I’d never been to a place like Vilcabamba. It’s situated in a valley in the southern part of Ecuador. You can take a plane and land outside of Loja, the nearest city, or a bus from Cuenca, as I did. The ride is a little over 4 hours. The nearer you get to Loja, the closer you watch the road as it’s a bit daunting climbing in altitude while the driver very carefully maneuvers the many curves alongside a raging river below.
Once in Loja the decision is to stay overnight or take a bus or taxi to Vilcabamba. I stayed a night at comfortable Hotel Vilcabamba, and caught a taxi the next morning.
When I first set eyes on Vilcabamba, I remember thinking, “What the heck!” It was a shock, and upon approaching the square I was brought back to the cowboy and Indian movies of the 1950’s and those little one-horse towns. Vilcabamba is centered around a square with a few small stores and restaurants surrounding it and a very old and simple church having a presence. There’s no need for traffic lights. Congestion is hardly a problem.
Vilcabamba’s tranquility is felt immediately. There are many old, strong, and healthy people who walk miles every day, or hike daily up the mountains to work. These strong and healthy people live to be well over 100, and so their lifestyle was studied by doctors from different parts of the world. And books were written about them.
It takes time to get used to being part of the village. To capture its essence, you can’t come and leave quickly. You stay, relax, settle your mind. There are a handful of hostals. Fruit trees are everywhere in yards – avocados, lemons, mangoes, etc. You don’t starve. The most delicious pineapple I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating was bought on a side street at a tiny grocery store off the square.
In Vilcabamba the food is tasty and the wine good; you sit and eat and get to know the people, and observe the day. The horses are hitched and children play in the streets next to the square. People from all walks of life sit for hours talking and eating, sometimes reading books gotten at the book exchange “up the street.” You read books you thought you’d never read because the selection is limited. And you enjoy them. And you take long walks into the mountains, and guided tours to beautiful Podocarpus National Park, study Spanish, listen and learn about the nation’s politics, hike Mandango for its spectacular views, rent a horse for the day and return when the sun sets with a feeling you’ve not experienced in many moons. Sometimes there’s a concert at one of the hostals given by performers touring Ecuador. Vilcabamba had its first UFO Convention in 2004. Through the years, there has been talk of UFO sitings in the mountains.
You meet people from the US, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, England, Japan, etc. Some stay and build their dream house in the mountains, or find one in town to renovate. Others stay for a short time, and are anxious to move on. Some visitors return annually. Others tour different countries because there are many sites they want to see all over South America. Sometimes they return to stay, and sometimes they don’t.
Phones, computers? Well, there are two simply operated internet places and a phone office. If it rains hard, well , there’s always tomorrow.
It’s a state of mind, you know. If you’re ready for the tranquil experiences, you’ll let nothing keep you from having them. If you’re not, nothing can make you stay.
Hello to: Glenda and Bob, Emmy and Brian, Isabelle and Sergi, Marjatta, Ana and Miguel, John and Flor, Henry and Esther, Eliza, Alicia, Carol and John.