Monday, October 10, 2011

ochenta y tres dias

83 days to date, according to our camera's smarty display. We spent nearly two and a half months in Ecuador, traveling in and out of Quito, the capital hub. We bused to the North living with the Pijal family in the town of their namesake near Otovalo; and to the near-West visiting Mindo, a cloud forest city; to the near-South to Banos, and eventually to the coast to see the "Poor Man's Galapogos"; further South to Cuenca and finally the furthest South to Vilcabamba very near the border with Peru.

Crossing that border was a breeze, totally contrary to the FUD we'd been fed, and actually in line with the scattering of good advice. We took the overnight route out of Loja, passed the Ecuador check point at 4AM with our exit stamps good to return for 20 more days of our 90 limit, crossed a bridge on foot and got stamped and issued a migracion card for Peru. We reboarded the bus and woke up, never really sleeping, in Piura where we bought plane tickets to skip us to Lima and then Cusco. Our goal to make haste through Peru to Cusco was decided in Vilcabamba, for better or worse. Frankly, after over two months of Ecuador's buses, generally 4-7 hour rides, and sometimes two consecutive 8 or 10 hour marathons, we'd had enough of bus rides for now. So, yes, we skipped quite a few sights and cities; missed the greatest ceviche in the world in Piura; couldn't hang with new friends in Lima; flew over the Cordillera Blanca where 'Touching the Void' was filmed; and didn't brave the countries worst land route from Lima to Cusco. There will be crossroads and decisions made. What we wanted was to immediately settle down in Peru's oldest city and focus on Spanish classes and start living in their streets.

And that's where we are now, living in Cusco, what used to be the Incan capital before the Spaniards came and changed fate. We just settled a portion of our own fate with a contract for three months in an apartment. Settled in Spanish no less. And we're into our second week of individual Spanish classes. Daily we walk through stone streets and climb stone stairs bordered by a variety of historic stone walls which trace ancient times much the same as the Grand Canyon's varying rock patterns. Incan stone rubs shoulders with Spanish, and both are mingled with a variety of masonry repair. Today I saw a corner of a building whose walls were under repair, and those walls were over a meter thick (3 feet).

Our lives for the last 83 days (and I imagine for the next 269) are generally challenging, often unexpected, but it's all constantly fascinating and just totally cool. Doug asked me today, on Skype, if things are going as planned. Yeah, we're entering the second quarter and this is really what we signed up for.


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Ecuador - Vilcabamba


Ecuador - Vilcabamba, a set on Flickr.

photo essay of vilcabamba, ecuador

Vilcabamba. Our last home in Ecuador....

Actually, now in Peru, we're already over a week or so past what I started drafting in Vilcabamba, our last stay in Ecuador. Such is Blogging and Journaling......

...... It's late at 1:30AM and I can't sleep, but this is a good opportunity to write about our most recent, and last, home in Ecuador.

We're days away from leaving Ecuador for Peru, and with some research and reading I'm really excited for the upcoming taste of a totally new and different culture and society. I'm anticipating some good cuisine in contrast to Ecuador (I apologize to our Ecuadoriano friends), some new faces of the Andean peoples, a lot of ancient history: pre and post-colonial and pre-Incan, and some incredible wilderness with, finally, a chance to backpack and camp.

But, first, we're leaving Vilcabamba, a very fascinating, small town in the far South of Ecuador, and our home this past 2-3 weeks..

Something here attracts a bizarre array of ex-pat Americans; the population is practically split between local Ecuadorianos and Gringos. There's a constant chatter describing energy vortexes, spiritual portents and signs, shamanism and pre-colonial history, mixed in with conspiracy theories and apocalyptic dates. All this from a persistent flow of hippies, healers, spiritualists, conspiracy theorists, white retirees, and land-grabbers.

Did I mention the uncanny presence of 100 year old local residents? ..... the one on the left, no, not Pilar

This is a lot of goings-on for a small town whose commercial district doesn't measure larger than 3 or 4 square blocks. But the Gringos flock here and come to stay. Internet research for Ecuador typically finds a number of sites promoting retirement and real-estate in Vilcabamba. We've learned less Spanish language because there's so many English speakers, and even many menus or signs are in English. Mostly real-estate signs. The land speculation and reluctance to learn Spanish by some of the more permanent ex-pats has caused a huge rift with the locals. So, it's even more important to be considerate of Ecuadorian and local customs: say Hola and Buenas to everyone you pass, don't suggest that nightly fireworks are drunken boobery and not the yearly festival ticking down to Sunday mass, etc. Sigh, ugly Americans. Xylia has actually heard someone in a flock of gringos complain out loud that he's lived here for three years and can't speak a lick of Spanish, “it might as well be Chinese. Why can't we get this menu in English!?”

Bizarrity and rude gringos aside (and it's hard to get past it all) we've been really fortunate, and rather love what we've carved for a life here. As the story goes, we arrived in Vilcabamba expecting to stay only a night on our way to our first WWOOF'ing project. We had a friend waiting for us, Bernie, who we'd met in Puerto Lopez. And Xy was dragging along a flu that I'd picked up more than a week prior back in Puerto Lopez. After our first night off the bus, we quickly visited Bernie at his mediation center, CMV, wanting to say Hola as we'd planned, before running off to the awaiting farm. But, unexpectantly, at CMV we ran into Daniel, Karis, and their 7 year old daughter Saby, who immediately invited us to stay with them in their large rented house in town. They were just moving in and leaving the Center. Again, a bounty of generosity after only 10 minutes of conversation, same as our stay in Cuenca where we'd just left. Xylia was drooping from her flu, so took them up on the offer, figuring just to stay for a few days and let Xy recuperate from her cold. But it evolved into the rest of our trip in Ecuador as we were adopted into this new family and into the strangeness of Vilcabamba.
So, from this wonderful base we've been cooking and baking bread in a kitchen, watching movies, playing cards, sharing stories and great conversation, and easily exploring the town. We've become good friends with Bernie while meditating at his center sometimes twice a day, three days a week. We'd also done a sweat lodge (now two sweats before leaving) and an all day meditation retreat at CMV. There's been a great yoga site nearby to work out the kinks and cramps from countless hours of bus rides. We even found a sauna/spa and Pilar discovered a good local masseuse. Plus hiking, temperate weather, and the ring of green mountains, and we're really at home.
There's also been plenty of opportunity for new friends: namely, Daniel, a professional musician from Argentina; a German couple moto-touring for a year in Sudamerica (their second such trip); an Argentine couple who make macrame and silver jewelry to fund their travels; and recently, Vivi, a Puerto Rican born yoga instructor who's lived for a time in the US and in Central America and is following an open ended path through Latin America while she studies.

Vilcabamba, and all that we've found here, has settled well into our hearts. Our family is continually offered open generosity, while our travels cultivate compassion and understanding.

Shout out to: serephina (karis) and saby, xyra and matt and fion, ian and delphine, bernie and angelina, carlitos and eddie, daniel, vivi, amy, romena and christian, deiki, elizabeth, frank n petra, mia, dennis, piedad, stacy and caroline