Some entrances in life are grand. Such transition points often make for some rather notable experiences and substantial memories. This story would one of those that starts in such a manner.
We spent most of the morning bustling around the picturesque mountain village of Vilcabamba. The cobblestone streets, flowering town square, Thomas Kincade worthy church, and quirky hippie storefronts pulled me in from the first glimpse. The Spanish tile roofs against set against the lush mountain backdrop and the artists in the street make this place feel like somewhere out of story book. The bustle and disappointment of Cuenca slowly seeped from our veins as Vilcabamba lifted our spirits in one long, sigh.
This place was much more of what we are looking for when we travel. We try to appreciate cities, but have yet to succeed with that. But, small villages hidden in the countryside often seep with nostalgic lifestyles that keep us smiling. Even so, we love to actually get out and into rural life. And so Vilcabamba was really more of resting place before heading out in the wild yonder.
We filled the truck with provisions to last us for the coming weeks, mostly cellar foods to haul back with us to the agro eco farm next on our route. The kids and I even stopped to sip on a mid-morning snack at the local juice bar while my husband and our host finished up on last-minute preparations. We piled into the car full of rejuvenation and anticipation for the journey ahead. We all chit chatted nonchalantly about friendships and vibes and travel in general. We talked about the weather and the rains, and the crazy landslides destroying roadsides countrywide.
Our host and now friend; laid out before us her carefully chosen words about the path to our destination. We giggled with excitement over the prospect of a what sounded like a noteworthy off-road experience. We chase after these type of adventures, dream of these very journeys. Secret trails to off-beat locations, over grown roads to lesser known places, humble dwellings that prove humans can live in harmony with nature.
The outskirts of the lovely village thinned out through the countryside and the highway melted into tiny, unknown townships that hug the tropical mountainside. We came to the official reality of rural Ecuador, with the onset of a tiny, rugged bridge that gleamed red in the vibrant, green landscape. A charming bridge indeed, like those that are constructed for toy trains in the miniature displays as seen in replica museums. Like those that we dream up in the routes of historical romance novels.
Only it was real, passing beneath our wheels with the rails only an arms-width away and above the rushing Piscobamba. Thick, heavy palm trees pressed their branches to the frame like swords raised in salute as we crossed the moat to Neverland. The river roared beneath us and a mud road met us shortly after on the other side.
We careened to and fro, dancing with Nature as we begged her not to toss us down the cliff-side below. Her retaliation against civilization is clear. Like muddy toes sticking out in the road, entire hillsides have spilled onto the obvious intrusion of asphalt and concrete. Her rivers passed across our trail, like fingers raking away the path in a last effort to keep the masses out. The roads were nothing less than treacherous, and the scenery beautiful beyond description. Most of us have no inclination whatsoever that places like this exist.
The suspense of our arrival was intense and on many occasions I had to advert my eyes, unsure of a safe place to focus my energies. Trust in my husband was my only saving grace. If it had been any other driver, I’m certain I would have aborted the mission. But, like any good trek, the journey was just the beginning.
Three river crossing and numerous landslide areas later, we found ourselves in the basin of a Chirusco Valley. This valley is near an area associated with Vilcabamba known as the Valley of Longevity. In the lands that we were aiming for, there is a creek known as the Condor Huana which is a tributary of the Piscobamba. In recent months during the rainy season, the area has seen more rainfall than it has in the past 20 years. This caused a tremendous amount of water to collect outside of the riverbeds. The final part of the route to the Neverland Farm was not accessible by car during our visit.
For us, entering on foot only added to the adventure and put us in sync with the surroundings. Arriving to our destination on foot only added to the splendor of our entrance. We feel that it was a stroke of luck on our part and we enjoyed every moment of the hike from the car to the farm.
The kids were delighted to squish through the terrain in their rubber boots and the dogs were eager as always to make the first discoveries ahead of us. We passed along the Condor Huana Creek and were instantly aware of its power, presence, and prevalence over life here.
There is a sign that is posted in great abundance all over Ecuador, anytime that civilization collides with the rivers. It reads “La Agua es Vida” and is often paired with a message about pollution awareness. The words quite literally and simply mean “Water is Life”. Of course we all understand the value of water to every living thing. But, to see it like this, is a whole different revelation. To enter the natural world where the significance is in your face and under your feet, means something else entirely. Life around Neverland Farm revolves utterly and completely around the water. Not just the river, but the rains dictate even the most minute details of survival in this mostly off-the-grid place. You cannot forget, not even for a second, that nature rules here and the Queen of the scene is the water.
The whole pack of us crossed on foot over a man-made bamboo bridge secured over the river. At least for now, this is the only the vein that connects the farm to the homestead and essentially the rest of the world. After the bridge, we passed through a dirt path into the thick forest of a natural and eclectic grove. Still too many fruits and herbal trees for me to remember, but among them are citrus, coffee, macadamia nut, avocado, cacao, mango, and passion fruit.
Then we came to a clearing where the establishments are. Right in the center is a large, covered communal outdoor table. From that heart of the compound are several, small rustic buildings. One of them will be our house during our stay here. It is a one room, loft style wood plank house with no fancy stuff. Screens on the lower windows and chicken wire on the loft windows. No glass, nothing frivolous, no furniture beyond a bed frame and a table. Only the essentials. We have electricity via solar energy and internet from satellite. There is no running water in this home, which would be the reason it is essentially considered a bunk house. The toilet, showers, and kitchen are all separate from the house. The water is abundant and is the first drinkable faucet water we have encountered in Ecuador. It of course, comes from the mountain stream.
We are only two nights into the experience and we have gained nothing but respect, appreciation, and admiration for this way of life. The harmony with the earth is undeniable. Tonight as I write, only the hum of the river fills the air outside our windows. My husband, children, and dogs are all lost in slumberland; exhausted from a full day of farm life. Up with the sun and down with it too, I never imagined that our rowdy crew could be asleep by 7:30 at night. Herding cows, milking goats, feeding rabbits, carrying molasses water to the animals in the meadows, baking bread, making banana vinegar, collecting fruits and produce. All home cooked meals and drinks. Doing dishes under the trees and hanging clothes from the eaves.
It feels like we live in a different century here where life takes on a completely new perspective. There is no rush to life, but there is a lot of purpose to it. This is an existence where no chore is too big, no need too small. Where time is not a limit but an opportunity. Where here is more than a place, but is actually everywhere. Nothing is yours and everything is ours; including things, space, and responsibilities.
Living takes on whole new dimension that reflects solely on achievements and accomplishments towards the greater whole. Not just towards the humans either. Towards the animals, the sky, and the land. Towards breakfast, lunch, and dinner and all of the many, many precious moments in between them.
I can’t help but reflect on society and family culture as a whole and wonder how the world has gone so far astray. This is where peace and harmony are at. In days spent with your family, with every moment full of purpose but never one second in a hurry. Nights spent in reflection of the significance of every tiny action.
This is where serenity comes from. When the day is done and you rest with a sense of pride and wonder, with the absolute confidence that not a single minute was wasted. A full life is not a busy one, but a balanced one. Time spent together and independent. Time spent being productive with moments cherished together. Time as a reflection of a collection of beautiful moments. Not a reflection of a life ticking by and all the things that were not done or have gone wrong.
Life is infinitely beautiful if we have even the slightest clue what to do with it. Life is not bad and horrible, debilitating or degrading. Life is exactly what we make of it, and absolutely not a single ounce of it is anything more or less than that. It all comes down to choices and priorities. A whole lot of awareness and just a tiny bit of willingness to explore something other than what you know.
Life is still majestic, wonderful and full of possibilities. Life is still waiting for us to discover the potential lurking in all of us. This is what our children need. To know, to understand, to see and live. To believe that life can be anything that they want it to be.
Restrictions and boundaries and expectations are limitations from our society. But, we can make the choice to be free of them. We can teach our children not be dictated by them. We can still claim a life that is all our own, one that is wild and free and full of individuality.
*If you are interested in a stay at the Neverland Farm, they are now accepting reservations. The farm is located in the Vilcabamba parish of Southern Ecuador and is accessible by private vehicle or via hiking route. You can contact the owner, Tina, via the Facebook page.