Monthly Archives: May 2011

Izhcayluma: The Inca Gods Must Be Crying

Izhcayluma, now known as Vilcabamba, was a playground for Inca royalty

Waiting sometimes gives us a great deal of time to think. But we as a species hate waiting. Impatience takes over and crankiness takes hold. In extreme situations anger builds and it’s unleashed.

On a long journey you have to learn to keep cool. Patience. Use the wait time in productive ways.

Ten minute wait for a taxi, the hotel manager said. Immediately I wondered how I could productively spend those 10 minutes. Ah, I need the exact address of the hostel in Vilcabamba where I was headed.  A couple of days earlier in Cuenca I had seen a hotel brochure. The brochure to the Izhcayluma Hosteria contained not only the address but a map with specific directions. It won’t take more than 10 minutes to walk over to the Cigale Hostel  and Restaurant where they had a bunch of the brochures on a table. I told the Victoria Hotel manager I’d be right back and headed over to the Cigale. Good thing I did.

My original plan to get to Vilcabamba from Cuenca was to take a taxi from the Victoria Hotel to the airport ($2.50). From the Cuenca airport, just across the street, I would then take a minivan that carries up to 15 passengers to Loja ($12). Then from Loja, hop on another bus for a 45-minute ride to Vilcabamba ($3). It would have taken my 7 hours to get to Vilcabamba at a total cost of $17.50.

The 150-year-old Vilcabamba Church in the town square.

But as I reached for an Izhcayluma brochure at the Cigale, I noticed posted on the wall a flier for a minivan shuttle service from the Cigale directly to the Izhcayluma. For $15 and in only four hours I would be delivered directly to my hotel in Vilcabamba! No need to taxi to the airport in Cuenca. No Need to change buses. My trip from Cuenca to Vilcabamba shortened by 3 hours! Obviously a better deal.

The waiter at the Cigale handed me the restaurant phone to make the reservation. Done. I rushed back over to the Victoria to announce my change of plans to the front desk. When I got there he had already placed my backpack in a waiting taxi. I approached the taxi, gave him .50 cents for his wait and told him I no longer needed his services. Off to the Cigale I went to wait for the shuttle to Vilcabamba. Departure time, 1:45 p.m. It was 12 noon. More waiting. I fired up the laptop.

In no time the driver of the van and his assistant entered the Cigale. They asked if I was going to Vilcabamba. They said we’d be ready to go shortly since I was the only passenger. Really? An entire van all to myself? What luxury!

Keep in mind that travel in South America and many other developing parts of the world are often cramped, smelly, dirty and uncomfortable. This was a major score. In three months of traveling across the continent I had never had the pleasure of having transportation all to myself. This was heaven.

Tire goes flat during trip from Cuenca to Vilcabamba.

And heaven it was. The journey to Vilcabamba was a real pleasure. I spent it chatting with the couple – the driver and his assistant. They told me stories about Vilcabamba. How “the gringos” had taken over the town. How the village was a mecca for all sorts of kooks, including a man who swears the world will end in 2012 and convinced a visiting friend to help him build an arc. The man maintains that the entire world except Vilcabamba will be destroyed. Why Vilcabamba? They did not know. But that’s the reason he came to the village. I really want to meet this man and see his arc, which I’m told is complete. He is currently stocking it with food and plans to start adding animals – two of every kind, of course – as the end of the world grows closer. I really want to meet this guy! Then again, maybe not.  I’ve already met my share of natural healers, tarot card readers, hug circles, self-described Messiahs, hippies, potheads, lunatics, dropouts, and yes, retired gringos who make up more than three-quarters of Vilcabamba’s population. Needless to say, English is spoken here in abundance.

My private cabana space overlooks the mountains. The town is below, deep in a valley

Ecuadorians in Vilcabamba have grudgingly embraced the gringos. They include among “los gringos” Europeans, mostly Germans. But all foreigners to them are gringos. The gringos came to town and took over. They began to buy up property. A steal in their minds, but to Vilcabambans, they paid way too much. That drove up land and home prices. And drove out the locals. Soon, restaurants, shops and grocery stores that catered to the specific needs of the gringos began to crop up. Canned foods on shelves. Processed foods. Signs in restaurants and around town in English. Businesses geared toward tourism and touring. The entire make of the town rapidly changed. And the gringos are still coming. A huge development just for the gringos – no way locals can afford such home prices – is being built just outside of Vilcabamba. It’s Little U.S.A. in Ecuador. And the town that is known worldwide as a place where people lived well beyond 100 years of age is losing that. Their longevity was largely credited to their simple lifestyle, the natural foods they ate and the purity of the local water they drank. They’ve now started to eat and drink what the gringos eat and drink and it is taking its toll. Someday, Vilcabamba will no longer be able to claim its place in the world as the valley of longevity.

Unlike some other road trips, I arrived in Vilcabamba without any incident to report. We had a flat tire outside the town, I helped the driver change the tire and in 25 minutes we were on our way.

I settled in to my rustic cabin and marveled at the landscape. Izhcayluma – the name the Incas gave the place before it became Vilcabamba with the arrival of the Spaniards – you are breathtaking. No wonder so many outsiders have come here. And yet I can’t help but wonder if the Inca Gods are in tears over what this ancient and majestic land has now become.

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Reggaeton’s Bad Rap

Since traveling through South America I have gained a new appreciation for Reggaeton.

I love all kinds of music and there has been some reggaeton that I have enjoyed and even bought. I still love Angel Y Khriz‘s “Ven Bailalo”. I sing it all the time.

Reggaeton blends reggae, rap and latin music. The haters say it all sounds the same and its monotonous and a tad obnoxious. I knew there was much love for reggaeton across Latin America but I never knew there was such dislike for the genre.

I joke with my friend Kahyda Rivera all the time about her dislike for reggaeton. Kahyda, who is from Ecuador, doesn’t mask her distaste for the music. I thought she was an oddball – after all what Latina doesn’t love reggaeton?

Then as I traveled more I began to hear from others in South America who despise reggaeton. Even some young people who are the ones attracted most to the music say there’s only so much of it they can take. Wow. What’s going on here?

As I thought about it some more I began to realize reggaeton was suffering the same backlash rap and Hip-Hop had suffered. Across the world it’s not hard to find people who despise Hip-Hop. And yes, millions love it.

Another problem is that some people classify as reggaeton music that is not, as is the case with Chino and Nacho, whose “Mi Niña Bonita” is heard 50 billion times a day blaring from cars, from clubs, from homes, from shops, from every street corner. This song isn’t exactly reggaeton but because the artists are young and fit the reggaeton artist look they get labeled as such. “Mi Niña Bonita”  is closer to merengue than anything else.

But hip-hop and reggaeton seem to elicit some serious hate in comparison to other types of music. I mean, I know some people who don’t like jazz but they don’t wear t-shirts or display the word REGGAETON on their Web sites with an encircled bar through it. It feels like the same backlash disco music suffered during the 1970s.

While my love for reggaeton was limited, it now has expanded. I guess being exposed to it everywhere I go does that. I have several favorite reggaeton artists and tunes, but my absolute favorite – the one that gets me out of my seat – is “Si No Le Contesto” by Plan B. It’s a catchy tune, alright. Not a day goes by without me singing a line from the song. Before “Si No Le Contesto”, “Danza Kuduro” by Don Omar, featuring Lucenzo. Can you believe that one video of that song has garnered 159,243,835 views on YouTube? And that’s not even counting the other videos of the song, including remixed versions. “Danza Kuduro” recently became the most viewed music video on YouTube in Latin America. So somebody out there likes the genre.

Recently in Cuenca, Ecuador, I went out with a bunch of friends. We were all ready to go dancing. We, however, spent a great deal of time on the street trying to decide where we should go because some in the group wanted to avoid reggaeton like the plague. They were insisting on finding a dance club with a wide variety of music, and if that included reggaeton so be it as long as it wasn’t playing all night.

So this journey has opened my eyes to the love and hate relationship Latinos have with a form of music that’s all their own. And strangely, instead of making me like the music less, I like it even more.

 

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Vilcabamba, Ecuador

At Zoociedad in Cuenca with Mariutsi, Veronica, Lindsay and Paul. Cuenca was fun and interesting, but time to move on

Another hopefully not too crazy bus trip through the Andes Mountains. It’s been raining nonstop for the last two days and that can only mean one thing: rocks falling and landslides. This time I am taking a minivan, known locally as  a colectivo. It carries about 12 passengers and if you’re lucky it will be half that many so you can spread out. But more often than not it’s full and stuffed and stuffy. But it’s quicker than many of the buses that stop all along the way in every small town. At $12 it’s rather steep for Ecuador. I’m used to paying $2 to $6 for intercity transportation here. But I’m getting a late start and for that I must pay the price.
My destination is Vilcabamba, Ecuador, which has a large concentration of people more than 100 years old. Some say it’s the clean air. Some say it’s the lifestyle. I intend to find out.
I will actually try to relax in Vilcabamba – to regenerate. I am staying at the Izhcayluma Hosteria, which bills itself as a resort for backpackers. In other words, luxury at an affordable price. Here they will pamper backpackers. I plan to stay three days and probably won’t resist the beautiful trails and may well leave to the pool to go for a hike in the mountains. And of course I still have Peru ahead, much walking and hiking in my future.
Check back here. I am packing my overstuffed backpack now. I’ll tell you all about Vilcabamba and my journey there in the next post. Unless the land comes a sliding down 🙂

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