A ‘rainy season’ usually brings ummm… rain. Except for Ecuador in 2016, that is. The 2016 ‘rainy season’ has so far not really materialised in these parts and it’s been conspicuously dry in the north-western Andes. Locals tell us that they have seen not a single drop throughout November. Regular Cuthbert readers may recall that we have just returned to Quito from an impromptu trip back to UK due to a family illness. During those three weeks we had the traditional British ration of copious precipitation, but now we are back in sunny Ecuador ready to hit the road with a fresh supply of Twiglets and Yorkshire Tea bags!
To Hippy Land
The landscape is looking a bit parched as we head south to the small town of Alausí where we want to do the Devil’s Nose train trip. The rail-road was originally cut out of the rock-face in the early 20th Century to link the inland towns with the coastal port of Guayaquil. It latterly fell into disrepair but is now restored as a tourist attraction, taking a zig-zag route around the fabled Devil’s Nose mountainside. It can’t really be described as ‘hair-raising’ or even ‘exciting’ experience, but nevertheless it’s a nice trip with some lovely views and a few steep drops off the track-side to create a little ‘oooh factor’.
Now we movie on south towards the city of Cuenca, which does indeed live up to the expectations of charm and beauty. We mooch around the museums and many well-preserved colonial buildings, then in the evening the long-awaited and over-due rains decide to arrive! And boy does it rain! We usually eat out when we’re staying in towns, however the sudden torrential rain rudely interrupts our plans and we really don’t feel like wandering out to a restaurant. The nearby café has only outside tables which are currently neatly arranged in a swamp. He doesn’t usually do take-aways, but the nice chap agrees to cook-up a tasty griddled chicken for us to dash back to Cuthbert. As the rain continues to crash on Cuthbert’s flat roof, we have a cosy night in watching telly (well, since you ask… The West Wing 🙂 ).
With intermittent rain showers, we continue south to the ‘Hippy Central’ village of Vilcabamba. Sitting in a beautiful valley, it has a large population of western expats, many from the good ol’ US of A (incidentally… why are westerners living in another country known as ‘expats’ whilst those from other cultures are ‘immigrants’?). Vilcababma thrives on a reputation of creative hippy-art and mystical remedies. We rather like it here, but we don’t really fit-in with either of the two main demographic groups here: young, cool dreadlocked dudes making feather/bead jewellery and selling it from the back of a clapped-out VW combi; or the post-retirement (youth-of-the-sixties) crowd that seem to wander around in a haze of something-or-other and sip herbal teas in the cafes.
From Vilcabamba the route due south takes us to the ‘back-door’ into Peru. It’s a long, slow, winding, little travelled mountain dirt-road through the far south of Ecuador. Clearly there has been no lack of rain in these ‘ere parts! The scenery is beautifully lush with tropical fruit trees dotted in the jungle clearings. Mango season is now in full swing and it’s difficult to find anything else on the local fruit stalls. Delicious… provided you like mangoes, that is!
As we’re nearing the border, now might be a good time to offer a brief ponder of our time in Ecuador. We enjoyed touring as far north as Quito (not straying into the chilly northern hemisphere!) and a trip to the Galapagos is a global-mega-destination. It’s an attractive country and we generally felt very welcome, but something about Ecuador sets it apart from its more southerly neighbours: Expats. Ecuador is a very popular retirement destination for North Americans. The cost of living is higher than in other South American countries, however the regime is very accommodating for ‘snow-birds’, the local currency is the US dollar and the icing on the cake… a surprisingly pleasant year-round climate. In much the same way that Brits have colonised the Spanish Costas, the North American snow-birds have had an inevitable impact on Ecuador, particularly in the coastal resorts and the attractive mountain villages. Not necessarily a bad thing… it’s all good money into the local economy and you can buy Uncle Sam’s Peanut Butter in certain supermarkets… that’s progress if ever we saw it 🙂
We finally approach the border with a little apprehension. We’re not entirely sure whether our flying exit/return to the country without Cuthbert (when we flew back to UK) is strictly permitted under the vehicle temporary import rules. Hopefully the officials won’t spot that the most recent date of entry in our passports does not match the date of entry on Cuthbert’s Temporary Import Permit. Turns out… “No problema!” At both sides of this border we find some of the nicest, most helpful officials that we had anywhere in South America so far. We also find two friendly Brit chaps, Lyndon and Anthony, touring on motorbikes heading in the same direction as us. More will emerge of their story in the next blog as we head back into Peru, but for now it’s Exit Ecuador. Hasta la vista!