The bus got going and immediately we remembered that it is pretty standard practice for Ecuadorians to wait to get on the bus until after the station because you don't have to pay the $0.03 to $0.10 bus station tax
. Soon enough we had a constantly changing flux of up to 22 adults and a baby on board. Somehow almost everybody was seated, too - sort of. It was interesting to note the varied smells that each new passenger brought with him/her.
The trip was about an hour and a half long, and the most memorable moment came about halfway through. We stopped to let somebody out and as we got going again, we saw this streak of orange passing the window out of the corner of our eyes. Those of us toward the back turned to look and a bunch of us started yelling "El chancho! El chancho!" The pig had wiggled out of its crate and fallen off of the bus. The poor old lady who was its owner was horrified. Luckily, the pig was tough, and had fallen on grass, and almost immediately got up and started eating - not very excited, this pig. The bus driver stopped and the man with the old woman ran to where it had fallen to grab it, carrying it squealing back to the top of the bus. The whole thing created a good laugh among the passengers.
Vilcabamba is a nice town in a valley, at a much lower altitude than we've been for awhile (only 1,500m!) Its residents are known for their longevity and, due to its location and climate, it's turned into a center for horse-riding, spas, biking, sitting around..
. The weather has been so-so lately, though, so we only stayed a couple of days. We did manage to do another good hike, though, on our only full day there. We climbed to the top of the hills on one side of the valley and walked along a path on the hill's ridge. It was very cool - in some spots the path was only a couple of feet wide with steep hills going down both sides. After that we both got great, and super-cheap ($13!) massages from the place we were staying. Although we didn't stay long, we absolutely endorse Vilcabamba for anybody looking for a mellow vacation.
Post-Vilcabamba we took an overnight bus to northern Peru and then headed to the beach (finally...) We'll probably have some more photos and stories (perhaps a pig of the week?) soon.
After leaving Cuenca we spent a night in the medium-sized city of Loja. The next morning we took a mini-bus (basically a conversion van, our first in Ecuador) to Vilcabamba. At first we thought it looked like a pretty easy trip, because there were only five passengers who got on at the bus station, and the mini-bus has seating for about 13 people. We loaded our backpacks onto the top of the bus and noticed that there was a crate with a snout sticking out of the red mesh covering the top - a live pig. This isn't all that uncommon - we've seen bags of guinea pigs tossed down to old women on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, as well as pigs loaded into lower compartments after markets, and also heard a story about two sheep being tossed off the top of a bus to their owner along with a bed frame.