TRAVEL & ADVENTURE – Paradise Found – Ecuador’s Sacred Valley and the Secret of Eternal Youth

TRAVEL & ADVENTURE – Paradise Found – Ecuador’s Sacred Valley and the Secret of Eternal Youth

CUENCA, ON-LINE ISSUE 04

By Jeff Salz
Photos: Courtesy of Jeff Salz

If you are looking for a magnificent escape—easy, safe, sane, serene and comfortable—to regain your mental health in these crazy-making times, the Izhcayluma Ecolodge is the place to “be.”

To “do”—not so much. But that’s the whole idea.

“Nothing happens here,” boasts founder and proprietor Peter Schramm. “That’s exactly the point.”

TRAVEL & ADVENTURE – Paradise Found – Ecuador’s Sacred Valley and the Secret of Eternal Youth

Peter Schramm - Founder, Proprietor and Gracious Host

Peter should know. He’s lived right on this spot gazing out at the placid green and serene Vilcabamba valley since he and his brother bought this land over two decades ago. Now it’s dusk. Peter, Jaffe and I share stories and glasses of Malbec while the town stretches out in the distance below us. “I was a twenty-year-old backpacker traveling around Mexico when I first fell in love,” smiles Peter, “with Latin America.”

“That was the first time I heard concepts like mañana and tranquilo. Where I came from, it was always today and get it done... now! In Germany, I was the one who was always late. Here I seemed to sort of fit in. My mind started to expand. I began to understand I was under no obligation to live a tiny life in my little hometown. Suddenly, I realized the world is big. I told myself: ‘I’m going to do it. I’m going to live here in Mexico.’”

Five years later, after a stint in the German navy, he was back. This time planning a slow, overland journey northward from Argentina, learning Spanish along the way. Ultimately, he would arrive in Mexico and live every young adventurer’s grandest dream of exoticism and romance: He would open a beach bar.

He never made it.

“The moment I crossed from Peru into Ecuador I realized: ‘Hey, it feels good here!’” said Peter. “I traveled all over Ecuador until one evening right here in Vilcabamba—right about this time of day, this magical hour—I looked up at the Mandango mountain. There was this beautiful sunset going on and I have no idea why but I knew: ‘This Is It.’”

TRAVEL & ADVENTURE – Paradise Found – Ecuador’s Sacred Valley and the Secret of Eternal Youth

Welcome to Chaupi - Jaffe Takes a Hike

TRAVEL & ADVENTURE – Paradise Found – Ecuador’s Sacred Valley and the Secret of Eternal Youth

Vilcabamba - Mythic Valley of Eternal Youth

The legend of Vilcabamba first entered my awareness in the early 1970s. While compiling research for a doctoral dissertation on Andean folklore, I stumbled across “Los Viejos: Secrets of Long Life from the Sacred Valley.” The book-related stories of locals whose lives regularly extended well beyond the hundred-year mark. It set me on course for a life of Andean adventuring that has lasted to this day.

Over the years, I heard that most of the claims about the centenarians here were less attributable to miracle potions and mystical practices than to simple bad bookkeeping. No one’s day of birth was ever recorded, so there was no way to know with any degree of certitude how old anyone really was. As fame and prosperity grew with outsiders arriving in droves to visit the “mystical valley of longevity,” it made sense: If anyone arrives inquiring about your age, it’s best to err on the side of antiquity.

Ultimately, it became generally agreed that, even if the actual number of centenarians was somewhat exaggerated, the impressive physical and mental health of the aged population could not be denied. Rather than mystical vortices, however, their superior health and wellbeing were more likely attributable to the effects of an active lifestyle, healthy diet, emersion in pristine nature, clean air, pure water and a stress-free existence insulated from the frenzy of contemporary society.

TRAVEL & ADVENTURE – Paradise Found – Ecuador’s Sacred Valley and the Secret of Eternal Youth

Entering the Magical Kingdon

TRAVEL & ADVENTURE – Paradise Found – Ecuador’s Sacred Valley and the Secret of Eternal Youth

New Yoga Shala

TRAVEL & ADVENTURE – Paradise Found – Ecuador’s Sacred Valley and the Secret of Eternal Youth

Sign at Izhcayluma

TRAVEL & ADVENTURE – Paradise Found – Ecuador’s Sacred Valley and the Secret of Eternal Youth

View of the Vilcabamba Village from the Resort

I am happy to report that a half-century later the experience is still available. The Izhcayluma Ecolodge continues the tradition.

Like a time-portal to another dimension, as soon as you pass the sign reading “You Are Now Entering a Stress Free Zone” you discover yourself in another world. Time... begins... to... slow... down.

The first thing you notice is the sensuous caressing of a warm breeze redolent with the scent of blossoms, filled with bird song and butterflies fluttering. Brilliant flowers surprise you everywhere: in the gardens, on tabletops, along with the paths with bright gold asters, pink and red stargazers and yellow lilies, and in the trees--deep purple orchids, and bougainvillea of every hue everywhere. Ceramic Buddhas sit in silent meditation, multi-colored squirrels leap among tall trees and the occasional deer complacently grazes—near enough to touch.

Floating between tables, laughing with guests along the walkways, Peter Schramm embodies the benefits of a balanced life. “Visitors often ask me ‘How is business?’ I like to answer, ‘Life is good!’” says Peter. “You see, Izhcayluma is not so much about business or making a living as it is about living a dream. It is a vision that has become a reality. We live here. We are sharing our home with you—a magical place with opportunities to meet people of all ages and backgrounds from all over the world.”

“Here we do our best to cater to your needs and make your stay with us a pleasant one,” explains Peter. Your job is easy: Enjoy. Forget time. Leave behind all your stress and problems. All we ask is that you relax. If someone were to ask me for a bit of advice, I would say that most important is to not take life too seriously. Life really is too short for worry and drama. Izhcayluma is NOT a place for grouches,” says Peter.

Indeed, during our entire stay, Jaffe and I left behind all traces of grouchiness. We enjoyed being one-hundred-percent worry and drama free—a unique and invaluable experience in our over-anxious age. The feeling of safety and ease began as soon as the private van picked us up at our door—passengers appropriately distanced. The feeling continued once we arrived. The hostel is run at a small percentage of capacity, so social distancing can be maintained throughout. A strict closed-gate policy limits access to guests and staff only, making it possible to simply kick back and enjoy our three days. Our only regret was that we had not chosen to stay for a week . . . or two.

Serenity, natural beauty, good company...

A week at the Izhcayluma Ecolodge may not guarantee you’ll live forever, but you will wish you could.

(Note: As of this writing, there are zero active cases of Covid-19 in Vilcabamba.)

Jeff Salz

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