Thinking about tarantulas

I hate them.  In fact I hate all spiders.  And now that we’re just six days away from our scouting trip to Ecuador, I’m thinking about them quite a bit.

If you’ve read my post on the day we set the trip, you know about the Ranger Rick Magazine incident.  But it goes even deeper than that I’m afraid.  As a kid, I was plagued by allergies.  In fact, I couldn’t have milk, eggs or flour for my first 13 years of life.  So I would find myself watching in awe as other little kids would come to my birthday party, strap on a cone hat, and eat “my” birthday cake & ice cream right in front of me.  Meanwhile, I would be given potato chips or something.  It was the early 70’s and there weren’t a whole lot of alternative food choices to be found.  Apparently nowadays we’ve figured out how to milk almonds, for the love of Pete.

At any rate, occasionally I would be so bold as to sneak a bite of ice cream from the freezer.  Or, perhaps while mom was showering, I would dare to put milk on my Cheerios instead of the usual grape juice.  Predictably, this would result in a full-on allergic reaction that pretty much resembled a head cold.  And that’s when my parents would load me up with a cocktail of allergy medications which–in the mind of an already imaginative little bastard–tended to cause hallucinations.

And what do you think I imagined while I was laying in bed at night with a wet washcloth over my nose to keep the endless snot-festival to a dull roar?   That’s right: Ranger Rick’s little 8-legged pals.

It didn’t matter how dark the room was, I could see them clear as day.  The one up there in the far corner, by the ceiling.  And his little buddy, waving at me as he crawled across my Mark Spitz poster.   Before you’d know it, one of them would give a whistle and every spider in the Greater Denver area would come running.  They would get into formation on my ceiling and start disco dancing.  Then came the grand finale when they would descend on individual webs, stopping just inches above my bed.  Giving me the oogly-boogly legs and clacking their mandibles at me.

At this point the decision would be made to scream bloody murder.

My Mom and Dad would fly out of bed, flip on the light, and ask what was wrong.  “Are you blind?” I would answer, incredulous, “Can you not see twelve-hundred spiders dangling all around the room?”

My Dad would walk right into the bedroom, the spiders parting to either side as if he were Moses himself.  He would sit down on the bed and say, “Those aren’t spiders.  Those are angels twinkling all around you, protecting you while you sleep.”

I would perform a quick follow-up inspection of the night’s accommodations and ask, “How’d you do that?”

Mom and Dad would shake their heads, tell me goodnight and leave the door open just the right amount.  Minutes later, me and my snot rag would be sound asleep.

And people ask why I’m so adamant about taking my now 82-year-old Dad with us!


The book that did this to me

Sorry for the miscues if you’ve received email notifications about new posts only to find nothing new on the blog.  Basically, I was trying to recommend a book to my readers; the one that inspired me to quit my job and chase the dream now, instead of waiting.  Unfortunately, I think WordPress has a problem with letting me insert a photo of the book.  My guess is this has less to do with the fact that the cover is butt-ugly, and more to do with the fear that I might make all of twelve cents if you buy it through my Amazon link.  Anyway, having already watched my 1,200 word review/recommendation be completely discarded by WordPress, I don’t have the time or energy to recreate it. 

For now, it suffices to say that The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss is largely responsible for making me quit my job, put my stuff on Craigslist and buy tickets to Ecuador.  If you’re one of the many readers who has commented or emailed expressing enthusiasm for what I’m doing, but doubt as to whether you can make it happen for yourself, you need to read this thing.  That is, assuming this link actually works this time!

Carpe Manana

I’ve always been a World-class procrastinator.  For example, I don’t have my college degree because after completing four years of study I never got around to paying the $12 diploma fee.   That was in 1986.  Fifteen years later, I was on campus shooting an ad campaign for the university itself, when I decided to stop by the office of my old student adviser, hoping he was still  alive.

He was.  And he seemed to really enjoy the irony of a major Pac-10 university hiring the creative services of a former student who had failed to graduate.  He gave me a little card to fill out and told me to take it to the administration building.  I promptly put it in my pocket, walked right past the administration building, and finished shooting my campaign.

Another decade later,  I still cannot legally list a college degree on my resume.

Luckily, I’ve read many articles about the importance of embracing the “Manana attitude” in order to be happy in Latin America.  This is the cultural phenomenon that makes it perfectly acceptable to answer almost any request with a simple “Manana.”

They say it’s important to understand that although the word Manana technically means “tomorrow,” what Latin Americans actually mean is the much more indefinite, “Not now.”  It’s the cultural equivalent of a permanent sign I once noted behind a popular bar which read “FREE BEER TOMORROW.”  Manana, like tomorrow, never comes.

Apparently Americans tend to have the hardest time embracing this cultural enigma.  In other words when we can’t have what we want, when we want it, we tend to shit a brick.  Canadians, Australians and Europeans, not so much.  Even Germans, with their inherent love of order and discipline, are reportedly much more patient as their bank teller finishes talking to her boyfriend before completing a transaction.

Latin Americans view this phenomenon not as an act of laziness, but as a lifestyle choice.  They consider it impolite to raise the blood pressure of another individual.  And they laugh inside when you try to raise theirs.  In fact, they are actually much less likely to accommodate you, since they know you won’t be around long enough to become a friend.  After all, the rule of thumb is that failure to embrace the manana culture will have you back on a plane inside two years anyway.

Personally, my goal is to out-manana the best of them.  Just as soon as I get around to it.

How many miles is 1,237 kilometers?


How many mile is 1,237 kilometers?

Well that’s how many we’re going to cover if the good Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise. Diana read somewhere that Ecuador is approximately the size of Colorado, which is a convenient frame of reference since–as you know–that’s where I grew up. I hear Ecuador has bigger mountains and better beaches though.

Safety concerns about Latin America? You can’t be serious.

It’s usually the first thing people ask: “Aren’t you concerned about your safety down there?  After all, we hear all the time about drug wars, tourist muggings, machete killings, pick-pockets, crooked police, beach rape, military juntas, big spiders, donkey shows and spleen thieves.”

Well, the short answer is no.

The slightly longer answer is, yeah, okay I’m kind of freaked out about the spiders.

But the real answer is this: When I was a young boy, my family spent every single Thanksgiving at my Aunt Bobbie and Uncle Curley’s house.  They lived in a nice, quiet “All-American” suburb where the biggest safety concern would have been Aunt Bobbie’s true 70’s style four-pack-a-day smoking habit.  But lets face it, the Surgeon General hadn’t even dreamed up the whole second-hand smoke idea yet, so even that didn’t count.

We’d spend all day playing hide-and-go-seek with our cousins, watching the football game on a their fancy color TV, being ordered out of the kitchen, and chasing a wiener dog named Taddy.  When the food was finally ready, my Mom would suggest that everyone take turns saying something they were thankful for.  The men would join the children in protest until the proposal was retracted and everyone was allowed to dig in.

We’d sit at the kiddie table and make entirely too much noise while eating as much brown stuff and as little green stuff as we could get away with.  Taddy would assume her position under the table, olives would turn into hand puppets, and just when it looked like the final aunt might actually sit down to eat, a glass of something would get spilled.

I promise, I’ll get to the point in a moment.

Anyway, next would come the part where an entire living room full of men would go into a tryptophan coma while the second football game needlessly ran up the electric bill.  This would be followed by a walk around the block for anyone who had the energy, followed by the real meal–the breaking out of leftovers–mere moments after the final dish had been cleaned, dried and put away.

Hold on, I’m getting to it, I swear.

Finally, the adults would break out the Pinochle cards and us kids would be required to go find something quiet to do because we were giving Aunt Bobbie a splitting headache.  We’d generally choose to play Monopoly only to discover that it was still just as boring as it had been the previous Thanksgiving.  So instead, we’d put on our pajamas, go downstairs, argue over who got the two bean-bag chairs, and watch “Happy Thanksgiving, Charlie Brown.”

Next thing you’d know, we’d wake up the following morning in our own beds, in our own homes, having no idea how Mom and Dad had managed to carry us out and flop us into the car without waking us.

So what does any of this have to do with concerns about Diana and my safety when we move to Latin America?

Only this: Aunt Bobbie and Uncle Curley’s “All-American suburb” was Aurora, Colorado, where just yesterday a man walked into a movie theater and proceeded to kill twelve innocent people and wound 59 others.

Now, before you conclude that this was somehow an “isolated incident” as compared with the crime stories we hear coming out of Latin America, consider this: one of the young women who was killed in Aurora had narrowly escaped a similar rampage in a Toronto, Canada, shopping mall just last month.

So get over yourself, First World.

By the way, many of my cousins, nephews, and nieces still live in and around Aurora, Colorado, all with families of their own now.  I have no idea if any of them were killed, injured, or otherwise directly affected by yesterday’s shooting.  I guess I could get on the phone and make a dozen or two phone calls, but if there’s bad news to hear, I’m pretty sure it will find me.

Until then, I’m busy living life.

A simple question

It occurred to me that the primary thing keeping many people from making and acting upon the expat decision is fear of everything they will miss back home.  Then I realized that budding expats like myself really only have half the information necessary to fully evaluate that.  The other half resides in our target country, a place we have yet to live, work, eat, play, and build memories.  So I thought I’d turn the tables and ask a few experts–people who have already made the leap–a “simple” question.

“What is the one thing you’d miss most about Ecuador if you were forced to move back to the First World?”

Here are the first three responses I received:

“What I would miss most is that sense of community. Here, your neighbors aren’t just people who live in a house near you. Your storekeepers aren’t just people who sell you stuff. The taxi drivers aren’t just anonymous backs of heads that you give an address to. I love that when I walk home, the people stop me to chat, greet me by name, or ask me about my day. If I don’t have enough cash on me, the storekeepers let me take what I need and pay them later. When I was looking for a job, my friends asked their friends, who asked their friends, and because pretty much everyone either knew me or knew of me, I had several options within a week. People look out for each other and help each other, because that’s what you do when you are part of a community, and that is what I would miss the most.”

–April Cattell

“It’s almost impossible to reduce the list down to just one thing we’d miss if we left Ecuador. The completely honest answer has to be cost of living. We live a wonderful life free of money worries. This liberates us to enjoy the next two items on the list which are weather and the people. We are from Vancouver, Canada and now live in Cuenca. The weather here is like Vancouver towards the end of June. Warm days and cool nights. Heaven for us. Probably not if you’re from Florida. After 4 years, Cuenca is now truly home.”

–Brian Miles & Shelley Reeves

“The question is not simple by any means.  It only took me about 15 seconds to come up with a hundred different things I would miss if we left Ecuador, but the short answer after some consideration and thought would be the lifestyle. The lifestyle is completely different than almost anything that we have experienced.  I guess Joe said it best: he would have loved to have taken us and Jennifer, our daughter, back to the 1950′s. The family life back in the 50′s was so much more simple than life today. And the lifestyle here is quite “retro” if you will, not nearly as much technology as the states, so many less stressful things to concern ourselves with, less government intrusion, less rules, less distractions and choices, less almost everything.  In our minds less is actually more! So my one word answer would have to be lifestyle but that would encompass everything we have experienced and learned since moving to Ecuador. The people, the food, the weather, the fresh fish and seafood, and the people!  Everything revolves around the kindness of these beautiful people. Each day I find many new things to be thankful for, many new people who have shown us some form of kindness and just the wonder of being in a small town with so many advantages.  It is an advantage knowing your neighbors, watching their children go to school each morning, hearing peoples lives go on around you and actually being a part of their lives. It has been a total blessing.”

–Nancy Levin

Aside from being great bloggers, I think of these people as modern day Lewis and Clarks.  Or at least pioneers.  While the rest of us hunker down among the people and things that make us feel “safe and secure,” these people are out there experiencing a whole new world of endless possibilities.  And I get the sense that they know exactly which side has the greener grass.

We can’t wait to meet them there someday soon and–as Brian Miles & Shelley Reeves put it–“enjoy a $1 beer together.”

A drop removed from the bucket

Diana’s 19-year-old daughter will head back to her college town today, along with a VW beetle full of items we will not longer be needing.  If only she had a bigger car.

As it was, I poured all of my creativity into filling every inch of that pea-green egg.  And Diana was even more tenacious, digging through closets, cabinets and hutches for just one or two or seventeen more things she might be interested in.

When all was said and done, we had succeeded in providing most everything Jennifer would need to move into her first apartment, except silverware.  We had two sets of that, as well, but both Di and Jennifer hate the “guy silverware” I brought to the party from my bachelor days.  It’s ultra heavy with a clean modern look that they’ve been making fun of since they day I moved in.  Apparently, the forks look like “sporks” and the spoons resemble alien heads.  Bottom line: Jen won’t take it and Diana won’t eat with it, so it was determined that we needed to go buy some.

This felt sick and wrong.

In other news, I decided to explain to my 82-year-old dad what a blog was, then showed him mine.  He spent a good part of the afternoon reading the whole thing from the bottom, up.   If you’ve been following along, you know that Dad pretty much thinks we’re bat-shit crazy, particularly when we talk about dragging him along.  However, after he finished reading, I did get the sense that he at least understood where our heads were at.

I’d write more about all that, but he may decide to keep reading this stuff going forward (Hi dad!).  And given that we’re locked in a game of poker, here, I need to keep my cards reasonably close to the vest.