Vilcabamba, Ecuador – The Valley of Longevity

After a wonderful week in the Galapagos, Lee and I knew we’d need some time to prepare for what would be a dramatic increase in elevation, moving from sea level to hiking the Inca Trail next week (en route to Machu Picchu), including some mountain passes of over 13,000 ft.  So on the advice of a friend (thanks Lynn!), we headed to Vilcabamba, a small community at 5500′ in the Andes of southern Ecuador to spend a few days acclimating, relaxing, and – hopefully! – building some extra red blood cells.IMG_4239

The village has long been known as the “Valley of Longevity” due to reports of many residents who lived to well over 100 years old. While a recent study by Harvard researchers has cast doubts about those claims, the reputation has stuck and for decades the area has attracted an interesting mix of artists, hikers, New Age explorers, and ex-pat retirees drawn by its beautiful scenery, its water (famed for its alleged life-extending minerals), and a remarkably a low cost of living. IMG_4361

We enjoyed a wonderful few days there, alternately exploring the town and its charming town square…

…enjoying our lovely hotel, the Hosteria Izhcayluma that included daily yoga (not Lee!), and the occasional massage (thanks again Lynn!)…

… and plenty of opportunities for building those red blood cells.  That included some great hiking right from the hotel…

… and a day of mountain biking with a terrific local guide (Chino’s Cycles).

But the highlight of our outdoor activities was hiking up a dramatically beautiful ridge to just over 11,000 ft on the Mirador Trail in Podocarpus National Park (named for the presence of the podocarpus tree, apparently the only conifer in Ecuador – go figure!).

(not to worry – the ropes were real but Lee was just doing that for effect – he’s still alive!).

We also enjoyed another array of beautiful mountain flowers along the way – an added treat!

And once again, we were incredibly fortunate to meet up with a wonderful group of people staying at our hotel. Like so many we have met on this trip, they again awed and inspired us with their sense of adventure, wide interests, and extensive travel experience.

The group included several adventurous US ex-pats who have settled in nearby Cuenca, including a delightfully engaging retired professor and Fulbright scholar, a wonderful Canadian couple who spend at least 3 months traveling abroad each year, and an amazing Swiss couple who have chosen to spend the last four years of their “retirement” biking around the world, having visited 42 countries to date (did I mention the 70 kg of gear they haul on their bikes?) – an amazing group!

We left feeling both rested and energized, inspired, and with any luck, circulating a few more red cells for our next stop – Cusco, Peru at 11,000′ – onward and upward!

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