February 4, 2008

Lovely Loja
Loja, Ecuador

I like Loja. There, I said it.

I think the size of this city is almost perfect for me, and as one of the oldest in Ecuador, it seems to really have its act together. I'm particularly impressed by the transportation infrastructure, and lack of vehicles on the streets.

Quitoesque buses

The town is rather confined because of the foothills it's nestled at the base of, which gives it a very slender, north/south shape. Buses using the same design found in the capital run regularly and inexpensively (25 cents/person) up and down a primary artery in town, before spidering out into the hills.

Because you can hop on a bus and get just about anywhere in the city, the reasons for owning a vehicle are limited. Most of the traffic in the city is from taxis.

Peru doesn't give me the impression that it has a grip on how to properly engineer the infrastructure for its cities. I was rather shocked when I read that "58% percent of households in Peru's urban areas rely on pay phones as their only access to telecommunication services." Read that again. Almost six out of every ten people I'd run into in a city in Peru wouldn't have a telephone in their home (because they can't afford it, can't get it installed, or don't see the point in owning one).

The air is crisp in Loja, with hints of pine and burning firewood once you get outside the center of the city. It's the kind of place where no building is taller than the cathedrals, save for the large, modern shopping structure built on the northern edge of town.

The guidebook says it's one of the safest cities in the country, famous for its musicians and award-winning parks.

I suppose if Loja is lacking in anything, it's a good home for travelers. Most everyone interested in setting up a proper hostel has done so in Vilcabamba, where the prices are higher, and a steady stream tourists are assured.

It's a shame, as Loja strikes me as a full-sized city and a small town, wrapped into one.

…Now, if the populous would just stop continuously detonating those thunderously loud munitions in the air for Carnival, I'd be able to enjoy it without jumping every few minutes.

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