It was raining recently. For a long time. The rainy season poured its tears on us in goodbye. For the last few days it’s been windy, nights got colder but at least there is no knee-deep mud in my courtyard anymore. During the long rainy weeks there were few sunny days. Many tourists asked what to do, where to go. Exactly. What one can do in Vilcabamba when he or she stays here only a day and there are dark clouds of the afternoon heavy rain hanging on the horizon?
1. A horse trip to the waterfall
I’m starting by my favourite activity. To jump on the saddle and gallop into the setting sun. Well, almost. Because it’s better to ride horse in the morning and the road to El Palto waterfall goes East. Most of the tourists have never sat on the horseback before but horses are used to it. Very calm, they follow one another and don’t cause troubles. Usually.
The price of such trip is usually 30$ but my friend Jose Luis, who teaches me about horses and whom I help, takes only 25$ per person. It’s maybe not really cheap, but the waterfall and the views from the trail are definitely worth the price.
The water is cold but I bathed in it. Its potable – the locals say, one bath in this water adds two years to one’s life. The regular baths and drinking it, of course, much more.
According to the sign located at the entrance of the trail, the waterfall is 30 metres (about 100 ft) high – probably it is the overall hight of all the multilevel cascade, because the main one is not higher than 10-15 m in my opinion.
I went on this four hour trip countless times – also as a guide. Every time we ride the trail, I’m equally amazed with the view as I were the very first time – as a tourist.
Staying in the topic of trails, I could not forget to mention the most noticeable attraction of Vilcabamba – the mountain of Mandango. A trip for three up to six hours, depending on how ambitiously you approach the subject – and if you want to climb the highest pick and to go down by another trail which is overgrown and not often used, or if you realise only the minimum plan. I admit, I’ve been there twice and I’ve done only the easier part. From the top there is an amazing view on Vilcabamba but also on the Rio Vilcabamba valley and the part called Cucanama.
Mandango is also called the Sleeping Inca. From Vilcabamba there is clearly visible a profile of a man, his face and the chest, which form the rocky picks of the massif. From a proper angle, the flipped face becomes a woman’s face – I heard about it my first night in Vilcabamba but haven’t seen it till few days ago when a tourist showed it to me.
There is also a legend about Mandango. When Spanish conquistadors captured the Inca – the king of the people called Quechua or Quicha, called usually the Incas, they demanded the ransom – four (or five) carts full of gold. When one of them was coming from the North of the empire, it was going through Quinara – a village on the opposite side of Mandango. There, they were notified, that the king had been executed. They decided to bury the gold under the mountain. Of course, it has never been found. To spice up the story, from Quinara side there are entrances to the uncharted caves.
I should mention another legend. According to the locals, Mandango, the Sleeping Inca is a god who, sleeping, protects the valley from the disasters – and, in fact, the climate here is perfect and the earthquakes, so common in other parts of Ecuador, never happen – and provides the local population with the longevity.
3. Rio Chamba
Last but not least, the recreational trail I walk on sometimes while walking my dog – well, maybe not the whole but a big part. Alongside the Rio Chamba, from Yamburara to the main road – and back on the other riverside or by the old road to Loja – through Vilcabamba gate.
Rio Chamba flows in Rio Vilcabamba which goes further West. A linguistic curiosity. When an Ecuadorian (at least one from the mountains) says that something is “up” (arriba), he doesn’t mean that point being above. For example: “Angel lives there, up this road.” The road can go up and down, more down and, eventually, be on the same level as the starting point. But it goes up the river stream – and that’s what they really mean. Analogically with “down” (abajo). the basic thing is to know where is the nearest river and what direction does it follow.
Rio Chamba is picturesquely located. The train on the one side goes through the ecological path Rumihuilco, on the other along the coffee and bananas plantations. Some parts go through so called cañaveral – the cane forest. In fact, there is a bamboo forest there – but apparently South Americans call bamboo cane.
On the bank of Rio Chamba, there is a water caption. After purification and bottling it is sold as Vilca Agua. This water has the same properties as described in the first point. The river, even though shallow, has a strong current but in some spots its suitable for bathing – because it’s still to shallow for swimming.
And when it rains?
And when it rains, Vilcabamba offers many cultural and culinary experiences about which I’ll write later. A Vilcabamba restaurant guide would serve, however, mostly me and those tourists who ask me everyday where to go for lunch. Surely more than it would serve my readers. Although, I wish you can one day experience it yourselves – and I highly recommend it.