Vilcabamba, a quiet little pueblo three hours south of Cuenca, has a reputation for fostering old age in its residents.
The valley in which the town is located is nicknamed “The Valley of Longevity” and studies have been done to try and determine the reasons behind the residents' ability to live such long lives (100+ years).
Findings cite the usual: a healthy diet, mineral-rich water, and exercise.
Hosteria Izhcayluma is the most popular hostel by far, though to be fair, it's more like a small mountain resort, complete with swimming pool and spa.
When I checked in, I was notified of the 9-day religious festival that was occurring at the church across the street.
On my first night, I was kept awake by reggaeton music and fireworks until 2 AM.
Not exactly what I'd expected from a religious festival.
The main activity for tourists visiting Vilcabamba is going for hikes on a trail system established by the German founders of Hosteria Izhcayluma.
This is closely followed by eavesdropping on the conversations of foreigners who've relocated to Vilcabamba to wait out the end of the world in 2012.
On my second night, and the last night of the religious festival, the hostel staff had plans to perform a dance in an effort to be “good neighbors” of the church, and local townspeople.
The kitchen was closing early, and everyone from the hostel was invited to go watch.
I walked up the stairs of the church a little past 9 PM. Men and women of all ages were in attendance, while kids played with one another.
Below us was a dirt area, which I believe was the church parking lot. A small stage was set up, and there were several vendors selling food and drinks.
I spotted Sebastian, my bunkmate from the Galapagos cruise, and walked down and around to greet him.
We caught up for a bit, as an endless supply of fireworks were being launched from the church stairs above…
When out of nowhere, without warning, a man came running straight at the crowd of people I was standing amongst.
He was wielding a fireworks-spewing cow on his shoulders, known as La Vaca Loca (the crazy cow).
People screamed and scattered to the perimeter of the parking lot, clutching drinks, and ducking for cover.
As I slid my camera dial to video mode, all I could think was “you would never see this happen in the United States!” [gbicon]