Oil Barons and Memories of Ice Cream

Trip Start Jan 31, 1996
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Thursday, March 17, 2005

"You're from Toronto are you? Well we're not going to hold that against you." Our new neighbour, a Tony Soprano look-alike, said to us after a brief introduction.
"And let me guess, you must be from Alberta," I replied.

First encounters with Albertans are always pretty much the same for me. It's as though they're just about to catch up to us Ontarians in a competition that we didn't even know was taking place.

Ellen and I are stretched out in hammocks outside our cabaņa, perched high on a hill, waiting for the sun to set. Two kilometres below lies the peculiar village of Vilcabamba. El burro hee-haws somewhere close by as a couple of horses chase one another far below. A tiny yellow bird sits on a green cactus as multi-coloured butterflies flit near Ellen, attracted perhaps by her red t-shirt.

Vilcabamba sits in what's commonly known as the "Valley of Longevity". Supposedly there are a number of residents here who have succeeded in living more than 100 years. It's said that there are a couple of old-timers in town who are more than 120 years old. Clean living, mountain spring water and a diet high in fibre are said to be the reasons for this phenomenon, but I'm not so sure.

There's a potion here that's made from mountain cactus. It's called San Pedro or San Pedrillo, depending on who you talk to. People travel from far and wide to experience the hallucinogenic effects of this concoction.

It's been 22 years and I still remember the side effects of almost a week of regular percodan injections while in Toronto General Hospital. I'd had major back surgery. A wonderfully vivid three-dimensional vista of gnomes were skiing Alpine in the 1.5 ft x 3 ft white ceiling tile above my head. Then a cascade of vanilla ice cream rolled in from where the wall met the ceiling, right down to the edge of my bed. When I would close my eyes, the ice cream would vanish. When I opened them, the image would repeat itself, over and over. After all these years, I still want to ski that slope - taste that ice cream.

Down in the outdoor patio restaurant, Ellen and I are beginning to wonder about the Albertans. They have a lot to say, but not much of it is about what they are doing here. There are three of them - two men and a woman - all about 50 years old, we guess. They are accompanied by two silent Ecuadorians. One is a large indigenous fellow. His eyes are in constant motion scanning the entranceway to the restaurant. The other is older and of European extraction, a bit like a younger Paulie Walnuts from the Sopranos. He watches the back entrance. I looked for a shoulder holster under his jacket, but he's only wearing a t-shirt.

Oil barons, we wonder? There is massive oil drilling going on in the Amazon basin and itīs a very contentious issue. A high rate of cancer exists in that area and oil spills are the suspected cause. Foreign oil executives are not very well-liked here.

Enough of this James Bond intrigue. Yesterday I noticed an old graveyard with a big padlock on its gate, on the road into town. Tonight I'm going to jump the fence and take a look at the headstones - to see for myself how long these people live. Then maybe in the morning, I'll take a spin down the San Pedro highway.

Of Note: Vilcabamba is in southern Ecuador, about 50 km from the Peruvian border. Check out our happy hillside escape at www.izhcayluma.com.
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