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A fair chunk of today was spent trying to get online. Stef tried to get an internet connection again after breakfast but it still did not work. The "technical" person is in Loja and it took an hour for us to realise that they had not yet called him to fix the problem. By the time he came, we felt obliged to sit and update emails etc. and so it was about 3pm before we made it out of the hotel.

This picture just sums it up

During the morning we chatted to another British couple. They are spending a year traveling through Central America. After a particularly hairy time in Venezuela he popped the question and they have now come back to Vilcabamba to get married, having loved it so much when they first came a few weeks ago. It sounds like  they have had a couple of weeks chasing the relevant paper trail in both Lima and Quito. It will be just the two of them here for the wedding, the party for friends and family when they get back home is already planned.

We decided to amble through town and try to head into the national park. It was still really hot, the heat seems to bounce round the valley, and even through my trousers it felt like the sun was burning my legs. There was little shade and I just got hotter and hotter. It is about a twenty minute walk into the centre of Vilcabamba and the inevitable main square. Here I took refuge in the shade and cooled down before we carried on.

The road our of town was a long, slow, uphill climb in the heat. At the river a family was washing its clothes and themselves. The water looked cool, fresh and inviting. We missed the turn to the national park and carried on down the hill, stopping on the way to buy some lemons to refresh us. The followed round and took us back into town at the other end. On the way we passed a line of donkeys, laden with a crop of sugar cane. They know the routine well and automatically walk up the road, into the right buildings and even turn around so that they are ready to be easily relieved of their load - clever animals!

There is a very quiet and relaxed pace to Vilcabamba. Everyone we saw along the way smiled and we exchanged buenos tardes. The local PR for the valley claims that it is a valley of long life. Whether that is true I am not sure but there were a high percentage (compared to other places) of very old people, still wearing traditional dress.

The valley itself is beautiful. Its ringed by high mountains and is very lush and green. The town in fairly small but seems quite contained, there are no signs of it expanding and growing which should help it to keep its atmosphere. It has a neat and tidy feel to it, different to many of the place we saw in Perú.

We stopped at a cafe on the square for a refreshing drink, to cool down and to rest our feet. Mike, another of the guests at Madre Tierre, was chatting to a British guy named Paul. He eventually came and joined us and we spent an hour or so swapping stories. He reached 53, decided there was more to life than lecturing at a Further Education college and wangled redundancy. He has turned the loft of his house into a studio (he is an artist), has rented out his home and now spends most of the time traveling around, people watching and picking up ideas, scenes, faces and situations for his paintings. He spends most of his time in Europe but is currently also on a round the world ticket.

Ness tries the local lemons

He is quite a character, loves his lifestyle and has an obvious passion for traveling and meeting people. Like Carlos Páez Vilaró at Casa Pueblo in Punta del Este, Uruguay, he is fascinated by women, I think both socially (!) and as subjects for his work. We chatted about Carol at Madre Tierre, how friendly she is and how it goes against the grain of British reserve to be that openly warm with people you hardly know. Nevertheless, the upshot of the discussion was that in this case British reserve was the wrong element of the mix. British reserve also held us back (yes, even Stef suffers from it too now!) from asking Paul what had happened to his arm (his left arm is prosthetic). So Paul, if you are reading this now please email and let us know if you do not mind (see, it is that British reserve again!).

At seven-ish we headed back to Madre Tierra. Even at this time, and in the dark, it's still very hot and sticky. We were treated to yet another great meal. All the food here is organic and cooked in an open kitchen where you can see what is going on (which I love). They bake their own bread here and it is sublime - thick, moist, with different herbs or garlic or onions. It is great on its own but even better daubed with butter and their homemade humus.

Breakfast and dinner are included in the room rate. All meals are taken on a verandah outside reception. Big wooden tables with brightly coloured locally woven tablecloths and vases of fresh flowers give the place a very cheerful and homely feel. Carol tours the tables ensuring that she has had a quick chat with everyone to see how their day went. She is an interesting person - first female CEO of a space agency and also instrumental in stopping the US Star Wars programme to put weapons into space. When I remember I am going to google her (surname Rosin) to find our more!

We shared a table with a chain smoking Belgian couple. They are here with their two sons, who they adopted in Ecuador. They have come back for a holiday to ensure they boys keep in touch with Ecuador and to visit the orphanage they adopted them from. The conversation inevitably turned to chocolate and a discussion about which is the best make of Belgian chocolate. We raved about Corné, a relatively new discovery that my Mum and Dad adore. The Belgians raved about Galler, a make that neither Stef nor I had heard of before. They have a stash with them and will let us try it if we see them tomorrow. The boys were surprised to hear Stef speaking Dutch after all the Spanish (actually English) we had been speaking. It threw them for a while.

By 9pm, most people had disappeared again and we went back to our room where I was thoroughly beaten at cribbage by Stef. It is not like him to have such a good winning streak - he must be cheating!