Vilcabamba is a village in the southern region of Ecuador, in the Loja province, about 45 km (28 mi) from the city of Loja. The etymology of the name “Vilcabamba” apparently derives from the Quichua “huilco pamba.” Huilco denotes the sacred trees, Anadenanthera colubrina, that inhabit the region; pamba (cognate with pampa) is a word meaning “a plain”. The area has been referred to as the “Playground of the Inca” which refers to its historic use as a retreat for Incan royalty. The valley is overlooked by a mountain called Mandango, the Sleeping Inca, whose presence is said to protect the area from earthquakes and other natural disasters.
We cheated and took a van directly to Hostal Izhcayluma from Cuenca. It was only $15 each for the van and by using local transportation and two buses it would have cost us $12.50 each and taken two hours longer. Rainbows dogged our ride to the sacred valley. The Hostal was owned by two dreadlocked German brothers, and set on a scenic hillside about a klick west of town. We got a clean, spacious, high-ceilinged room with shared bath for $12.50 a night with a hammock on the long porch outside. It was well within our budget for this trip. The open sided restaurant has vegetarian substitutes for all the main dishes using locally produced organic tempe.
Vilcabamba is notorious for several reasons. First, it ranks with Hunza as a “Longevity. Valley ” with many centenarians, and second, it is well-known as a retirement refuge for old, used freaks from California, or with Californian sentiments; the healy-feely granola lifestyle, and off the wall UFO conspiracy theories. Personally, hanging out at the Juice Factory on the main square pretty much just felt like home – organic juice and healthy food, and plenty of expats raising organic veges and animals, escaping the Western ratrace in town gossiping with friends. A preponderance of gray and/or white haired ladies with Panama hats decorated with ribbons and beads and feathers. Pretty much like the same sort of Rock and Roll Raj refugees who I find at the 1905 farmers market in Kathmandu every Saturday…my kind of folks.
Do the locals really regularly live for over 100 years? Most scientific studies believe it to be a myth, but, like Hunza, the old folks eat fresh vegetables straight from the garden – no processed, chemically-preserved, packaged food – exercise regularly walking up and down the steep hillsides and working their gardens by hand. The glacial fed spring water is known to contain a high colloidal mineral content…all of that, plus the right genes are known to be the only proven source of long life. Though the locals don’t have verifiable birth certificates to authenticate their exaggerated claims, what I was able to ascertain was the fact that one of the large dogs at the hotel was sixteen years old and still going strong, and the average lifespan for that breed was about ten to twelve years, and the horses our guide raised lived to fifty, when horses normally only live to twenty-five. Everything else I’ll leave to your own judgement.
We stayed for four days, meditating at the Vipassana Center, drinking fresh juice on the square, hiking the trails and riding horses around Mandango Mountain. Getting the feel of the place and trying to decide if it qualified to be included in the retirement possibilities for the near future…it did, and high on my list, an eclectic list which includes such places as Pokhara, Nepal, Chiang Mai, Thailand, Ubud, Bali, and the north of the North Island of New Zealand.
Around and around I go, where I retire, I still don’t know!
Stay tuned for the next travel adventure, two days on dirt roads through the cloud forest to walk across a long bridge at the Ecuador/Peru border at La Balsa and head to Chachapoyas to view the remote Pre-Incan ruins of Kuélap!