In Cuenca, Ecuador we boarded a bus heading to Loja, where we could catch another smaller bus to Vilcabamba, a small town in the “valley of longevity” where residents are said to live well over 100 years. While we were figuring out our seat situation (some tickets had assigned seats while others did not), we met a German guy named Gabrielle, who was joking with us about how serious a local man was taking the whole process. When we arrived in Loja, Ryan struck up a conversation with Gabrielle, and found out that he planned to cross the border into Peru and head directly to the jungle. First, however, he decided to join us on our way to Vilcabamba.
When we reached the quiet village, we set off to find a hostel, and while we were wandering the unknown streets, a friendly woman working at a local shop hollered at us asking if we were looking for a place to stay. She took us upstairs to a converted apartment with 6 private rooms–a kitchen, living room, balcony and a large bathroom–which was perfect (and very cheap!) for the few nights we expected to stay.
Once we dropped off our bags, we walked one block to the main square where we found a Mexican restaurant to have dinner. Ryan and Gabrielle devoured their burritos and a large beer as Lisa ate her Mexican salad of lettuce, shredded chicken, avocado, olives, mushrooms and corn, with an oil and vinegar dressing. Because the town was very small, with not much to see, we just grabbed a few beers from the corner store and sat in the plaza for most of the night getting to know Gabrielle.
The next day we rented mountain bikes to explore more of the city and surrounding landscape. We got directions from the bike rental agent, but somehow we missed our turn and got a little lost. However, it turned out to be a great afternoon and we saw mango and lime trees, cows grazing on the side of the road, and mountains all around us.
We grabbed lunch at an American owned restaurant with homemade bread where many expats and aspiring conspiracy theorists hung out. We traded the delicious food for the mediocre conversation, and were forced to hear about how the moon is a satellite made by our government, and how the Chinese have plans to make their own.
Lisa read about this German-run hotel in the hills that boasted great views of the city and surrounding area, as well as life-size chess, so we went on a walk to find it. About 30 minutes later we arrived at our destination but it was rainy and cloudy so the views weren’t great, however, we were able to relax in their restaurant, drink coffee, and enjoy their wifi.
That night we went to the main square to meet a couchsurfer, Adrí, who used to live in Loja, but now lives with her sister and works at their post office / travel agency (which coincidentally was right next to where we were staying). The next morning Gabrielle caught a bus heading for Peru to go to the Amazon and we decided to go on a hike with Adrí. She was great company and we learned a lot from her. The most amazing part was that she had been seeing a guy from Omaha who was working with the Peace Corps in Loja. After a two hour hike through the valley, Adrí helped Ryan talk to the barber and get a quality haircut, and then we got pizza at the same expat conspiracy restaurant from the day before. After lunch we said our good-byes to Adrí in hopes we would see her again–but next time in the States–and we packed, showered, and hopped on a bus back to Loja.