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Welcome To Vilcabamba
"The Sacred Valley of Longevity"

This Is A Privately Circulated Blog, scribbled exclusively for Friends & Familiars, that peers into and pontificates about Expat life in the hinterlands of South America. If your eyesight is less than optimal (like mine), then just click the type size up a notch on your browser..

Here you will find a series of curmudgeonly commentaries that I've posted from atop my rickety old soapbox for the past few years. And yes, there are indeed political rantings, so place your seats in the upright position and fasten your seat belts .... it may be a bumpy ride.


Previous Trip from Maui to Vilcabamba in May, 08

Travelgram ... From Hana, Maui to Vilcabamba, Ecuador:

Interesting trip from there to here. It started off quite well, considering that I was lucky in drawing a seat-mate who was an ultra high-tech "Road Warrior". This guy had a bag of tricks that looked like a mini-version of Radio Shack ... stuff I'd never even heard of, let alone actually seen in action. And THAT'S saying something!

For starters, he had built his own laptop. A 17" screen that was sharper and brighter than even my own Mac Powerbook Pro. Whisper quiet, too. Seems that he'd switched out the standard noisy cooler fan for his own custom version of an electronic refrigerator. He grumbled that it added a few extra ounces of weight, but also allowed him to use his computer at near sub-zero speed and operational quietness.

As soon as we were aloft, and the seatbelt sign was extinguished by our unseen flight Captain, he cranked up his wonder machine, slipped in a disk, and began playing one of three episodes of the "Jason Bourne Conspiracy". He invited me to plug in my headphones, tipped the laptop around so that I could get a better look, and we were instantly off to electronic fantasy land.

Three disks (six hours) later we were approaching Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. Whoosh! The time had certainly flown, as had we.

The journey on to Miami, some three hours later, proved to be a different experience. I had the window seat next to a woman who made me look skinny, a woman whose girth was so great that she had to pay for the seat next to her and lift the armrest to allow all of her to squeeze into the two seats. I won't elaborate further, except to say that I have never heard so many weird noises coming from one human being in my whole life. It was an idiot symphony of sound; an odd combination of grunts, wheezes, gurgles and gasps accompanied of sighs, farts and moans .... couldn't figure out if the latter was from pleasure or pain.

Needless to say, I willed myself to sleep as quickly as I could under the circumstances, that being the outlandish noise at my right elbow. I was comforted by the thought that my sleep-apnea induced snoring would add a little basso profundo to the melodious sound coming from the poor woman.

Oh, did I mention that the noise suppressor earphones that I purchased from the now defunct Sharper Image worked like a charm .... or nearly so, in the case of the cacophony of sounds that the makers of the earphones would have never imagined in their wildest engineering dreams would be necessary to try to suppress. I slept fitfully until we landed in Miami, dreaming of whales wallowing off-shore in Lahaina Town, Maui.

At the end of that mini-adventure, I was rewarded by the spectacle of this mammoth bulk of a woman trying to waddle her way down the too-narrow isle. And THAT sight assured me that I would start my own dieting plan that very day ... or maybe the next.

The flight from Miami to Quito Ecuador also proved to be challenging. The time for scheduled departure had long since come and gone, with us still sitting there on the tarmac at the loading gate unmoving. After some twenty minutes, the Captain's voice advised the passengers that one of the jet engines would not start, but that American's maintenance crew was working on the problem. Another twenty minutes, still working on "the problem". Finally, an hour and fifteen minutes later, the Captain indicated that the mechanics had fixed the engine (or at least so they thought) and we could take off. But then the mechanics found something else wrong, and we sat there for another half hour before lumbering down the runway and taking off into the rain-blustered skies of Florida.

Hm-mmmm! Now despite my very best efforts to remain in a positive frame of mind, all I could think of was the engine sputtering off somewhere over Cuba and us having to make an emergency landing in that "evil communist country of El Presidente Fidel Castro", where we would be taken prisoner by the CIA at Guantamano Bay Military Base and never heard from again. OK, so maybe that's a little more fanciful than need be, but I was indeed more than a bit apprehensive about the malfunctioning jet engine. We made it, with me staring out the cabin window at the engine for most of the trip, giving it my most positive energy. OK, laugh if you will. But we got there alright, so doesn't that prove the power of positive thinking?

Now, a quick word about the difference between our country's TSA Gestapo along with our gun-totting black-uniformed US Customs folks and the Ecuadorian version of same. We arrived in Quito, Ecuador at about 9:00PM, what with "the problem" and all. A short walk led us to the hall where Ecuadorian customs people (mostly beautiful young women with bright Colgate toothpaste smiles) greeted us. A quick peek at the passport, a visa stamp, and a "welcome to our country, Senor". That was it. Then we trudged off to claim our luggage, and one last security screening.

The x-ray image of my sleep apnea machine set off some bells and whistles, and I was escorted over to a table while a plain-clothed young customs guy apologized for having to peek into my suitcase. Can you imagine?

As soon as I told him what it was, and after a quick look, he gently put back the clothing, smiled his thanks, and waved me through.

Was it a case of the Ecuadorians not being properly security conscious? No, the Uzi-totting uniformed Policia watchfully surveying the crowd made their security efforts abundantly clear. It was an attitude of "welcome to our country, it is nice to have you visit us" that made the difference between our TSA and the Ecuadorian version thereof.

At least this trip, US Customs didn't demand to know how much currency I was carrying out of the country. Guess that I didn't look as prosperous this time. Or, since our US dollar is worth so little these days, maybe no one really cared.

OK, just so you don't think that I've been hoodwinked by the charming Ecuadorians, let me now tell you about the screw-up with my ticket reservations from Quito to Loja in the Southern part of the Andes. To make a VERY long story a bit shorter, they lost my reservations. Twice! The first and only flight was completely sold out and I couldn't even make it as a standby. So back to the hotel where I'd spent the night upon arrival in the capital city of Quito. And the next morning I woke up at 3:00AM to make certain that I'd be first in line. The flight departed at 5:30AM and I was supposed to be there two hours early for ticketing, processing, etc.

My taxi dropped me off at the airport at 3:30, only to discover that the terminal didn't even open until 4:00AM. At the appointed time I huffed and puffed my way over to the ticket counter with my two huge bags of luggage in tow, greeted the lovely young ticket lady with my best "Buenos Dias, Senorita" and discovered that once again the computer indicated that I had no reservation. None, nada, zilch! Later, I was to learn that I had indeed had a confirmed reservation, both times, but their antiquated computer system couldn't find me. Something to do with "gringo" names in a Spanish computer. Uh huh!

Anyway, at the totally stricken look on my face, she quickly assured me that this particular flight wasn't filled, that I would have "no problembo" in getting a seat. An hour later we landed in a high Andean valley a couple of miles away from Loja, Southern Ecuador's third largest city, safe and sound.

So-ooooo, what'a ya think? End of my woes? Not on your life. After my luggage finally came around the bend of the conveyor belt, two young pre-teens grabbed my over-stuffed bags and headed for the door. Fortunately, I remembered that this was not a would-be theft attempt, but the Ecuadorian way of providing "rich-looking" Americano gringos with baggage service. It's called entrepreneurship, Latin American style. With them two of them pulling my weighty bags, we made it out of the Loja terminal and into the taxi area.

Immediately, three different taxi drivers began shoving each other out of the way as they smiled and promised me a safe and secure ride to my destination. One sprightly older man elbowed his competition out of the way and grabbed my bags from the two boys, who stood there with hopeful grins, awaiting their reward for service rendered. A buck each did the trick, and it was worth every penny. Those bags weighed a ton!

Once inside the cab and starting away from the terminal, the driver said that the fare to Vilcabamba, some 42 kilometers (26 miles) away, would be $40. I replied that I never paid more than $25 before, and he replied in VERY broken English that "la inflationado" had raised the price. Likely story! We eventually settled for $30. A half-hour later, after a thrilling high-speed, traffic-weaving, heart-wrenching ride we arrived at the Hotel Madre Tierra in Vilcabamba, the "Sacred Valley of the Ancients". I was finally at my long awaited destination.

Hasta la vista!