So, what I'm dancing around here is the fact that we were more than happy to get out of Cuenca for a mini-vacation to the southern regions of Ecuador - made even better with no immediate prospect of work responsibilities waiting for us when we get back. We decided to visit Vilcabamba, a small town with a reputation that precedes it, and from there venture into the mysterious Podocarpus National Park.
This claim to fame did not go unnoticed, and the first gringos started arriving soon thereafter. Amongst our friends in Cuenca, Vilcabamba has the reputation of “very gringo” (and keep in mind that Cuenca has its fair share!). With these things in mind, Lynsey and I went down to see what the mythos was all about.
Later, though, we were glad to see the locals out and about on the streets - turns out they had been at work all day! The town had a more familiar feel with the locals around, ironically, and a new complexity about how the foreign and local cultures must blend and clash to coexist together.
For almost a full day Lynsey and I simply enjoyed the cabin, each other, and some quiet time without work. Lynsey slept, I wrote, and we both knew we had found a special spot that we'd certainly be coming back to.
In Vilcabamba we found an older taxi driver (Lenin, whose grandfather is famous for being the second-oldest man in town, having died at 127!) who agreed to bring us into Podocarpus National Park. We met him early in the morning, fully equipped for an overnight backpacking trip to Las Lagunas del Compadre, and crossed our fingers for good weather. The only things we'd read about the park was that it rained, always. With that in mind, we jumped out of the taxi and bid our driver farewell. Up we hiked into the mist…
The hike took quite a turn when we reached the páramo. The hike followed a completely exposed ridge-line for some time, and we happened to be up there on a day when the weather was angry. A powerful 25-30 m.p.h. wind cut directly across the ridge, nearly knocking us down, while rain pounded horizontally into our faces. To add insult to injury, the trail itself was a muddy pudding that penetrated our waterproof boots in minutes. The situation was starting to become a bit critical…
Our faithful taxi driver was able to come back and pick us up in the park, and a friendly park ranger brought us hot tea and rolls. Gotta love the rangers! We also were able to see an Andean wolf (actually a fox) near the refuge while waiting for our ride.