Revisiting my second home, Ecuador.

It’s always fun times hanging out with my soul mate!

As soon as we crossed the border I felt totally at home.  It’s usually like this when I set foot on the country that has become my second residence, and which I have visited countless times since 1999. You know that, sigh, I’m back kinda feeling! I was meant to be with Alex, I was meant to be here. This was just always all meant to be!  Macara is the border town on the Ecuadorian side, and it has always  held a special place in my heart.  Why?  Because when I backpacked South America in 1999, it was the place I crossed the border from Peru into Ecuador;  the locals were so helpful, friendly and generous that I have never, ever forgotten.  It was one of those travellers’ minties moments that I have always carried around in my heart.  Little was I to know that only weeks later I would meet my soul mate and love of my life!

Rice fields of Macara.
Christmas with the family.

After taking a quick look around we ended up at Los Arrozales Hotel. The room was big, airy, clean and had air-con, which was fantastic given that it’s both hot and humid in Macara.  It ended up being the perfect place to charge our batteries for a week or so. Alex has family that are from Macara, and so we spent some time with them.  For Christmas we were invited to his Aunty and Uncle’s house, where we had a great night eating, drinking and hanging out with all of the cousins.  It was a really fun night.  Alex’s Aunty Gladys and cousin Volney also came down from Quito.  It was lovely catching up with them too. Lazy days, relaxing, lots of eating (the food’s good down here!), walking, visiting … this is the life!

Strret art and family.
Living to a ripe ol’ age in Vilcabamba.

We really wanted to visit the south-eastern part of Ecuador’s Amazon, so it was clear that we were not going to get to Quito for New Year, but we did need to get moving.  Heading east we made our way to Vilcabamba.  Again, last time I was here was on my 1999 trip. My how it had changed!  The first thing I noticed, as we walked through the central plaza, was how many foreigners there were!  It really was ‘pick the Ecuadorian’!  Vilcabamba has a reputation for breeding humans who live to a ripe old age and is very popular amongst tourists … clearly! 

Vilcabamba home.

To be honest, I was a little shocked at how much it had changed and how many tourists there actually were (although I was one of them!) The area has over recent years attracted hippies and bohemians alike, both from afar as well as nationally.  The marijuana-chuffers and drunks always seemed to be sitting in the same place, at the same time, every day. I would often look at them and wish they’d disappear. I know these comments are highly judgemental, but visiting far-away places to see this just isn’t my gig really!

Vilcabamba.

Having said that, nobody can take away from Vilcabamba  that it is set in a historical and scenic valley with spectacular views and a superb climate.  Once out of the central plaza, there really is a lot to see and do. We spent many days strolling around, drinking good coffee (OK, that was around the plaza, but sometimes you have to make exceptions, hey!), and going on some breathtaking walks. 

Podocarpus National Park.

We visited Parque Nacional Podocarpus, which has one of the most biologically rich areas in the country.  It protects habitats at altitudes ranging from 3600 metres (near Vilcabamba) in the paramo to 1000 metres in the steamy rain forests near Zamora.  We did the former and a few days later the latter too! The day we visited the Vilcabamba side of the park it rained, and rained, and rained.  But then, that’s nature.  Still very, very beautiful!

The ‘widows’ playing soccer.

And yes, we did end up spending New Year in Vilca, as it is now fondly referred to by both locals and foreigners alike.  All the usual Ecuadorian New Year’s traditions and customs abounded, such as the burning of effigies at midnight and the ‘viudas’ or widows dressing up to signify the death of another year. The viudas are hysterical; men provocatively dressed up as women give everyone a good laugh!  I loved watching the viudas play soccer too.  Another custom is that when the effigies are burnt at midnight, you are supposed to leap over the flames ensuring a great new year! I was happy to simply watch others doing this and cut my losses, hoping that my following year would be reasonable even if I didn’t straddle these great balls of fire!

With Nick.

New Year’s dinner was at Pura Vida and I must say that the food was truly good.  Really, really, really (really!!!!!!) good olive oil. Seriously, South America does not really do olive oil, and what’s imported is usually not much more than average.  One of the owners here is Spanish, and she brings in the good stuff! Good food and good company … I finally got to meet you Nick Vasey!  You are great on Face Book and even better in real life!

Thanks for having us at your gorgeous property Nick. Just outside of the centre it’s a true getaway.  Beautiful, relaxing, tranquil, spectacular views and … the amazing coffee was a bonus!  I have  a lot of time for people who ‘get’ good coffee!

PS  Found a nice little coffee place, Del Paramo. Excellent coffee!

Ombi

“Fun is good.”– Dr Seuss

Next:  Ecuador’s southern Oriente, where the eastern slopes of the Andes meet with the lowland areas in the Amazon Basin.

Macara river, dividing Ecuador and Peru.
Christmas with the family.

Macara by night.
Macara local.
Yogurt and ‘pan de yuca’ (casava bread).

Macara life!

Alex cathing up on the food he loves.

Out and about in Macara.

With the family.

Some of the Macara locals.

Wasn’t going to stop until he tried all of his faves!

With Tia Gladys and Volney.
Family pic.

Fresh mangoes … from the tree to our mouths.

Yum … with Alex’s cousin Tamara.

Christmas with the family.
New Year masks for the effigies.
Getting ready for the New Year.
Happy 2015!!!!
Supposedly jumping over the burning effigy brings you good luck!
Beautiful Vilcabamba surrounds.
Vilca street art.
Podocarpus National Park.
Nick’s pet peacock.
Some more of Nick’s ‘housemates’.
Malacatos, close to Vilcabamba.
Peacock at Nick’s.
Alex and cousin Volney, Macara.