Festivities in Malacatos
After several days of mostly cooler/wetter weather in Loja (it is rainy season, after all), I felt like getting out of town and heading for some warmth and sun. Malacatos is a $1 bus ride away, in a valley between Loja and Vilcabamba. So on Monday morning we walked out to the bus stop (2 blocks from our house) and flagged down the Vilcabamba bus.
On the bus we encountered standing room only, but after a few minutes the assistant called us up to the front and gave us a place to sit up by the driver, so we had a great view! Every bus here in the Loja area has an assistant, by the way. I really like that the driver can focus on driving and the assistant goes around collecting the fares and assisting passengers with their luggage or whatever. Even the city buses have assistants!
So there we were, perched next to the driver and enjoying a full view of the steep, lush mountains all the way to Malacatos. The highway climbs out of Loja and reaches the entrance to Podocarpus National Park on the mountain pass a few minutes later. After that, the road winds its way down to Malacatos, descending steadily all the way. There are a few villages clinging to the hillsides, each home looking seriously in danger of sliding thousands of feet down the mountain during the next heavy rainstorm. Closer to Malacatos the land flattens out and the number of fancy homes increases exponentially. Many of the houses are fancy even by U.S. standards and have swimming pools in their yards. There are some truly wealthy people in Malacatos!
Inside the city of Malacatos, however, the streets and buildings look like a pretty average Latin American town. When we got off the bus we could hear drums coming from the plaza a block away. We followed the noise of the drumbeat to find a parade in session. We pressed up against the crowd and stood on tippy-toes to get a better look. All of the area schools seemed to be participating–students and teachers alike. Police officers held the crowd back so that the parade could make its way through on the walkway in front of the cathedral. The entire town seems to have turned out for the event; it was packed! Many people shielded their heads from the strong sun with their newspapers. Turns out they were celebrating Malacatos’ 192nd anniversary of political emancipation.
After the parade I bought an ice cream cone ($0.25) and Keith and I set out to explore, walking past sugar factories, through a park, and up a country road that took us past an assortment of old, simple adobe homes and huge new brick homes with fancy landscaping. Once you get out of the main part of town, the sidewalks disappear and pedestrians share the roads with the vehicles, which fortunately are not too numerous. The sun and warmth felt good to me, even though we both found ourselves sweating as we hiked along.
Awhile later we returned to the central part of town to find lunch, and got splashed a few times by kids bearing water guns and water balloons. Thus refreshed, we found a restaurant and ended up with the usual vegetarian fare–soup (usually noodle or plantain), a plate of rice and legumes (usually lentils, peas, or black-eyed peas), salad of some sort, fried potatoes or plantains, and cheese or eggs. They also provide a drink–usually either fresh lemonade or “horchata” (which is not the same as horchata in Mexico). It’s a filling meal but can get old day after day, as we discovered when we first got here, before we had access to a kitchen or any kind of eating utensils and had to eat out a lot more. Still, it usually costs $5 or less for both of us ($2-$2.50 each), so it’s a good deal.
After lunch we continued our explorations up a country road on the opposite side of town. This time, instead of sugar factories, we found brick factories, steadily supplying the construction of all the fancy homes. We encountered a trail that followed a dry stream bed up the hill so we followed it until it eventually petered out into the stream bed itself. On the way back down we met a woman and her little girl, still dressed up from the parade, turning up a side trail and asked if that trail led back to the main road. She said it did, so we walked with them while she told us about her adobe house and about the nice views from the hills, and asked us a little bit about ourselves. At the road she shook our hands and continued up the hill, and we went back down into town to catch the bus back to Loja.
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My husband and I are nomads, having lived in over a dozen U.S. states, plus Mexico, Antarctica, and Ecuador. I write. I recently released the 2nd edition of my 2nd book, "Live Like a Local in Loja," and I'm looking for a publisher for my third book, "Seven Years Running"--the true story of my fugitive childhood.