Last night I heard a dog bark. Strangely, I don't remember hearing any barking before yesterday . . . but then the dogs obviously bark in Spanish and I don't understand Spanish!
My point is that this tiny village of Vilcabamba is very quiet within this valley. There is an occasional knock-knock of a carpenter's hammer and the growl of a diesel truck laboring up a grade, perhaps even the grunt of a pig and the high-pitched cluck of chickens, but for the most part it is considerately quiet around the Hotel Madre Tierra where I'm staying.
My daily exposure to the language is slowly but surely paying off. I have asked Paulo, my waiter in the hotel's dining room to speak to me only in Spanish, and that's made for some comical exchanges and even funnier results. What is happening is that I'm now using my hands and face to help convey my meaning, which is not the usual means of North American communication. Mostly, it's just my mouth that moves when speaking in English. But my ear is not as yet tuned to Spanish, so when Paulo asks me if I want something I don't always get what I thought I was agreeing to in Spanish. I have had to learn to use pantomime to make sure I understand or mistakes occur. Even so, about half the time I find something on my dinner plate that I have no idea what it is or whether I actually ordered it. Simply smiling idiotically and nodding one's head when asked a question that one doesn't understand can have unexpected consequences.
On yet another subject:
I find myself thinking of how much time is spent in traveling to do shopping, particularly when we live in small towns without many consumer businesses. We who live in rural areas such as my "other" home in Hana, Hawaii, are more aware of this than folks from the cities. And as the price of gasoline continues to climb, we are going to become even more tuned-in to a need to curtail some of our longer distance shopping. Here in our little village of Vilcabamba, for the most part if you can't walk to it you don't go.
Where I am right now, in a Ecuadorian village of probably 3,500 souls, there are no "convenience stores", no 7-11's or minit-stops. The village even passed a law that forbids gasoline service stations. Not a shopping paradise to be sure.
Reminds me of Hana, some 57 miles away from food and necessity stores; except here in Vilcabamba the distance is only 25 miles and travel time is only about 45 minutes by auto or a full day's journey by foot to Loha, this area of Ecuador's largest city. There are a lot of folks here in this small village who have NEVER been to Loha, who have never even left Vilcabamba to do a day's shopping.
But what it lacks in stores, Vilcabamba makes up in entrepreneurial peddlers of every kind. You do not need to drive to them, they bring stuff to you - and at greatly reduced prices, since there is not any of the usual business fixed-overhead expense involved. Allow me to elaborate:
Early this morning I heard a man shouting. It was a vegetable peddler hawking his wares. Next came an elderly man with fresh eggs, closely followed by two young women offering just-baked bread. There was my breakfast. Total cost: small pocket change!
Yes, I was charged a "markup" by the hotel for cooking and serving the food that was brought fresh to the kitchen door. But still, with coffee (no, Don Pedro and his Columbian mule did not bring it) and a bit of fresh fruit in yogurt, my breakfast only cost me $2.00. And THAT is less than what one cup of Kona coffee would have set me back at any US hotel.
My point being that one of the reasons these folks, who live in what we would call poverty, are existing in exceptional health is due mostly to their not being consumers of processed foods, to their growing all of their own food organically in soil that is bursting with mineralization and lots of healthy organisms. Vilcabamba's pure water source, claimed by health authorities throughout the world to be THE best on the planet, probably helps the growing process, too.
Whoa, I don't mean to imply that there aren't any pre- processed foods available. There are. But the cost is greater than the local people can afford, so they don't buy the stuff that you and I usually pickup on our weekly trips to COSTCO. Unfortunately, "fast-food" in Vilcabamba is now a fact of life. The young people here are beginning to slurp down diet colas and gobble twinkies .... and the encroachment of ill-health is the result. That is one of the horrors of the Americanization of the culture. In another generation, there may not be any healthy Old People left in the famed "Sacred Valley of Longevity".
However, at this point those of us who are in our "later years" do benefit from the ultra-healthy environment, food and magical waters of Vilcabamba.
Oh, by the way, in a previous Travelgram I mentioned a 101 year-old man with a walking stick. Actually, there's more to the story. It seems that the old man and his wife were approached by a couple of tourists from the US, who asked in very fractured Spanish how old the elder was. He said he was 76, and the tourists left. The old man's wife started screaming at him, asking him why he told those people that he was only 76 instead of his actual 101. He calmly replied that he was not happy at constantly being photographed (for free) because he was so old, so he simply lied about his age and was left alone. His wife screamed at him even louder, saying that since she was 92 he would be married to a woman old enough to be his mother and she would have none of it. So now the hombre viejo (the old man) says he's 105, to make his wife happy .... and also demands to be paid for photos taken by the "gringos".
Such is the problem of attempting to judge the ages of Vilcabamba's inhabitants, who, unlike their counterparts in the rest of the world, often add a few years to their true ages if they can make a few extra pennies from the "touristas".
Hasta la vista,