Sunday, June 1, 2014

Where to Be When Capitalism Collapses (And Other Parts Unknown)

The Southern Ecuadorian highlands. Living with an indigenous family. That's where.

My friends and I had read about and wanted to visit a very small town three hours by bus from Cuenca, in the southern Ecuadorian highlands where the Saraguro live much as they have since they first came to the area.  We had a recommendation for a particular place to stay. After some emailing in Spanish, the little trip was set, but we weren't really sure of the where or what.

When we got out of the bus and into one of the always-waiting taxis, the driver knew exactly where to take us when we said “Doctor José Cartuche’s”. We drove about ten minutes back down the road we had come in on and up a narrow winding road. Out of the cab and standing in front of “Pakari Tampu” (Dawn Home in Quechua) we wondered “Where are we exactly?”

Soon Dr. Catuche, traditional braid, jet black despite his age, long down his back, appeared with a warm greeting and we knew immediately we were in good hands.  José is the local healer and teacher of traditional medicine, hence “Doctor” Jose. He and his wife Juana run this hospedaje.

We ate from their huge garden, had queso fresco made the same day from the neighbor’s cows, fresh eggs, newly-baked bread, fresh squeezed juices and at dinner, one of the chickens. As is usual in Ecuador, breakfast was included with the room. It was $12 a night.

The hills surrounding Saraguro are lush and verdant. People walk into town - even little (literally) (very) old ladies.

It struck me that life at Pakari Tampu is the ultimate “farm to table” that has become so trendy in the U.S. This is what people will pay thousands to have at Canyon Ranch. This old way. The traditional way. Chickens in the back yard by necessity. Food grown in a small farm plot authentically organic as it always has been. Healing with what comes out of your garden.

It also struck me that if capitalism collapsed, these people probably would have what they need. Dr. Cartuche said that prophesies predict a collapse and then chaos. I wanna be at his place when it happens.

Catastrophes aside though, this is not the lifestyle that calls me to return. I have none of the needed knowledge, skills or aptitude. No, what has stuck with me is what I had in Cuenca, an old city with a mix of colonial and modern, traditional and urban, where I lived for two and half weeks. I stayed in the old central city, which is a UNSESCO World Heritage site.
I felt at home fairly quickly. I had been to different parts of Ecuador in 2007, so there was a bit of familiarity. This was the first time I spent over two weeks in the same place, so it was more like just living there. I stayed near my friends who were there for several months and had just the right mix of companionship and independence. I had Spanish school, which gave me a focus.

I walked almost everywhere - to school,  two traditional markets,  restaurants, the panderia that made corn flour cookies in a 400 year old horno oven, shops of all sorts, along the river linear park, to concerts in cathedrals, museums, and pre-Incan ruins. Even to the bus station a bit out of the central city. Took a cab back though. Cabs everywhere and about $2.

Life takes on a different rhythm when living like this. The to-do list is so much more pleasurable. Half a day in school, afternoons to explore, evenings for local events or more wandering, weekends for exploring rural towns. Life is easy and simple. No vehicle to take care of and park, no driving in traffic. The amount of stuff to deal with is contained. Just a limited amount of clothing worn over and over. The apartment I rented for half the time had all the basics. The posada I stayed in the first week had everything I needed considering someone made me breakfast every morning as part of the $16. per night tab. My concept of “expensive” really changed. When I could get a almuerzo de dia (fixed lunch of the day) for $3, including a homemade soup, a main dish of say rice and a piece of broiled chicken, a glass of fresh squeezed juice and a small postre or piece of fruit, spending over $5 on a meal seemed an extravagance.

As I got on the plane for my return flight, I didn't want or need to come home. With no job there was nothing to force me home or to grab me once I got here.

So, I had a hard time re-grounding once I got back. The usual return-from-a-trip existential ennui set in, but this time it had a deeper grip.  For weeks I felt like an expat in my own country. I was in that nether land, that place in-between places – not quite able to let go of the experience of being elsewhere. I was loath to get in my vehicle and out into traffic or force myself into the bustle of a grocery store. And communicating with my friends who were still there probably didn't help – it kept me emotionally connected there. I felt a longing, day-dreaming about whether and how to return for a longer time or where to go next.

Eventually my feet hit the ground and I started to reconnect - with friends, with bill-paying - going  here and there.  Now I’m present again in my life here and the experience of living and being in Ecuador is part of me.

While I don’t fantasize about moving there (I am pretty used to the ease of my American life and I know that places can start to show their rough edges after a while) there are still many places in Ecuador that I want to experience. And the idea of spending a length of time back in Cuenca has an appeal. Now that I’m not working, that is starting to feel possible. I’m not sure how, but I’m  opening up those possibilities, reinventing what my life is and where it is. These are the real “parts unknown”.  And I’m drawing the map myself. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

5 Reasons Why I Was Feeling a Little Lackluster but I'm not Anymore - You Won't Believe How I Rallied

Can you tell I've read some advice relating to titles? Using numbers and lists is the big thing. I saw one that said Gandhi's 10 Rules for Changing the World. I clicked on it of course. Who doesn't want to think s/he could change the world by implementing 10 rules?  I’m still working on number one: Change Yourself.

Vague, teaser titles are also in.  Anyone who follows Upworthy  knows exactly what I’m talking about. I had to stop, annoyed by the teaser lead-ins. However, my post “Falling in Love Again,” admittedly a teaser, is among my most-viewed posts. This was positive reinforcement for leading you on.

Anyway, the 5 reasons I was feeling a little lackluster but am not anymore:

1. Some Realities Must be Challenged. 

Following my Himalayan trek last April, I faced certain truths about my physical limitations. I recommend doing that, so you don't seriously injure yourself. But Diana Nyad blew my “I’m getting older so how fit can I really be?” thinking all to hell. This is the counterpart to accepting some limits. Still gotta push.  Residual knee pain had been keeping me down a bit, literally and emotionally. I don’t like to be told I can’t do something, especially by my own body.  At the annual look-see my doc gave me some simple exercises that are helping. I can feel the weight of the limitation lifting.  I also dropped a few holiday pounds, which really helps with the knees. 

2. Bag Lady Syndrome

Retirement income projections, which define spending limits, are made using an assumed rate of return. I really don’t like wondering how rich or how poor I am, and how much I can spend, given what’s going on with the economy. At my annual review last January I was not a happy camper in that other people’s financial managers seemed to be making them some bucks in the recovering stock market and mine wasn't.  While I understand there is some ebb and flow from year-to-year, mine was way off. I seriously considered leaving an adviser I have trusted for over two decades.

That kind of uncertainty is a stressor and a sub-conscious dampener of energy. It is unsettling.  When I got back from Nepal last spring, I wondered whether I should plan a foreign country trip for this year or not. I felt restricted. That dampening feeling lingered.

However, with some changes in strategy, things have rebounded in the 2013 end-of-year read on things, and I feel freer. I am in awe of people who don’t worry about money – or don’t seem to. People who believe the universe will abide.  And, so it does. I still struggle with that. I may have stared down the financial picture shortly after I retired, but I need to renew and regroup on that so I am not tossed in the sea of financial tides.

3. Match Shtick

Occasionally I get a bit out-of-sorts because there are some things I don’t want to do by myself. So I start to think life would be easier - and better - if I had a significant other. Or more precisely, a playmate who could share a spontaneous walk to the local cafe for a nosh and glass of wine or an outdoor adventure in a foreign country.  But that is hard to come by. 

So I thought I’d give a try. Going online seems like the only pro-active thing a person can do, other than getting out of your living room. I’m already doing that.  

Scanning through the thumbnail photos is a cross between a visit to the pound and looking at pictures on milk cartons. So many faces looking out, looking for someone to take them in. Maybe a little lost. I say this in a compassionate way because I’m sure the experience is similar on the other side. (Update: I looked. No, not the same at all.)

Potential matches are painfully un-clever or sincere. They say things like “cool beans.” And “I’m lonely and nervous.”  Gotta appreciate the honesty in that one.

There’s a whole continuum of “communication”, the significance of which I haven’t figured out: winking, liking, favorite-ing, emailing. I had one in-person meet-up that I was looking forward to. After two hours of fun and interesting conversation at the B-Line:

Him: “I really enjoyed myself”
Me: “Yes, me too. I hope to hear from you”

Then: Nothing. Oh well.  And now that I've made these snarky comments, I've probably reduced my chances of making a connection to less than nil. Indeed, none of the descriptions say they are looking for a woman with an irreverent (okay, sometimes biting) sense of humor. Now I’m just waiting for the subscription to expire. Upside: I have a lot of great friends.

4. Been-There-Done-That Syndrome

I realize this is a privileged person’s dilemma so I hesitate to call it a problem. I have been to so many places and done so many things on my list that there isn't much left. Nothing was grabbing me. One thing I've not done and wanted to do is study Spanish in a Spanish-speaking country for a couple weeks and then travel around for a week or so. I contemplated doing this by myself. I haven’t done more than get myself to and from places and have a couple days on my own and I thought a solo trip might be an interesting adventure. Until I really thought about it.  Truth is I don’t want to do that.  

Just as I was despairing of my adventurous self-image waning, I found out that a couple friends will soon be spending some months in Ecuador and Peru and they asked me if I’d like to join at some point. When I was leaving Ecuador at the end of a trip in 2007, I thought “I could come back here.” So, I started looking into possibilities. With my last remaining frequent flyer miles accumulated when doing all that work-related travel, two weeks in Ecuador going to school and a week of travelling around is really affordable.

We’ll see how it pans out, but I found myself motivated by the thought of a new type of adventure and by the relatively short (for me) timeline to pull it together.  I’m energized to get languishing things done.  Did some deep purging and organizing. Virgos love that.  It’s akin to a shamanic clearing.

5.   Serendipitous Upsides

And there are the small things. After a dozen years driving my vehicle, and a half dozen forgotten and lost gas caps, I discovered that inside the little door there is a bracket that holds the cap while you gas up. I discovered this reading the manual after the check engine light came on – which proved to be transitory. Life is good.  

All this reminded me that life’s rhythms ebb and flow. When its low tide, you've got to look for any gems that may have washed-up. And trust that high tide will return.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Missive from the Void: Part 2

Like an abusive partner who promises to do better but repeats the pattern, here I am over two months since my last post. Rather than give you flowers and make more promises about posting more often, I’m just going to declare how things are. Most of my writing energy is going to 3 Story Magazine and a few other little things.  I might be posting just once a month or so for a bit.

I was starting to feel a tad of the work-like mindsets of “should” and “success” and “making it,” and all that. I was getting caught up in all the rules about having a “successful” blog. Regular and often publication is one of them. I have ignored other rules like monetizing (aka, having ads), making the blog a "platform" for other things and on and on. This is why I have 10s of readers not 10s of thousands.

But I got a grip on myself and decided that I'm going to do what I want to do and take what comes. I'm assuming that you all are into quality not quantity. You’d rather hear from me when I have something to say, right?   And this is what I have to say today.