When Spanish conquistador Ponce De Léon left Puerto Rico for Florida, perhaps he might have travelled south instead of north. In southern Ecuador there is a small city of about 5,000 with an additional 1,000 westerners (aka gringos). In Vilcabamba it is reputed that, because of the water, mild climate, abundance of fruits and vegetables, and the special oxidation qualities of herbs grown there, many people live over 100. Vilcabamba means “plain of the sacred trees.” Surrounded by majestic mountains, this is probably one of the most scenic valleys in the world. Amid stunning panoramas one dwells in a place of exceptional tranquility.
Retired hippies from the seventies hope to live another forty years. Buddhism, yoga, mystic paganism, and horse-back riding are available. Here multi-religious syncretic rap reaches a dizzy eloquence. Ambitious health nuts ingest twenty supplements a day, supplements like Siberian pine dust, flower pollen, silver nitrate, or the latest pill. Many of these westerners are living biological experiments who dawdle the day away discussing healthy chemicals. Here the Valley of Longevity is a Lotus Land paradise which may soon be turned into a suburban parking lot.
The dollar, Ecuador’s national currency, has respect here. Hotels run between fifteen to eighty dollars a day. I stayed at Ramses’s Rest for eighteen with solid wood floors and gorgeous hand-carved doors. This French-owned Pharonic sprawl features tortoise breakfast service, barking dogs, comfortable beds. Built in the early fifties, it features convenient open-air urinals for men.
There are about 5,000 sane North American retirees living in Cuenca, which has the best water in South America. While Cuenca is an attractive city with sound medical facilities, it also has a vibrant arts scene. Vilcabamba remains an interesting place to visit, yet I gladly returned home to fight the ice and sleet that gives one character, cynicism, and fervent prayer for spring melt.