We had debated for a long time how to get from central Chile to Quito in north-central Ecuador, about 3,000 miles away. Trains barely exist in South America, plane tickets are outrageously expensive, and the distance was daunting by bus. We’ve done more than our share of overnight buses in our world travels, but shooting across most of a continent with as few stops as possible is not our usual MO. Still, it was our only really feasible option if we wanted to stick to our budget, so we resigned ourselves to a heroic journey camped out in an assortment of buses. The longest was 32 hours straight, sitting next to the malfunctioning restroom, with an attendant that seriously had it out for us (his angry admonition to “put your shoes back on, you’re not in your home!” was a highlight). Even that only got us as far as the Peruvian border, and we still had to cross another whole country. In 20 hours more we made it to Lima and made a pit stop to see our friend Rachel, before continuing ever northward through the desert and finally back into a land of mountains and jungle.
Crossing into Ecuador held immediate differences. The Chilean dialect of Spanish is by far the most distinctive, slang-filled, and difficult to understand, and our weeks there had affected my accent and lingo. Ecuadorians, on the other hand, speak much more slowly and clearly, with an accent more familiar to the Spanish I learned in school. The national currency is US dollars, though there are only as many $1 bills as American tourists bring in, and change including $1 coins are minted in Ecuador with their own designs. The food, at least of the Andean region, has many similarities to the cuisine of Peru and Bolivia, but includes some surprises and innovations that Mika will detail on her ongoing South American vegetarian food blog.
Our first stop in Ecuador was the village of Vilcabamba, a tranquil mountain pueblo with a reputation for the perfect climate, a hippie vibe, and beautiful surroundings. Banana trees, tropical flowers, and great views of the region’s verdant valleys and famous Chambala and Yambala Rivers are other draws. Ecuadorians claim that water from Vilcabamba is so pure and clean that residents of the town commonly live to be over a hundred years old. This legend has been repeated so many times that many people seem to genuinely believe it, which may account for the number of Americans and Europeans that pick it as a place to retire. Life in Vilca is easy, and nowhere exemplified that as much as the “hostel” where we stayed. Free yoga classes every morning, a swimming pool in the garden, massage treatments, a German-run restaurant, and new friends from around the world kept us content over Christmas. We even got to do some fire spinning in the hostel bar, which we take advantage of whenever we get the opportunity. All in all, it was a nice welcome to our newest adopted home.