I could smell that someone was burning a small wood fire in the distance. There was a breeze flowing through the sparse adobe rooms where Mark and I were taking a Reiki class. I have had a good bit of experience with Reiki through a practitioner who was a dear friend of mine in Iowa City. Mark had one healing experience with Reiki through my same dear friend when we traveled to Iowa City earlier this year. Yet here we were, both learning about how Reiki works and how to harness the energy to find peace and balance and healing through tuning in to the right energy frequency (I know, that’s over-simplifying it!!). Oh sure, we could learn this stuff in the States but it just isn’t the same. We are drawn to this special place by its energy. We are in a place where there are like-minded people. It’s the natural thing to do here. But that’s not to say we don’t think differently — we may have different life philosophies, political ideals, and we call the creative life force by different names. But Reiki is a way to find emotional and spiritual health and well-being from a beautiful soul.
View from land we are considering....
Mark and I have joined the local choir. It is an a capella group which sings and performs songs in several languages — a true international bent — with hopes of expanding to include local Ecuadorians. Our next performance will be in the local church in hopes that we can attract Ecuadorian people to the choir. There is a natural unspoken divide between locals and foreigners here, largely due to the language barrier. But the gringos are working on it. It’s all understandable and both sides are working to overcome the barriers. By and large, everyone you meet has a smile for you and a kind word, even if you don’t know what it means.
She really liked my chocolate cake batter!
So . . . .
. . . .
Vilcabamba is kind of like camp for grownups. We all have our favorite spot on the square in downtown Vilcabamba where we meet up with friends for a juice smoothie, we go to choir, we learn a new language, we practice Reiki, we eat incredibly delicious food in awe-inspiring places, we listen to live music, make art, sleep when we want, cook in our group kitchens, and push a bunch of tables together and eat meals made from whatever’s in the fridge with our friends.
Taking the 6:20 burro home from work
Gotta run. We’re off to a raw food potluck. I’m taking some of my almost-famous salsa. What’s that? You say you haven’t had it yet? C’mon down to Vilcabamba and I’ll make you a fresh batch!
The Romans called it “Carpe Diem”, enjoy the day or the moment. Ecuadorians call it “Disfrute la vida”, enjoy life, an epicurean way of life with a Latin touch.
We got up early Sunday morning. That’s what you have to do if you want the freshest best choice of fruits and vegetables at Vilcabamba’s market. The whole town shows up Sunday mornings to gather food for the week. There are plenty of mini grocery stores scattered throughout Vilcabamba, all about the size of the average American bedroom. But there are no grocery stores in the traditional American sense of the word.
House in our neighborhood in Vilcabamba
We find our bodies’ bio-rhythms naturally adjusting to the rhythms of the season here. In Oxford, we would go to bed around midnight and get up around 9 am. In Ecuador, sunrise happens at 7 am and sunset at 7pm. We wake up around sunrise (partly thanks to the countless chickens crowing everywhere!) and find ourselves getting sleepy at dark (could be all the walking we do each day!).
The place for expats to gather in Vilcabamba seems to be the Juice Factory. It’s a restaurant that sells organic smoothies and soups. People sit around for hours just chatting about world politics, the state of the US economy, astrophysics, or the last therapeutic massage they received down the street. They don’t dwell on what’s wrong with the world. They acknowledge that the American economy is going straight to hell in a handbasket, but they’ve done something about it. They left for a safer saner place where they can live a sustainable life free of growth hormones and processed sugars. Do we miss chips and packaged cookies and Haagen Dazs ice cream? You bet! But we’ve been completely satisfied eating fresh fruit just picked from the garden or orchard that day, or nuts, or REAL chocolate made from cocoa plants in Ecuador.
Andes Mountains as seen from our rooftop in Vilcabamba
Today we’ll go to the meat market and buy a whole fryer to cook for supper tonight. It will be so fresh, we probably heard it wake us up this morning! We’ll cook it with fresh green beans and potatoes that we got from the market yesterday. It’s an adjustment but totally worth it. I had an organic salad yesterday that was grown entirely from the restaurant owner’s garden and picked fresh that morning. It was fabulous! We have learned to understand the meaning of “Disfrute la vida”. People are much more in tune with Mother Earth here, and are deeply grateful for her blessings.
Three days after we left our comfortable home in Oxford Mississippi, we are settled in to our Casa Amarilla (Yellow House). We flew to Miami the first day and stayed the night — at least we got five hours of sleep before leaving at 3:30 AM for our flight to Quito Ecuador via a three-hour layover in Guayaquil. Quito is situated at an elevation of about 9,200 feet.
Elia - our Russian philosopher/translator/friend
We stayed the night in Quito near the presidential palace and met a lovely Russian girl, Elia (azalea without the “az”) who was staying at the same hostal as us. She had been in South America five months on a solo quest for life direction. She spoke fluent English and had picked up enough Spanish to be our interpreter for the evening, and so we had our first Ecuadorian meal. We had shrimp and loved the freshness and flavor — without the risk of toxins that come with our post-oil-spill Gulf shrimp. Delightful meal! Delightful company! She reminded us of Caitlin in her age, strength, grace, and quiet boldness.
Ecuadoran volcano from plane window
Yesterday started with another break-of-dawn flight from Quito to Loja. We saw breathtaking views of several snow-capped volcanoes, the tallest of which is about 22,000 feet. Our friends in Vilcabamba, Matt and Angela, had graciously arranged for someone to pick us up at the Loja airport, about 90 minutes north of Vilcabamba. We had carried a couple huge duffel bags of health food to them from their warehouse in the States. So the logistics of handling nine pieces of baggage through six airport encounters, customs, and three hotels left us exhausted at the end of the trip. But we’re not through with our story yet. When our Spanish-speaking driver dropped us at the Vilcabamba cabana we had reserved, we thought our travels were over for a couple of months. When the owner showed up, he looked at our luggage and shrugged. We didn’t understand until we started up the path from the base reception area to our cabana. It was a five-minute walk/hike nearly straight up a narrow dirt path to our incredibly primitive cabin, which didn’t really resemble the photo on the website. Very run down. Not just primitive. If we were looking to get away from it all in a truly remote location, it was perfect. But we are trying to decide if this is the place we want to live. So we didn’t unpack. We took a taxi (all of them are 4WDs here for good reason!) into Vilcabamba is search of alternative housing. We found a nice place called Casa Amarilla. It has five separate bedroom/bathroom spaces that all share a kitchen. Makes for a small community and lots of conversation and networking. Just what we need right now. So we got a taxi to take us back to our cabana to pick up our luggage. It took two trips each loaded with luggage straight up and straight down the hill to our cabana.
Anyway, we’ve already begun to see the magic of this sacred valley in action. More in the next post.