Vilcabamba, where we live, means “valley of Huilco trees;” Huilco bamba. The Huilco is Adananthera Columbrina; a delicate, feathery leafed acacia with seeds that were ground up into a hallucinogenic snuff which supposedly helped men to hunt better. Some time back in the 1970’s an article was published in the New York Times about the unusually high number of centenarians on the hoof in Vilcabamba. One of many theories propounded was that the Huilco tree filter the air with their delicate leaflets as the branches wave gracefully in the breeze. Another is the water. Another is that a bunch of Nazis moved here after WWII and lied about their ages. One lady said it was the minerals in the panela, the sugar cane, that grows here. I think people were too poor to buy refined food, drink, or a lot of meat, and did a lot of walking up and down hills.
My friend Ruth, who lived here as a small girl, told me that she remembers a man who died when he was 120 years old. She said she remembered he still rode a horse, sitting up straight on its back, and that when he died, everyone came to the house to honor him. She says now that people have moved here and built houses the river isn’t clean enough to drink or wash in any more, and that this is why people here don’t live as long as they once did. Yet there are many strong, bright eyed old people here, walking up and down the mountains without a cane.
It is impossible to take a bad picture here in Vilcabamba, but the pictures on http://www.vilcahike.com/ are really beautiful, and he has a lot of detailed information about the local trails, from easy to difficult, 2 to 10 kms , mas o menos, on foot, horse, or mountain bike. Lest you sneeze at easy, remember that we are at altitude, and that these trails are rough and rocky. In Tungurahua we were offered a six hour hike up to a refuge. We sneezed and imagined we would do it in less. Eight hours later we staggered up to the orchid encrusted refuge, sore and wheezing, and spent the night under the enormous stars. That’s Ecuador.