Day 7: Zaruma to Vilcabamba

With only 165 easy miles to ride today, we got up & headed out for what was supposed to be the best breakfast of the trip!  Sadly, it was not the best breakfast, but it was a good experience.  We ate at La Romeria where we had amazing pizza last night.  This morning we ordered the tigrillo & steak breakfast per the recommendation of Freedom.  There wasn’t anything wrong with the food, but we are all getting hungry for some traditional american food & no one could positively identify what we were eating at the time.  We didn’t know what tigrillo was, but google said it is cooked green plantains (cooked in butter) and combined with cheese.  It sort of had the texture of dumplings, but I would argue that dumplings are tastier!  Check the box.  We tried, we took a picture & I probably won’t order it again.

After breakfast, we began our search for a gold mine tour.  Our instruction sheet said the mine was in Portovalo.  After some google research, we found what we believed to be the mine & headed down the road.  Google has some challenges in Ecuador.  Not all roads are on the map.  Most are, but not all.  The hard part is that most of the one way streets are not marked, so Google repeatedly tried to send us the wrong way down ‘una via’ streets.  After fruitlessly searching for the mine, I called Freedom & they recommended that we go back to the town square in Zaruma and visit the tourism center.  Rob & Staci headed on to our next destination & we headed back up the mountain to Zaruma, determined to visit a gold mine in Ecuador.

We made it back to the square, but passed up a parking spot and ended up winding our way down the mountain again on one way streets.  After making it back up, AGAIN, a security guard at the bank pointed out the tourism center & I headed in for more info.  They were super helpful, but ultimately didn’t know anything about a mine where you could tour in ore carts.  He sent us to El Sexmo mine after giving me maps for multiple cities, a wrist band, and stickers.  At this point we were about an hour into our mine search in a 6km region.  We proceeded to meander through the tiny town of Zaruma for another hour looking for a road that was not UNA VIA in the wrong direction – that would lead us there.  Once we paused debating if the steep road ahead was actually a real road…once a cab passed us & headed up the hill, we decided to give it a try.  Later, we drew a crowd when we turned up another steep, narrow, questionable road that quickly ended in a large set of stairs.  Turning around up there was a bit unnerving!  As we came back down there were taxis at the bottom of the hill.  I hopped off the bike & asked a driver to lead us to the mine.  He graciously called an available driver & soon we were off towards the mine (just 2 hours later!).  We arrived at the gates just about noon.  It was $2.50 well spent!!  The driver said something in Spanish that we didn’t understand, and we headed through the open gate & up the drive.  At the top, we realized that the path was a walking path only & we should not have driven in (probably what the driver was telling us!).  We asked where to park (we were not excited about leaving the bike down on the road unattended with our soft bags attached).  He quickly changed his mind & allowed us to leave the bike parked near the mine entrance.  Whew!  Finally, we have arrived!!!

We got our gear off & asked where to go for a tour.  It was just after noon & we were ready!  Except…..they are closed from noon to 1pm for lunch.  OMG.  At this point we weren’t going to leave, so we decided to just park ourselves on the bench & wait.  Only a few minutes went buy & Louis (the only person we have seen so far at the mine) came back over & offered to let us watch a video in English while we wait.  Perfect!  We could learn a little about the mine & kill some time.  When the video ended, Louis offered us a hard hat & said we could follow him into the mine.  Private tour!!  He was super friendly & very informative.  His English about as good as my Spanish, but he was helpful & fun as we ventured about 1 km into the mine.  He frequently stopped & took pictures of us & helped stage some fun photo sessions with artifacts.  We had a great time learning about the mine & taking pictures!  I’ll post more pics later, they are on Shawn’s phone.

When we came out, we visited the gift shop & took a short hike up to a look out area with a suspension bridge.  We enjoyed our day of site seeing & still got into Vilcabamba before dark.  That region is known as the Valley of Longevity because of the long lifespan of the residents.  National Geographic wrote an article about the life span of the people in Vilcabamba back in the 1950s.

The ride through Loja to Vilcabamba was pretty!  Parts of the ride felt tropical, but we passed through farmland then briefly through a dryer mountain region.  We enjoyed our day alone, buzzing through the windy roads of Ecuador!  I am particularly fond of their curvy road sign that shows a car with skid marks that cross over each other!  We passed through 2 police checkpoints today, but they waived us through without requiring us to stop.

Our hotel, Madre Tierra Ecolodge, is a well known spa with beautiful views & great atmosphere!  This was one of my favorite spots.  Sadly I didn’t take any pictures in our room  (I have no idea why!!!)  Maybe Staci has a pic of her room, it was similar. We had a very cool stone shower with tiles that looked like a tree.  The room had huge windows with screens, and thankfully the breeze was cool & there weren’t any dogs barking!  There was another significant walk from our parking area to our room.  I definitely should have packed differently, we have to drag all 3 large moto bags up to every place we stay!

For dinner we walked about a mile to town & found a good Mexican restaurant for dinner.  The town was similar to others, nice square, full of sovereign dogs & friendly people.  After dinner we hung out on the patio for a while before catching some zzzz’s.  I think I need a hammock.  I am loving them!  Nearly every place we stay has had a balcony with a hammock!

Staci & I scheduled 1 hour massages for tomorrow morning, so we will be starting the day off right!  I’ll update this post later with additional pictures.  I am traveling & failed to bring Shawn’s pics with me & he has a few great ones from the mine tour & the resort!


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