Apart from the colonial buildings Cuenca is also a modern, rich city with lots of cafes, ice cream parlors, bars and restaurants.This is the first time that the people are more from Spanish descendants than indigenous. As they eat lots and lots of ice cream here you can imagine that most people are slightly over weighted as well. I have to admit we had our share of ice cream and cakes during our stay in Cuenca. We used Cuenca as a base to visit the national park Las Cajas for hiking, visit the Inca ruins of Ingapirca and to wander around the city and visit some museums. The national museum in Cuenca was quite interesting especially the part where they displayed the different indigenous groups that live in Ecuador. Very educational. The most interesting was the display of the Tzantzas of the Shuar culture of the southern part of the jungle in Ecuador.Tzantzas are shrunken heads of killed enemies but if you want to read more about it just type in tzantzas in google or wikipedia and you'll find plenty of information about it.
Our hike in National Park Las Cajas was superb.They have, well marked, hiking trails here that lead you through the desolate highland plains (páramo) that is dotted with a multitude of small lakes. The flora was abundant and colorful. The weather was great, with just a fierce, cold wind blowing.The Inca ruins of Ingapirca are not the most impressive ones we’ve seen but I guess you really have to go to Peru to be impressed with the Inca ruins or other pre Colombian ruins for that matter. But on the other hand it is the best preserved Inca site in Ecuador and the temple of the sun was quite impressive as it is the only (or one of the few) oval shaped temples made by the Incas. Also the site is still used as a ceremonial site by the Cañari who actually built on this site before the Inca’s did!
Leaving Cuenca behind we went further south and with just a stop for the night in Loja we went straight down to Vilcabamba also known as the valley of longevity. The all year spring like weather and the fresh air is said to add a couple of years to your lifespan. We decided to end our trip here and indulge ourselves in a stay in a cabaña on a hill at the Izhcayluma lodge for 5 nights. A well maintained, German owned, lodge with a great atmosphere, beautiful garden, good restaurant and everything organized as you expect from Germans! They have made their own walking trails in the area and as we hadn’t done enough hiking we did one of them ( the forgotten trail hike) with nice views over the valleys and the mountains. But we saved our best hike for last. This was the hike we did in the Podocarpus National Park. You don’t expect that when you go higher in altitude ( from 1800 up to 3000 meters) that you arrive in this lush kind of jungle. But these are cloud forests so enough precipitation for a green forest. Walking here was like walking in a kind of fairytale forest or the garden of Eden. So many different trees, bushes, flowers in all kinds of colors. Even the birds we saw were colorful. Walking on the top of a mountain ridge we had spectacular views over the lush valleys and the hills covered in mist.
Definitely our best hike. The rest of our time in Vilcabamba we just relaxed, enjoyed the scenery, went for a swim in the pool, had a couple of beers and ended the days with a caipirinha in the bar. A great way to end the trip. Only thing left to do is fly back to Quito and then back to Amsterdam. We’ll miss the friendliness and the helpfulness of the Ecuadorian people. We haven’t met one single person ( apart from the taxi driver in Cueca) that wasn’t helpful or friendly. Also our daily fresh fruit juices, especially the 'tomate de arbol' juice will be missed. The only thing we will not miss are the endless love songs they play on the buses. It’s all about I love you, I miss you, I’ve been looking for you but I couldn’t find you and now my poor heart aches and how can I go on living without you. One hooray for the IPOD. This was also our first trip ever where in every hotel we stayed in had free WiFi. Going to an Internet cafe to read your mail is so last year!
Ok that’s it for this year. We hope you enjoyed the stories and the pictures.We definitely had a great time here in Ecuador. You’ll hear more from us next year on our trip to ....?
We decided not to go Riobamba as the scenic train ride that leaves from Riobamba could only do the first part due to work on the train tracks. The second, closed, part of the trip is supposedly the prettiest part. So instead we went straight to Cuenca by bus. This was also a beautiful ride through the highlands. Magnificent views of the Chimborazo volcano and scenic highlands dotted with small villages. Cuenca is a beautiful historic town with plenty of colonial houses and a pompous new cathedral. From our hotel, an old monks house, we had a great view on the cathedral.