Monday, August 31, 2009

Vilcabamba, Ecuador (by: Mike)

Once we entertained the idea of living outside of the U.S. the next obvious question is where?

Costa Rica
In May we visited our friends Nate & Dova who have been living in Costa Rica for almost 2 years now.  We stayed for 8 days and had a lot of fun.  It was really nice to see them and a get a taste for Costa Rica.  It gave us a taste of "the real" Costa Rica because they live on the Caribbean side in a small town called Cahuita.  That is the first place we started to look.  Being close to our friends would be a huge plus, not to mention all of the knowledge that they have gained about living in Costa Rica.  But, the one thing I didn't like was the humidity.  Way too humid for me.

Discovering Vilcabamba Ecuador
While we were there Nate & Dova where talking about moving to another area in Costa Rica that wasn't as humid.  I forget the name of the town, but we checked it out and it seemed like the weather was much nicer.  But, it was near a string of volcanoes and Nani quickly vetoed that idea.  I wasn't concerned, cause when the end comes, it comes, so why worry?

While we were in Costa Rica Nate also told us a story about a trip that he & Dova took to a beautiful little town in Ecuador.  They went there for several days to see a shaman.  He raved about this town called Vilcabamba.  Excellent weather, incredible views, no bars on the windows, excellent food, a lot of expats, culture & spirituality, and very friendly people.  He said that he'd move their tomorrow if he could.  We've known Nate for a long time and his endorsement means a lot to us.  (They have since put their house on the market and are coming to Vilcabamba with us!)

While we were looking at Costa Rica we remembered Nate's story.  I chatted with him using Skype to get the name of the town because I had forgotten it.  Once I had the name we started our investigation.

The first thing I wanted to know about was the weather.  I know, I know, it should probably have been safety first.  But, if the weather isn't what I am looking for, then the rest is irrelevant.  It turns out that the weather sounds a lot like spring & fall in New England, my favorite times of the year.  It is about 50 degrees at night and 55 - 75 degrees during the day - year round.  Okay, I can deal with that.  Now, how about rain?  Vilcabamba has a "dry" season for 6 months of the year and a "rainy" season for the other 6 months.  I did some research and learned that the rainiest month gets 5" of rain and the dryer of the rainy months is 2" of rain.  Two of the dry months also get windy.

Weather - check.

Once the weather hurtle was cleared we started looking at safety.  We're bringing our 10 year old son Declan with us and we hope to have family & friends visit.  Safety is important.  After extensive research I have determined that Vilcabamba is safer than where we live now in Barrington, NH.  One of the local banks here was robbed at gun point the other day.  A French expat (definition) started a website called VilcabambaTV.  There are hundreds of short videos that she has made right in Vilcabamba.  They cover a wide range of topics and the only safety related issue I heard was that there are a lot of wild dogs that can sometimes be aggressive.

Safety - check.

In order to pay the bills we're going to run our small internet business (The Latest Development) from Ecuador.  We build and manage websites for our customers and I also do web application development.  That means we need a good internet connection.  We looked round and talked to several of the expats in Vilcabamba and found that there is one company offering wireless internet (Vilcanet).  I went to their website but my virus software complained with the following warning:

Reported Attack Site!

This web site at has been reported as an attack site and has been blocked based on your security preferences.
Attack sites try to install programs that steal private information, use your computer to attack others, or damage your system.

Some attack sites intentionally distribute harmful software, but many are compromised without the knowledge or permission of their owners.

Okay, a little worrisome.  I sent an email to the owner and eventually heard back.  He said that one of his competitors is sabotaging his website.  Still a bit disturbing because you'd like to think an ISP would know how to avoid such hacks.  The people that I have talked to who use Vilcanet are very pleased.  It is one of the few things that costs about the same as in the U.S. (~$50/month).  Service does go down occasionally, but hey, Vilcabamba is bit off the beaten path (which is the idea).

Internet - better than expected

Quality of Life
Next item on the list was quality of life.  We learned that Vilcabamba has extremely clean air, water, and food.  Some call it the "Vally of Longevity" because there are many natives in their 80' & 90's (and some stories say over a 100) that are very healthy and active.  Here is an excerpt from one of the many stories available online.

"Vilcabamba is a truly unique environment with a combination of year-round spring-like weather, fantastically pure water, and organic fruits and vegetables that make what you buy at your local whole foods store seem poor in comparison. Nestled in the foothills of the Andes Mountains in the southernmost part of the country, the valley in which this paradise community is located does somewhat resemble Hilton’s legendary place. People who inhabit this region have been found to be extraordinary healthy and live very long lives, with ages up to 100 and even beyond. Besides a wonderful, pollution free climate, the diet of the inhabitants of miraculously fresh fruits and vegetables; help to contribute to their long lives. Due to this fact, many people from the USA and other countries are coming here for extended visits; and many are even purchasing properties and moving to Vilcabamba permanently."

The list of available low cost, organically grown food in Vilcabamba is very impressive.  I won't go into all the details here, but you can visit Mike Adam's website, Natural News, for more information.  He is called the Health Ranger and has a farm right in Vilcabamba.  He has a living seed bank were he gets heritage seeds from around the world and actually grows them to keep the seeds available and in use.  Here's one explanation of what a heritage (or heirloom) seed is:

Heirloom vegetables sound fancy but are simply the kinds of vegetables everyone ate before the days of mass-produced produce. (read more)

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