The Frenchies’ plan was to camp out at some overlook a few miles down from Puerto Lopez… so we decided to join in for perhaps one of the very best campsites so far! This stunning location, perched on a cliff side a few hundred feet above the ocean with more than 180 degree views of the sea, even included a view of the occasional Humpback breaching! We would each take turns scanning the sea and if we saw a splash, would quickly grab the binoculars and enjoy the show! It was never as impressive or as long lasting as our close up sightings on the boat trip, but this was amazing in its own right cause we were watching them without any boats around, as they played away out in the middle of the open sea.
|Best camp spot ever|
|Whale watching with binoculars|
It just so happened that our two year anniversary was coming up, so the decision to stay in place with these perfect temperatures and a nice sea breeze and view was an easy one. We had no problem occupying our time with finding secluded beaches for a quick dip, planning our next moves, and cooking good food with our friends. Our last night there, Michael and Veronika showed up, completing our party! We all pitched in and made some camp style chicken parmesan and homemade Italian sauce before gathering around the campfire overlooking the water. We were all the sudden taking this mid life retirement thing to a whole new level!
|Chris and Laurent proving that real men still use paper maps|
Late in the night, when our anniversary hit and our friends were tucked into bed resting up for their boat tour the next day, we were popping open the champagne by the fire. Mallary baked for the first time in our dutch oven, and the midnight anniversary cake over coals was the perfect addition to our little party for two on the cliff that night. We stayed up later than we have the whole trip just listening to old school love songs, stoking the fire, and reminiscing about the past two years feeling thankful to be exactly where we are right now with each other. Go ahead and gag a little right now...
We said an early morning goodbye to our friends, for real this time, and moved on into the interior of the country. The scenery on the drive was a bit mind blowing, in 7 hours we went from sea level in shorts and tanks to a chilly 13,000ft with snow capped mountain views. We had no idea Ecuador was this beautiful, and honestly didn't have huge expectations of it after leaving the mountains in Colombia, but Ecuador was putting up quite a fight for gorgeous views in our book!!
A quick stop in Cuenca camping at a horse farm was our base to seek out an improvement in our upcoming travels. We already have one spare 5 gallon fuel tank, however that won’t be enough to cut it in remote parts of Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina. In a movement to get rid of the clumsy bike rack, we set up the roof with a heavy duty Thule carrier basket. The new setup will allow us to carry an extra 12 gallons of fuel and 5 gallons of water. The city itself seemed nice, unfortunately we had very little time to explore it past partaking in one of the best things about Latin America, the lunch "menu of the day" for $3 a plate! Going to miss that when we get home! Instead of lingering in the city we choose to work our way to the town all the hippies and expats in Ecuador rave about, Vilcabamba.
|Lola leveling up with a new addition!|
|Our version of tailgating|
|No he's not napping, this party animal is passed out drunk while life goes on around him. Not an uncommon sighting on this trip|
Vilcabamba also happens to be in the so called Valley of Longevity. Locals supposedly live longer, are generally healthier, and have much more vigor in their old age then elsewhere on the planet. Whether or not this is true is certainly up to skepticism. However, one thing that is science based is the fact that the Vilcabamba drinking water has a unique balance of enriched minerals ideal for promoting optimum health, and there are also remarkable medicinal values in the plant life in areas around the equator, this valley being one of them! After arriving in this town we could see how it might be possible to live til 120... Year round pleasant weather, great soil for a wealth of organic foods, clean air and water, and a lifestyle requiring moderate exercise. Some people say that a person of 100 here is comparable to one of 45 in a city!! Should be a good place to settle down for a bit and hopefully add a few days onto our own life expectancy while we are at it!
|This woman is featured on a Vilcabamba postcard, the best part is that she was sitting outside her house just like this every day!|
We made camp in a gravel lot at an eco-resort-esque hostel called Izhcayluma, where we indulged in tasty fresh meals from their restaurant with a view while making plans for Peru and meeting some really great seasoned travelers from the US. Izhcayluma offered free yoga in the mornings, sported beautiful gardens all over the property, and also had an onsite spa with super cheap massage deals. This place was doing practically everything right, and since we were just sleeping in the car as usual, we were enjoying all the fringe benefits of the fancy cabana dwellers, at a fraction of the cost! Man it’s good to take your house with you everywhere!
|Free yoga in this open aired platform, yes please!|
|Post yoga breakfast with a view, yes please!|
Izhcayluma had an awesome folder full of hiking guides, to complimemt the already impressive trail system in the area. Our favorite kind of trail guides have become the personally written treasure hunt style instructions like these! They were even complete with warnings of grumpy land owners who may try and tell you to leave (just in case, they sited the rules regarding the land and its free use to anyone for you to rebound with) and possible wrong turns not to make! We choose the "Izhcayluma route" along the "D" trail to a high ridgeline. After following the instructions through a neighborhood, skirting a little farm, through a gate or two, across the highway, under a few barbed wire fences, and up to the ridge, we had phenominal 360 degree views of the entire area. We followed the trail on top of the windy ridge for a while, then scurried down the steep side into the dry riverbed for the hike back!
|How cool is that|
|Barbwire fences, a common obstacle here apparently|
|On our way up the ridge with valley of longevity in the background|
After slurping down enough organic green smoothies and Vilca-agua whilst over hearing the varied conversations of the hoards of eclectic expats taking over the town, we were intrigued at what actually brought so many people here. One American woman next to us in the bakery who has been in Vilcabamba for a decade told us about how the influx has changed the dynamic of the whole town. It is evident, even in the market where you see traditionally dressed woman selling fruits and veggies at a stall to wealthy upper class ex-pats. She told us how this place that was once a gem of a town with local folks living into their hundreds, was now looking like your run of the mill ex-pat town that may have lost its charm through the changes. We had heard from a woman who left everything and moved here, but it just wasn't what she had in mind and was now going back home. But everyone else seemed to love this cheap little ex-pat utopia... we had been hearing quite enough people raving about their latest amazing dinner party and most recent ayahuasca journey with "the best shaman ever". The hippie folks letting their dirty barefoot kids running around the park square and messing with peoples livestock seemed to be content too. We just couldn't shake the feeling that the locals were looking at all these foriengers with their expensive little cafes and matching bohemian clothing and wondering what the hell happened to their paradise?? We left loving Vilcabamba, but feeling confused about how it has been impacted from the influx of a completely different lifestyle and ecomonic status. Good or bad, or a little of both maybe??
It was once again time to move on, and we needed to choose our route into Peru. There are three entry points from Ecuador; the easy way along the coast that most people use, another mild route in the foohills, OR the muddy, remote, and seldom used crossing at La Balsa closer to the Amazon basin that often sees road closures due to landslides. We knew which one we wanted to do… and with a little reaching out to question another couple overlandering who we had heard recently crossed there, the decision was made. Bring on the adventure to La Balsa! After a 5am early morning wakeup, we high tailed it to the border, occasionally dropping into 4Lo to tackle some pesky mud. By the early afternoon we had made it to the quirky little border post, giving us plenty of time to charge into Peru.
|Pushing through a section of recently plowed out landslide|
|This intimidating bamboo pole of authority keeps cars from running the border|