Scenery along the route of yesterday’s ride from Cuenca to Alamor was unbelievably gorgeous, but the bus was moving fast and the windows were dirty so it was difficult to capture the vistas. Sadly I ended up deleting most of the blurred, out of focus photos taken during the day.
Including a three-hour layover in Loja, the bus trip was almost 14 hours. It was pitch dark during the last five. Spent the layover at a comfortable Loja restaurant having dinner and enjoying the local ambiance – a totally different vibe from any other South American city visited so far. They had a delicious salad bar which had no lettuce but fava beans, tomatoes, marinated cucumbers, cauliflower, broccoli, and other delicious vegetables cooked to al dente perfection.
During the last leg of the trip from Loja to Alamor, there was a security guard frisking people before allowing them to board the bus. Armed military guards stopped us at a checkpoint along the way to examine the bus’s storage hold. This was the first time I’d encountered a security guard on any of the buses in South America. Neither the military nor security guards were threatening, and they didn’t ask people to open their luggage. The bus was full (no other gringos) and I sat next to a large Ecuadorian man who was quiet and pleasant. Somehow, I fell soundly asleep during part of the ride, despite the usual twists and turns passing through the Andes.
When we finally arrived in Alamor the first thing I noticed was the steep streets – like in San Francisco or Sausalito – pointing up, up, uphill! At the last stop there were only three of us left on the bus. We noticed one dimly-lit street light, the only visible source of illumination for several blocks. Either it was foggy or we were inside a cloud.
As they unloaded my luggage on the rough cobbled street, there were no taxis anywhere in sight and the other people disappeared quickly and quietly into the night. I tried texting and calling the hotel to tell them I would be arriving late. There was no response, so I took a deep breath and tried not to panic.
While standing there alone in the dark wondering what to do, an old beaten up red car drove up and dropped off what appeared to be five drunken, staggering men. I stood there frozen wondering what was going to happen next. The driver collected money from his disheveled, disorderly passengers, so I thought maybe he was Alamor’s version of a taxi driver. I approached him with luggage in tow and asked….
He said “si señora,” and then I showed him the name and address of the hotel where I was staying – Hotel del Bosque. He looked at it, nodded OK, and started to load my luggage. While getting inside the car, I felt a big lump in my throat but didn’t think I had many options except to trust this person. I asked how much for the ride and he held up a finger indicating one dollar.
We were a few blocks – straight uphill – from Hotel del Bosque. In the pitch-black night, the rickety car struggled to climb the steep hills, and I wondered if it would make it. The driver drove up to the front door of the hotel, unloaded my luggage, and even helped find and ring the night bell so someone would let me inside. Befuddled about how seamless it was getting to the hotel, it felt like I was in a half-asleep, half-awake stupor after the long dizzying bus ride.
I learned about Hotel del Bosque from Svenja Beilfuss – co-owner of Arutam Ecotours in Cuenca. She, her husband, and a few clients have stayed at the hotel in the past en route to the flowering of the Guayacanes which occurs once a year in nearby Mangahurco. Hotel del Bosque is simple but clean and the architecture is interesting. The staff speaks zero Ingles.
This morning I found a small bus that drives to Mangahurco every day. For ten dollars, a guide leads a tour and hike around the much-anticipated Guayacanes. The bus leaves at 5:00 a.m. and returns to Alamor at about 7:00 in the evening. I’m setting my iPhone alarm for 4:00 a.m. and looking forward to the trip!
Sunday another series of buses take me to Mancora on the west coast of Peru. The buses go from Alamor to Machala, Machala to Piura, and finally Piura to Mancora. Altogether, it’s another 8+ hour bus ride. I know what you’re thinking – time for a break from bus rides! Agreed, but since there are no airports in these small towns, there’s no other choice except to rent a car which would be a bit like playing Russian roulette on crazy highways through the Andes. There are many small crucifixes along the roads marking sites where people were doomed and met their fate as they went off the side at one of the many blind and treacherous corners.