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  • Niki Harry

Ecuador - Vilcabamba & Horseback riding

When I heard that you can hire a van for $15 per person to take you all the way from Cuenca to Vilcabamba I was all over that in a moments notice. I really wanted to stay at Hosteria Izhcayluma and luck would have it, they actually had one private cabin available for 3 nights. The cabin cost $49 per night for two of us. The van normally takes up to 10 people (pretty squishy though!) and once again another pleasant surprise, it was just the two of us and a young German girl, who spoke english and Spanish, so she was a lifesaver with regards to communicating to our driver.

Our driver, AKA Mario Andretti, zipped along the mountain roads doing 90-100km per hour, through mountain villages, dodging farm animals, people and children playing on the side of the road! The roads were paved and in great condition but there was no shoulder & it was the constant up and down and cornering that was the concern. It was raining in sections and in areas as high as 14,000 feet, we were driving in cloud. Regardless, he was a fantastic driver as he does this trip twice per day & he got us there within 4 hours, with 2 quick stops along the way. We arrived in Vilcabamba at around 6 pm.

The village of Vilcabamba AKA The Valley of Longevity. Its known for its name because people used to live to a ripe old age with no diseases, but these days with tourism and fast food arriving, not so much anymore.

Arriving at Hosteria Izhcayluma.

​ It is a very unique hotel where one can truly relax. It is extremely reasonable in pricing, it has a restaurant, a bar, a spa, free yoga classes and an extremely laid back casual feel. I fell in love with it as soon as we arrived.

The bar area where you can watch movies, lounge around in hammocks, play pool or pingpong, enjoy a bonfire or just sit back and enjoy a few drinks with new friends.

Everything is made of stone or wood. Fully private with your own bathroom facilities and porch with picnic table and a hammock.

​We went for a hike on the property’s own trails and got a great view of our cabins and the hotel area below.

The “Inca Face”. They say this mountain looks like an Incan lying on his back looking up at the sky.

We walked around the village which is not very big but have some cool shops. Lots of jewelry, handmade items & eateries.

I love all the graffiti - which are awesome murals everywhere in Ecuador.

On the second day we decided we’ve had enough of hiking and needed to do something different. So horseback riding it was! But for those of you who know me, know that I am not particularly a horse lover nor a rider. I went through all the guide books and chose the LEAST frightening & shortest time option. So this was it. It was a 4 hour tour which was local to the area and started off in town. So I was pretty ok with it, easy peasy I thought. We chose Holger’s Horses tour, which is a local gaucho (cowboy) who is a good friend of the owner Dieter of the hostería. There were 7 of us in total: 6 girls and John.

First 5 minutes were great. John had the lead horse and this horse decided he just wanted to run constantly. Another horse decided he wanted to run with John’s horse. The lady was unprepared for it and couldn’t control him. She lost her stir-ups and ended up hanging off the side of the saddle. Of course I’m watching this thinking she was going to fall and be trampled. She managed to hang on but pulled her back badly and eventually she got off the horse and here we were waiting to see what she would decide to do. It took her about 10 minutes to finally decide to continue but she switched horses with the cowboy. Within a couple of minutes the same horse through the cowboy off! This was NOT what I wanted to see at all. Immediately I became extremely nervous and was not so sure about my horseback riding decision!

We continued on and then I got even more nervous when I realized we were heading up a stream which became wider and deeper and extremely rocky in some sections. The horses were actually slipping on some loose rocks.

Then we went through some treed areas but the whole time we were climbing up. Eventually we came beyond the tree line and were out in the open mountains. John’s horse kept running and he had a bit of a challenge controlling him at first. I was sure I would see John tumble down that mountain at some point! Cowboy started calling him “John Wayne”

We each had a camera with us, so it was difficult trying to hold on to it and take clear photos with one hand… as of course with the other I held on for dear life! I really did not like this ridge!

When we came upon ridges like this, I really was not happy! Extremely terrified that the horse would slip as in some cases the ground was really lose and it was wet. I just held my breath and closed my eyes!

We arrived to the cowboys parents’ farm. They own 200 hectares of this land.. unbelievable. We met his mom and gave the horses a rest, then he took us for a 15 minute hike to the top of one mountain.

Here you get a 360 degree view of everything around us, including Peru only 80kms away to the south. I was shocked to discover that we were actually at the top of the Inca face mountain!

​The lady who pulled her back on the horse stayed on the ridge below us. She was too paranoid to continue all the way up. It was pretty narrow and steep and I was actually surprised that he takes people up and risking someone falling or injuring themselves.

When we got back to the ranch, his mom had made fresh organic coffee which they had grown themselves. We were treated to a cupful and a fresh picked banana. So delicious! We then found out that we would head back down the same way we came. A couple of us were panicked at the thought of doing that trip in reverse. It was so steep in this area we had to zig-zag down, through switchbacks.

Thumbs up! I might do this again… but maybe with a sedative in me first!

When we got back to the hostel, I had a 1 1/2 hour full body massage, then an hour reiki session and an hour pedicure.. ALL for $36. Yup. 36 dollars. And it was phenomenal. The day after we took the same van back, with the same driver, but this time there were 9 of us. Yes a bit squishy but with some great people from all over the world where we had 4 hours to share our experiences and hear theirs. It was amazing to see how many people have had enough with their regular lives and had given everything up to live this “carefree-no-idea-where-I-am-going-next” life. We met single solo women and men in their 70’s and young teens and early twenties, to families with kids. I was quite amazed and surprised. But I took lots of notes.

And sadly a couple of days later our Ecuador trip came to an end, as all good things eventually do. I will definitely go back. I loved the country. I loved the people. I loved the language. It was comfortable. It was beautiful. It could feel like home.

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