We’d been to or through Macas a couple of times over the years, and this time we would pass through on our way to a remote part of Ecuador’s Amazon basin, to see Alex’s Uncle Jorge. It’s also known as the “Emerald of the East”, due to its location just east of the Andes mountains. Few tourists actually make it to the town with so few tourist trappings, but it’s raw, it’s real and it’s worth a look-see. We ate some decent food and went on some lovely walks with Jorje, from where we could see the perfect snow-covered cone of Volcan Sangay (5230 metres). It’s Ecuador’s seventh’ highest mountain and one of the world’s most active. It can be glimpsed on a clear day … We saw it in all of its glory. Lady Luck was on our side!
It was now time to get off the beaten track. We had seen and done so much in Ecuador over our various trips over the years but had never been to the south-eastern part of the Oriente (Ecuador’s Amazon, where the Andes meet the lowland areas of rainforest in the Amazonian basin). We looked at a map and said, “Right, where to”? For all of Ecuador’s beauty and fascinating places to see, the government does an appalling job at promoting tourism, and information, especially on places not oft visited is scarce. But we were determined! Ummmm, Zamora? We were able to scrounge some information from the internet: “The bus ride here is itself worthwhile, with the road snaking down from the sierra past numerous waterfalls, giving occasional views onto miles of densely forested hills.” SOLD
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!
Our aim was to get to Ecuador by Christmas time, but we were running out of time. So, having already done Peru a couple of times, we decided to make our way directly to Cuzco. Home and base to the infamous Inca Trail and Machu Picchu, yes it’s touristy, but it never disappoints. We got in nice and early, as ridiculously early. We dumped our stuff in a cheap and cheerful hostel and then made our way to Saksayhuaman (known as Sexy Woman on the gringo tourist trail). A two-kilometre uphill climb from (the already high 3300 metre high) Cuzco, the sprawling Inca site is truly impressive and offers to arrest views over Cuzco, especially at dawn when we arrived. Whilst Cuzco is gorgeous, the government has totally jumped on the tourist bandwagon and charges an arm and a leg for everything! Not if you get there early and evade the opening times though!
Who could ask for more … at the Copa, Copacabana! But it’s not what you think. Bolivia has its very own Copacabana (Copa to the locals!) … it’s the main Bolivian town heading north towards the Peruvian border and the town that lies on the rim of Bolivia’s side of the infamous Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. Again, one of those places I had done before but was so happily about to do again! Lake Titicaca straddles the border between Bolivia and Peru in the Andes Mountains and at 3182 metres above sea level, it really does feel like you are on top of the world! It is said to be the highest navigable lake in the world. At 190 kilometres long by 80 kilometres wide there are spots whereby, once on the actual lake, it is so big that it appears to be like an ocean; you really can’t see the shore! It’s said to be the birthplace of the Incas, and with its many scattered ruins, it really does have that mystical feel about it.
|On the road to Chulumani.|
The road to Chulumani was bumpy, very bumpy! But we were excited; a place I had not been to before and we had heard so many good things about it … primarily that it was not touristy. Let’s go! The four hour ride presented us with some spectacular views and scenery and although not the Death Road, there were still some bits where it was quite narrow and the sheer drops, quite literally, took our breath away.
|Out and about in Chulumani.|
|Alex and Javier … “nos prestamos plata”.|
Upon our arrival, we could see that it was a quaint little place. Mostly indigenous folk, not that big, a Chulumani. Apart from the fact that the rooms were gorgeous and comfortable, the place surrounded by foliage and birds, and that it had a swimming pool and felt like a retreat … the owner absolutely made it! Javier, originally from La Paz, was beyond knowledgeable about the area and with his effervescent personality and desire to show and tell us what to do and see we had an absolute blast and ended up staying there for over a week. I loved the fact that until the last day we were the only gringos in the ‘hood! Days were spent exploring, yeh and sometimes even just relaxing by the poolside, and nights were spent deep in conversation with Javier who has since become a great friend … as he likes to say “nos prestamos plata” (“we now lend each other money”, which he says only happens between really good friends). Having lived in the States, he also has excellent English. Javier lives in this gorgeous place with his equally gorgeous daughter, Lupita, who besides going to high school, also helped out around the hostel. Lupita … bright, excellent English, smart and a conversationalist … we loved you! If only 1% of the worldwide teenage population could be like you. And to boot and excellent violinist!
central plaza and lots of unpaved dusty roads. Had we just hit the Wild West? It instantly had that homely, ‘welcome home’ vibe about it. We asked around for accommodation (the places to stay can be counted on half a hand and struggling) and ended up at Country House.
|The way to chill out at Countryhouse Chulumani.|
|A house with a (breathtaking!) view.|
|Chill out time.|
|Rural town life.|
We went on some great walks and saw some amazing things. The only foreigners around, the spotlight was often on us, but the people were really helpful and chatty. We chatted to lots of locals who were more than willing to tell their stories as well as invite us into their humble homes. There is no price one can place on this. We visited many little towns and one of my favourites was Chicaloma. This tiny place is home to many of Bolivia’s Afro-Bolivian population. The thing that really blew me away was to see some of the women dressed up in indigenous garb. I was used to seeing indigenous people in these clothes, not black people! Ocobaya was another tiny but pleasant spot as was Irupana, where we found organic coffee and people drying their coca leaves on the road.
|This is the way you dry your coca leaves.|
|Being invited into the home of some locals.|
|Alex showing Lupita how to make patacones.|
The real beauty and intrigue of the entire area was to simply ‘be’ … to walk, to breathe in the country air, to take in the spectacular scenery, to talk to the locals, to absorb the culture, and to spend some truly amazing time with Javier and Lupita.
Lupita is a truly talented young lady and is part of the Chulumani Symphonic Orchestra, a group of young and talented musicians who gather weekly and practice. Despite the fact that the teacher comes all the way from La Paz weekly and that the local council has tried to make their existence difficult (I will not get into the politics here) they all continue to get together and play their instruments. Alex and I went to visit the group and chatted to them about the importance of believing in themselves and following their dreams. Dreams only come true when you believe in them! There is nothing quite like inspiring young people to be positive, to try and achieve their best and most of all push forward with vigour in the face of adversity. It was great to spend a couple of hours with them. This culminated in a ‘performance’ for us that simply blew us away! We were touched to tears! I hope that in years to come these kids will look back and think … we met two people who believed in us!
|Some kids from the orchestra.|
|With the Chulumani Symphonic Orchestra.|
|With the Chulumani Symphonic Orchestra; Lupita far left.|
|With Lupita and Javier.|
And as so happens on our travels, it was time to leave and move on. This time, however, with a somewhat heavy heart. Javier, Lupita and Country House Chulumani had made an enormous impact on us. Would we see these people again? Yes, I think we will! Lots of hugs all around, tears in my eyes, and with a heart full of gratitude and joy we were off on our next adventure!
As we walked away from the hostel, I looked back at the waving Javier and Lupita and, with teras in my eyes, blew them kisses. This is why I travel … THIS is why I travel!
|With Javier, Lupita and Vaughn (the only other tourist we saw in the week).|
|I will miss you Javier!|
“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” – Marcel Proust
Dedication: To our ‘charming gardeners’. Javier and Lupita’ you are the charming gardeners who allowed our souls to blossom. You made us happy and you became our friends! We will never forget you both and this spectacular part of our journey. Friends forever! You are always welcome to visit us and stay with us in Australia. When our journey is done and dusted, it is people like you that leave a footprint on our hearts. Those footprints will always remain! We thank you profoundly!
Dedicatoria: A nuestros ‘jardineros encantadores’. Javier y Lupita ustedes son los jardineros encantadores que permitieron que nuestras almas florezcan. Nos hiciste feliz y se convirtieron en nuestros amigos! Nunca olvidaremos a los dos y esta parte espectacular de nuestro viaje. Amigos para siempre! Siempre estarán bienvenidos visitarnos y quedarse con nosotros en Australia. Cuando el viaje esta terminado es la gente como usted que dejan una huella en nuestros corazones. Estas huellas permaneceran siempre! Te agradecemos profundamente!
Next: Copacabana and Lake Titicaca.
|A local on her walk.|
|Walks in off-the-beaten-track places.|
|Out and about.|
|Everyone deserves some rest time.|
|Ahhh, the tranquility.|
|Beauty … and no beast in sight!|
|“Long live the holy leaf”. (Coca)|
|Yin and Yang … cultivation coca leaf style.|
|Farmers cultivating coca leaves.|
|The colours of Mother Nature.|
|Beauty and the Beast!|
|The Countryhouse dogs saying goodbye as we leave.|
|Chulumani … butterfly wonderland.|
|Drying coca leaves.|
Siginagi, Georgia. Hi and welcome to veryitchyfeet.com. We are Ombi and Alex an Australian/ Ecuadorian couple who have, between us, visited some 90 countries and speak three languages; English, Italian and Spanish. We are intrepid travellers at heart. Follow us as we passionately share 30 years of travel know-how, adventures, exploration and detours with you. We want to motivate you to experience this amazingly diverse world we live in and show you how to do it!