A vacation from vacation? Yes, its’s tiring work having fun every day! Where to? Vilcabamba had been on our radar for a while, having read about its reputation as the “Valley of Longevity,” with mineral rich spring water and crisp mountain air. That along with its location in Ecuador’s Southern Andes Mountains at an elevation of 5000ft, a setting which provides continuous spring-like conditions, has attracted a growing expat population of greying hippies, new agers, and backpackers seeking the fountain of youth and inexpensive housing. We had to check it out!
Hostal Izhcayluma was recommended as the place to stay. Their $15.00 per person shuttle from their sister hostal, La Cigale, which was only a block from our apartment, as well as a line from their website (Izhcayluma is NOT a place for perpetually grouchy people) cinched the deal. Hostal Izhcayluma, promotes itself as a “luxury resort spa priced for backpackers” and truly has to be one of the best travel values in Ecuador or all of South America.With a bed in the dorm room going for $9.50 and luxury private cabins starting at just $39.00, the resort has a reputation as the place to go to “relax, enjoy, forget time and stay awhile.” Free morning yoga classes, a wonderful restaurant with some German dishes, and super affordable spa treatments (90 minute, deep tissue massages for $24.00, we both indulged) definitely promoted well-being. Bird calls filled the air and the distinctive face of 6,000ft high Cerro Mandango, god lying down, watched over the valley. Three thousand feet lower in altitude and much farther south, Vilcabamba was about 10 degrees warmer, which was a much-needed reprieve from the chilly days and nights we were experiencing in Cuenca.
At the reception desk are numerous brochures for off-site activities in the valley. For reasons unknown I’ve become attracted to horseback riding later in life. With naïve enthusiasm I was immediately drawn to the five-hour ride on “galloping horses” to Cascada El Palto high in the surrounding mountains. I’ve been riding about a dozen times, mostly on mountain trails, and the horses walked, occasionally trotted short distances, but never galloped. Thinking this was hyperbole from the corral, I was reassured by the sign-up sheet that asked for your riding experience. A family of five marked inexperienced. I thought this was a good sign and that the group would saunter slowly through the countryside for the novices. They must have been a family of vacationing gauchos from Argentina, because as soon as our guide shouted VAMANOS! we galloped out of Vilcabamba, into the mountains, and back. I walked liked a saddle-sore cowboy for a week after that.
A disc-jockey blasted “You can’t always get what you want” from loud-speakers setup on the steps of the church across from the plaza as we walked along vendors’ craft tables in the street. Trophies were visible on the DJ’s table as were bags of dog food under it. To our delight, Vilcabamba was having its Best Dressed Dog competition today and later in the afternoon a Paso Fino, fine step, horse show. About twenty proud and good-humored dog owners entertained a large crowd through several rounds of judging. Several dogs had cheering sections in the crowd. One or two ran away out of embarrassment, I think. Trophies and bags of dog food were presented to the winners by a tiara and sash wearing Miss Vilcabamba.
Immediately after the awards were presented the crowd rushed to the other side of the plaza where the horse show was ready to start. Horsemen with perfect posture, dressed in immaculate white shirts, pants and hats, paraded their mounts up and down the dusty street to the sound of lively Spanish music.
The restaurant porches around the plaza were full of aging gringos, drinking beer, sipping wine, observing from afar. Occasional a whiff of pot floated down the street. “My friend is really good at colonics, she’ll be here soon” was an odd conversation snippet we overheard.
We were glad we visited Vilbamba for a long weekend, but were relieved we hadn’t committed to spending more time there. Thoroughly relaxed we headed back to Cuenca.