We were gonna go to Vilcabamba, which is the “Valley of Longevity,” in the south of Ecuador. It’s supposedly a beautiful place. Ecuadorians talk about it like it’s magical. Our WorldTeach friend, Heather, lives in Vilcabamba, and we had talked excitedly with her about going to Vilca for Carnaval, but alas, it was not to be. Last week, we checked the internet every day for times and prices for tickets to Loja, the nearest airport to Vilcabamba. It’s a 16-hour bus ride from Quito to Loja, something Eileen’s knees can’t handle, and something I don’t want to do. I think it was about four or five years ago when I finally burned out on long road trips. In the spring of 2000, I had traveled from Philly to Madison then to Fort Collins, Colorado. Six weeks later, I went from Fort Collins to Philly, then Philly to Fort Collins, then Fort Collins to Madison. A 16-hour ride on a bus made for small people doesn’t sound appealing at all. However, the 45 minute plan ride to Loja sounded pretty ok. In our internet searches, we ascertained that there were suitable flight times and it seemed there were many spaces. We emailed Heather, giving her the all-clear. She booked a room for us at an ecolodge you have to hike to. We were pretty excited. Everyone in Quito says that Carnaval is “feo,” meaning ugly. People here “play Carnaval,” which entails throwing water balloons or buckets of water on random people walking in the street. They do it all over Ecuador with the exception of a town called Ambato, where it’s outlawed. In some places, they also throw flour at each other. Eileen and I have so far managed to avoid most of the water, though yesterday, we did get sprayed with a water pistol in a drive-by shooting.
Vilcabamba is not exempt from the playing of Carnaval, but the ecolodge would be much more tranquilo, as they say. Last Saturday, we went to the Tame office (Tame is the only airline that flies from Quito to Loja). Unfortunately, we arrived at 12:08, eight minutes after they closed for the weekend. No problem, we thought. We’ll just make a reservation on the internet.
Well, as one of Eileen’s fellow teachers at the CEC said, South America and the Internet don’t really get along yet. I went into the Tame office on Monday morning with our passports and enough cash to cover the purchase of two tickets. I said I had made a reservation over the internet. That’s all you can do; you can’t actually purchase a ticket online. The woman at the Tame office looked me up and found nothing. Ok, I said, well are there any flights to Loja on the 5th? Nothing. The 4th, maybe? Nope. The 6th? Yes.
The 6th would be a Sunday; we could leave on Sunday and stay two nights, then come back on Tuesday so that we’d both be back for class on Wednesday, the 9th. But, no. There were no Loja to Quito flights available on Monday or Tuesday. Despite the fact that every internet search we had done the previous we claimed there was space on flights, the woman at Tame told me the flights had been booked for 10 days. There was no way we could get to Vilcabamba unless we took the bus.
So here we are, in a pretty empty Quito. We thought about going to Ambato, which is a mere two and a half hour bus ride away, but Ambato’s really popular, so the crowds will be huge, and there won’t be any hotel space in town, so we’ll have to come back to Quito on the same day.
We apologized profusely to Heather via email; we feel terrible that we may have ruined her plans to do something else. The last we heard, a couple other WorldTeachers were gonna go to Vilcabamba, though, so hopefully, it’s not all bad.