From Latacunga I took a night bus to Cuenca, and arrived just before daylight. This not only saved me many km of Panamerica riding, but also did my lungs a favour by not having to inhale exhaust fumes. I got to see Cuenca deserted of people to start with while I was looking for a hostel. Cuenca (full name Santa Ana de los cuatro ríos de Cuenca) is the capital of the Azuay Province. It is located in the highlands of Ecuador at about 2500 m above sea level. The center of the city is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage trust site because of its many historical buildings. Many American expats settle here and the cafe where I was having an extended breakfast was full of them. I spend the day walking around the now busy town and enjoyed the architecture as much as the food and many cafes. One of my favorite places for snacks became the ‘mercado de 10 de Agosto’ which had a whole second floor of food stales. I visited the museum of modern art and enjoyed the exhibition of local artist Fernando Coellar ‘Labyrinth of Pieties’.
But I decided that one day in a rainy city is enough and took the bus to Loja the next day and biked on to Vilcabamba. As I dropped down from the highlands to approximately 1500m the climate changed, the temperature rose and there was many flowers and fruit trees. Life seems to be a lot easier on this level. Vilcabamba is often called the ‘Valley of longevity’ as it is widely believed that its inhabitants grow to a very old age, due to the good climate and healthy living conditions. It’s now a very popular place with tourist and foreigners buying property alike and has become a strange mix of locals and an aging hippie population, best described as ‘gringolandia’. Still it had the amenities a traveler likes and I spent 3 nights here resting and deciding which way to go from here: Continue via the mountains, which was to be the most scenic and adventurous, but very remote and hard option with mainly dirt roads. Also currently the road to the border has been severely damaged with still continuing rain. Or take a bus to Trujillo and head back into the mountains from there. But the coast is known for unfriendly treatment to ciclistas and some being lightened of their possessions. After much soul searching, blog reading and back and fourth I settled on the mountain road…..hoping that with the help of buses it’ll be ok. So I’ll be taking a bus to Zumba this afternoon, as the road is badly damaged, and will cross the border to Peru in the morning. It was my aim to be in Peru for my birthday and I will be a day early….spending it riding dirt roads and probably camping out…..but I stocked up on Belgian homemade chocolates here in Vilcabamba:))))