Loja (Loh-hah), population approx 285,000, is about 200 kms (120 miles) from Cuenca. Though we might typically calculate that to be a 2-hour drive, it's more like 3+ because of all the twist and turns and ups and downs of the highway that takes you there. Loja holds a rich tradition in the arts, and for this reason is known as the Music and Cultural Capital of Ecuador. The city is home to two major universities. It is situated 2100 meters (6890 ft) above sea level, about 1,500 feet lower than Cuenca. It has a mild Andean climate. At nearly 500 years, it is one of the oldest cities in Ecuador.
Malacatos (Mah-lah-cah-tohs) is a small town of only a few thousand located about 40 kms (25 miles) outside of Loja and before Vilcabamba. Like almost every town in EC, it has the traditonal central square anchored by a lovely cathedral. My friend Roberto, relocated here from Lima, Peru and built a cottage high above Malacatos with a commanding 180+ degree view. I stayed with him the few days I was in the area. He has a sweet new 2-month old Weimaraner puppy named Kleina and several guinea pigs. At this point, the road leading up to his place and several other homes, is very rough, full of potholes, muddy, and you must drive thru 2 streams. No sense washing your car...EVER. Every time we drove up/down that road, I felt as if the GV was going to disintegrate into a pile of broken pieces. As yet, there is no electricity to the area, so his house runs off a generator. No gas for the generator, no electricity. Roberto doesn't own a car. He relies on pickup-truck taxi's. Malacatos is surrounded by fields of palm, papaya, banana trees, and sugar cane.
Vilcabamba is a favorite relocation area for Ex-Pats because of it's warm, comfortable climate (about 5,000 ft), topographical beauty, and healthy living. It, too, is a very quiet small town of only a few thousand, located 9 kms outside Malacatos. There is nothing special about the typical village other than a few shops and restaurants obviously created and run by foreigners (obvious because of their trendy looks). There is no major grocery store or real amenities here, just small tiendas. For anything substantial such as theater, large markets, clothing stores, shopping, medical facilities, and/or large hardware stores one would probably rely on Loja which is a 45 minute drive away. The valley is overlooked by a mountain called Mandango, the Sleeping Inca, whose presence is said to protect the area from earthquakes and other natural disasters. It is often called the 'Valley of Longevity' because there are so many people who have lived to be over 100 years old there. Organic is very big here. Some people say Vilcabamba is very hippy-ish.
We went to one of a handful of nice resorts in the area, Izhcayluma, owned by a couple of German guys who relocated to the area over a decade ago and built this phenomenally beautiful sanctuary on a hill looking back, and down, to the village of Vilcabamba. The setting is stunning with rock walkways that wind through beautiful flowers, shrubs, trees, and lawns....through the pool area, outdoor bar, and life-size chess game patio, and various cottages for the guests. It also has an outdoor dining area with mesmerizing views of the hills and town below. They have a couple of large lab dogs who hang out and greet visitors.
The next day, we came back to Vilcabamba to have lunch at Jardin Escondido, another wonderful escape with guest rooms, outdoor courtyard dining amongst orange trees, great food (cheap!) and the customary white and orange kitties that come up to greet you and beg for a petting.
After that, it was time for Gracie and I to head home....with Matricula in hand!!!!
|In Loja...don't know what it is, but you can drive through it!|
|A church in one of Loja's squares.|
|The cathedral that anchors Malacatos central square.|
|The view from Robertos' hammock...down to the town of Malacatos (see the cathedral?)|
|A roadside stand selling sugar cane drinks.|
|The church that anchors Vilcabambas' central square.|
|Entrance to Izhcayluma resort.|
|Pathway leading down to the outdoor restaurant.|
|View of the town of Vilcabamba from the dining area of Izhcayluma.|
|Outdoor bar, game area, hammocks.|
|A game of Chess, anyone?|
|Beautiful pool of Izhcayluma, surrounded by lush gardens and waterfalls.|
|Jardin Escondido in Vilcabamba, where we had lunch.|
|Roberto and Kleina at Jardin Escondido. I love how Kleina is just dangling without a care.|
|One of the dogs of Izhcayluma saying 'hi' to Roberto and Kleina.|
|On the drive home, a small town deeeeep in a valley. Up and to the right of the church is (in white) a cemetary clinging to the side of the steep hill. Notice how the hill soars upward behind the town.|
|Part of the highway slid down a steeeeep ravine.|
|I walked onto the portion of the highway taped off (see prior photo) and took this shot looking straight down the slide. The road below is at least 1,000 feet down. SCARRRRRRY!!!!!|