Resting in Loja and Podocarpus National Park

Trip Start Nov 15, 2006
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Sunday, September 2, 2007

We arrived late last night to Piura where we had reserved a room in a budget hotel our guidebook had noted as modern, clean, good value. Unfortunately they forgot to mention that there was nightclub a couple of doors away and it was a love hotel! Still, if you could close your ears walking through the corridor to your room, it was certainly modern, clean and good value.

The trip from Piura to the border of Peru and Ecuador was relaxed and beautiful, travelling along twisty mountain roads with small villages among the lush green, tropical foliage.

The border crossing was a breeze - Peruvian exit only two minutes walk from the Ecuadorian entrance and well-organised, and nobody hassling us to buy things or exchange currency. The Ecuadorian entry was another matter...one window, one guy, no queue. He took various passports, did some one-finger typing and looked vaguely out at the crowd from time-to-time to see who the IDs might possibly represent.

The next passenger on the bus was a well-dressed guy with a rooster. Ed deduced that the rooster was a fighting cock as it´s claws had been removed ready for the metal claws they attach during the match. We had a brief chat with him and took a photo...I was amazed how the man held the rooster while he slept during the journey, but woke up just at the right time to put the bird on the floor to do a poo.

After our hectic last few days in Peru, we were happy to see that Loja was a medium-sized city with everything we needed, minus the hassle. We went there to rest, get our washing done, catch up on the internet, visit the post office and eat and drink of course!

There´s a great market in the town - the cleanest and most organised we´ve seen in our travels -  which serves up plenty of food and drink at cheap prices. My current addiction (well, it goes back to Central America really) is mora batido - a blackberry milkshake. We ate some good fried bread with cheese inside and a sprinkling of sugar. The sweet and savoury mix somehow works for me.

Tired of our city to city existence, we opted for a night in the nearby Parque Nacional Podocarpus, named after the native fir trees in the forest. The park rangers were really friendly, genuine guys and helpful with all information.

We took a taxi up to the park and dumped our food and sleeping bags in their refugio (bunkhouse) which we had to ourselves! Having been advised against camping due to the predominantly wet weather, there was no need to set up the tent when the refugio was the same cost.

Walking up the ridge through the forest for 3 hours, we really felt like we had escaped. The path was muddy, rocky and slippery but worth it to breathe in the damp, cool air. The enclosed forest area had a large variety of flora, some with bright coloured flowers provided a shock of colour.

Reaching the top of the ridge, we were walking through the area know as paramó, a primarily treeless, moorland-type area - cold and windswept. At one stage, Ed was taking photos about ten metres behind me when the clouds rolled over, I couldn´t see him at all. Again, the variety of plants was outstanding, we kept stopping each other to check neither of us had missed seeing anything. I´m reliably informed (by Botanist Ed) that the cloud forest contained lichens, mosses, epiphytes, bamboo etc. After hiking so much in the last year, we really didn´t expect to be seeing so many new things...the animal life during our hike solely consisted of birds - but the vegetation was the real highlight.

Hiking across the ridge with a long drop either side and down into the refugio of the valley, we saw a glowing sunset and arrived at our humble abode by darkness. We really enjoyed the novelty of being able to cook, and the tuna pasta followed by chocolate went down a treat.

The next morning we were again lucky with the weather (no rain) as we hiked some short trails around the refugio and the 8km downhill to the main road. Waiting for a bus there, we had a chat to the young park guard. He told us he was ready to quit his new job when he had a unexpected and  close-up encounter with an Oso Anteojo (Spectacled Bear). We knew these bears were in the forest (endangered throughout the Andes) and thought they were of koala size, so had kept our eyes open for any perched in the trees. As it turns out, that was a waste of time, because they are a couple of metres tall and a couple of hundred kilos - basically grizzly size!
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