Week 2: Leymebamba

It’s hard to believe that 2 weeks have already passed. I think it helps a lot that we are busy and enjoying the company of the family we are staying with… and I’m enjoying teaching! I was worried at first, I’ve taught one cooking class and was wary of my abilities to teach English but we have just gone full force and filled our days with classes. We created more English teaching opportunities than were here before and are reaching out to the adjoining neighborhoods as well.

All the classes are going well. A big difference here is mainly that everyone is excited to learn. Our students don’t seem to take attendance seriously, which is a problem because I like to move forward and build on what we know, but at least half of every class is a review to get everyone caught up. Luckily, they LOVE homework and if I assign 10 sentences I usually get 15 or 20 from most students (I have the intermediate adults). Right now we’re working on basic conversation but are past the general greetings and talking more about feelings, food, animals and parts of the body. It’s funny, I realized that I’m encouraging them to talk about their feelings (I won’t let them say “I’m fine” anymore because that’s the generic answer that every single student uses for “How are you?”) and aches and pains in their body. They have their first exam tonight; I hope that goes well. I gave an exam yesterday to my jovenes (the youths) and half of the class showed up and they basically all failed. I just wanted to test them on what they absorbed in 2 weeks with me and the answer right now is not much, which is sad. They are excited to learn and do homework, but at least now I know we need to spend more time talking out loud and reviewing. They are sweet kids, and I’m getting a few new students every class, which is amazing to me. Matt and I have split them up and are now offering 2 jovenes classes at the same time (under 10 and 10-15).

I have about 8 regular jovenes in the older age bracket and I have a feeling our babies (8 year olds) will double because we advertised the class today at the 2 de Mayo school, where we’ve been teaching English almost every day. It takes about 10-15 minutes to walk there and they LOVE to sing. I was surprised when I was in the 5th grade classroom how eager they were to sing. I would have scorned singing at that age. Overall, it’s great because the kids learn faster than adults, especially through song. The popular one is Head, shoulders knees and toes because it’s simple and there’s movement. Most kids can only sit still for 5 minutes before running to look out the window or create a ruckus. We’re also teaching at the preschool for a half an hour a day, just about every weekday as well. These children pick up the pronunciation SO well; they are little sponges. We just taught them a new song about the colors and we’re already hearing it in the streets outside our windows. Children tend to not be embarrassed to practice new words and sounds, and I think the fact that they are learning it verbally helps them with their pronunciation. The teenagers and adults tend to be a little more embarrassed about sounding funny or are shy to say something because it might be wrong.

We’ve also been offering a drop in class twice a week in the evenings as a supplement or catch up for the people who miss classes. It’s ranged from 1 to 7 students so far. We cover and review whatever the students want to work on, from numbers to pronunciation to theory.

So, I’ve been busy but enjoying it. I really like correcting tests, but I’ve known that. I was always the essay editor in English class in high school. It’s another form of organization I enjoy. The week also flew by because I’ve been cooking and things ALWAYS take longer than I expect, especially here with an old kitchen that doesn’t have an oven thermometer (gasp!). Regardless, I’m still making an attempt at cooking because I promised the daughter in law of the owners of the hostal that I’d teach/share my knowledge with her (and she’s sharing hers as well, so it’s fun…she´s 24 and we get along really good). They are building a restaurant to go along with the hostal and she’s compiling a menu to send to the travel agencies (which I’m helping make bilingual and vegetarian friendly). Yesterday we made a big lunch together for the family and we had: Quinoa Vegetable Soup, Spaguetti with a spicy aji tomato sauce (I intended to make a huacatay pesto, but we couldn’t find any huacatay (a local herb kinda minty kinda basily)), puree of black-eyed peas and babaco juice (it looks like papaya but tastes like a thick sweet pineapple).

Also this week I taught Estefani how to make gnocchi, American pancakes, crystallized ginger, muffins (which didn’t come out good b/c the oven is crazy) and whole wheat oat bread. I’ve been building up this week slowly preparing for my attempt at Swimming Rama. I made soy milk a few days ago and turned half of that into tofu. I have acquired a coconut and am currently shredding it to make coconut milk. I toasted peanuts yesterday which will become peanut butter today and need to find spinach. So it takes about a week to make Swimming Rama here. I´ll update with that progress probably on the food blog.

Life in town is slow, but I´ve got more than enough stuff going on. I´m also trying to make a tam hat from some yarn I bought a month ago and have been reading the Dark Materials trilogy. I heard the movie recently came out…anyone see it? I hope it´s good, because I’ve been enjoying the books.

Leymebamba, week 1

This quaint little mountain town, located in the cloud forest at an elevation of 2050m and a population of 1100, is said to have 2 horses to every resident in town. Most people that live in town have farms that are, on average, a 3 hour walk. This town is surrounded by beautiful green valleys and has a cold, fast moving river going through it. Sadly, there is no garbage, let alone recycling program, and most of the garbage ends up in the river, making the water not the safest to drink. But it still tastes much better than Huanchaco! There are a LOT of ruins in the whole region and new ones are still being discovered. Kuelep is close to here, which is supposedly as grandeous and amazing as Macchu Picchu, but without the crowds or tourism. I’m sure it will come and that is one of the reason we are here. Scary mummies and horses.
For the next month, we will be teaching English to local guides who want to develop tourism locally. An issue with Macchu Picchu is that most money that is spent there is received by foreigners. The expensive bus that most people take up the mountain is owned by foreigners, as well as most tourist hotels are foreigner-run.

I think it’s great they want to take it into their own hands and the coordinator, Maibel, is very passionate about it. So, we will be teaching three times a week to the guides and I have the advanced class while Matt has the basic class. We are also setting up more classes and just today we locked in an opportunity to teach 3 times a week to 3, 4, and 5 year olds (Head, shoulders, knees and toes everyone!). Now we need to try to remember our childhood songs and games to learn our language over again. We will teach a few times a week in 2 de Mayo, a poorer village just outside of Leymebamba. Matt has started this week and I may join in next week with him. I am also teaching a group of 12-15 year olds twice a week basic English and Maibel has set up a class next week for us to teach 6th graders at their school a few days a week. ALSO, we are offering two drop-in classes a week for people that miss class (there are A LOT, usually the adults sleep at their farms if it’s too late to hike back and obviously, miss class) or anyone wanting tutoring. We are filling up our week and hopefully reaching out as much as we can so that when the tourism bug comes to this town, they will be able to communicate to the foreigners and have their own businesses set up. Two men are just starting to put together an official guiding business (right now it’s all word of mouth) with a website. Matt’s doing what he can to get our volunteer opportunity online to the world to attract more volunteers and I’m sure he’ll be helping whoever with their websites as well.
One of the benefits of this program is that we are offered free housing by a local family. We spent our first few days at La Cazona, a very modern, airy, posh hostal with a garden and more. The previous volunteers lived there for their 2 months here; but as usual, things always change and we had to move to a different hostal, Laguna de los condores, with a less modern kitchen and a shared bath. It’s still very nice, but after a few days in a place with a microwave, an immersion blender and a grassy lawn to nap in, we need to adjust (we just moved yesterday). The hosts are very friendly and actually OWN the Laguna de los Condores, which is an amazing lake where a group of farmers in 1996 found 6 ancient Andean burial towers with 219 mummies and over 2000 artifacts. We’ll head there for sure, but it’s a 4 day minimum trip with a guide. The daughter in law of the owners of our hostal wants to learn to cook and is VERY friendly and enthusiastic. I made soymilk last night and she has raved all day about it and wants to learn how. They are currently building a restaurant in the hostal as well and the kitchen is beautiful and we get to use it! I can’t wait to teach them gnocchi and lasagna and tofu. Tonight we’re going to make pizza together.

Our lunches are being provided by our students, which has been interesting so far. Every week a different student makes or takes us to lunch, thus sharing food, culture and sort of a thank you for the free English classes. This week we have Manuel, who has not been home yet this week to lunch with us; he’s been at the vaqueria…that’s the thing with guides, it’s not their day job. Most of them still have to go take the big hike every day to work on their farms. So instead of eating with Manuel, his aunt has cooked for us and the food has been….not very balanced, to say the least. I appreciate the gesture and look forward to spending more time with our students…I think it’s not about the food-but food is always important to me. (Today was a beef rice soup with the meat removed, but they forgot a piece of liver or something in mine….I couldn’t eat any of it…and rice with salad (which is shredded cabbage with lime juice and mayonaise and boiled yucca root)).
So begins the new adventures………….and just so you know, I haven’t been really sick since I left Huanchaco.

Return to Peru

For our return trip to Peru, we decided to take a different route. It takes a few more hours, but there are only 3 buses involved and no worries about waiting for the immigration people to take their sweet old time with lunch. We headed up to Loja and spent a few hours in the city before taking a night bus to Piura, Peru. It was 8 hours for $8. The norm seems to be about a dollar per hour on bus in Ecuador and Peru. The road was smooth and we slept for most of the night. At 4am we had to get out of the bus to get our exit and entry stamps. People randomly got on the bus during the ride and at one point there was a woman and 3 children sleeping in the aisle against my leg.

In Piura, we spent a few hours in the town, walking around visiting the trash and medical waste-strewn river and having terrible service (they were out of almost everything we wanted and they didn’t care. no suggestions, just, we’re out! and she’d walk away…so we just left hungry and got some candy bars to tide us over.) We took the 3 hour bus to Chiclayo, where we spent the night and saw 3 movies and got frustrated again with the food. (A few weeks in a gringo town changed our expectations of service and food options…It will take a few days to adjust again to the lifestyle here).

In Chiclayo we walked around, found a vegetarian restaurant (yay! Govinda, the 900 block of Diego de la Vega. sl. 4 menus) and wandered through the big market, where they sell anything you can imagine. I felt like I was in Chinatown in NYC except it was all run by Peruvians. It was all the same stuff: clothes, toys, junk. Matt was almost pickpocketed in the market, luckily his pockets are deep and the guy went for the wrong pocket. That was our first experience with a pickpocketer and it’s been 3.5 months. Matt and I yelled at him as he walked away and some old ladies gathered, obviously worried about us. We’ve met plenty of nice people who seem to routinely apologize for the schmucks that are around…but they’re in every country and I’m glad we’ve found plenty of caring, nice people to make up for the crap. My intention in the market was to find the mercado de brujos, where the witch doctors hang out and sell cures and potions and stuff…or so I thought according to the guidebook. They were normal people and each stall was selling the EXACT stuff as the next stall…and everything looked like a rouse. They were boxed remedies for anything from fungus to love potion but the packaging made me think of junk I’ve seen in Chinatown from the 80′s. I wouldn’t be surprised if Chinatown just shipped all the crap that didn’t sell to Peru and now it’s marketed for tourists…I expected old men with lots of herbs and roots and prescribing herbal concoctions and remedies, not any “guaranteed to do this or that” in packaging with photos of white people with a soft focus that is SO late 70′s…and every vendor we walked by let us know they had San Pedro Cactus and Hiawaska for sale (hallucinogenic cacti from the mountains and a hallucinogenic vine from the jungle that shamans use in their ceremonies). Regardless to say, I bought nothing at the market except sunglasses (I lost my REI pair somewhere near Celendin) for $2…hmm that’s what I pay for sunglasses in NYC.
We took a local bus for sl.1 to Lambayeque to see the Museum of Señor de Sipan. The Huaca Rayada (temple from the Moche period) was discovered in 1987 after an archaeologist saw booty being sold on the black market and eventually found the ransacked tomb. Lucky for him they didn’t ransack the amazing tombs filled with jewelry, weapons, sea shells bodies and more. The museum houses most of the stuff and it’s the best musuem I’ve been to so far in South America. The musuem takes you through the excavation process from the beginning of meticulously detailing the digging to the Señor de Sipan himself, obviously a king who was buried with his wife, a few other women, a solder, a guardian with his feet cut off, a dog a snake and 2 llamas. The king was buried with many layers of jewelry and armor, down to his golden sandals and crown. The museum is well done and detailed and a bit overwhelming by the end, since they detail not only his tomb layer by layer ending at his skeleton, but it details an older king found in another tomb as well as a a handful of other tombs of important people. At the end of the museum they have some life-life people dressed in the garb that was found and recreated to look like they did when they were alive, like the king’s royal court. A door shuts, music plays and some of them are anamatronic, playing pan pipes, the drum, and more. It’s interesting, a bit creepy and overall amazing that so much has been learned about the Moche. They had advanced mettalurgy, pottery that details many aspects of their life (one pot has a detailed scene of a woman in labor, crowning, with a midwife assisting). We didn’t make it to the actual temple site, as we spent more time in the museum than we thought. We got some snacks and headed back to Chiclayo to wait out our next overnight bus ride.

We rode from Chiclayo direct to Chachapoyas on the Movil bus for sl.45 each. It was $5 more than the normal bus, but the seats reclined and it’s a smooth ride, not to mention that Matt and I got the seats at the front of the bus, above the driver. So we had a full view of the whole journey as if we were driving. I slept through most of the ride, but Matt got some photos of the partial cave we went through. The bus drivers here drive really fast around the corners; I’m still not used to it and expect the bus to flip over every time. Luckily this journey back to the cloud forest was much smoother and overall took less time since our layovers weren’t very long…although we did get stuck in Chachapoyas yet again. I knew we shouldn’t have visited the well in the town last time we were there. The folklore is if you go to the well you are destined to come to Chachapoyas again..but they don’t signify for how long this boring town will suck you in for. We arrived around 6am and the next/first bus to Leymebamba was at noon…once again we tried to waste time and spent hours in the internet cafe. But we made it to Leymebamba to begin our next project!

Review of Lodging/Dining/Massages in Vilcabamba, Ecuador

Vilcabamba is famous for it’s handful of local residents who not only live over 100 years old, but these people will easily hike a mountain for 3 hours to get to their farm to milk their cow and carry back the milk themselves. The people are friendly but the town is changing as the tourism industry continually grows. I see it as good and bad. A LOT of foreigners are buying up land in the valley and building houses, which employs the locals but at the same time raises the value of the land and most locals can’t afford to buy land or houses. Regardless, it’s a beautiful town with friendly locals and ex-pats. There IS an ATM in the main plaza, but it’s picky with credit cards, especially if you are from Switzerland. I don’t know why.

Madre Tierra
This “hostal” was a bit strange. The land is beautiful, the rooms are rustic yet modern and they offer a wide variety of spa services. We arrived on foot (2 km north of town) to find that the one receptionist that worked there was in Loja (1 hr by bus) and they weren’t sure when she would come back. No one else was there to fill in; no one would tell us how much the rooms cost when asked. A man called the receptionist on her cell phone and he told us it would be $30 US for a room, which seemed normal according to our guidebook. He brought us to a beautiful cabin with a view and porch and then told us it was $30 a person. Who charges by the number of people? Most places in Vilcabamba. I think it’s strange. We were not going to get taken advantage of and went back to the front desk. My guidebook says there are dorms at this place, so we asked about them and he told us quite adamately, “You don’t want to stay there. It’s very dirty and above the kitchen and rats run around at night.” Are they trying to keep our business? Rats above the kitchen…that doesn’t make me say, let’s take the penthouse then. I don’t think Matt or I look wealthy, covered in dirt and sweat from our hike with our backpacks. We said we’d take the rat room and asked the price and he wouldn’t tell us the price and kept telling us we didn’t want it…so we waited about an hour for the receptionist to return, but she didn’t. Finally the same guy said he could do $25 per person and we said no, we wanted a price list. Are they used to business traveller’s who don’t look at prices or rich people who don’t care? What about the rest of us. It’s such bad business, even their website won’t list prices, but you can make a reservation. Finally, we bargained on $20 a person (which I still think is a rip off, but we didn’t want to waste our day and needed a shower) for a room and dinner and breakfast. The grounds are beautiful, the pool is small and there is a pool table and little tv to watch next to the bar, which was dead all night. Dinner was a multi-course affair, elegantly set but the meal was definitely for the western meat eater. Course one was hummus, aji and homemade bread (yum). Course 2 was an okay tomato soup. Course 3 was mashed potatoes, a handful of boiled carrots and a hunk of beef (for us, 3 spoonfuls of eggplant parmesan…) Not impressive, but we were full.
Your room price also includes 15 minutes a day in the lukewarm jacuzzi, which you must make an appointment for. We induldged in the Spa Special, which is a 3 hour ordeal of 3 face masks, hair treatment, body scrub, mud bath, foot massage and a steam vapor treatment which made me almost pass out (but still wonderful). The treatments use all natural ingredients (honey, salt, mud from the area, oats, aloe, egg whites). The body scrub was okay; the room was cold and it was a bit short. The face masks and hair treatment were standard. The mud bath was wonderful. They bring you a pot of burning hot mud and you get to rub it all over yourself and lay in a tiled tub (with as much water as you want). It’s like being a child again. The steam vapor treatment is intense. There is a wooden box that you sit in with your head outside of the box and steam is pumped in to simulate a fever (detoxification). After a period of time you come out of the box and the attendant rubs you down with a cold, wet towel. Back in the box. Then you immerse your bottom in a cold pool and splash water everywhere and back to the box you go. The final time out you stand in a shower and get hosed down with high-pressure ice cold water. That’s what got me; I had to sit down and I felt horrible. I was assisted to a chair and layed down, drank water and had a spoonful of honey. In about 5 minutes I was better. Matt felt fine during the whole vapor treatment; definitely drink a lot of water before if you can. They told us the treatment would last 3 hours, but it was closer to 5 hours and we almost missed our bus out of town…overall staying at the hostal seemed like a rip off, the service is horrible and the food was not very exciting, but the spa experience was fun (we paid $45 for all the services together, the normal price was $90 but guests get half off the prices. So at the discounted price, it was still a little more expensive than services in town).

Jardin Escondido
$11 per person for a private room with bathroom. $9 for the dorm.
These rooms are clean and unique, with curvy walls and tiled bathrooms. Pool use is free. The jacuzzi has a fee and the water doesn’t get that hot. Free dvds in the tv room and friendly service. Breakfast is included (2 eggs, homemade bread, jam, juice and tea). They also have a restaurant with Mexican food that’s good. It’s also for sale if anyone is interested. Beware of the noisy roosters who do not understand the concept of dawn. I didn’t sleep very well but enjoyed the amenities and proximity to the plaza.

$9 per person for a room with private bathroom. Includes the usual breakfast.
A hammock outside each room and a little table to enjoy breakfast outside your room, this place has lots of nice touches. A big utility sink to hand wash clothes, boots, etc. You can rent a dvd player and movies from them along with a lot of other services. It’s a few blocks from the plaza, a good location and no roosters screaming, although the walls are VERY thin and I had to listen to our neighbor sing christmas songs at 6am while she was packing. No pool but lovely gardens and hummingbirds everywhere.

Hostal Mandago
The budget pick in the Lonely Planet guidebook. We didn’t make it there at the advice of a local: they slaughter pigs at dawn on the weekends…so if you don’t want to hear Porkey screaming his last words, avoid it.

Valle Sagrado
$5 per person.
Ragged rooms, no screens on the windows, peeling wallpaper and no breakfast or pool. It’s clean though and if you can find the receptionist (it took us a half an hour) you can get a cheap room without the frills and a decent bed to pass the night. Surprisingly, our room had a tv and hot water. Located next to the internet cafe west of the plaza.

Hosteria Izhcayluma
$9 per person for the dorm; $13 pp for a private room. $30 for a cabin.
My favorite place to stay in terms of price, amenities and service. Great views, 2 km outside of town (the local bus from Loja goes right by it). Run by Germans and staffed by travellers taking a break, this is the place to feel at home and comfortable. Everyone is friendly (except the waitress who doesn’t seem to enjoy her job), the pool is pure rainwater, the buildings are dispersed enough for that tranquil vibe, and the dorms consist of 5 beds in a room with a loft. The bathrooms are tiled with stones, the water pressure could be better, and the best birdwatching is outside the dorms in a hammock. They have it set: just far enough away from town so they can charge a little more at the restaurant and in the bar, but it’s worth it for meeting travellers for conversation or hiking partners, watching a movie if it rains, shoot some pool, play ping-pong or enjoy a game on a life-size chess table. Maybe the receptionist or bartender is continuing their travels and you could be lucky enough to spend a few months at this Hosteria.

A bit more expensive than in town, but huge portions. Mostly peruvian dishes, german dishes and some pizza and pasta. The bar opens at 7pm with some strong cocktails. Interesting the first night, but once you’ve tried the vegetarian options there isn’t much excitement. (The spaetzle is good, the other vegetarian german dish is disgusting).

Vegetarian Restaurant
About a block east of the plaza, this friendly Belgium-Ecuadorian couple cook up some good vegetarian food that is a nice break from the carne de soya Peruvian joints. She makes nice quiches, a mild curry, big beautiful salads and more. The menu (soup and entree) is $3.50 US.

East of town, across the river, this place has CHARACTER. Shanta is from Cuenca but he’s a snake-owning moonshining cowboy with a big ole’ mustache. His papas fritas are the best, you have about 7 bowls of stuff to dip them in. The pizza’s decent, the spaghetti with mushrooms is good and beware of the snake juice, it’s strong. His wife is one of the best massuses in town. The only real bar in town and a fun place to hang out.

Jardin Escondido
Mexican food. Comforting and delicious. The quesadilla and nachos are small portions and a bit disappointing, though the burrito is delicious. Watch out, their cat is the most loving cat in the world and will jump on your lap and demand petting while you are eating.

La Terraza
In the plaza, this place is touted as having Italian, Thai and Mexican plates. There is NO thai food in this joint, there’s a lo-mein dish that is gigantic and okay. The quesadillas are cheesy with a side of beans and the burrito is also delicious. Don’t order the hummus, it’s not hummus.

Natural Yogurt
Tempeh burgers for a dollar! Don’t order the potato spinach dish, it’s strange and disgusting (at least to my palate). In the plaza.

THE place for yummy chocolate, muffins, granola and whole grain bread. On the weekends he’s offering pizza, pasta and lasagna. Sadly, my craving for lasagna was unfulfilled since it was full of meat. The cookies are all shortbread cookies (sesame good, chocolate chip strange). I’m glad they are there to fill the unique niche. Located south of the plaza past the church.


Piedad has the best deal in town. She works out of Jardin Escondido or out of her house (Agua de Hierro, east of the plaza) for the same price. $10 per hour for a full body massage. It’s Shiatsu style and her hands are strong. Worth every penny. If you get the massage at the Jardin, it may be a bit chilly and no music. Out of her house she burns incense, candles and has music, but her daughter will barge in and she may stop the massage to answer the door. Shanta’s wife operates out of Shanta’s in her own little round massage house. Also incense, soft lighting and music, she is a small woman and uses her entire body when she gives a full body massage. Trained in Shiatsu and Physical Therapy, she will rip your arms out of socket, twist your neck and climb on top of you to put all her body weight for the best back massage ever. I never felt so good after a massage, and having it be $11 for 75 minutes, I wish I had more time to return everyday. At Madre Tierra, it’s VERY expensive if you are not a guest, but if you are a guest, you get 50% off the prices (which makes it still pricier than town). The combo deal of 5 treatments is great and worth it if you get the discount. Steam vapor and mud baths are the most intense and fun and cleansing of the bunch.

The Valley of Longevity

After our frustrating week on the farm, we decided to indulge in a week of relaxation and luxury before our upcoming month of volunteer work. Vilcabamba is a little town in a valley of southern Ecuador and it’s filled with locals who are living over 100 years old and lots of foreigners who have brought good food and tourism to the town. We were so happy to find some burritos and quesadillas and even tempeh (made by a local). A Belgian man named Layseca has a store in town and he makes chocolate and cookies and homemade bread! The only hard thing about this town is the money, it’s significantly more expensive than how we had been living in Peru. A typical lunch in Peru is sl.3 to sl.9 ($1-3) and a typical lunch in Vilcabamba is $5. Typical simple hostals in Peru are sl. 20 ($6) and in Vilcabamba it’s between $18 and $25 a night. The hostals are nicer, though and most offer breakfast (which is 2 eggs, toast, jam, juice and tea). But it was nice to have a little luxury after our trials and we enjoyed being in a relaxing town with great views.

By far the nicest place overall we stayed at was Hostal Izcayluma, which is located 2 km north of town. It has a community feel and attracts a lot of travelers in their 20′s and 30′s (and older, but they stay in the private cabins). It’s a smart setup and beautifully done. The dining area has a view of the valley and the town of Vilcabamba in the distance. There’s a bar for the guests at night with a pool table, ping pong and hammocks galore. You can watch movies for free during the day and there’s a pool that I swear is just pure rainwater. We stayed in the dorms because the cabin cost more than the guidebook said it would. But the dorms are nice: they only have 5 beds and is set back into the valley. I think it’s just as nice as staying in one of the cabins, except that it was much more social. We met a lot of interesting travellers and joined a few of them for a hike to the Podocarpus National Park with a guide. This park is one of the most biologically rich areas in the country and has a variety of plant and animal species, including tiny orchids, the only native conifer of Ecuador (the podocarpus), spectacled bears, toucans and more. We saw the plant life but not much of the animal life. We heard the toucans yelling in the distance, which was neat. The most birds I saw was relaxing in the hammock outside the dorm of Izhcayluma.

We decided to do a 2 day horseback ride into the mountains as well and that was wonderful. The guide was Gavin, a guy from New Zealand who’s been living in Vilcabamba for at least 20 years (I think). His assistant was a local and we were joined with a solo traveller from Switzerland. Since I had ridden before (yep, like 2 years ago) Gavin gave me the scared horse that was making his first time on the trail. I did not fall off (no saddle horn) and he listened most of the time. We gallopped through town, along the river, through some rivers and climbed steep switchbacks that would take me days on foot. The views were amazing: lush green valleys with random cows and horses scattered among the hills grazing and waterfalls in the distance. The trail was narrow and with steep drop offs which made the galloping (when the horses weren’t panting up the mountain) much more exhilerating. My mother would have had a panic attack or something with the drop. It took about 3 hours to get to the refugio, a small house on some land that Gavin bought which borders the Podocarpus Park. About 5 minutes before we arrived it started raining, so the timing was pretty decent. Gavin made us a lunch of bread, guacamole, cucumbers and cream cheese with some fresh squeezed passionfruit juice.
The rain stopped after lunch and we went on a hike through his property and perhaps into the park as well (he donated a portion of his land to the National Park when we bought it). The hike was basically a trail that he macheted through the mountain and along ridges so there was plenty of climbing over logs and slipping through the mud while enjoying the orchids, bromeliads and the views. After our hike, Gavin gave us potato chips and olives with cocktails (passionfruit juice with vodka). His kitchen is a wood fire with a grate on top, so it took awhile before dinner was ready but we enjoyed the sunset (his house is at a high enough elevation to look down into the valley towards Vilcabamba (but through a different valley than the hostal is in). The whole area is filled with steep beautiful valleys (which can be frustrating to hike due to the switchbacks…it takes awhile if you are trying to hike to something you see). When dinner was ready, he had a table set up with candlelight and red wine (Clos in the box from Chile, the only wine I’ve liked so far). And we indulged in ziti with a vegetable tomato sauce and banana bread for dessert. We shared stories and adventures (Gavin has quite an interesting life which makes for great stories). The next morning we woke up, enjoyed pancakes, saddled the horses and rode back down the mountain. It was a really fun adventure, I just wished we spent more time on the horses (but I always do).
We spent another day in town then headed back to Peru.