Tuesday 15 January 2019

ECUADOR: Vilcabamba The Valley of Longevity Where Villagers Exaggerate Their Ages To Gain Prestige In The Community

Vilcabamba, meaning Sacred Valley, is a quiet, scenic, peaceful valley near the Podocarpus National Park in southern Ecuador.

Vilcabamba is a village in the southern region of Ecuador, in Loja Province, about 45 km (28 mi) from the city of Loja. The etymology of the name Vilcabamba apparently derives from the Quichua “huilco pamba.”

Huilco denotes the sacred trees, Anadenanthera colubrina, that inhabit the region; pamba is a word meaning a plain. The area has been referred to as the Playground of the Inca which refers to its historic use as a retreat for Incan royalty.

The valley is overlooked by a mountain called Mandango, the Sleeping Inca, whose presence is said to protect the area from earthquakes and other natural disasters.

In the 1970s a spotlight was shone upon the tiny village of Vilcabamaba. Speculation grew in some circles that the inhabitants lived extraordinary long lives, it was and to an extent still is speculated that they lived up to 130 years old.

Since then there has been an influx of expats from all over the world that has changed the face of Vilcabamba. The expats of course have brought some of their own culture to the city creating a small melting pot of cultures and a village that feels quite different than the rest of the country.

Located in a historical and scenic valley, it is a common destination for tourists, in part because it is widely believed that its inhabitants grow to a very old age.

Locals assert that it is not uncommon to see a person reach 100 years of age and it is claimed that many have gotten to 120, even up to 135, which would make it an area with the oldest inhabitants in the world. It is often called the Valley of Longevity.

Longevity in Vilcabamba has been attributed to nothing more special than the benefits of exercise, a healthy diet and good treatment of the elderly by the community. Longevity of the residents has also been attributed to a result of migration of younger people to cities.

Even as Vilcabamba's international fame grew, scientists continued to investigate the secret of the villagers' longevity, but some were beginning to grow skeptical.

In particular, Dr. Alexander Leaf, the Harvard Medical School researcher who had been among the first to conduct research in Vilcabamba, was having doubts. His suspicions were aroused when he realized that the villagers were inconsistent in their self-reported ages.

For instance, in 1971 he had met a man who reported his age as 122. When Leaf returned three years later, that same man claimed to be 134 years old.

Leaf then persuaded Dr. Richard Mazess of the University of Wisconsin Madison and Dr. Sylvia Forman of the University of California Berkeley to help determine the correct ages of Vilcabamba's elderly population.

They reached the conclusion that there was not a single centenarian living in Vilcabamba. The oldest person in the village was found to be 96 years old.

The average age of those claiming to be over 100 years was actually 86 years. The researchers presented these results on February 27, 1978, at a workshop at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.

Far from being the Valley of Longevity, the researchers concluded that Individual longevity in Vilcabamba is little, if any, different from that found throughout the rest of the world. Further, they reported that Life expectancy corrected for exaggeration at all ages in Vilcabamba and Loja is, in fact, less than in the U.S.

Mazess and Forman identified two sources of error. First, the villagers systematically exaggerated their ages and the older they grew, the greater their exaggerations became. Mazess and Forman provided the example of Miguel Carpio Mendieta (MCM):

Apparently MCM did not begin exaggerating his age until later in life. When he was 61 in 1944 he reported an age of 70. Five years later he was reputedly 80. In 1970, at age 87, he was reputedly 121, and in 1974, at 91, he was 127.

The researchers speculated that the villagers had originally exaggerated their ages in order to gain prestige in the community. This practice appeared to have been occurring for generations, long before academic researchers had arrived in the village.

Additionally Dr. Leaf speculated that the international publicity, and subsequent rise in tourism, may have encouraged the villagers' exaggerations to grow more prolific.

The second source of error was the widespread use of identical names in the small community. This had initially confused researchers who had studied the baptismal and birth records.

The birth-date of an identically named uncle or father would appear to confirm the extreme longevity of a resident. By asking the Vilcabambans for the names of their godparents, the researchers were able to identify the correct records for each resident.

It turned out that Vilcabamba did actually have a higher than normal percentage of elderly people, but that this was caused by migration patterns: Young people tended to move out of the area, while the elderly moved in.

Although the Vilcabambans did not enjoy greater longevity than the rest of the world, researchers noted that the Vilcabamban lifestyle, which included hard work in a high altitude combined with a low-calorie, low-animal-fat diet, did seem to keep the villagers healthy and vigorous in their old age.

It is a one hour bus ride from the City of Loja. There are international buses from Piura for 10 hours at US$10 on Peru´s Panamerican Highway 3 times daily. Transportes Loja has buses from Loja throughout Ecuador. Access is also possible from Iquitos & Chachapoyas in Peru via the frontier at Balsas & Zumba

Get a taxi from Loja cooperativa 11. de Mayo taxi costs 2 USD p.p. and as soon as four people are in the taxi it takes about 40 mins. to Vilcabamba.

Get a bus from Loja to Vilcabamba 1.25 USD, from Loja bus terminal about hour and a half ride.

From Jaen in Peru: If you want to travel from Peru directly to Vilcabamba and enjoy beautiful views on the way, you can opt for crossing the border in La Balsa.

A camioneta cooperative is run from the main square. It is 1.25$ to get around pretty much everywhere in the town.

A camioneta to the waterfall trail is 3 USD though, takes about 10 mins from main plaza.

Visit Las Palmas cloud forest reserve.

Visit Rumi Wilco Nature Reserve, Entrance US$ 2 p.person, good for several visits.

Hike to the waterfall, about 1 hour 30 Minutes walk uphill, great landscape, nice waterfall, take your swimmers. A gate may be locked and blocking the path to the fall. You can get through another gate and through the barb wire further to the right.

Self-guided treks or hire a guide into the surrounding mountains or the national park Podocarpus. Many hotels including Cabanas Rio Yambala, Rendez-Vous, Rumi Wilco, and Izhcayluma have trail maps. Or just pick a direction and walk the dirt roads going into the countryside it is beautiful.

Don't take any valuables up the Mandango mountain, many armed robberies have occured there over the years, in July 2011 a group of tourists were robbed by men with machetes. All other trails appear to be safe.

Rent a mountain bike at El Chino corner of Diego Vaca de Vega & Jose David Toledo, $12 per day and $15 for a mountain bike. Ask for a map of where to go.

Do a 2 hour, 4 hour, or 1-3 day horse-riding trips. There are quite a few reputable tour operations in town.

Tours to Las Palmas cloud forest in the Podocarpus National Park can be arranged through Cabanas Rio Yambala, 4km out of town. Please note, due to misuse, tours to Las Palmas and the park can no longer be arranged through the town guides.

Get a massage, manicure, pedicure or waxi at a few locations in town or at Hosteria Izhcayluma, 2km south of town. Massages at the salon next to Yogurt cafe just off the main square are good and cost $10 for one hour.

The best massages in town, however, are done by Lola, of Shanta's restaurant/bar 10 minute walk from parque central, on road to Craig's Book Exchange. She only does two per day and appointments are hard to come by, but it's worth the effort.

She starts by giving you an all-over assessment of what's needed, then proceeds to give a powerful manipulative massage, incorporating many modalities: chiropractic, Swedish, Eastern styles. She's very empathic and has 14 years experience plus lots of training. She uses hot oil, mmm.. $14 for 80 minutes.

Spend a bucolic afternoon at one of the restaurants around the main plaza.

Yoga, Community Cultural Center at the corner of Agua de Hierro and La Paz, 1 block behind Rendez-Vous hotel. 10am-12pm. Tuesdays and Fridays at 10am. Beginning-Intermediate yoga. Mats provided. Nice people, good class. Only $3 for 2 hours! $3.

Madre Tierra Resort and Spa north of the river on the hill, 2 km north of Vilcabamba Center. 8am to 8pm. Full service spa including massage, colon hydrotherapy, reflexology, clay baths, steam baths, manicures, pedicures, facials and jacuzzi.

See the website for photos of this very special Oasis in the Andes. Nominated five times for the Best Hotel and Spa in Ecuador by World Travel Awards. varies.

Blanca Toledo, Barrio Los Huilcos, Blanca is an experienced masseuse with 20 years of practice in Vilcabamba. She specializes in body massage with a bit of reiki and reflexology. Also offers, colonic hydrotherapy, facial and hair treatments and waxing. Call her in advance for an appointment.

Artesanal-Prima Vera-Handicrafts, Sucre st. 10-30 in front of Hidden Garden Hotel. AM-PM. Offers locally made souvenirs, recycled paper books and upcycled hand bags and purses in fabric, organic shade-grown coffee, granola, marmalades, beauty products like propolis cream, natural soaps, horse mane gloves, clay, ballon balls, hand-made cards, postcards, mail service/stamps, etc.
The Juice Factory: Located on the central plaza, is one of the most popular hang-outs for ex-pats. Both, a restaurant, and small health food store, they serve a scrumptious natural breakfast and lunch. All produce is washed before preparation. 9AM-4PM Tues-Sat

Sambucas: Located on the central plaza is a popular spot for Europeans and Americans, this restaurant is run by a bilingual staff that serves incredible clean washed produce and healthy natural meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Their Whole Wheat Crust Vegetarian Pizza is surpassed by none. Hours of operation are variable.

La Terraza: Central Plaza at corner of Diego Vaca de Vega and Bolivar. Serves Mexican and Italian food. Excellent chicken fajitas and nachos. Mains are $3 to $6.

Charlito's: Found on Diego Vaca de Vega, above Sucre, Run by a friendly Virginian named Charlie, they have good cheap food and drinks. The veggie sandwich is especially recommended, inexpensive and filling.

Shanta's Bar: Calle Diego Vaca de Vaga, past the bridge, 15 minute walk East of town. Cool atmosphere with a cowboy vibe. Bar seats are horse saddles and the walls are covered in international money, weird animal hides, and neat photos. Serves pizza, filet mignon, and pasta. Good food. Mains $3 to 6$. Large menu of drinks, including their homemade Snake Drink moonshine.

Madre Tierra Restaurant and Bakery, 2 km north of Vilcabamba Center north of the river on the hill. 8am to 8pm. North American and Ecuadorian home style cooking from scratch with unique ambiance and exceptional views of Mandango and the Valley of Longevity.

Some Raw options as the new owners are health minded. They have thrown out the microwaves, aluminum, msg, flouride salt and brought in stainless steel and Vita Mix and Blend Tec blenders. Many ingredients are grown on site in small gardens including local herbs in the Garden of the Elders.

Water here is pumped from their own well to insure a great experience inside and outside of your body. A good variety of vegetarian options are available. Featuring Ecuadorian beers, Argentinian and Chilean wines, herbal teas, horchata, local coffee, including simple espresso the European style.

Pizza, homemade whole grain breads, cinnamon rolls, banana bread, fresh soups, and the best hamburgers in Southern Ecuador as voted by Jeff, a local gringo. This is one Ecuadorian kitchen that you can inspect as it is out in the open with nothing to hide here.

Several salads on the menu that will delight your eyes and your taste buds as well. Experience this Oasis in the Andes just like Mike Adams the Health Ranger of NaturalNewsdotcom. $2 and above.

Natural Yogurt: Calle Bolivar Excelent breakfast for $2-3 including the ecuadorian staple of fruit salad and granola. Specialises in Crepes.

Mexibamba: Calle Valle Sagrado Good quality Mexican, excelent Mole. Mains $6-10.

La Esquina: Calle Sucre Fair quality food for local restaurants. Mains $3-5.

El Punto, situated at the corner of Sucre & Diego Vaca de Vega. A popular hang-out. Wednesday nights there is an informal poker game amongst the ex-pats who live here. Weekend nights a band usually plays.

Charlito's, found just up the block from El Punto. A friendly place to hang out and meet people. Gavin the Kiwi is often here and has many drunken stories to tell.

Madre Tierra Smoothie and Pool Bar, 2 km north of Vilcabamba Center north of the river on the hillside. noon to 9pm. Wide variety of beverages available in the restaurant or beside the pool and fountains set in this beautiful garden setting .

From herbal teas, local coffee, and espresso to fresh fruit juices, local beers, imported wines, and liquors, refreshment is experienced at Madre Tierra.

Accomodation in Vilcabamba

Hosteria Ruinas De Quinara formerly called Hostel Agua De Hierro is under new management same family as former owner, and it's actually a nice place to stay, with swimming pool, jacuzzis, sauna, steam room, bar, all the amenities.

Dorm beds for $10, private rooms $15 per person regardless of one or two full-sized beds in the room. Long-term rentals available for $150/month. You may see reference to a terrible saga of the former owner slipping horse tranquilizers into female resident's drinks, then using his master key to get into their rooms at night and raping them.

This repeatedly happened over the course of many years, it was even mentioned in the 2004 Lonely Planet guidebook. As of early 2009, this man has finally been run out of town, and the police at last have a warrant out for his arrest. In 2012 there was a report of the new owners son harassing a female traveller.

Cabanas Rio Yambala is simply the best spot in Vilacabamba, whether you are looking a place to relax for a few weeks during your travels; a retreat in paradise; a place to land, find your feet and get good advice while considering the possibility of settling here; or simply a few days adventure with the best trekking, birding, scenery and access to the Podocarpus National Park in Vilcabamba.

Visit waterfalls in Ecuador's most biodiverse cloud forest, lakes in the alpine paramo and our unique Tree Canopy Adventure. Reasonable monthly rates are offered.

Hostel Le Rendez-Vous: Calle Diego Vaca de Vega 06-43. Owners are a French couple Isabelle and Serge. Beautiful cabanas around a garden. Very clean, very nice, and lots of hot water. Breakfast is included: home-made bread, eggs or fruit salad, fresh fruit juice, coffee, tea, hot chocolate.

1 person is $15 per night, 2 people are $12 per person per night, and 3 people are $11 per person per night. They have a large collection of DVDs with a portable TV/DVD player $4/day, hammocks, information booklets on Vilcabamba, Ecuador, and Peru, hiking maps of the area, and WiFi.

Hosteria Izhcayluma: Owners are 2 German brothers, Peter and Dieter. Located about 2KM South of town, overlooking the valley. Different kind of accommodation, surrounded by fantastic tropical gardens. Dormitory bed for $ 9.50, double room for $12-15 p.person, single room for $19.

Generous buffet breakfast for 3,90 USD/person: homemade bread, fruit salad with homemade yogurt and granola, fresh fruit juice, home grown coffee and tea as much as you like, etc. Private cabanas also available for more. A swimming pool and spa services,massages, facials, etc. are available.

Several self guided hiking trails are offered in the Vilcabamba area with excellent maps based on air fotos. The panorama restaurant with great views is also open for lunch and dinner. They have a large collection of DVDs which can be watched, last one starting at 5PM. On-site bar with a pool table and ping pong table opens at 7PM. New big Yoga Shala with once a day free yoga class for their hostel guests.

There's a community of international travelers to be found. Wi-Fi connection for free. This place is one of a kind and definitely worth a visit, even if only for a meal with the incredible view.

La Florida Long-term rentals only. Basic but decent one-bedroom duplexes with private bathroom and kitchen for $150/month. Rooms with private bathroom and shared kitchen for $100/month. Room with shared bathroom and shared kitchen for $80/month. Located across the street from Agua de Hierro.

Las Margaritas, one block south of Church. Probably the best value hotel in town. Nice modern rooms with cable TV and private hot water bathrooms, swimming pool and breakfast included, for only $15 (single) per night.

Madre Tierra Resort and Spa, 2 km north of Vilcabamba Center north of the river on the hillside. checkin: 3pm; checkout: 11:am. A recent guest to this destination Hotel, Spa, Restaurant and Conference Center described his stay here as just like being on Maui.

He was referring to the beautiful, lush vegetation and general feel of this unique jewel in the Andes. At an elevation of 5000 feet, a short distance south of the equator, the consistent Spring-like climate here is conducive to growing delicious organic fruits and vegetables year round.

In fact many of the ingredients in Madre Tierra's lobby restaurant are harvested from gardens on site or just down the road. New owners in May of 2010 are health minded and have cleansed the kitchen of aluminum cookware, microwave ovens, fluoride salt and MSG. It is a good start on the way to a goal of exclusively organic fruits, produce and natural meat sources.

An oasis on a hill overlooking the Valley of Longevity and Mandango, many guests have a difficult time leaving this special place. The desert menu includes a full range of natural, non fattening Spa services that are as memorable as the Bananas Flambe ado. Madre Tierra has been nominated by travel agents five times by the World Travel Awards, Best Hotel and Spa in Ecuador. Free internet in all rooms. $19 and up.

Rumi Wilco. This is a protected forest area that can be visited for hiking during the day, and that also offers eco-lodging and camping possibilities. The entrance of the reserve is a 10 minute walk from the plaza. Run by a family of argentinian biologists, this is a place for true lovers of nature.

A very peaceful and rustic place to stay. The camping area is 10 minutes past the main entrance, by a forest path along Rio Chamba. Remember your torch. Prices are 5$ per person for camping, 10$ for the shared adobe eco-lodges, $36 for the river cabins, up to 4 people.

They also offer the opportunity of volunteering if you're really interested in getting to know better this magical place; in that case you would help them 4 hours per day and would get a 20% discount on the price of the lodge or camping.

Montesuenos. Montesuenos is a few minutes out of town on a serene mountaintop and is an artistic masterpiece. Former astronaut Brian O'Leary and his artist wife Meredith Miller built their eclectic architectural dream abode and since Brian's passing, Meredith welcomes guests from around the world.

The Dove's Nest Guest House includes the Butterfly Room, Blue Room, Dragon Room and Fairy Grotto. Montesuenos also hosts workshops, musical gatherings and the occasional drumming circles. If you seek peace, beauty and tranquility, you may find this one of a kind Vilcabamba treasure, worth a visit. $30.

Internet. In addition to many local Cabinas where computers and WIFI are available for $1/hour, monthly service of a comparable quality and price to that of the US is also available, and it is fairly reliable.

Hospitals. There is a small local hospital that is free for everyone. They provide good care for many emergencies, as well as free transportation to Loja for situations they cannot handle.

Pharmacies. There are many small, family-run Farmacias in town. Prices are less than US for some things, but more for others. While many US drugs are not available, most common chronic and acute conditions are treatable with available equivalent medications.

Dentists. There are good dentists here and in Loja. Cost of a visit including a filling is about $25.

Veterinarians. There is at least one full time Veterinarian here.

Medical Doctors. There are several general practitioners, a few specialty Medical Doctors, and an alternative/homeopathic MD as well, Dr. Diana Armigos, who lives in Loja and comes here during the week.

Chiropractors. Currently, there is one Chiropractor, Dr. Jim Braman, a Palmer graduate practicing traditional manipulation.

Massage Therapists. There are many practitioners with widely varying techniques and methods. Most have flyers at prominent locations in the town square.

Hypnotherapists. There are local hypnosis practitioners such as, Michael Grady, certified from 4 accredited hypnosis schools for all sorts of applications.

Alternative Practitioners. Many people with chronic health problems come to Vilcabamba for healing. Modalities of care available include: Acupuncture, Micro-current Therapy, Bio-feedback Therapy, Herbal Therapy, and Reiki, just to name a few.

Crossing to Peru. There are three road crossings from Ecuador to Peru. The two closer to the coast are the more conventional ones.

The crossing from Loja / Vilcabamba into Jaén is off the beaten track, more challenging but offers incredible vistas all the way. From Loja / Vilcabamba it is 7/6 hours and 9/8 dollars by bus to Zumba, a few times a day (5am, 8, 10.45, 12.50pm, 14, 17.30, 21.30). The last 50km are very curvy; some landslides and stones cover the road.

Mainly in the raining the road might sometimes be closed for buses and you then need to change in one of the towns to take a collectivo pick up for the final part to Zumba. From Zumba there are two to three earliest at 8 am rancheras trucks with wooden benches in the back for 2.25 dollars to the border, up to two hours over a bumpy road , breakfast is served.

Border crossing formalities are a breeze. The border is only open during daylight hours. From the border shared taxis leave to San Ignacio and charge 15 soles pp. You need to walk through town or take a mototaxi for 2 soles to take a combi to Jaen 10 soles 2 hours.

From Jaen, again walk through town or take a mototaxi for 2 soles to take a 5 sol combi to Bagua Grande, which is a biggish town on the main road going east to Tarapoto or west towards the coast and Lima.

The bus station is on the east side of town. From Bagua Grande there is also direct transport to Chachapoyas. There are decent hotels in Zumba, San Ignacio, Jaen and Bagua Grande. If you leave early from Cuenca you can make it in one day to Zumba and the next day to Chachapoyas.

Since 20th July 2018 there is a new convenient transport option for crossing from/to Peru at La Balsa. The Ecuadorian bus company Nambija has started a direct connection between Jaen and Yantzaza via San Ignazio, La Balsa, Zumba, and Vilcabamba.

Currently there is one bus daily leaving Yantzaza at 3:45 arriving in Jaén around 19:00 and one leaving Jaén at 13:00 and arriving in Yantzaza around 3:30 the next day. In August they might add a second one daily departing Yantzaza at 11:50 towards Peru and Jaen towards Ecuador at 3:00.

The ticket from Jaen to Vilcabamba or viceversa costs US$20.60. The busses in Jaen leave from the Terminal Binacional located at the intersection of Av. Pacamura and Alfonso Arana Vidal where also the VIP Taxi is based.

The ticket must be paid in US$ also if you are buying the ticket in Peru. You can withdraw US$ at e.g. the BCP ATM at the Plaza de Armas. The Nambija ticket office also is located at the Terminal Binacional, open daily from 9:00 to 13:00 and from 16:30 to 19:00.

Tourism Observer

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