For expats, it’s about quality of life

Gene and Marsha Fields, recently retired from Southhampton, N.Y., bought a 2,400-square-foot home in Vilcabamba. Gene and Marsha Fields, recently retired from Southhampton, N.Y., bought a 2,400-square-foot home in Vilcabamba. (Bella English/Globe Staff)
June 27, 2010

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VILCABAMBA — A high number of expats, most of them from the United States or Canada, live in this town. Joe Simonetta came here from Florida five years ago, and has left for only one week — to go on his honeymoon.

“I became an accidental developer,’’ Simonetta, 67, says. “I was just looking to buy a house.’’ Instead, he bought an abandoned ranch and turned it into Hacienda San Joaquin, a development of homes nestled in the hills just outside of town.

Simonetta was looking for a healthy place with a good climate for retirement. A friend told him about Vilcabamba.

“I knew immediately that with the elevation, air, water, soil, and climate, this was a special place,’’ he says, leading the way around Hacienda San Joaquin, where houses sell from $225,000 to $350,000. He’s building a hotel and conference center on a hilltop that will open next year.

Simonetta introduces me to a couple recently retired from Southhampton, N.Y. “I love it to death,’’ says Gene Fields, who with his wife, Marsha, bought a 2,400-square-foot home. “Longevity? I feel there’s something to it. I’ve had ailments disappear. I’ve had athlete’s foot all my life and within a week here, it was gone.’’

Many of the residents — 50 of 94 properties have sold — are into wellness issues, either professionally or personally, says Simonetta. Mike Adams is one. Adams, “the Health Ranger’’ who founded, has written extensively on wellness.

Three years ago, he and his wife bought a house with six acres in Hacienda San Joaquin. “We looked all over the world for a place to live, and we like this Valley of Longevity,’’ he says. “There’s a closeness with nature here. The climate here truly is paradise.’’ The couple grow most of their food and hike the hills.

Adams has interviewed some of the fabled oldsters who told him they walk an hour to the fields, or wherever they work, and an hour back, and eat locally grown food. “As long as they were isolated from American foods they had a very good chance of living to a long age, close to 100 or beyond,’’ he says.

It’s the young people he worries about. “If you walk around town, you’ll notice the younger generation doesn’t look as physically fit as their grandparents.’’

Matt and Angela Monarch heard about Vilcabamba from Adams and now live nearby. The couple run the world’s largest online raw food business, They are building three small homes on their property to attract more raw foodists.

They say they love the clean air and water, the soil, climate, and low cost of living. And yes, they do see many old people on the street. “They’re mobile, coherent, even carrying huge sacks around on their backs or heads,’’ says Angela.

Brian O’Leary, who grew up in Belmont, moved to Vilcabamba in 2004. He and his wife, Meredith Miller, run an eco-retreat center, Montesuenos, which overlooks the village. “The gringo invasion is on, quite different from when we arrived six years ago, when the old folks were more evident,’’ says O’Leary. “Ah, the pains of progress.’’