Loja is only about an hour away from our previous location, but it feels like a whole other world. In Vilcabamba we heard mostly English throughout the day, all the travelers at our house were English speakers, as well as our hosts, and English was mostly spoken in the cafes and restaurants around town. In Loja, we are once again immersed in the Ecuadorian culture and the Spanish language.
Located in the southern highlands of Ecuador, we are only five hours down the Panamerican highway from Peru. The city contains about 200,000 inhabitants, which makes it a bit larger than I like, but its a nice city nonetheless. Loja is one of the oldest cities in Ecuador and boasts Spanish colonial architecture, plenty of churches, and multiple plazas. The historic downtown area is small enough to walk around and easy to navigate. Like the rest of Ecuador, it is quite clean with very little graffiti, and there are street sweepers cleaning up any litter. The city is in the middle of burying the electrical lines and repaving all the streets downtown, so there is more traffic and quite a bit of a mess at the moment, but it should really look great when all the work is complete.
As I said before, we are staying seven kilometers outside of town, so we have to plan our visits to the city carefully. We’ve been going in town about every other day to stock up on food (the children have a serious mango addiction) and to explore. We leave around 8:30 in the morning and arrive back at the preserve at 2:00. This makes the visit to the city just long enough and we have time for other activities (like nap time and school) when we get home. The only downfall I have seen so far is that I would really like to check out the Christmas lights, and we have yet to find an easy way to do that.
Thankfully we are back to Ecuadorian food prices rather than the ridiculous gringo prices we found in Vilcabamba. We’ve found some decent restaurants that serve the typical $2 almuerzos, there’s no better feeling than feeding your family a delicious, healthy meal for less than $10! We’ve also eaten some wonderful tamales as well and found some excellent panaderias. Joaquin even said one bakery had donuts better than Shipley’s, but I think he has just forgotten what a good donut tastes like! The city doesn’t seem to get much tourism which makes it even more appealing to me, after all the gringos in Cuenca and Vilcabamba I was starting to forget that I was in Ecuador.