On our second day at Alambi we travelled to the Mashpi cloudforest area, a region about an hour and a half away which is becoming well known for amazing bird life. Next to a very very very expensive lodge, for a mere US$10 you can see an incredible range of birds, some of which are only found in the Mashpi area. Gorgeous day.
We decided for our last couple of days in Ecuador that we really wanted to return to our favourite place – Alambi – and take another tour with our favourite guide Jairo.
On our first day we checked out Mindo, which is very beautiful. Very quiet if it’s not the weekend. We didn’t see a lot of birds but it was interesting to see the town and check out the surrounds. We decided to skip the possible chocolate tour and keep looking for wildlife.
Around the town there are plenty of walks you can do to enjoy the local wildlife. We took an easy walk in Rumi Wilco (aka Rumihuilco), a large reserve and ecolodge which is about a 10 minute walk from town. We saw many birds, camera shy butterflies, a couple of squirrels, and some nudists. Something for everyone.
For a great view, you can climb Mandango. Or you can catch a taxi to Sol de Venenado Cerveceria in San Pedro. We chose the latter.
Vilcabamba is famous for producing centenarians and being very beautiful. While we were on the road we also discovered it’s famous now for attracting gringos like flies. From the bus we could see a large number of houses with pools on the way into town. Once here in the valley it’s easy to see why anyone would want to live here – it really is gorgeous, and the weather is great. We had a great bike ride yesterday with Chino from Chino’s Bikes – it was more of a roll down the mountain, but not without its challenges. Wonderful to be back on a bike again.
By bus it’s about 1.5 hourseto Loja from Saraguro, another ride with stunning views. We didn’t do as much as we’d planned in Loja due to bad weather, being under the weather and time taken for writing job applications. However, we thought it seemed like a friendly, quiet, city. However, if you’re interested in visiting, just wait for about a year. The city is in the midst of renovations, and it seemed like most of the streets in centro historico have been dug up, waiting for the tarmac treatment. The pavements were in many places also undergoing ‘rejuvenation.’ So every time the wind blew, there was dust everywhere. We talked with a couple of locals as to how tough that must be, but they were both in favour, despite the disruption.
From Cuenca we caught an Ejecutivo San Luis Bus (which seemed very new and included a screen, wifi, usb ports and a loo at the back – US$5 pp) with tix purchased beforehand at the Ejecutivo office at the station. If you need to catch a bus from Cuenca station, have some dimes ready, as on top of your ticket you also need to pay 10c to get a coupon to pass through the turnstile to get to the bus platform. Cuenca departure tax. The trip is mountainous and windy. We saw some amazing views of the mountains when the tops weren’t shrouded in mist. Definitely try and sit on the right if you can. If you’re prone to travel sickness, steel yourself for the last half an hour as you wind into Saraguro. We sat up the front and that helped. Also be prepared for the bus stopping to pick up locals and school kids travelling between towns.
Saraguro is a town known for the strength of the local indigenous population’s culture, and their adherence to wearing traditional dress, including distinctive black and white ‘cow hide’ hats. The community is also known for its craft skills, particularly beaded necklaces. We enjoyed checking out the town and meeting some of its inhabitants. It was much colder than expected (the locals were complaining) so some proposed day trips out of town didn’t quite happen. We stayed at Achik Wasi Hostel, a community run place in a great location overlooking the town.
Cuenca is a lovely town to walk around. One of our guides told us there are 52 churches – one for every week of the year. They wanted to build one for each of the saints and then realised it would be impossible – so they build one called Todos Santos (All Saints) to make sure everyone not already honoured was covered. This is one of my favourite churches that we’ve been to – for $1 you can take a tour up to the tower for great views of the city.
There are also many, many museums, only a few of which we’ve visited. Some I’d recommend. The Municipal Museum of Modern Art is a fantastic old building, with changing exhibitions and some Ecuadorian sculpture. On the day we were there, we met very friendly staff who will happily converse with you even if your Spanish is terrible.
Pumapago is one of the largest, but sadly when we visited most of it was closed for renovations. However, the architectural ‘ruins’ out the back is a great place to walk around, and there’s information on plants. There is also a park next door with a small menagerie of birds.
The Museum of Aboriginal Cultures has an incredible number of pieces, with some information available in English. Nothing about the skull with the gold studs though.
I think my favourite was the Remigio Crespo Toral House Museum. There was an exhibition of historical clothing (reimagined by the textile students of Azuy University), as well as some information about the famous poet who lived there, and other important Cuencans. For example, politician and all round renaissance man Honorato Vasquez, who we thought bore an uncanny resemblance to Bill Bailey. On the bottom floor there is a cafe with a great deck looking out to historic buildings and the river.