Monday, August 9, 2010

Ecuador: One Year Later

A Retrospective

Well, I can hardly believe it but a full year has come and gone since Julia and I moved here to Ecuador, on July 20, 2009. The fact that I haven't found time to update this blog in a year gives you some indication as to just how full our days have been. Man – time continues to give the impression that it is 'speeding up', and each month now passes like weeks did only a year ago. Days seem to be over shortly after they have just begun. So much is happening all the time, its hard to keep up and still hold the same frame of reference to life. So, one must continually adjust in order to just function – and this 'adjustment' is often in the form of just 'letting go' and going with the flow. Interesting times indeed.

When I look back over the past year, it becomes most apparent that the theme of living down here has been the rich interpersonal relationships that have developed among the people that find themselves here. What I remember most are the people. This has been true in regard to both the local people here as well as with other gringos like ourselves who had been 'magnetized' here for many of the same reasons.

Speaking of the later, it's been amazing to me that most everyone you meet here is 'on the same page' in terms of awareness of what is happening in the world and in their shared desire to live their lives in the direction of truth, freedom and well-being. That seems to be the common denominator. I summize that is the primary reason we have enjoyed such rich friendships here that were so few and far between and hard to come by back in the States.

What I also recognize, now that I've been down here and out of the US culture for such an extended period of time, is that there really does seem to be an all pervasive mind programming that affects the US population that molds their thoughts and perceptions within controllable parameters (right vs left, etc). Once I have been out of that influence for awhile, I noticed my own perceptions sharpening and my own intuition and inner guidance ratcheting up a few notches, and come into more of a holistic balance. Although I had long been a 'truth seeker', once I removed myself from the all pervasive cultural programming of the US, I began to 'see' things much clearer, and on a deeper level – and this path has only accelerated over the past year.

Another World

Here in Ecuador, its a much different world. It's an older world, where families have prime importance in the culture. Commerce, on the other hand, is of relative low importance. For instance, most all business close for 2-3 hours in the middle of the day for a long siesta, usually from 12:00 to 3:00 or so, with some variation. For many, if they don't feel like tending their shop for the afternoon, or the day, they don't. To us as Americans, this is abhorrent business practice, not to mention making it terribly inefficient for us as customers to get anything done! Often times, we have taken the slow bus to Loja, and just begin to get our bearings of where we needed to go and what we needed to do, only to find the place had just closed for their extended siesta!

While often very inconvenient, I've come to appreciate the local culture's values and priorities. Ecuadorians don't think in terms of western productivity and profit. It's just not in their consciousness. Commerce is simply not what life is all about here – it's treated as just a necessary thing to do in between what's really important. Purchasing food at the weekend open markets is the predominant ecuadorian way of commerce, and where $10 - $15 could feed a couple well for a week, we adapted to that routine pretty well.

Sunset over Vilcabamba

However, one can clearly see the increasing influence of 'western culture' down here, and how it is changing things. After all, that's the power of the tube, and it's been down here now for some time. Just like in the US, the average Ecuadorian home has that TV glow going all night long. American cars, movies, music, cell phones, and fast food.... are all being imported down here and one can clearly see the same empty madison avenue values quickly gaining a foothold in the consciousness of the people here. The indigenous and older people pretty much pass it by; the moms and dads, too tired from working and providing a home for their children, tend to just kind obverve it all curiously; but you can see the young people wanting more of it and saving up several week's pay just to wear something that has a silly, trendy american logo on it in order to feel 'cool. Marketing useless stuff knows no boundaries I guess. It's been most interesting to observe these same 'herd mentality' marketing techniques, that have been the very essence of American culture, prevail down here in such a vastly different cultural environment.

That said, we continue to miss some things that were plentiful in the US. The availability and wide range of choices in products of quality is one of the most obvious. I took those choices for granted all my life living there in the US. Here, there are few things you can buy that are of high quality. That's because this is simply not a consumer based lifestyle here as it is in the US. Most people live very simply, and require very little to be very happy and satisfied with their lives. So, we've adjusted our thinking and our desires over the last year to come into balance in order to live here. We've discovered that many of the 'things' we thought we needed simply are not necessary at all. Both Julia and I have shed many 'layers' over the past year, both physically and mentally.

Fortunately, the most important things of quality – good natural food, clean water, and pristine nature are plentiful here in Ecuador in seemingly unlimited abundance.

Lets continue with some of the highlights of the last year that my memory calls up:

Month-to-Month Highlights of the Past Year:

August 2009

We arrived one year ago on July 20th, and the remainder of July and the first part of August was spent just getting acclimated to our new surroundings, (much of which has been detailed in my last posting). Our first home, as readers will recall, was an adorable little stone house called 'The Butterfly House' due to the natural presence of butterflies around in the gardens and the fresco butterfly art motif in the front, created by inlaid rocks and gemstones.

People Connecting

We bonded with several really great people in town. Jay and Caroline, our very first friends here, lived next to us on the same property in the main house, and their enduring friendship continues to this day. I am currently collaborating with Jay on a book project.

Tor, a 'salt-of-the-earth kind of character from the Pacific Northwest has been here for a few years and is a general all-purpose handyman that possesses a wealth of practical knowledge on all kinds of things. We became very good friends with Tor and he lived with us for a season in the spring.

We also met and bonded strongly with a young couple that continually exude positive energy, Akai and Camilla, who stayed with us for a couple of weeks in the early fall. We remain close friends with them, and Camilla is due to give birth to their first child around Halloween, which is also my birthday!

Soon after getting settled here in our new home, we leased an office in the Cultural Community Center for the year and began rennovating the office for VIVE4U. We became Advisory board members of the Cultural Community Center soon after our arrival here, which was headed by an amiable asian woman named Christina, who had just given birth to her new baby, Keola. Jay, Caroline, Erin, Julia and myself comprised the board but we soon discovered, doing things by committee is not easy. It always seems to end up being political in one way or another, due to various factors, and after experiencing this frustration for a couple of months, we eventually bowed out as did the other board members.

Over the next few months, the voluntourism vision of VIVE4U, which was one of the strongest impetuses for us making the move (especially for Julia), also never really panned out as expected. The organization of the CCC never really came together, and although we spent a good amount of money rennovating and newly painting our office at the CCC, it never really got used for it's stated purpose. Oh well – we were still glad to be here.

We later let one of our friends, Brian, use it to do his massage work in town. But several key people did contact us through VIVE4U, namely Daniel, Helen, Mike, Nani, Nate and Dova – the latter four did indeed end up coming down here to live and become part of our ever expanding family of friends, (as I shall detail a little further on). Perhaps it was the connection with these people that was the divine purpose in it all.

The highlight for the month of August was a trip took to Saraguro with Jay, Caroline, our hired Taxi Driver, Lenin and his son Jason. It was cold that day, as Saraguro is much higher in the mountains. Saraguro is famous for the women's penchant for wearing these bizarre 'cow hats' (hats with black and white cow spots on the wide brim). I got a chuckle out of that. There must be more to that custom... someday I'll find out. Overall, we were impressed with the charm of this little community and it inspired a series of paintings I would start 9 months later. (more on that later).

September 2009

A Trip Back to the USA

In order to get some needed paperwork for our extended VISA, we needed to go back to the states and in mid-September, we did so, via an all-night bus trip to Guayaquil, a major city on the coast of Ecuador.

We enjoyed a great visit for a few days in Venice, Florida with my mom, dad, and sister Nancy, and it sure was good to see them. They really love Julia and my dad spent the whole time pouring on the charm, flirting with her. My dear mom was doing really well and it was so great to spend this time with them although we all wished it could have been longer.

We spent the rest of the time in the Phoenix area where we were able to enjoy some family time there with Julias family and my daughter Carrie, and also a handful of close friends. I managed to get a round of golf in with Bob and had managed to break 80, shooting a 79 – even with a disasterous 8 on the 8th hole (not bad for a rusty golfer). We had to do an overnight car trip to L.A. to visit the Ecuadorian consulate in downtown Hollywood. The rest of the time there we were guests of my good friend Ken Babb in Scottsdale who opened his home to us to crash for the week. My doctor friend Helen was of great help getting us our needed medical clearance, and before we knew it, we were ready to head on back to South America, taking another load of several boxes of our 'stuff' that we had stored back with us.

The beautiful Malecon Boardwalk in Guayaquil

Ten Days in Guayaquil

On our return trip, Julia had some major abdominal surgery here in Guayaquil in late September, (We saved many dollars by having it done down here) and we stayed in the city at the Malecon Inn, just a block away from the famous and festive Malecon (boardwalk), with gardens, restaurants and clipper ships at the docks.

Guayaquil had earned a reputation as a rough and dangerous city in times past, and in some areas, it still is, but they've chased alot of the criminals out in the last decade. Someone put a lot of money into modernizing and rennovating the waterfront area (the Malecon) which has a rich history. Its probably 3 or 4 miles long. We loved it there. It is much different in flavor from the Andean rural southern Ecuador that we have been living in, and the cosmopolitan and more sophisticated city of Guayquil was a nice change of pace for a bit. It has some of the most beautiful architecture that I've ever seen, as does Cuenca.

Guayquil has beautiful places to walk along the waterfront – several lush beautifully manicured parks, duck ponds, an IMAX theatre, several good restaurants, and it ends at an antique section of the city that dates back to the 1500's. It is built on a steep hill that has 444 steps that reach a hill top with a lighthouse. Along those steps are festive merchants of every type. It's quite a great way to spend an afternoon, as we did on our last day there, when Julia had got her strength back after the surgery. The city is also a real showcase for some of the most magnificent cathedrals I've ever seen.

Antonio and Family Arrive

Also in late September, our neighbors and now good friends Antonio, Marli and their adorable daughter Marina arrived from New York City and moved into the Bamboo House. Antonio was born in Romania but lived for most his adult life in the US, and his lovely wife Marli is from Brazil.

Antonio worked for 15 years as a social worker in New York City. Two years previous to their move to Ecuador, being frustrated by working in a system that seemed dedicated to perpetuating problems, Antonio was deeply shaken by revelations of the lies that became clear after he took an objective look at the true facts surrounding 9/11, which in reality was a manipulated false flag event perpetrated by a cabal in the US government itself. As one living in New York City, the psychological impact of this blatant betrayal changed his life. This sparked an accelerated learning path of geo-political events and he began to 'wake up' to the reality of the thoroughly corrupt system he was living in. Determined to find a better way of life for his wife and daughter, he quit the dead end social work and began a path of self-healing and a study of nutrition.

Over several months they became very health conscious, and desired to get to a place where they could live and raise their daughter in an atmosphere of peace, health and well-being. Their research indicated Ecuador as a most desireable place for those values, and so they prepared their exodus.

Interestingly, as synchronicity would have it, they happened to meet our good friend (and transformation catalyst) Jay Schumaker in an airport during one of their flights and just started a casual chat to pass the time. As the conversation progressed, Jay invited them to come to Vilcabamba and stay in the Bamboo House which had just become available for rent, and the rest is history. They were (and still are) great neighbors, and little Marina and Julia had quickly established a strong bond.

October 2009

Upon our return to Vilcabamba, Julia suffered an infection resulting from complications from her surgery a couple of weeks thereafter. While there were some tense moments in her recovery, (she had a very high fever and chills that was frightening to observe), she faired through it fine after taking some 'magic water' reputed to be from 'the center of the earth' given to us by our new friends (and healers) Brian and Melinda along with some MMS. These treatments had a dramatic positive effect and she was brought back to a normal state within 45 minutes.

3 Days in the Vilcabamba Clinic

However, after her fever was gone, we discovered she had an internal infection and she had to go into the local hospital for an IV antibiotic to get it under control. What we discovered was that the level of 'free' medical care in Ecuador is really quite adequate, and in some ways superior to that of the US, but clearly without frills. For instance, no toilet paper or soap in any of the bathrooms. (You are supposed to bring your own). The care of the doctors was quite generously given, and one never got the impression that they were in a hurry. Without exception, they were intelligent and well spoken and seemed to generally care about the patient. She was in the local Vilcabamba Clinic for 3 days and the only thing we had to actually pay for was the medicine, which I went across the street to purchase at the pharmacy, and it were not very costly at all.

Musical Possibilities Emerge

It was also around October that we met Jan and Ken, a San Diego couple who had arrived in Vilcabamba via a half year spent in Monediveo, Uruguay. They are both professional musicians around the same age as me (mid fifties) – and both excellent blues singers. They had made quite a stir in Montediveo, as the local music culture there just loved american blues music. Ken in particular had a great talent for stage presence, vocals and blues harp, and has rubbed shoulders with many of the greats of American Blues. They had been very successful there in Uruaguay, playing to sold out crowds seven nights a week.

However, Jan was eager to move on to check out Vilcabamba, which was next on their travel list. I was particularly happy they arrived, as Ken and I hit it off pretty good and we began to practice together regularly in hopes of putting a new band together here. I learned about two dozen new blues songs in a short time, and we tried to find other musicians of high calibre to complete a working band.

Halloween Weekend in Cuenca

As the end of October wound down, we were eagerly expecting the arrival of two couples we had connected with through VIVE4U: the first to arrive in early November: Mike, Nani, and their son Declan. But for the end of October and my birthday on Halloween, we went with our friends Jay, Caroline and Jay's daughter Erin to Cuenca to enjoy the cultural hub of Ecuador for three days. Many consider Cuenca to be the cultural jewel of South America, and it does have a distinct element of 'class' to it. The 4-hour trip by bus up there from Vilcabamba was breathtaking in it's scenery – a truly amazing journey that took us deep into valleys and then way up above the clouds.

The Central Cathedral in Cuenca is one many Ecuadorian architectural masterworks

At 8200 feet above sea level, Cuenca is a high altitude city, and the climate is decidedly on the cool side, compared to the warmer climate of Vilcabamba. But being one who lived 40 years in New England, it felt great to me. Once there, we really loved the vibe of the city. It has a level of 'sophistication' that is absent in Loja, and after more than three months in southern rural Ecuador, Cuenca was a welcome change.

The pride the citizen's took in their city was obvious – they wash the streets at night, and there are trash barrels strategically placed throughout, which most of the people make use of, for it is a tidy city by South American standards. Cuenca has a wealth of music and art and those sensibilities are clearly valued by the city's inhabitants.

Most welcome was that there are many great places to eat, walk and otherwise just 'hang-out' there and have a great cup of coffee or a gourmet pastry. It was easy to understand why Cuenca is home to so many ex-pats.

November 2009

Mike, Nani and Family – Our Friends from New Hampshire

Upon our return home to our Butterfly House, Mike, Nani and Declan showed up soon thereafter. It was a great evening meeting them in person after so much time spent on SKYPE calls over the last few months. Mike, (an unassuming, tall, lanky go-with-the-flow kind of guy) and Declan are quite musical. Nani is a very likeable, intelligent woman of strong character as well and we were so pleased to finally see them arrive here. They are from New Hampshire, an area I visited frequently in my 40 years living in Massachusetts. So, there was much common ground and we became instantaneous friends. Their long time friends, Nate and Dova were scheduled to come early the next month.

It was also around this time that I finally met Daren, our immediate neighbor up on the mountaintop behind us, who had been back in the States for several months. Daren's a professional basketball coach in the midwest, and goes back there for a few months every year to put on a series of clinics and makes his money, which he lives off of the rest of the year down here. A very tall likeable and ambitious young man of about 40, I liked him immediately, as he is an enthusiastic music fan.

'Casa de Carol'

In mid-November, our friends Jay and Caroline decided to move from the main house on the property to another situation that came their way. The main house is a very large house, know by the locals as 'Casa De Carol' due to the fact that it was owned and partially built by the well-known NASA Scientist Carol Rosen and her husband/actor John Cipher. The house is huge, gorgeous, and sits high up on a mountain knoll. Of course the rent was higher, but it was still less than a 'b' grade 1-bedroom apartment in Arizona, so we were eager to move next door, up the hill and become the new on-site property caretakers while the owners were waiting for the property to sell, (which it did the following spring). Clearly, this was a house built for entertaining, and entertain we did with several parties and gatherings, as well weekly 'movie nights' on Daren's big plasma TV screen which he brought down (which we started a bit later in January).

Our first act as the new on-site property managers was not pleasant: we had to fire Franco, the long-time gardener on the property for stealing $20 out of Erin's purse on our move-in day. He had long been suspected of other thefts but this time, he was caught and confessed to it, so there was only one thing to do in the situation, and that was to inform the owner's liason, Juan Diego, who directed us to terminate his position immediately. But once that was done, we quickly found another gardener, a likeable young man with a young family named Rubin, who was trained in organic gardening at the University in Loja. He and Julia quickly began planning working the various garden areas on the property.

'What's Working'

Also during this time was an evolution of a group named 'What's Working' which met weekly, spearheaded by Susan Davis. The group's purpose was to help all the 'gringo' visitors and residents to acclimate to living in Ecuador in a more 'tranquilo' fashion – by understanding better the local customs and mentality and come into better balance. So, it was basically information to help 'foreigner's' like us be less annoying to those that have long called this beautiful valley their home, for their ways are much different from our ways. We became acutely aware that not all locals welcomed the gringo influence, especially when it is accompanied with trademark arrogance.

Walter gives Julia a hands-on lesson in organic gardening.

Sue Terry and Montesuenos Revisited

Late November also saw another conference held at Montesuenos with our dear friend, teacher and saxaphonist extraordinaire, Sue Terry. We had met Sue when we were on vacation the previous spring, and shared a few days with her at the Montesuenos Guest Cottage, and liked each other enough to keep in touch ever since.

Sue had just completed an Ayahausca journey in Quito with notable mystic, Stuart Wilde, which I was most interested in hearing about, as I was a long time reader of Stuart's writings and always valued his spiritual perspective as well as his sharp wit. Julia and I attended and assisted the conference as necessary. The place is as beautiful as ever, and we fondly recalled our vacation time spent there the previous April, which had proved to be such a pivotal, life-changing event that called us to make the move here to Ecuador.

That Saturday night, Susan Davis and Walter hosted a big party up at their house that is up on the south ridge above Vilcabamba. Sue, Ken and I played music live and it was a great memory. There were probably 70-80 people there. On her last night in town, Sue stayed with Julia and I at the Casa De Carol and we enjoyed the brief opportunity to talk and catch up with each other.

Ken, Sue and myself jamming it out.

Mi Amigo Greg and One Magical Night

Another nice connection happened in late November when a couple around our age, Greg and Deborah arrived from Cuenca looking for a place to stay and ended up renting the Butterfly House for a month. Greg and I really hit it off, and became fast friends. One of the most stress-free, laid back personalities I've ever encountered, I felt like I had met yet another long lost brother in Greg. He's been a world traveller for many years, buying and selling property and things to finance his vagabond lifestyle, and he's got it working for him. We discovered we enjoy the same kind of music and spent a lot of time just hanging out. However, after only three days in Vilcabamba, he and his partner of four years split up, as Deborah refused to stay, accustomed to more 'civilized' surrounding, and headed back to Cuenca. Greg ended up staying on til the end of the month but by the first week in December, he decided to leave as well. Last I heard he and Deb had reunited and are currently living up in British Columbia, very happily.

Morning Mist surrounds the Podocarpus Wilderness, adjacent to Vilcabamba

I'll never forget one magical night in late november when Mike, Jay, Caroline, Greg, Johanna, Akia, Camilla, Julia and me, and a handful of others happened on a spontaneous adventure. Akai and Camilla had just returned from Quito with a Jeep they had bought full of their stuff and were heading up to their new mountain home for the first time, which they had just rented for $80 per month. It was quite remote. It was also Camilla's birthday and Akai was wanting a celebration. So, naturally we all volunteered to help move their things in as we happened to all be there down in the village square.

Funny: According to Camilla, their home was just a short '10 minute walk' from the end of the road. So, at 9 pm, we started up the path, each of us carrying what we could on our back and in our hands. No lights of neighbors anywhere in sight. It was pitch black, muddy and a steady incline as we followed the path next to the river up the mountain, which I could discern had sheer drop-offs here and there to the rocks and rushing waters below.

Exhausted, and an hour later, we arrived at their mountaintop home, on the edge of vast the Podocarpis wilderness. It was the longest, hardest 10 minute walk in history! Unfortunately, because of the time it took to get up there, we only had a short time to celebrate before we had to return in order to meet a prearranged taxi ride home (unusual for one of the taxis to agree to come so late). But we opened a couple of bottles of wine, joked about Camilla's 'ten-minute easy walk', quickly drank, played and sang a few tunes with the guitars and headed back down again, laughing all the way.

Fortunately, going down from their home went a lot quicker, and at one point, as I was leading the group down when I came face to face with a cow on the path, who greeted me with a profound 'MOOOOOOOOOOOO' in my face out of the darkness! That perfected the night.

What would Ecuador be without their cows?

The unlikeliness of this little spontaneous adventure was one of those things we live for, and that has happened quite a few times in the last year. It was a magical night of a in-the-moment unplanned 'happening', shared by good friends, and full of the exhileration of being free and fully alive – in a totally unknown place that is earmarked by laughter, joy, a bit of real danger, and a mooing cow. This, in a nutshell, is what the magic of Vilcabamba is all about.

December 2009

Nate and Dova Arrive, with 'Sampson'

Mike and Nani's friends, Nate and Dova arrived as expected in early December and a lovely couple they are. They come from California, via Costa Rica. I quickly learned that Nate and I have much in common: art, music, a strong interest in esoteric subjects, and we're both Scorpios! (as is also Mike). So, I was excited by musical possibilities, as well as yet another strong friendship based on common values and similar level of awareness of things. Dova is a beautiful woman and gentle spirit. She, like Jay's wife Caroline, speaks with a decided british accent.
They brought a huge dog down with them, 'Sampson', and no sooner got here that they discovered Dova was pregnant! (Update: Dova had the baby last week, on 8/2, Nani's Birthday).

Sadly (for me), my new friend Greg had to move on to attend some business back in the states and I think he wanted to try to resolve things with his partner Deb. I was sorry to see him go, as we had such an easy connection. Also sadly for me, by December, Ken had decided to move on too, as he was hungering for performing which is his gift and Vilcabamba just wasn't the place he could do that. I could clearly see that coming. Ken thrives in city life.

However, Jan was determined to stay and establish her healing practice. So, sadly, another couple go their separate ways but it made sense, as each had very different preferred lifestyles. So, I was sorry to see Ken leave as well, but understood well his reasons. Last I heard he was back on the west coast of the US, happy, and regularly playing in another blues band.

Me, Julia, Tor and Rubin work on preparing the garden beds

Planting a New Garden and Holiday Parties

As December rolled on, Julia began to really get excited about rejuvenating the gardens at the Casa de Carol, and so, began plotting with Rubin about what to plant and where to plant it. She made hand-painted signs, and studied which plants do well together as neighbors. So, Anja, Julia, Rubin, me and Tor all helped prepare and plant the new gardens. Around this time Antonio and family moved out of the Bamboo House to another spot and a visitor from Amsterdam, Anja, moved in.

We hosted two fun Christmas parties spaced only a few days apart... one for a small group of close friends, and the second one where we invited about 100 people. Both were well attended and we enjoyed lots of fun, music, food and drink.

Some of our new circle of friends that were there were: Jay and Caroline, Bruce and Jenice, Jose and Lucia, Susan and Walter, Daren, Tor, Mike, Nani, and Declan, Nate and Dova, Deloris, Ken and Joyce, Luli and Jose, Luke and Sarah, Anja, Marcel and Isabel, Brian, Melinda and their two boys, Joshua and Michael, Nick and Laura, Mark and Marie, our housekeeper Maria and her family, as well our Taxi Driver of preference, Lenin and his family, and our new gardener Rubin, and his family as well as many others.

End of a Business Relationship / End of the Year

It was around this time (late December) where my work took a dramatic change too. I had been having trouble with my primary collaborator for my graphic work for some time, and over November and December, he failed to keep our agreement (again) in paying me for my work, so by the last week in December, I had to end that relationship on a matter of self respect, as the balance he owed me was now well into five figures. Not so easy, as it was fairly easy money while it was flowing, but I was beginning to resent him and couldn't live with that kind of negative energy.

It was a big decision, but it is one I now happy I made, for it freed me up to do so many other more positive, productive and creative things with my time. Honestly, the need to make money here is not nearly the stress factor of what it is in the US. It's been 8 months since then and we've been able to maintain ourselves here financially very well.

New Years Eve, 12/31/09 was also quite memorable, for the gigantic party that occurred down in the Vilca Village. The entire town square was wall-to-wall people. There were bonfires and dancing and music and general happy craziness all around. All good. We went home around 2, but we could still hear the noise from the village for another hour or two as we tried to fall asleep.

For some strange reason, Ecuadorians love loud noises, and occasionally on the weekends and especially on any 'holiday' you can here loud bangs as cherry bombs are going off all over the place. I don't get it. It was really irritating at first, but we got use to it. Now, we just laugh.

January 2010

As January began, we were beginning the process of permanent residency with a Quito Lawyer, Gabriella Espinosa, who proved to get the job done for us (with a little proaction and persistence on our part), athough it took right up to the very last day – (almost three months later). The total cost was around $2500.

The Beginning of a Local Crime Wave

Also around this time period (end of December/beginning of January) was a shocking armed robbery of our friends Susan and Walter up at their remote home on the southern ridge of Mountains overlooking Vilcabamba. Several men, dressed in military garb knocked on thier door one night claiming to be the police. They busted in, brually tied them both up at gun point after confiscating their cash and proceeded to trash the rest of the house as violently as possible.

A very community minded couple, Susan and Walter had done a lot of good in the community. They had donated quite a bit of money to building a school for the local people and other charitable endeavors, so that such a brutal thing would happen to such an altruistic couple was a real shocker for the entire region, the locals as well. We can only speculate that perhaps someone somewhere didn't like the progressive influences that they were bringing to the community, or it is possible it was just an act of random violence. But it does seem like they were specifically targeted. Fortunately, although they were very shook up they were relatively unharmed save for a sprained arm for Walter.

Sadly, this was only the first of several similar events that were to impact this peaceful valley in the Spring of 2010.

Julia visits AZ / Movie Nights

In mid January, Julia made a two-week solo return trip to Arizona. Her trip was two-fold in purpose: 1) to see her son Christian who was home from Iraq on Army leave, her daughter Jasmine and family, and her new grandson, Caleb, which had recently been born, and 2) to bring back down here the rest of our 'stuff' that we had stored there as checked baggage on the airplane. To conserve funds, and also keep an eye on our new home here, I stayed behind. It was a long two weeks.

While Julia was away, I began a weekly 'Movie Night' at the Casa de Carol. We had collected quite an extensive movie collection by then, and it was a real pleasure to share some great films, assorted musical concerts, and thoughtful documentaries with our friends. Our Movie Nights quickly became a popular weekly event in town.

It was also during this time that I met a friendly and interesting lady named Daya, while having a scrambled egg breakfast down at the hostel Madre Tierre, at the base of our hill. Daya had travelled the world, hiked the himilayas, owned a flat in Rumania, and now was here to check out this famed Valley of Longevity with intentions of possibly staying long term. It was a pleasure to meet and talk with her. I invited her up after breakfast and gave her a tour of the property where we were staying.

Around this same time period we met another family. Peter Fox (from Washington State) and his brother Nathan (from Switzerland) and their families came into town to check out Madre Tierre, which was also for sale by Carol Rosen. Indeed they eventually bought the hostel, finalized later in April, and the finca (farm) next to it. They are a really nice Christian family with children.

A danish couple named Keung and Carolina eventually purchased the Casa de Carol and were slated to move in by May, so we knew our days at this wonderful house would be numbered. But little did we know, our living situation would just get better. The Vilca family of friends was ever expanding.

I had really missed Julia when she was gone. Life was not the same without her, and once she returned we began to talk more seriously about our future together. It seemed to be destiny that we be together, and as would also be expedient for our residency Visas, we had decided on the spot to partake in a common law marriage at the notary's office in Loja on Feb 2.

February 2010

Julia and I toast at our informal Wedding Ceremony, 2/14/2010

We Get Married

February began with us signing documents declaring our union on February 2, making us legally married under Ecuadorian common law. We were eager to share the news with family and friends, but when we had got home that evening, we discovered we were without water, which is a serious crises for anyone here in Ecuador. So, for the next day and the day after, I was preoccupied with the logistics of getting our water situation straightened out. It turns out that the house, which was for sale, had a firm offer put in on it. The sale was considered in place and for that reason the water, which we had been getting from a well on another property, (also owned by Carol Rosen), was cut off to us without notice by her manager Juan Diego.

We eventually got hooked up to the town water (via San Pedro), but the entire town system was down for several days that week due to mudslides from heavy rains and it took some time to get it up and running again. Anway, while I was preoccupied with attending to these practical matters, Julia was so thrilled at our union she changed her 'status' on facebook to 'married'. In checking my email one night, I simply had clicked 'ok' when I got an automatic email to that effect, without thinking of what it was for, as I was intending to write an official declaration to family and friends a bit later when I had more time to put my attention on it. Well, it wasn't until the third day after, a Friday, that I found the time to write a properly worded email announcing our union, but by that time, my children had noticed the 'status change' on Facebook and were all (understandibly) deeply offended!


Well, what can one do? I was sad for the misunderstanding but was determined not to let it steal the joy of our occasion. We decided to have a small ceremony with a few of our closest friends (about 30) up at Montesuenos on St. Valentines Day. It proved to be a beautiful day and a very memorable event. I played an original song on piano that Julia had inspired of me, and our good friend Jay served as the Justice of the Peace, and we shared personal vows that we each had written.

Knowing well how I love chocolate, Jay's sweet wife Caroline made the most incredible triple chocolate cake, with all natural ingredients, which is her forte. She really went overboard on this one. We really felt so much love from everyone. A more perfect day for such an event I could not have imagined, save for our families being there. We feel so very blessed.

A Mishap on the Mountain

A week or so before the wedding celebration, we went with Akai and Camilla to look at some land they were trying to purchase on the other side of Mondango (the trademark 'sacred mountain' that guards Vilcabamba). It was quite beautiful but severely mountainous. At one point, Julia decided she wanted to climb up a steep section with Akai. She didn't get too far when she reached for a branch that didn't hold her and she fell some 15 feet or so, badly hurting her left shoulder, which left her a lot of pain. (pain that persists to this day, in August).

Contrasting Energies

So, February was a quite a month of contrasting energies, that began with a host of practical problems with water, and unintentionally offending my children, and Julia falling while hiking and hurting her left shoulder. However, it also was a beautiful month in terms of our marriage celebration, and our continued weekly movie nights, which as many as 25-30 people would show up for on Friday (and later Sunday) nights. Life here in Ecuador continued to unfold in unexpected ways.

Julia, me, Akai and Camilla on our wedding day at dusk

March 2010

Introduction to Consul

In early March we began weekly gatherings that were initated by a new friend in town, Mark. Mark spends part time in Vermont, and the rest of the time either travelling or here in Vilcabamba. He was one of the most enthusiastic fans of our weekly 'movie nights', so we had good rapport.

One evening, after the weekly movie about six of us gathered around the round table at our house and Mark initiated us into a way of improving interpersonal relationships named 'Consul'.

The basic premise of Consul is to establish a forum in which everyone has an opportunity to speak. It's based on the native american 'talking stick' idea. When one has 'the stick' no-one else is allowed to talk or interrupt, thereby insuring that the speaker is given all the time and space to say whatever they wish to say to completion.

It is the 'job' of everyone else at the table, who is not holding the talking stick, to listen with their hearts, as wells their ears. The subject matter is completely open. We usually began be simply stating a 'weather report' of how we are feeling and anything that is pressing on our minds in that moment. Then, once everyone has chimed in their presence, the topic of conversation would often morph for the remainder of the evening, usually set to a two hour time period.

We found Consul very valuable. For, it allows a 'sacred space' in which it is ok to 'be real'. It improves interpersonal communication... both on the speaking end, and especially on the listening end. During our two months involved with Consul at the Casa de Carol, we maintained a consistent core group. However, a few people came and went during that time. For us, it was always a highlight of the week. Our friend Anja, who began our first two Consul meetings with us, decided to go back to Amsterdam after a couple of weeks, being frustrated by financial problems and not finding a way to make money to sustain her life here. She was a brave soul, coming here by herself with very little resources. And we wish her well.

But we had another new couple come into town around this time name Lina and Linas from Lithuania. Linas did not stay involved past the first two sessions but Lina was an enthusiastic participant. She is a trained engineer, and her partner Linas is also brilliant, in an 'out-of-box kind of way. Tor, Daya, Daren, and later, Stan and Elena, as well as Julia, Mark, and myself became the core group, until we moved in late April.

Another Robbery Hits Close to Home

On the flip side of all this good, positive stuff happening, our friends and neighbors Dan and Joel up near Malacatos were victims of another (attempted) armed robbery by gunpoint at about 11pm one night. But as it turns out, Susan and Walter's unfortunate event had inspired a tighter security network. The local community banned together and formed a communication network with cell phones and walky talkies. Several homes also installed alarm systems. So when Joel called Daren (who was in Quito) on his cell phone that a robbery was in the process of taking place, Daren immediately called a bunch of people, including Tor, who was in the house with us at the time. We were out the door in within 3 minutes and scurried down the hill to meet a taxi that was retained by Brian, and about a dozen of us when up there in support of our friends as fast as we could.

The Dome House of Dan and Joel

A few of us actually beat the police, who had a rather unconcerned attitude, and looked like they didn't quite know what to make of all these people showing up at the crime scene close to midnight. When we arrived we learned that Joel's window was violently shattered as he lay in bed and after rolling over and calling for help, he found his handgun and fired at the window after he saw a shotgun poke through the broken window. The criminals quickly fled without a trace after that shot. It was obvious from the lack of any blood trail that he had missed.

It was not clear who these 'ladrones' were. Some said they were roving bands of thieves from Columbia that just roam all over the continent, hit an an area for awhile, and then move on. Others said they had local 'moles' here that were complicit in setting up specific 'hits'. We don't know exactly. We have learned that even this tranquil little valley has its own version of a local 'mafia' and some of these individuals are in installed in various levels of powerful positions. Consequently, the local people are in a state of fear to speak out when these things happen and just remain silent, even when they know a person that is involved.

Of course, none of this is proveable, but its being whispered about and seems to be the accurate state of affairs. So, there were a handful of these types of incidences that happened in the spring, mostly consisting of petty thefts and they were not all aimed at gringos, for several local people were also victims of this gang of theives, including the robbing and beating of a 86 year old Ecuadorian grandmother. Fortunately, all this insanity died down by the end of April and there has been no incidences reported since that time. The positive thing about all this violence is that it had tightened up the local community – gringo and locals alike and inspired the necessity of being our brother's keeper. As was shown in the fast response to Dan and Joel's place that night, it became well understood in the community that we were ready to come to each other's aid when anyone is threatened by an unwanted intuder.

Residency Completed: We are Now Legal Residents of Ecuador

On a happy note, on March 21, we got our permanent residency officially done. It took to the very last day, but Gabriella Espinosa and our first attorney, Marco Munos got it done for us. Marco was particularly helpful in drafting the Union de Hecho (common law marriage document) and didn't even want payment for it. He's a real gentleman and a man I've come to have a lot of respect for. However, due to Gabriella's relationship with a key person in the Ecuadorian Consulate in Washington DC, and the proximity of her office to all the government offices in Quito, we decided to have her guide us through the Visa completion. So, now we are full Ecuadorian residents and can stay here as long as we wish to. Julia and I breathed a big sigh of relief, as such a process does not often go as smoothly as it did for us. We counted our blessings.


In March, I also had an uncommon connection with a visitor named William, a University Professor of History who is about my age and was on an exploratory trip from Florida. I continue to be amazed at how I manage to meet these people who feel like long lost family to me. William is another example of one of these great people connections. He only stayed for a few days, but left intending to pull up his roots and return later in the summer with his two daughters.

During this time, I was writing an ebook, 'Down the Rabbit Hole' (see my website,, which was a synthesis of my awareness of things at this point in time, incorporating a timeline of supressed history. William contributed some details I was not aware of concerning some of the history of Lincoln's era and the 'National System of Economics'. As a professor who teaches 'alternative history' in an all black university, he is a most knowledgeable individual. It was enlightening to see yet another layer of how we've all been lied to in the American public educational system and how the truth of history has been witheld from us by the controlling powers that be.

April 2010

Brian Helps Julia with Theraphy

All this while, Julia continued to be in a lot of pain from her shoulder injury, and fortunately Brian gave much help to her in exchange for use of our office space. He and Melinda also had a heated bed that utlized crystals for healing that they let us use for several nights, and that seemed to help quite a bit. They've been a wonderful help to us, and very generous with their time. Gradually, her pain has diminished but it is still an issue and she continues to work on mobility exercises to heal the torn tendons.

New Friends and Our Next Move

As our departure from the Casa de Carol loomed closer, we received an offer from our friends Antonio and Marli to house-sit the finca that they were staying at, for they were about to take a two-and-a-half month trip back to New York for a family visit. This proved to be a really wonderful opportunity for us to live rent free for awhile in a most beautiful location, albeit remote, as I will detail in a moment.

We had also developed still more friendships with new people we continued to get to know. Patrick is on of these cherished friends, whom we've begun to really love. He looks much like you would expect Santa Claus to look like with a big white beard. Patrick is 80 something years old and lives alone in San Jaoquin, a bario of Vilcabamba. Like two other families we met here, he comes here by way of Maui. A most interesting man, Patrick is full of interesting stories and was drawn here by his studies in longevity. He was a police officer when he was young and an art gallery respresentative in Maui for many years. I tell you, for 80 something he's quite 'the man' and possesses a very sharp intellect and open mind. He is, without a doubt, one of the most aware and awake men I've every met of his age.

Another couple of friends we've really come to appreciate is Greg (another greg, yes) and his wife Jill. They are building a house in San Joaquin and we connected just shortly before their 3 month departure in April back to Washington State, where they have rental properties that sustain their early retirement here. (They are my age). As of this writing they just arrived back here and we were pleased to see them last week when stopped by the Finca here for a visit. We hope to get to k now them better as well.

Mike and Nani Go Back to New Hampshire

Mike, Nani and Declan returned back to New Hampshire in early April, intending a short stay there to get some things resolved before coming back to complete their residency requirements here. However, unresolved trouble with Mike's ex-wife ended up changing their plans and making a longer stay necessary, as Mike honorably chose to stay and try to resolve the conflict for as long as it takes. They are a much loved family by all who know them, and they are very much missed by everyone here, and we wish them a speedy return, whenever it is right for them to do so.

2nd Trip to Cuenca

In mid-April we made a return trip to Cuenca for a getaway holiday for a few days before we needed to move out of the Casa de Carol. We stayed with a young Ecuadorian mother and her baby in a 3rd floor flat right near the center of the city. It was a perfect location to access everywhere on foot. It turns out she is an english teacher, and they offered us a room for $50 for the week. We only needed 4 days/3 nights, but it was very nice, and on our final night there, she and her boyfriend cooked us a wonderful seafood dinner with wine.

One of many charming Cuenca doorways

During our Cuenca visit we got more in touch with the city. On several occasions we ran into Californians Edward and Cathy, who are now residents of Cuenca, but had attended our wedding at Montesuenos, as they just happened to be staying there at the time. On Edward's enthusiastic recommendation, we discovered what I considered to be the best breakfast place in the country: Bananas (incredible hash brown potatoes), as well as several other great places to eat. We took in a free movie that was shown in the central square, and also took in a memorable evening at the symphony in a beautiful old cathedral, also performed for free for the people of Cuenca.

Artist Amigos

Best of all, we saw a flyer of an interesting house for sale on the edge of town and we went out to take a look. It turns out the home is owned by an artist couple (Gonzo and Katy) and it was a lovely home indeed. Three levels, with a terrace, lots of creative stone work and a separate income producing apartment, offered for $120K.

However, after meeting and talking with them, they suggested we come with them to see their land where they are building their new home out in the country. So, we ended up spending the entire day with them as they proudly shared their family's property with us.

They live about 35 minutes southwest of Cuenca in an area that looks like switzerland. It's gorgeous. And, they are both really very good artists, in fact, the entire family are all artists of one kind or another. Katy's father is quite famous in Ecuador. They have a huge beautiful home under contruction that has panoramic views in all directions. We were really touched by the warm friendliness and openness of this young couple, who went out of their way to personally drive us back to the city. We certainly intend to keep up the friendship when we next return to Cuenca.

Ecuadorian Golfers Welcome Us

On our last day in Cuenca, I was determined to find the golf course! Being a golf bum in withdrawal that I am, I just wanted to see a golf course, if not play it. Ecuador has only seven golf courses in the country, and one of them is in Cuenca. It is, however, a private club, and it is most beautiful. It is nine holes over severely sloping land with huge mature trees. It was quite an ordeal finding it, in an area south of the city named San Jaoquin, tucked in its own private little valley at the end of a road. But after exploring by foot for an hour or so, we finally found it. By that time, it was raining, but we went up to the clubhouse and were warmly greeted by a foursome of guys who had just finished playing. They were so friendly. We must really stand out from the locals, for they waved us over, and ordered us drinks. They told me anytime I wish to come and play, to contact one of them and I can play as their guest anytime and even use their clubs! If it wasn't raining, I would have taken them up on the offer in that moment, but we'll have to consider a raincheck for that. We left Cuenca feeling supremely welcomed, as we entertained ideas of a possible future there.

Morning Clouds cover the valley below at the Finca de Allan

Finca de Allan

When we got back to Vilcabamba, we barely had time to collect our things in order to move up to the Finca de Allan, our new home for several months. The Finca de Allan is a wonderful working, productive farm sitting at about 6,500 feet (much higher in altitude than Vilcabamba) on a mountaintop that is about ten miles or so up the road towards Loja. It has corn, several different kinds of berries, many vegetables and frut trees of many varieties. It also has a windmill set up. When the owner (Allan) returns later this year, he will activate it for self-sustained off-the-grid power. Beautiful.

The front room at the Finca affords astounding views of mountains above and the valley below

So, as Antonio and family were on their way at this time, it was moving-in day for us. I apologize for the overuse of superlatives but the scenery up here is truly amazing and even grander than that of the beautiful home we left. Allan is an attorney in Alaska, preparing for his exodus from the oppressive legal world. So, we were now charged with keeping the place safe and also seeing to it that the finca continues to operate and that the workers get paid, etc. So, with three or four trips with a taxi/truck, we managed to get all our stuff up here for about $35. Our new (temporary) home felt absolutely wonderful to us.

On the southern end of the house is a spacious covered porch that looks directly down on the entire Malacatos Valley, far below. In the grass yard out front are beautiful flowers of every color. And the light changes continually throughout the day as different mountains get illuminated. Best of all, there is an ever present breeze which I love. Julia is less enthusiastic on this point, as she gets cold much easier than I do, but the prevailing breeze has cut down a lot on the amount of mosquitos that became kind of a nuisance at the Casa de Carol, so it really was a welcome change.

The view off our porch

But it was change in more ways than one: The Casa de Carol had become a popular social spot, as we were central to three other houses on the property and consequently, there was always people around. We really enjoyed playing host to parties and other gatherings during our six months there, however, by the time we needed to move to make way for Keung and Carolina, the new owners, we were ready for some reflective 'down time' to relax and take a break from what had become a very active social life. The Finca, in its somewhat remote location and being a bit of a challenge to get to, forced us into this more 'tranquilo' relaxed space. It was just what I needed and it really fed my creativity.

May 2010

Julia Teaches English at the Technical University in Loja

As we settled into our new home, an opportunity to teach at the Technical University in Loja was presented to Julia, and she enthusiastically accepted her two-and-a-half-month, 2-day-a-week assignment. However, it turned into a full time job! (more on that in a bit). She would start near the end of the month of May.

Global Genius Trust

It was during this month that I began getting to know Dan and Joel better, and I agreed to help co–create with them a vision they have had for some time of creating a network of likeminded, nobel-intentioned people of high ideals, to co-create innovative solutions for many of the problems facing humanity on a global level. After looking at their stated intentions, I decided this was a project I could get behind. They needed a website and I had the skills to get one built. So, it was a match and we began creating the website for Global Genius Trust (currently at more than 100 pages, and still in progress).

Joel (in his past) was a highly skilled computer programmer and is someone with very large ideas for making this world a better place. Dan is a doctor who has partnered with him some five years ago in establishing a cutting-edge Stem Tech Lab, here in their home in Malacatos. I've come to trust and respect them both. Now, we are neighbors, sort of. Where we are currently at, the Finca de Allan, I can see their dome house in the distance about 5 miles across the valley on a hill top on the other side of the Malacatos Valley.

Summer of 2010: A Creative Streak

So much of the my time since then has been involved with getting GGT up and running. I also had entered partnership agreement with my old friend Bob Wildes on the Cape, to bring some of his ideas to fruition. His two projects are 'Bob's Making a Movie' which will give ordinary people a chance to star in a feature file, and also 'Portent Publishing' which will give aspiring writers an opportunity to get their work published. Both projects are currently still in progress. So, since our move up to the finca here, I've been fairly glued to my computer, working hard and putting in long hours.

But all aspects of my creative instincts have been fed since moving here: Jay (a gifted hypnotherapist and counsellor) and I have begun a collaborative book together dealing with the 'Optimization of Energy'. He's feeding me concepts and ideas and I'm putting it together in words, (and later, graphics). I have increasingly enjoyed writing as another avenue of creative expression, and I am thoroughly immersed in putting these concepts forth with clarity For me, it's nothing but fun.

A New Ecuadorian-Theme Painting Series

Also, I completed a tryptech oil painting, my first one in Ecuador. It is a theme of 3 canvass panels called 'Threshold of a Dream' for an Artshow that was scheduled to open the first week in June at a new gallery in Vilcabamba that is hosted by our friends Maya and Yazu. I drew inspiration for this, and also a forthcoming series that I intend to complete, from our trip last August to Saraguro, a community about two hours away that is known for it's indigenous inhabitants. The town there had an amazing collection of wall painting/art and inspiring sculptures which epitomize for me what Ecuador was all about.

Tryptich: Threshold of a Dream

New Musical Inspirations

In addition to submitting a painting, I was asked to perform solo music for the event. So, in preparation, I spent several weeks recording some new tunes, including four new brazilian Jobim classics, which I just love to play. This has now become a monthly event which we look forward to, as its well attended by many people, and my art as well as my music has been very well received.

June 2010

June was another month I was totally immersed in work. If I wasn't working on a website, I was recording new background music tracks to play in my live gigs, (which I was asked to do more of), or working on my next painting. My second painting for the July Show I did during this time – I named it 'Juxtaposition'.


Professor French Sloshes down the Donkey Path

Julia was continuing her teaching gig at the University. She really was enjoying it, and getting enthusiastic response from her students (one of which indicated having somewhat of an 'older woman' fantasy/crush on her). But the logisitics of getting to and from the University in Loja were exhausting for her, given her schedule. At the beginning of the term, it was still the rainy season, and she had to begin her first class at 7am. That means she would be up before 4am and start heading down the donkey path (20 minute in dry daylight) – in total darkness and often in the pouring rain to get down to the highway in order to catch a ride with either the bus or a fellow instructor by 6am. (She later hooked up with Vilcabamba resident and fellow instructor Gregg who had a similar schedule at that time).

I learned that Julia is very dedicated when she takes something on: For her two days a week she was actually putting in a full time effort as she would spend at least a couple of days a week her preparing her classes for the next week and another day grading papers. Consequently, I was most impressed by her work ethic.

Although it was hard on Julia doing the trek into Loja two days a weeek, life was good. I think Julia rediscovered her love for teaching and really appreciated having students that were so responsive to her creative lessons. We both were immersed in work we loved to do. An we'd developed a routine of playing card games or Scrabble (Upwords) at dinner time... 500 Rummey (my favorite), or Casino (Julia's favorite), or Kings in the Corner or (for those no-brain evenings): Go Fish – Anything to pass the time and give her the extended time she needs to digest her food (a requirement of her digestive operation two years previously). Then we would often, as we do now, enjoy a movie or concert afterwards.

July 2010

Julia Tries to Get Paid for Working 2.5 Months, and is Still Trying

Incredibly, when Julia's term was complete the first week in July, she still had not been paid anything! She was due a little over $500. for her two months of work. (I wonder if she averaged even $2 per hour for all the time she put in, but money wasn't the reason she was working). Still, herein began a whole other misadventure in simply trying to get paid, which still has not been resolved. We've been working on it for a month and a half now and we still have no check.

The University, which has a really beautiful campus, is owned by the Catholic Church, which of course has more money than God. However the administration has shown itself to be quite disorganized. In fact, on her first day she showed up to the classroom and the door was locked, with a line of students waiting outside. It took most of her class time just to find a maintenance worker for the University who had a key to unlock the door. This happened not once, not twice, but several times during her term there. In order to get paid, she had to complete several forms and each time was told by someone different that it wasn't filled out correctly (Ecuadorians have this thing about their forms being filled out letter perfect). The trouble is, you get a diffferent version of what 'correct' is with each administrator you talk with! Each person in the chain told her something different as to what was required.

We have learned this level of disorganization is a very common theme in all of Ecuador – the beuraucracy is unbelievably inept. Clearly, Ecuador is a place where common sense does not have a firm footing. The rules change from person-to-person, day-to-day and there seems to be no overiding standards that anyone can depend upon.

There's an upside to this: At least it's not the Big Brother Total Surveillance Control society that has systematically taken over the USA. Here, its the antithesis of that. And we can deal with it. But it does make life frustrating but also quite a comedy at times. One has to keep a sense of humor about these things or you will just go nuts. In our year living here, we have encountered this kind of thing everywhere – in the immigration offices, as well as with most all other government offices and businesses alike. Its kind of like entering a movie starring the Three Stooges. Really. I don't mean to be unkind, but the people here just don't have business kind of stuff together at all. When Julia and I went last week to the University in person to find out why she hadn't been paid yet, the finance office couldn't even find a record of her teaching there! And she had taught there faithfully for two and a half months and had submitted all this paperwork before she started!!!

Well, we still await resolution of this... well, see how it plays out. Meanwhile, we just have to laugh.

Antonio and Family Return

It was not long into July when Antonio and Family returned from their journeys, this time purchasing a truck on their arrival here in Ecuador. So, as they had first dibs on the main house, Allan offered the newly finished Casita for us to stay in for the duration until they arrive later in the year. At first, we thought the Casita might be too cramped for us, but then again, free rent is hard to pass up. So we made efforts to organize it well (Julia and I share a compatible sense of organization) and made good use of available space. Now that we are in and got it organized, it felt great. We have often been greeted in the morning by darling Marina's sweet little voice saying "Good Morning Neighbors' as she brings one of her stuffed animals over to do a 'sleep over' with one of our cows, Grizelda and Daisy Belle or one of our giraffes, Gonzo and Pidi. They all get along really good.

An Unexpected Health Crises Emerges and is Resolved

The move next door into the casita went smooth enough, however I may have overdone it lifting some of the things we brought over for on July 12th (my daughter Carrie's birthday), I began to get chest pains that wouldn't go away. They increased throughout the day, extending down both my arms and by nighttime, it was so painful I couldn't sleep. I first tried several doses of nitro that I had on hand from my doctor in the States, but it had no effect. The pains increased. So, in the wee hours of the morning, Julia insisted we wake up Antonio next door and have him take us to St. Augustine, the best private hospital in Loja. She seemed really scared.

They responded without delay, and we were there in about 40 minutes. I was still hurting for several hours after being taken in to their ICU. They began working on getting my blood pressure down, and gave me morphine for the pain (nasty stuff – make me vomit twice). Eventually, with the help of a multitude of drugs, I was able to sleep. I had a stent put in five yeras ago, and that seemed to be the point of blockage. It turned out my heart did not go into cardiac arrest, but I did indeed have a heart attack, and was very lucky (or rather a recipient of divine grace) our friends and neighbors were there with a vehicle to help us get timely help when they could.

Both Julia (who is a Registered Nurse) and I were very impressed with the quality of care I received there at St. Augustine's. It's very clean, modern, and my Cardiologist, Dr. Cobos was a well-spoken, polite and intelligent man with a pleasant demeanor. He was trained in the US as well as Japan and Ecuador and came to visit me several times per day to see how I was doing. He was never in a rush, and took time to answer any questions at length. Four days in the hospital, including a day and a half in ICU, including all tests, doctor fees etc, netted a bill of only $14oo. Twelve years ago I was in a Scottsdale hospital for less than two days and the bill exceeded $14,000! So, I was thankful that if one needs a good hospital, one exists here and it is reasonably priced. The doctor gave me a list of drugs to start taking and sent us home.

Diet and Excercise Changes become Mandatory

Upon returning home, Antonio and Marli encouraged us to 'go 100% raw food' to facilitate my most rapid healing. After what I had been through, it didn't take much to convince me I needed some kind of radical lifestyle change. We had been eating fairly healthy since moving here to Ecuador, but we were still ingesting processed food in condiments, white flour products, etc. which all contribute to disease states. So Antonio and Marli began to initiate us into the raw food world by providing a lavish picnic out of the front lawn of the Finca main house. Marina brought her family of little stuffed animals to join in the fun, and the food was absolutely delicious. We were very impressed at how tasty and diverse the food was. As they've been on this 'all natural/raw food' path for two years now, they are both very knowledgeable about the subject.

With their help, Julia has now jumped in with both feet, doing hours of research on the internet about nutrition and food, collecting recipes and having great fun creatively experimenting in the kitchen. We threw out all our condiments and anything 'processed,' due to the toxins all these products have, as well most of our bathroom and cleaning products which were also loaded with chemical toxicity. So, it's been a pretty radical lifestyle change, but a really good one.

It's been more than three weeks now that I've been on this diet and I feel great. I had a follow up visit with the Cardiologist last week, and all my tests showed better than normal – Low Chesteraol, Low Plaque, Low Blood Pressure... Quite a turnaround in two weeks time! So good, in fact, that he took me off half the meds he had previously prescribed. I had also been forcing myself to walk every day, a little more each day – and now I am able to fully walk up the mountain here without straining. I have good energy and feel great. So, all is good, and continues to head in the right direction.

A Little Help from Our Friends

But that is not all, for my friend Dan has begun an allergy treatments me so that animals and other allergens which have plagued me for so long will not trigger an allergic reaction. He is an excellent alternative medical doctor. He also is a specialists in Stem Cells, which he will begin me on next week.

So, we 'get by with a little help from our friends.' : - )

August 2010 (present)

Well, another Art Show has come and gone (Aug 7), and this one was more fun than ever. It's great to have these regular events that bring everyone together. Such good energy. Besides me doing a solo music thing, there are always a handful of other musicians and/or singers around and some really nice stuff comes out of it. Nate, Jan, Joeseph, Matt, Shawn, Dan, Anna, and a host of percussionists such as Jay and Akai often contribute to a jam session with some occasional in-the-moment magic! It's really quite fun and something I look forward to doing more of.

So, we are now quite content where we are, eating very healthy, and enjoying the moment. Between an odd paying job here and there, as well as my book project with Jay, and collaborations with Bob and GGT, develop music tracks and painting, I have plenty to do, and so does Julia, as she is fast becoming an amazing raw food gourmet (seriously, she has a real gift for putting this food together in a way that is really delicious)!

Julia has the same opportunity to teach at the University, if she wants it – (We'll see if they can find a way to pay her first!) – but that won't be till later in October. Until then, we are learning together a new way of eating and living.

Fortunately there are many raw foodists in Vilcabamba who are only too happy to assist and support us on this path. We have purchased a barely used, high-end Blendtec Blender from one of our friends in the last couple of weeks, as well as a nice Cuisineart Food Processor from another.

Julia was discovering that prepping all this food was a full time job in itself, often consuming all available time during the day, and hours of labor-intensive cutting. But with these machines, the chore is done much faster, so while it set us back about $500, it was money well spent. Fruits and vegatables here remain cheap. We fill four big baskets of produce per week for about $25 - sometimes less. The most costly thing are the nuts and spices. But still, not buying condiments and the chemical foods is still a much more economical way to go, as well as the vastly healtheir path. One new friend in Vilcabamba, Kirsten, has loaned us her Food Dehydrator while she is away for few months back in California. So, we are set to start preparing and also storing lots of food.

We Finally Get Mobile!

Our 'Wheels'!

What is sure to make our lives easier from this point on is the fact that we finally have wheels to get us around. After two months of looking, we finally found a little 2002 Chevy Jeep Vitara 4x4 that was in very good condition at a fair price. These cars are made here in Ecuador, so they are easy to get parts for and to fix. This one is very clean and economical (we can fill the tank for $12), and it's a 'go-anywhere vehicle'. It was touted by Carlos, who sold it to us, as a 'bien carro por mal caminos' (good car for bad roads). And indeed, it has so far lived up to it's description with flying colors.

In reality, bad roads are just about all that exist here in Ecuador. I drove it over a pile of rocks in the road Saturday, and we took it down into the Rumizhitanza Valley yesterday for a picnic by the river. After our picnic, we followed the gravel road along the river edge... over rocks, through the rushing river in a couple of places and up on rock ledges with shear drop-offs and the vehicle performed amazingly. And it as so much fun! So, we are looking forward to more exploring into the wilds of the Ecuadorian natural wilderness.

Summing it All Up – Today

Well, today I went out and picked fresh raspberries from the bushes up the hill out back – just enough for Julia to make into a delectible desert tonight, made from raw cacao (chocolate), almonds, honey, tahini and coconut – and probably enough to mix with other stuff to make a great tasting fruit juice in the morning.

While descending down the path back to the Casita I paused and looked around. What sheer majesty I see! The enormous green peaks of the Andes surround us here, changing to multi-color shades with the movement of the sun. The Malacatos Valley is far below us, at least two thousand feet, and a gentle breeze soothes and refreshes my face as I smile. I am overcome with the precious gift of living in this kind of exquisite everyday beauty. I realize that my dreams of manifesting my most excellent life are happening before my eyes. I can do nothing but bask in gratitude. Suddenly, It occurs to me that I am happy.... so very very happy.

A brilliant rainbow arches over the windmill at the Finca

And so, that brings us up to date folks! Stay tunes for further updates. Til' next time, Namaste.



  1. Jack
    I discovered your blog back in May of this year. I really enjoy reading about your time in Ecuador. If possible I would like to get your thoughts on Ecuador as it applies to my current situation. Please contact me, anumer at

    Thanks and keep up the great blog!!

  2. Thank you for sharing your story. My husband and I are reading everything we can get our hands on about making a move to Ecuador. Would you be willing to correspond with us? We have some questions about Ecuador generally and Vilcabamba specifically. I'll wait to hear from you at sandra_d_carey(at)yahoo(dot)com. Thanks again for sharing your adventure with us!

  3. Hello Jack and Julia

    Hello to you both from Vancouver Island, Canada. Thank you both for sharing your beautiful story with us via your spectacular blog. We so look forward to meeting you in person some day soon. This one year Ecuador story of yours is absolutely brilliant! We so appreciate you putting your adventures into words and pictures. Being included in your experiences narrows the gap between here and there.

    Hasta Pronto!

    Helen & Daniel

  4. Hello Jack & Julia:

    I stumbled upon your blog when I was surfing the webs for information on Stem cell treatment in Ecuador.
    I will be in Ecuador by the end of December for treatment for Diabetes. The mention of Dan & Joel in your blog gives me more confidence to travel to Ecuador.

    Good luck & best wishes
    Aruna Th-Hollingshead
    Calgary, Alberta, Canada

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