Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.
Vilcabamba, Ecuador, Where You Can Live to 100
VILCABAMBA, ECUADOR - Interested in living way into your 100s? Then the out of the way, village of Vilcabamba in the southern region of Ecuador is just the place for you.
Vilacabamba is located in about 28 miles south of Loja, about 30 minutes by bus, in the Sacred Valley, commonly called the Valley of Longevity. Many who have lived here have claimed to have lived to 120 or even 135 years of age. Yes, you read that right. But with considerable research these claims have been determined exaggeration. Rather than the valley being a place of longevity, instead it is thought that this quiet little community in the valley is more about stressfree living and healthy eating. Add a bit of exercise and good treatment of the elderly by the community and you have a recipe for long life. Since many of the elderly do not have birth certificates, age is hard to verify.
This southern region of the country was once considered a playground for the Incas, a historical retreat for Incan royalty. The valley is protected by Mandango, The Sleeping Inca, a mountain that overlooks the valley.
All I know, is when I visited Vilcabamba I felt more alive and vibrant, but maybe it was the wonderful, fresh, in the shell, coconut water that I enjoyed on a perfect sunny day. Or maybe it was Mandango watching over me.
Regardless, in this laid back little village, that seems to draw both retirees and free spirited bohemian types, it was wonderful to wile away the afternoon in a little corner café and watch the activities of daily life. A horse with rider road past us on the street, hooves clattering on the street, echoing off the buildings. A nearby vendor was selling ice cream and by the look of all the people seated along the edge of the park, ice cream cones in hand, he was doing a wonderful business. As we finished our meal at a sidewalk table of the little café, we noticed on the opposite side of the plaza that a number of people were congregating.
Across the plaza from there we enjoyed lunch stood a lovely, little church. Entering we noted there was a simplicity to the interior, wood floor to ceiling, from pillars and arches to the pews. It was very unlike the ornate churches we had seen in Cuenca and Loja, but this church seemed to fit this little town perfectly.
Outside on the steps of the church sat a number of locals, and a few visitors, watching as young man juggled batons with ends on fire. Another young man with his face painted in mime waited for his turn to entertain. The young children watched mesmerized from the church steps at the magic and mastery of the performance.
Not far away were some young people selling handmade jewelry, strewn on the ground on the edge of the park. I don't know if they were living in town or if they were just making a bit of money as they passed on through. Either way, it added to the local color.
This little village is only a few blocks in any direction. A few restaurants and shops lined the streets surrounding the plaza that was the central meeting point of the town.
A couple, dressed in full motorcycle leathers pulled into town on their bikes, with a roar and throwing a bit of dust from their tires in the dirt. They were traveling all over the world on their motorcycles. Funny to me that they had found this little village in the Valley of Longevity on their journey.
We headed back to the little bus station a couple blocks from the main plaza to continue on our journey through Ecuador. The market was in full swing. There was a bit of everything you would see at a larger market in a more sizeable town, including some food being cooked on grills. I glanced at the grills to see if I could identify what was being cooked. I thought it may have been guinea pig (cuy), but I was not sure.
Not an unusual sight on the streets of Vilcabama