I knew it did not bode well for us when the fourth movie came on. We were told that the journey was only six hours, but six hours had passed, and still another movie comes on, in Spanish of course. We are thankful that the buses in Peru are considerably nicer than the ones in Ecuador, with the added feature of having bathrooms that we can access ourselves, without having to go up to the front to get the driver’s assistant to come back and open it for us.
I have learned much on this trip, so far. For instance, I had no idea that northwestern Peru is pretty much a desert. It looks like driving through Southern New Mexico, until you get to the small towns, at which point it looks like somewhere in the middle east. Six hours of this barren landscape. Until about an hour ago, when the sun started dropping lower on the horizon, it was very hot, in spite of the air conditioning.
We have finally left Ecuador. Our last chapter there was fantastic. I will be hard pressed to describe it succinctly. I will have to write separate articles, I think, about different aspects of our stay in Vilcabamba. We had heard about Vilcabamba long ago, when researching places to live outside of the US. For that reason, we made sure to get over there.
We arrived in the late afternoon, with no hotel booked. On the bus we met a Canadian couple, and we ended up following them to their hotel to see if they had space. They did, but we had to wait an hour for the room to be cleaned. Right after we got settled in on some chairs, the rains began. This is the rainy season, and the rains come almost every afternoon.
Vilcabamba was once known as the Valley of Eternal Youth, for the supposed longevity of its residents. (I have been told that such longevity was often embellished, for the sake of impressing the tourists, who were also taken with the clean air, the green mountains on all sides, and the near perfect climate, year round.) Still, it is a healthy and clean place, the atmosphere having a very Shangri-la like feel to it.
Vilcabamba is a haven for expats, with several hundred foreigners living in the small town and outlying area. This was clear to us immediately as we walked the streets, hearing quite a bit of English being spoken. Another feature that stood out was the number of restaurants, many of them owned and run by foreigners. We went to a Mexican place the first night, run by a guy named Greg from New York who talked a little bit like Woody Allen. He was very nice, and he told us a bit about the valley. We were delighted to get huge salads of dark greens, something we find very little of in South America. Greg told us the greens were form his own farm. Apparently there are quite a few organic farmers around in the valley.
When I mentioned that I study permaculture, Greg suggested I check out Finca Vida Verde, a permaculture project not far from town, where they would be having a design certificate workshop in a couple of weeks. I wouldn’t be able to stay around that long, but I got the email address and sent a message that night.
I heard back quickly, and set up a visit for the next day. We also wanted to go horseback riding, but we only had two full days planned there, and then Laura found an ecovillage online called Chambalabamba, where there would be an ecstatic dance happening the day after I wanted to visit the Vida Verde.
“Let’s just stay longer,” Laura pleaded. We couldn’t go horseback riding on the same day as other activities, as it had to be in the morning to beat the rains and it took the better part of the day.
In spite of our plan to only spend about nine days in each country, we agreed to give Vilcabamba a few extra days. It was well worth it.
Finca Vida Verde, run by a couple named Rashni and Zia, was incredible. On only an acre, they had carved out an amazing spread of fruit trees, veggie beds, and natural buildings, including their own house, a guest house, and two large pavilions for courses and gatherings. The bathrooms were all dry toilets, and they had a huge network of swales to catch and sink rainwater, also fed by runoff from the roof. Vilcabamba has rainy and dry seasons, making this very important. They had chickens and guinea pigs as well, which they did not eat, but rather utilized for fertilizer and eggs. With a relatively small space, they had packed in a great deal of production and human use space, and they had only started the project four years ago.
Rashni was the only one there while we visited. The took the time to show us all around, giving a great explanations of the features of the landscaping, which I wished I had filmed in its entirety. He gave great overviews of permaculture systems in practice, with proof of concept right there in front of us. I took short videos, but I didn’t want to just have a camera in his face the whole time he was talking. Now I kind of wish I had. (What a really need is a camera person.)
We had a fascinating talk about life in the valley, some of the more philosophical aspects of permaculture and community, and living outside of the United States. Almost everyone I met at Vilcabamba, in fact, seemed to share a sense of discontent with the status quo life of the US or other western first world countries. Many were greatly disillusioned with the government and the powers that be, and true to what we read online by another blogger, we encountered a high percentage of people who would be called conspiracy theorists. I had some great conversations with other well informed truthers, by the end of which we concluded we were preaching to the choir, but confirmation of certain things is always reassuring. Not everybody is taken in by the lies, and I remain convinced that if everybody with a broader understanding of how things work were to unify as a single movement for change, the tide would be unstoppable.
On our third day in town, we headed out to Chambalabamba, an ecovillage founded by a man named Mowfoowoo. Before visiting Finca Vida Verde, I sent them my website address so they could get a sense of my work, and when speaking with Rashni, he deduced from what he read on my site that I am an anarchist. He imaged that I would like Mofwoofoo, who is also an anarchist, and who set Chambalabamba up to be an ecovillage without rules. Although he is the founder and the primary financier, he does not preside over decision making or control the activities of the ecovillage, which focuses primarily on the arts, particularly dance and circus.
Having attended a circus school in Costa Rica years back, I was thrilled to get to see a whole ecovillage populated by anarchist leaning circus folks. Everyone was very nice, and the infrastructure was incredible. So many cool buildings, and so much potential for a full scale new paradigm vision. I will definitely be keeping an eye on the development of this project, which is also only a few years (about six, I think) old.
We visited for lunch, arriving a bit early so the girls could swim in the lake. Chambalabamba is right along a fast moving river, with almost the entire valley floor for their grounds, over 12 hectares, I believe. Our lunch was awesome, and I had a great talk with Mofwoofoo, who led us on a tour of the grounds and agreed to an interview with me afterwards.
This community merits its own article, and I will post the interview as well, along with footage from the tour. After our interview the ecstatic dance began, which was really fun. There weren’t too many of us at first, but people came in later, and unfortunately, the crowd didn’t really show up until after we had to leave. I suppose we could have stayed longer, but it was getting dark, and hours had passed since lunch. We had to eat dinner, and the next morning would be our horseback riding excursion, up into the mountains to a hidden waterfall.
The girls were very excited about this part, and we got up early to head out. It took us some time to mount our horses, with Lila sharing the saddle with Laura. We talked about bringing the baby backpack as well, but for some foolish reason, we did not. Riding up the mountain was no problem, at least for us. The horses got pretty darn tired by the end of it, and we had really urge them on, often at the behest of our guide who wanted to make time. At first we road on the roads to get out of town, but then we went up steep trails that wound up the mountain in deep ruts, sometimes six feet deep.
Once we got up onto the ridge we had amazing views of the valleys and the mountains beyond. We rode on for a long time, eventually ending up back in the trees. After the hard climb up, the horses seemed to relish flat, even downhill ground, and we got up to a good gallop through the forest on a few occasions, which was really fun.
When we got to the end of the trail, we had to tether the horses and walk the rest of the way to the falls. It was a steep trail down, and the air was cold and misty down in the small valley where the falls thundered over the cliff, at least a hundred foot drop.
We had a nice picnic lunch down there, and I went for a dip in the water, cold though it was. The ride back down was harder, especially for Lila and Laura. At first Lila rode in the saddle with the guide, but eventually she cried for Mama, and riding with Laura was hard. Going downhill, Laura’s weight pinched Lila in between her and the saddle horn, and it was hard for Laura to hold onto her without pressing her. It was hard even for me, so steep was the descent, and my arms began to tire from holding myself back on the saddle horn.
Once back on the road, the horses really wanted to run, and at one point Laura lost control of hers and was barley able to hang onto Lila. It scared them both pretty good. The guide led her horse back the rest of the way. I was glad to see the day over, my butt plenty sore from four hours in the saddle.
That night we went down to the restaurant next door to our hotel, Pura Vida. Laura had met a lady who was selling jewelry out front, who also had an eleven year old daughter. She told us that there would be something of a party at Pura Vida that night, as the restaurant was closing down in another few nights.
We took the girls and went over, though they were none too happy about being there. They made zero effort to talk to the other kids, which is understandable, because I don’t think any of them spoke English. Laura and I enjoyed the music, which really got to rocking after a while. The lead guitarist was shredding it, and the guy who had been the drummer there the night before (I had gone alone to check things out) was now on a five string fretless bass. It was a good sound, and the dancing was great.
We didn’t want to leave because we were having fun and meeting people, but the girls started getting pretty whiny, and it was way past Lila’s bedtime, so eventually we went back to the hotel. Laura repeated numerous times that she just wanted to stay, though I was insistent that we continue with our journey. Vilcabamba wouldn’t be going anywhere.
The next day was a farmer’s market, but I wasn’t feeling well so I sent the girls on their own. It took them so long to get going that they missed most of it and many vendors were already packing up by the time they arrived, but they got a good spread of food for us to eat for lunch. I just napped all day and worked on my book a bit more. I’ve been attempting to get one more edit in before I send it off to print. I am quite excited about finally getting it done and online. It should be very soon now.
The next day we would finally leave. It rained in the morning that day, making it a bit more complicated to get all of our bags out to the cab, and since all the cabs are trucks, we had to hold all our big bags in our laps. Then began a long and arduous journey that would last two full days. All to cover a few hundred miles. First we had to get to the border town of Macara, which took the better part of the day. Then we got a hotel and slept for six hours before catching another bus at four a.m. This one got us to Piura, Peru, where we ate breakfast and changed buses for Trujillo. Northern Peru is a vast, empty desert, and the drive was far longer than we knew. By the time it was over, we were more than ready to disembark, even though Trujillo wasn’t a main destination of ours. Just a stopover, but we needed two nights and a full day there, to give us a break from the buses. We are now leaving Trujillo on an overnight bus to Lima, thankful for first class size seats that lean back to 160 degrees.
Our time in Trujillo has been good, though it’s been challenging as well. More on that in the next episode, as our journey continues...