Ah-hhhh, Vilcabama! This place is every bit as magical and peaceful as Maui, but with a Spanish accent instead of Hawaiian pidgin. And a hundred times less expensive! The negative ions are whipping up a frenzy of healthy invigorating molecules, at least that's what the people here at Hotel Madre Tierra tell me to account for my flush of rapturous energy. No wonder this place is called the Sacred Valley of Longevity.
The owners are the actor Jon Cypher (stage and screen) and his lovely, quite extraordinary wife Carol Rosin . . . who in her own right is one of the U.S's "heaviest" ladies; having been the highest ranking woman in the areospace industry, Werner von Braun's (father of rocketry if you will remember) top assistant and spokesperson, founder of . . . oh heck, just go ahead and "Google" Dr. Carol Rosin and you'll see what I mean.
Jon is just an amazing person. You might remember him from playing the lead in the stage production of "The Man From La Mancha", or as the Chief of Police in the long-running series of "Hill Street Blues", etc. etc. etc. I have found in him a "brother" who has lived part of my own life-history. Hey, when you get to be my age it's hard to find people who know what you're talking about when you tell your tales (which is one reason I don't have any desire to hang out with nubile female twenty-somethings. I mean, what do we have to talk about?) OK, there are other reasons, but we won't go into THAT.
Anyway, they are in the process of renovating a world-class, intimate sanctuary that they call a hoteleria. The hotel itself is situated on a seventeen acre organic plantation, a veritable oasis of lush jungle foliage set within the equally beautiful Vilcabamba Valley.
Despite my best attempts to haggle for a higher price, I'm only being charged $40.00 a day for my room AND that includes breakfast & dinner. Lunch is extra, at about $2.25 for a veggie burger or a club sandwich on freshly baked multi-grain bread and large mixed salad. You should be aware, however, that these ultra-cheap prices for room and food probably won't last for long. These rates, for one of Ecuador's premier hotels and spas is bound to change . . . . but you can always mention my name as get a 1% discount (he, he he.)
Breakfast usually consists of fresh fruits in home-made Kifir (yogurt) and wholegrain toast and coffee. There are eggs if you'd like. Dinners vary from night to night, but have consisted of a big bowl of soup, a huge salad made of fresh-picked ingredients, and either a meat or vegetarian entree (or if you can't make up your mind, both!) Oh, and then to top it all off there is desert . . . muy delicioso and wonderfully goopy, which is perfect for sugar freaks like me. The dining room is a large tiled patio, where the guests sit family style at long tables. Sure makes it easier to meet the other guests . . . most of whom are Ecuadorian. You quickly learn the basic Spanish name for foods and beverages, or you starve! Oh, and there is NO tipping. A 10% service charge is automatically added, so no one has their hand out all the time.
Thank goodness for the stairs that I have to climb to reach my room, or my Burl Ives look-alike girth would be doubled in no time at all.
My first two or three days I could hardly pull myself up those stairs, even with the help of a walking staff that I'd bought in Quito for hiking, etc. Today, I'm hopping up the three flights of very steep cobblestone steps like a damned mountain goat. I'll admit that at "only" 5,000 feet it is a lot easier to get around than the 9,800 Andean feet of Quito. But for a sea-level kind of guy like me, it's still a breath-panting altitude for the first few days. My heart and lungs seem to now be at peace with Vilcabamba.
As for the hotel itself, which is now almost completely renovated from top top to bottom, it is both charmingly quaint and surprisingly "modern" at the same time. There seem to be some 27 rooms in clusters of three or four, all of them accessed by stone steps leading up from the reception, dining room and bar areas. Of course there is a tropical backdrop of thick foliage and exquisitely beautiful flowers running rampant throughout the hotel grounds. Much more lush and wild than even in the rainforest on Maui . . and the scent of roses and lilies and wildflowers is everywhere pervasive.
The rooms themselves are surprisingly large, almost suites, simply but tastefully decorated and furnished, surprisingly comfortable, with excellent Queen sized bed mattresses. There's a hammock and a small couch on a patio just outside my door, where I seem to be spending an inordinate amount of time. Oh, and there is wireless for my computer right in my room, and so I'm writing this email to you while gently swinging in that private hammock.
Just above where my room is located is a spa complex, a mini version of the Golden Door, etc. It's all I can do to refrain from just being endlessly massaged, facialed (yeah, me!) whirlpooled and (would you believe) pedicured all day long. An hour and a half massage is $8.00, plus .50 cent tip.
The hotel staff are all marvelously friendly and accommodating, even if few of them speak more than a little fractured English. But little understanding is lost in translation, at least I seem to get what I'm asking for in every case and "mi espanole est muy muy poquito".
The people of Ecuador appear to be friendly and hospitable. The women are universally gorgeous and the men quite handsome, a mixture of Spanish and native Indian bloodlines that has produced an attractive and intelligent race of people. And everyone here is disgustingly slender and seem to be strong and agile without the need of daily grunt-trips to a local gym. Lots of VERY poor people, but I haven't once been accosted by a beggar. All in all, a VERY picturesque and charming part of the world . . . a place that I wouldn't mind spending a LOT more time in, if I wasn't already living in a certain paradise called Hawaii.
I don't know if my description paints a good enough picture of Vilcabamba and the Hoteleria Madre Tierra for you, but I seemed to have picked the PERFECT place for rest & relaxation. Hm-mm, could this be the "Shangri La" that I have been searching for all these years?
More later . . . after I've awoken from my afternoon siesta snooze! Manana or the day after may be more likely.
El Senor Patrick