Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day :)

Happy Valentine's Day to All who Love, who are In Love, who are Loved, who show their Love, share their  Love..
Love each other, Respect each other, Care for others..

'Love should be shown each day to significant others who is there for us no matter what! '

'MAKE LOVE NOT WAR'    John Lenon 

The hearts are created by Rada Angelova

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Valley of Longevity: nature and peace

Location: Banana Republic - Vilcabamba, Ecuador
Time of the year: January, 2011
People: International
Altitude: 1500 m above the sea level
State of mind and body: very balanced and high energy 
Level of Stress: 0
Life: very simple
Colors: yellow, green and blue

Augusto, 98 years old man, likes to flirt, 
typical for latino men

Vilcabamba, Ecuador - the Valley of Longevity! Believe it or not, all people there- young or old- have a similar state of mind, like the spirit of a little kid chasing the butterflies from one flower to another trying to catch them and let them fly again.

A taxi cab was waiting for me at the Catamayo airport. The driver, named Fabrizio, spoke English so I had the chance to ask him questions about the place I was going to. My ride to Vilcabamba from the airport was going through twisted and turning two-sided mountain roads. It was raining and very difficult to see what was at front on the road, however, Fabrizio was driving at an oddly fast pace which by the way was considered normal for Ecuador.  He was accelerating and passing all around the slow buses and trucks in front of us. Cars were coming towards us and I was terrified we would end up in an accident.  I could not even grasp how we made it to move forward. Almost at the very end of the ride, the road opened up to a view of the valley surrounded by beautiful green hills, which are covered in clouds every early morning during the rainy season. They say those hills are the guardians to protect the town from evil forces.

Mandango Peak - Inka trail, view at Vilcabamba 

Although foreigners have been living in this town for more than 20 years, in the last couple of years there was a big boom of people coming from all over the world (mostly from US, England, Australia, Korea, Japan and Germany) to settle down in this magical place. The newcomers still speak mostly English between each other but of course, they had to learn Spanish, as they were now to become part of Ecuador and therefore of South America.

Maya, Bruce and Linda playing tennis 

In the last few years locals or developers from Australia or the US have been building houses for people who retired (mostly immigrants from the US). Those communities have tennis courts, swimming pools and beautiful gardens with all exotic flowers. Apparently, with that in mind you can imagine the price of the land got higher and higher. In opposition to that, many Ecuadorians from outside of town complain about the high speed of destruction of the nature in those territories. They say ‘Vilcabamba used be a Paradise’. However, the locals cannot protest much as the newcomer investment businesses help develop the economy of the town.

People moved here for different reasons. Most of them are young families or retired couples but there are a lot of backpack travelers as well looking for simple, inexpensive living situation and for the experience of being closely connected to nature.

Many of the younger people (age 25-40) are very ecologically aware and nature-oriented. They produce their own food – vegetables, fruits- the better part are vegetarians or raw food eaters. They make their own soap and cosmetics hand-produced from extracts from plants without using any chemicals. The resulting natural (organic)  products are usually available for selling at the local restaurants where tourists and locals gather to have their meals. You will find a German restaurant, Belgian restaurant, American restaurant and of course Ecuadorian restaurant in Vilcabamba. The food offered in the dinning places is also produced locally and that’s why it tastes just extremely delicious.

Luke, Sara and Lili having a walk around their garden 

Women give birth to their children at home and the kids are raised at home without attending public schools either. Most parents believe that going to an actual school is not the better way for a kid to learn about the world or what they need to know to grow up, which reminds me of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie ‘Twins’, who was raised in an island by philosophers.

Many of those gringos as the local people called them or expatriates are into spirituality, practicing traditional Andean ceremonies like San Pedro and Ayawaska often called ‘ the medicine’ which help you clean your body and mind. It is a way to reconnect with nature and see things differently in a better way.

The ceremonies make you start seeing things that you usually cannot see or hear, visual forms that are beautiful and make you feel closer to nature (sun, sky, water, plants, animals, fire..)  People who are not part of those movement and community feel skeptical about those rituals and call them ‘natural drugs’ or ‘hallucinogenic drugs’. However, the mescaline content in San Pedro does not have the same effect as taking LSD drug, which makes you see and believe in things that they are not real. That is why you have the ceremonies so you can open your senses to what is available in nature already.
Ayawaska means ‘spirit vine’ in Quechua and it is made from various plants. It has a stronger effect and brings up more detail on the visual experience than San Pedro.   San Pedro is in fact a cactus which has been used in the Andes’ medicine, healing and religious rituals, for more than thousands of years. They say it heals nervous conditions, joint problems, drug addictions, cardiac diseases and high blood pressure. By tradition, the Shaman Indians initiated the actual ceremonies and even nowadays they lead the rituals that mostly happen in the jungle.

The Women Sacred Songs'Circle at Sara's beautiful garden
Pictured: (centered)  Angela Stokes-Monarch

From my prospective, after personally experiencing San Pedro on New Year’s Eve (without a Shaman leading a ceremony), I can tell you that the experience of it really felt like I developed a stronger connection with spirit of nature. Somehow if you saw ‘Avatar’ and where all the beautiful flowers and plants were moving (breathing and ‘dancing’) that was partly what I felt like, too. It helped me to understand the way Native Americans saw the world around them and their appreciation for nature—the earth, sky, sun and water altogether as main forces of life. I should also mention that at New Year’s Eve I was in a beautiful garden with tropical fruit trees and exotic flowers while birds singing after the rain stopped and stars filled up the sky. Suddenly, fireflies came down to the earth and lit up the air like natural New Year’s fireworks.

Food produced locally

Being in Vilcabamba for two weeks was really one of a kind life experience for me –  entirely experiencing the nature, eating healthy food grown in the local gardens, attending yoga classes with my new friend Caroline for only $4 for 1 ½ hrs of practice, having full body relaxing massages with Piedad for only $20, horse-riding with private guide which I have never done before. I climbed up and down on steep tiny roads and ride to a hill where you can have an unforgettable 360 degree view of the mountains surrounding Vilcabamba. One time, I hiked to Mandango Peak – the Inka trail, which is right above the town and experienced another 360 degree view of not only the town itself but the entire area.  Looking further ahead, I was able to see the rain about to fall on the calm mountains.

For all my time spent there, I did not see any angry person, any sad person, any unhealthy person, any person sending e-mails or texting through their blackberries or iphones. All the people- foreigners, locals, old and young- seemed so relax and happy, enjoying the morning mist, the afternoon sun and the endless sky with millions of shimmering stars at night. Perhaps, this is not a reality, it is not the real world we will live in, but once in a while we all need to see that to realize how important nature is and how dependent we are on it to feel full of energy, cure our illnesses, calm down our anger, reduce the stress.. to fully love and laugh day after day.

The area of Vilcabamba has no growing industry to pollute it. It is mainly small local businesses and taking care of nature, growing your own food and products. There is nothing to be stressed about. Everything seems so simple. The weather is always beautiful, warm and sunny, yet there are two seasons, dry and rainy. No wonder people there live much longer and are always well bright like Augusto who is 98-year-old and trying to run after me like a little kid. He was enjoying life, kissing my arm and excitingly posing for my photographs.

Piedad at her massage parlor 

Mama Luz, 77 years old 

Rozalia, 87 years old, sells vegetables and fruits in front of her house produced in her garden

Jennifer Anahi, 3 and half years old, 
pretending to talk on her toy cell phone 

Thank you Vilcabamba! Thank you Andes!