rent a cushion for a dollar) morning light , H, Damian, Sarah, Lev and I opted for the inside of the carrraige for a comfortable and uneventful 3 hr ride down the mountain ( kicked off by a hilarious "patagonians" style band giving us simon and Garfunkle pan pipes wile we waited !) The views, as you would expect were spectacular and the ride down was worth the wait ! the BEST part though, was at the bottom of the hill, the train turns around and comes right back up again, and it was at this point that the conductor made everyone on the roof get off so the cabin passengers could have a go !! YAY !! no cold hard long ride down, just a nice 30 odd minute ride back up the best scenery in the blazing sunshine !! what luck !!... well... it was lucky until half way up the mountain our Mercedes built ( take note my German Friends) BROKE DOWN !! leaving us stranded on a cliff face with a vertical drop under my feet of about 500 ft !! eeeep. About an hour later they sent another train to pick us up and we finally got back ok ( though a little sunburnt) and grabbed a bus that was waiting for the train to get back off ot the cultural capitol of Ecuador , Cuanca !
Words really cant summarise how much I like this town. This was one of those moments whan eveything magically came together to make for a perfect part of the trip.
The town is a colonial Gem with beatiful buildings, cathedrals, museums, rivers, cinemas, shops, inca ruins, the lot. We met a lady tout at the bus station who brought us in a free taxi to her hostel, the "tourist if the world" hostel, and to be honest at first sight, it was nothing to write home about, but behind this rather dull exterior was everything we needed, kitchen, dining room, TV room with loads of DVDs ( Iron man in spanish is just as good) and two balconies, one overlooking the town and one overlooking the river ! and it was located int he middle of the "going out" district so all the best bars and restaurants were just there on our doorstep !
Our " travel gang" has now swelled to 7 with me &H, D&S, Lev and an engish couple on honeymoon called Jamie and itka, so as you can imagine, lots of beer, wine, dinner ( as we all seem to be foodies of a sort) were in the offing ! Our landlady, not only being the nicest lady on the planet also constantly updated us with what was happening in town, hence we went to an free ecuadorian rock concert (beatles megamix in spanish accent) the highlight of which was watching a local man eating something dead on a stick ( I think a ginea pig) that had to be put back on as was not cooked enough... yuk !! and a gastronimic food festival ( where lev , H & I tried the Coy ( gineapig) , its a bit like fishy chicken and to be best avoided), and watched childen singing carols in santa hats and 35 degree heat !
Other highlighst of the three or four days in the oasis of heaven, were going for a right proper indian ( with sag aloo and everything ), ps for the brum lot, Jamie ( the new recruit) was from Birmingham ( well went to Uni there) and will try out the shebab next time he is in Quinton !) ; Seeing James bond for a second time ( that film ROCKS !) , getting into one of the poshest bars on the strip for free as we happened to be there when the owner was going in ( V cool) and enjoying schwarma ( chicken kebabs) and pipa (hubbly bubbly pipes) at 2 am in a great turkish bar. I know its not very cultural, and I should be in museums etc.. but this was way to much FUUUUUUUNNN !!!
But all good things come to an end as we have been in Ecuador already a week longer than planned so it was time to move off, to our next port of call, Vilacabamba ! the legendary tranquil valley in the south of Ecuador where the locals reguarly live to be over 100 years old... and I think I know why.. as they get everyone to do everything for em !! judging by the buses... I háve never stood up for so many cantancarous old grannies in my life ! it was like musical chairs as they get on and off the bus at 50 meter intervals...seriously the bus will stop for anyone..at any time, if it says "DIRECT" anywhere on the ticket, dont fall for it :-)
But we eventually arrived in the blissful tree covered , green and verdant, cloud topped peaks of Vilacabamba valley and checked into what can only be described as a backpackers resort hotel. This place was amazing, we had what amounted to a seperate wing with two cabins ( D&S were also with us) with shared bathrooms ( two of em, one each) and a restaruant, bar, pool, table, DVD room, SWIMMING POOL !!! etc.. if this is life in vilacabamba, its no wonder everyone lives so long !! so we did sod all the first day except relax and recline in our hammoks, play pool, etc and generaly holiday.
Vilacabamba is also famous for its walks, and on the second day we embarked with Damian (sarah had wisely chosen to stay behind) on one such walk along the high peaks of the mountains. it was a 4 hr trek, and they did warn that if you get vertigo ( which I do) then dont go... but i thought .. nahhh if it was dangerous, they would not let tourists do it !!! how wrong was I..
On entering the park you have to fill in a form with next of kin, blood group etc... a confidence inspiring start ! then we started the hour or so hike up the slope, seriously, at some points it was rock climbing as it was so steep, but the veiws from the top were spectacular !! you then embark on another hour of ridge top hikes, where the cliffs fall away from the 2 foot wide path for hundreds of feet before the final decent down a dried up river bed filled with cow shit and the most malevolet loking herds of cown known to man ( seriously , some were stalking us, i saw one with a leather jacket and a tatoo, and that not nice for a cow !!!) but on the whole was a great and rewarding experience !!
after this we hit the pool to cool off worn out tootsies, before heading off down the hill to the town centre to go to a book exchange... well things went a bit wrong here , suffice to say the brakes on the bike wernt the best going downhill, stuck on coming uphill and the book exchange was closed, but hey ho... mustnt grumble, if this the the sum amoun of my worries.... pswah ! :-)
This is our last stop in Ecuador, at 5.30 am tomorrow we grab a taxi to Loja and the 8 hr bus across the boarder to Peru and more adventures. i will infill some of these earlier dates with other logs commenting on the different spects of Ecuador I have not touched on yet , including the food.. that deserves a chapter in inself, but now my fingers are tired and its time for a beer.. so adieu Ecuador, an unknown at the start of this trip, but much loved and will be sadly missed !