Tourists are drawn to Vilcabamba for the hiking and the laid back atmosphere. At Hostería Las Ruinas de Quinara I was provided with a map detailing five different routes, ranging from an easy stroll to Agua Hierro to a full day bus out and trek to the Solanda Waterfall.
Mandango Peak, a four hour looped hike up to an altitude of 2,050 metres sounded like a great option for some activity after a few city stops and long bus journeys. I arrived at the starting point on the outskirts of Vilcabamba with another traveller to a sign that read:
The information went on to recommend that ‘you do not climb Mandango’ or, if determined to do the trek, do it with a group of at least four people and carry absolutely no valuables (‘it is forbidden to take anything with you’).
In a place known for it’s safe, tranquil atmosphere, this was somewhat of a surprise and disappointment. We could go back, dump any valuables and try again, but it still remained that there were only two of us and the likelihood of recruiting two others was slim: there didn’t appear to be any other gringos in town. That, and the fact that the offenders were still on the loose. Great.
The next option that would work time-wise was a relaxed three to four hour walk to Cascada del Salado via the village of San Pedro, home of the notorious and intense hallucinogenic San Pedro cactus, something the locals aren’t keen to promote to travellers.
Unsigned, this route took us down through the village and out on to a dusty dirt track alongside a gentle river. The sun shone, the water sparkled, and we hit a dead end. Wrong way. Butterflies and bees flitted about and occasional gusts of wind made the heat bearable. On the other side of the river, four young men lounged in the shade, machetes placed to the side as they took a siesta. We paddled, and picnicked on empañadas and then retraced our steps to another potential route.
The path took us away from the river and along a more established road. We were on the right track, assured a weathered rider on horseback, just another hour to the waterfall. Turning back down towards the river, we followed a stream past fields of giant cacti and into the forest, eventually reaching a house.
‘Buenos tardes’, said a guy who was tilling the soil as we trudged by. I’m not sure whether I imagined it, but I picked up on some warm amusement and wandered if we were in fact trespassing on private land. He didn’t object as we followed a path up and out the back of the garden, past a mini waterfall and water collection system, and onwards along a narrow, overgrown track with a steep drop down to the river below.
The flow of water was intensifying; surely the waterfall was close. But again, the path reached an end. No waterfall.
Dusk arrived bringing with it some drizzle and a sense of defeat. It wasn’t meant to be. Not this time.