Celebrating My 50th Reunion

“When time which steals our years away

Shall steal our pleasures, too,

The mem’ry of the past will stay

And half our joys renew.”

This is a quotation by Thomas Moore, a 19th century poet and song writer from Ireland. I recently found it in my Mount Allison year book from 1966 along with my graduation picture. I have no idea why I chose this particular quote by this poet to sum up my years as an under graduate of the Arts at Mt. A as I was about to embark upon the world that awaited me. I only recall that I made the decision to use this in haste, after desperately combing through a book of quotations none of which seemed quite appropriate to express my particular feelings on such a momentous event. This would have to do, I thought.  Would I choose it today? Very likely not, as much water has passed under the bridge since that day bringing much change and growth. Thank goodness! Then, on second thought maybe I would! Let me explain.

After a whirlwind trip to celebrate my 50th reunion in Sackville, N.B. where Mt. A is located, I dug out my year book and found those long-forgotten words. I have to admit I was quite baffled by my choice and was struggling to even remember anything about Thomas Moore. The only Thomas Moore I could relate to was our modern-day American psychotherapist and writer of books about the soul – Care of the Soul and Soul Mates. 

After reading about the Irish Thomas Moore, the pieces of the puzzle as to why I probably made this choice became clearer. After all, don’t the choices we make in life reflect that stage in life we find ourselves, and don’t they yield terrific insight into our character and what makes us tick? Perhaps I had not made such a ridiculous choice after all?

Here is what I found about Thomas Moore the author of my quotation. First of all he was not only a poet, but also a singer, song writer, entertainer, and biographer. In fact, he was often referred to as the Irish bard just as Robbie Burns was called the Scottish bard. He was a man of the people. He was happily married to an actress with whom he had five children. Unfortunately, all of them died before he did which distressed him deeply. That, along with financial problems at various times in his life, were his main crosses to bear. He became good friends with Lord Byron supporting his belief that Greece should be an independent state. He also supported the emancipation of the Irish from the Catholic Church and strongly disagreed with Thomas Jefferson, the President of the US, for his support of slavery. He was a man who cared for people and wasn’t afraid to speak out against the wrong doings of his time. He was a very personable man genuinely liked by most people who knew him. The words used to describe him were honest, affectionate, independent, and high-minded. Wow! I would like to meet such a man today.

After learning all this, I realised I hadn’t made such a ridiculous choice after all. This quotation wasn’t just a trivial bit of nostalgia as I first thought. It goes much deeper and is certainly appropriate not just for a graduation but also for a reunion 50 years down the road. Yes, reunions can stir up many memories, some good and some bad. I guess this is why some people find it difficult attending them as they remember only the bad stuff. I have learned it’s best to let the bad go and remember only the good which as Moore says is about half – if we are lucky! Can we really ask for more, I wonder? So at this reunion choosing only to remember the good stuff, I found myself delighting in reconnecting with old friends and even old boyfriends who may have caused so much grief back then. This time around, I even got better acquainted with those I never got to know when I was there, so I made new friends as well. I actually felt like I was part of a big family where we had all come together from hither and yon to celebrate a milestone in our varied lives. We had made it to our 50th for which we received pins in honour of our doing so. It really was something to celebrate rather than something to avoid. Over the years I did attend a few not so memorable reunions. However, this one was totally different for me and will go down as not only memorable but fun. Upon reflection I realise that a satisfactory outcome to attending school/college reunions is all about how we approach them which is reflective of the changes we have undergone in our life’s journey.

One further thought I have on the subject of attending reunions especially the 50th and those beyond is that they can also be a kind of wake up call for us. The reality is that we are all getting older and do we really know what amount of time we have left? As we were all winding up our weekend, I heard this sentiment from some as we said our ‘good byes’ and wished each other well until our next one in five years time. It’s true that some of us might not make the next one. Somehow I suspect that many of us will. I sure hope so! I was particularly inspired by the class of ’46 who were enthusiastically represented by four gentlemen well into their 90’s who gave a rousing tribute to their class. They were the stars of the whole show. They were living proof that we really can get better with age just like the proverbial red wine. My wish is that there will be some of us from the class of ’66 who will be as feisty as those four men from the class of ’46 when our turn comes round in twenty years. Wouldn’t that be something!

Point your cursor on each of the images to see the captions below. 

Vilcabamba the Village of Longevity

“Please don’t forget about us. We need you to come back.”

This was a heartfelt plea from many Ecuadorians, locals and ex-pats alike, after the devastating  earthquake that hit this beautiful country on April 16th of this year. I was fortunate enough to spend enough time there in January to develop a real liking for Ecuador and its generous people. Yes, our tendency may be to write off a country which has suffered such a blow, but it’s just when such a disaster like this happens that tourists need to keep on coming. Perhaps they won’t want to visit the western coast where the earthquake caused the most devastation, but there is still the central and eastern part of this tiny country which was still impacted both emotionally and economically rather than physically. Under the leadership of Raphael Correa for the past nine years, Ecuador has progressed from one of the poorest South American countries to one that has progressed to one of the most developed. As a result it has gained a reputation as a comfortable and affordable place to retire. Yes, this country now needs us to ‘keep on coming’ more than ever.

One place that I visited this winter which was not affected by the earthquake due to of its southerly location in the central Andes is Vilcabamba. It has over the last 15 years or so become a magnet for not only tourists but also for adventurous if not disenchanted  ex-pats looking for that proverbial ‘land of milk and honey’. It first grabbed the world’s attention back in 1955 thanks to an article that appeared in the National Geographic. They had heard the rumour that a more than usual number of its inhabitants were living to well into their 90’s so they decided to check out the rumour for themselves. Their article attracted a lot of attention but provided no conclusive observations. To this day, the answer is still up for debate on whether the story is based on myth or reality. Over the years, it’s been called the  Valley of Eternal Youth or Longevity and sometimes the Sacred Valley because the Inca claimed it as one of their most spiritual meeting places.

I first heard about Vilcabamba in the International Living magazine which I have subscribed to off and on over the years. For five years straight, this organization has consistently given Ecuador the first prize as the best place for people to move to for retirement. It’s true, they often paint a picture of this country through rose-coloured glasses earning them the dubious title of “International Lying”, but nevertheless, they have succeeded in helping many people find a lifestyle which for the most part is fulfilling all the dreams they might have had.

So, you may ask, is there really any evidence to support the claim for why this village has gained such a reputation as a haven for healthy living and longevity?

There are many reasons as far as I am concerned, and the first that comes to mind is it’s almost perfect climate. From what I could gather by talking to those who live there and what I experienced, the climate is pretty steady and is almost ideal all year round. It’s not too hot and it’s not too cold. In a previous post “Ecuador – A Land of Diversity”, I wrote that in the northern Andes where the town of Otavalo is located, it can be quite cold, just as all along the low-lying coast it can be hot and humid. Vilcabamba also seems to get just the right amount of rain keeping everything green to allow for all manner of fruits and vegetables to be grown all year-long. You can expect grey skies, blue skies, sun, and maybe a light shower or two all in one day. This was the pattern while I was there and apparently this is what you get for most of the year. Boring you say. Well maybe for some but not for me; it’s what keeps their temperatures comfortable. Vilcabamba is located in the southern part of the Andes where the mountain chain begins to taper off, but it’s still over 3,000 ft. above sea level and, of course, near the equator which is another explanation for its almost perfect climate.

When you live in a climate like this where you can grow fruit and veggies year round, chances are you will be eating a more healthy diet than you ever would in Canada or the US. Almost every fruit and vegetable imaginable can be grown there including coffee and cocoa beans providing two of our all time favourite foods – coffee and chocolate. Heavenly! Pesticides are not used here either. Could such healthy foods not be another good reason for the longevity myth?

Vilcabamba’s  environment is pretty decent, too. It has the Andes Mountains surrounding a spacious valley which in turn produces numerous rivers and waterfalls. There is no lack of uncontaminated water. In fact, much of it is used as a source of bottled water for parts of the country who want clean, healthy drinking water. This abundance of water also explains why fruit and vegetables grow so prolifically. Then there are the surrounding mountains with their imposing presence not only giving the village a pretty setting, but also providing many walking trails, hot springs, and spa resorts, another plus in support of health and longevity. Nature reserves and parks are abundant with at least three in the vicinity. I decided to take a morning hike to the Rumi Willco EcoLodge and Nature Reserve with trails to meet all levels of physical endurance including well-marked trees and plants for those of us who lack knowledge in botany. This reserve is situated in one of the most bio-diverse areas in the world with over 132 types of birds and 500 plant species. In fact, the Huilco tree from which the park derives its name is only found here and goes back to well before the time of the Inca as source of medicine for all kinds of ailments.

So much green space in a high altitude would naturally suggest that the air is clean – another argument to support the longevity myth. Moreover, there is little industry here other than farming which seems to be all sustainable and organic, and the one water bottling plant I already mentioned. Nor are there any towns or cities within a 200 mile or more radius that have any kind of heavy industry to pollute the environment. For the time being at least. It seems that developers and farmers who want to burn their land to get in an extra crop or two are threatening to upset balance. The Rumi Wilco Reserve is one such project which was started by a private concern to be sustainable and to preserve what is in danger of disappearing.

My  final pitch as a possible reason for the longevity myth could be that so many of the herbs and medicinal plants that we have access to for good health are grown in this valley. Over 200 species of plants grow in this area and have been used by the indigenous people for centuries. The Wilco tree in the Nature Reserve is a good example. Would you  be surprised to know that many North American companies are now looking at some of these plants as a potential cure for cancer?

I have to admit I didn’t see any centarians while I was in Vilcabamba or even octogenarians for that matter. I was told, however, there were some around in the rural areas. Nevertheless, it makes good sense to me that if people are living in a warm climate with plenty of sunshine, growing and eating food that comes from clean soil, drinking clean water, breathing fresh air, and working hard at things that are meaningful to them, why wouldn’t they live a longer and healthier life? Do you still think that longevity in Vilcabamba is a myth?

I enthusiastically recommend that people keep Ecuador in mind when planning their travel itinerary either now or for their next winter escape. I think you could easily fall in love with it as I did and the thousands of other ex-pats who now live there and make it their home. My bucket list does include another trip there in the not too distant future, and I definitely want to return to Vilcabamba. There are numerous places in this area where you can find that affordable haven for rejunvenation and well-being to suit all pocketbooks, great restaurants offering all organic food, delicious coffee, clean water and air all around. Let’s hope it can stay that way; a village that can still offer an almost perfect environment in a country which is still relatively safe and has worked so hard to promote its fledgling tourist industry.

Resorts for nature lovers and good health located around Vilcabamba:

  1. Hosreia Izhcayluma
  2. Madre Tierra Eco Resort
  3. The Community Cultural Centre for yoga.

A Picture Gallery of scenes from Vilcabamba