Between the Gigolo, the Earthquake and a damp hike through a beautiful park, Cuenca was an adventure. By Monday morning I was looking for new adventures and had heard of a beautiful village near the border of Peru called Vilcabamba. Vilcabamba is actually quite a tiny village but it is surrounded by really beautiful scenery and lots of outdoor activities which is probably how it’s become so firmly entrenched on the Gringo Trail. The bus ride from Cuenca was gorgeous as we wound through the Andes to an ultimately lower altitude with lusher and greener foliage.
Everyone I’d met in Ecuador who had been to Vilcabamba recommended the same hotel…Hosteria Izhcayluma. Their propaganda (er, brochures) are all over the country…and based on the pictures it promised to be a nice place. When the bus stopped in Vilcabamba’s bus terminal and the only people remaining were me and three other gringos…I was pretty sure at least one of them would be heading towards Izhcayluma. I approached a friendly looking blond woman and sure enough, she was going to Izhcayluma so we agreed to share a cab since the property is about 2 km. outside of town.
Church in the village of Vilcabamba
My new friend’s name was Conny and she’s from Switzerland. I had a private room reserved and she had a dorm bed but when it turned out that I had two beds in my private room it seemed like a good idea to share. This proved to be a fortuitous decision as Conny proved to be a great roommate and adventure companion over the next four days.
On our first day we decided to take it easy…relax in the hammock, get a shockingly cheap massage, stuff our faces with the excellent restaurant food. For our second day, however, we decided we needed a bit more adventure so signed ourselves up for an all-day horse-back riding/hiking tour through the mountains. It is worth mentioning here that I have only ridden horseback one other time in my life and did not enjoy it. You see, it was a couple of years ago when I volunteered as camp counselor in Kentucky and was simultaneously in charge of wrangling a bunch of hyper-excited kids and keeping myself alive. Needless to say…not a fun time.
So why would I sign up for such an adventure knowing that I didn’t like it before? It turns out that I have a personal philosophy that you should always try things at least twice before you decided you don’t like them….brussel sprouts…persons you’re dating…riding on the backs of dangerous animals…so I agreed to give horse-back riding another try. How bad could it be really?
Like this picture of me by the horse? Relish it…because you’re not likely to see another one like it ever again. Even after the second attempt sans renegade children….I still do not like horseback riding. There’s a pretty short list of things in life that terrify me but I can safely say the HB riding is number one….with about 10 exclamation points after it. I don’t know what my problem is really…nothing ever happens to me…I think it’s just the knowledge that I have no real control over the animal. I really WANT to like it…I just don’t.
So, aside from the fact that I was tense and terrified from the beginning, I was able to enjoy the fact that we were traveling high into the mountains and looking at, what I’m sure you’ll all agree, is gorgeous scenery. After a couple of hours we let the horses rest and headed out on foot towards some very high waterfalls where we stopped for lunch. Here’s Conny and me in what can only be construed as the height of fashion in Ecuador:
After the lunch hike we set out on foot again back to the caballos who were waiting patiently for us. I was quite ecstatic to learn that we would have to walk the horses down an embankment for a while because it was too steep for them with riders (or rather our guide (see below) knew these inexperienced horsewomen might have a meltdown when faced with such a scene). We walked and walked and I would have been happy to keep walking but it was too far and this was a HB riding tour after all…so we mounted los caballos again and set off for home. On the trail so far we had crossed several rivers…nothing too big or deep….just rocky little gorges that the horses had handled beautifully. It was at this one:
where The Incident occurred. The river didn’t look much bigger than any of the others but as it turns out, it was a little deeper than we expected. Our guide went first on the white horse…then Conny…then me. So I’m waiting patiently to cross and am watching Conny with her horse…when suddenly, the horse loses his footing and topples over… completely drenching himself and poor Conny riding on top of him. Let me tell you, this scene did nothing for my terror but I have to say she handled it beautifully and everyone managed to get out of the river a little wetter but no worse for the wear. Well, except for Conny’s camera which at last report was not functioning.
Poor Conny was soaked and a little chilly but we all managed to make it back in one piece…me swearing and on the verge of tears pretty much the whole time. I really hope that my FH (future husband) likes horses so he can take the kids…their poor old mom is not going to be able to handle it.
Thursday proved to be a recovery day as both Conny and I felt like someone had come in and beat the s$&t right out of us. Everything on my body hurt (and still hurts several days later) and poor Conny got a massive bruise on her thigh from crashing into a rock when she took a spill into the rio. This was, of course, the perfect excuse for us to each get another massage and relax a bit on our last day in Vilcabamba before we parted company…me for Guayaquil and my flight to the Galapagos and Conny to Peru.
Tags: 8 - Ecuador, horseback riding, Hosteria Izhcayluma, Vilcabamba