Did I take a wrong bus somewhere?! Suddenly I find myself in a town with granola, organic chocolate, veggie burritos, macrame, and dreadlock adorned drummers on the plaza. It was a bit much to take on first arrival. This is a small Andean town of less than 10,000 with a large population of American & European retirees. Perhaps one of the attractions is that the area is know as the “Valley of Longevity”. Its believed that many of the inhabitants have lived to be over 100 years old (although this is also disputed). The source of longevity is said to come from the antioxidants in some of the local, tropical plants and herbs, and the minerals in the local water source. Also the laid back, healthy lifestyle, and the care given to the elders. Whatever the truth may be, the expats have opened numerous spas, meditation centers, health aid stores, and everything from organic icecream shops to tropical juice bars. This morning I met a shop keeper from Belgium and a local artist from California, both of them described how the influx of all the foreigners has inflated the prices of the land, houses, and consumer goods. As I hiked around the valley, I saw a mix of cement/concrete block, Ecuadorean houses and hillsides hoisting massive haciendas. The flavor is still pretty South American once you leave the main square, dominated by alternatives, but I fear that the influx may tip the balance at some point. Anyway, I did enjoy my burrito and I’m drooling over a salad I saw on someone’s plate this afternoon.

Been hanging out with a sweet, but traumatized woman from Austria today. Susan just arrived at the hostal from Peru by bus this morning and discovered her camera and $400 was missing from her backpack. Taking even an hour nap on a bus in Ecuador is a significant risk. I was even told recently there’s a powder that, lightly dusted in front of a tourist’s face, can put him/her to sleep and expedite the crime. Solo travelers are easy targets, as they have no one to help them out. 

I’ve tired legs today after a couple of days of walking many miles, so I’m headed into the mountains and Podocarpus National Park tomorrow . . . on horseback! Hoping to see a Mountain Tapir, Spectacled Bear, or Northern Pudu. This will be a tour representing three generations of women: Nadine (25) from Germany, Susan (43) from Austria, and Me (59). I hope I don’t slow them down too much:) Here are a couple of pictures of Vilcabamba: