Another gorgeous bus ride through the mountains took us to our last stop in Ecuador – the very small mountain town of Vilcabamba. Legend has it this quirky town is home to some of the oldest people on earth. Four elements combine here to create the perfect healthy environment: 1) the constant pleasant mild climate, 2) fresh mineral-laden water from the mountains, 3) nutrient-rich soil that produces delicious fruits and vegetables, and 4) steep terrain which basically forces people to walk a lot and helps them stay fit.
We checked into Jardin Escondido, a cute hostel just a block from the main square which had a pool, a jacuzzi, two cute kittens, a nice garden and included a delicious full breakfast.
As recommended by a few people, we took a cab a few kilometers outside of town to the beautiful mountainside Hostel Izhcayluma. From here, we went on a breathtaking hike through the mountains and soaked in the incredible views of the town below. We saw many butterflies, birds, horses and interesting colorful flowers and plants. It was an amazing and invigorating hike and we began to see why so many foreigners move here – it’s just gorgeous.
Taking advantage of the abundant fresh organic produce in Vilcabamba, we enjoyed delicious papaya, orange and mora (blackberry – my favorite!) juices at Natural Yogurt, as well as scrumptious salads. Although not Ecuadorian, we found an outstanding Mexican place called La Terraza on a corner of the main square that served up delicious chicken fajitas, guacamole and beer and only set us back $11 for dinner!
While Erik worked one day, I managed to snag an appointment with the best masseuse in town. Lola, the wife of Shanta who runs Shanta’s Restaurant, is rumored to give people the best massages of their lives. First, she has you stand in front of her and she assesses your posture and body in order to see where she needs to work. This sweet, warm 5 foot tall woman gave me an incredible massage using Swedish, Thai and Shiatsu techniques. For 80 minutes, she pulled, squeezed, and twisted my body in ways I didn’t know it could move. At one point, I was laying on my stomach and Lola was standing on my lower back while at the same time using her hands to massage my shoulders. She has such incredibly powerful positive energy and was very generous with her spirit. Afterwards, she had a cup of herbal tea and a cookie waiting for me. I left feeling possibly the best I’ve ever felt after a massage. In New York, I would have paid over $100 for such a long and thorough body overhaul. And although I was sore the next day, I could not believe this amazing massage only cost me $18!
Our last day was spent with an amazing lifetime Vilcabamban named Holger exploring the exquisite mountains on horseback. There are many companies around town offering horseback riding tours. But, we went with the local man about whom we had read rave reviews. Holger picked us up in town and I jumped on Corazon (Spanish for “heart) who would be my ride for the day.
After Holger taught us the basics, we walked through town and across a small river and began our ascent up into the mountains towards our destination – a waterfall. Erik rode horses in camp as a kid and we rode horses in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, as well. But I am still very much a novice. This was quite advanced – we were trusting these horses with our lives as we walked up and down steep, narrow trails alongside the mountains. The adrenaline was pumping for a good four hours.
Holger assured us that his horses were strong and knew the trails well. Although at one point when Corazon and I were leading, he got a bit confused and I had some trouble redirecting him. It was also a bit scary when we came upon cows in the small path and these animals had to figure out how to get past each other on the edges of mountains. Gulp.
Our trusty guide was very patient with me and taught me that the horse could feel my tension and that it was better for us both if I relaxed. The views were spectacular and the horses were very sweet and well cared for. It was very obvious that Holger really loves his horses. He was riding Señor that day, but said that he rides them all and that they are all his favorites. He is such a genuine and kind man who loves his horses, his town, his country and his fellow Vilcabambans. Holger said hello to everyone we passed and seemed to know everyone in town. Although it basically offset the massage I had gotten the day before, we were thrilled to have spent the day with Holger and his horses.
Vilcabamba was a relaxing and revitalizing way to conclude our time spent in Ecuador. The gorgeous mountain views, delicious food and juices, perfectly crisp weather and warm, friendly people made us realize just why people love this town and how it makes you feel like you can live forever.