What’s So Great About South America?

What’s So Great About South America?
It’s varied. Most people who haven’t yet visited think of South America as one big place split up into different rinky-dink countries with different names but when you get right down to it, they’re basically all the same place. That’s not the reality on the ground. To be sure, poverty looks pretty much the same wherever you find it in the world, muddy streets, stray dogs, roofs made of corrugated steel held down by old tires…but South America is more than poor people. Currently, the cost of living in Chile and Uruguay is higher than it is in the States. Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru are cheap. But again, it’s hard to say any one thing about a place this huge. You can fly on a jet for ten hours in one direction and still be in South America.
Brazil alone is as big as the continental United States. There they don’t speak Spanish, but Portuguese. In almost every other South American country they speak Spanish, except for tiny Suriname and French Guiana and a few remote places where they indigenous people still haven’t effectively been colonized and speak their own languages. Guarani, Quechua, and various nearly-extinct languages spoken by Amazonian tribes. So if you learn Spanish, you can visit many different countries, some tropical, some freezing cold most of the year.
To this traveler, the best part is that public transportation still exists in all of South America. Busses will take you from the smallest village to any part of the country. Bus fares are subsidized to make them affordable to the common person, so you can travel is luxury comfort, on a Super Pullman with a reclining bed, or you can sit on a converted American school bus where the person next to you has a chicken in a bag, with its head sticking out a hole. You can flag most busses down from anywhere on the highway. That means if you live in a shack in the woods, with no electricity and no lights, you can still go out to the highway and flag down a bus that will take you to the big city. It used to be like this in the States before World War II.
Much of South America reminds me of the United States when I was very young, in the early fifties. Little shops line the streets of every city and town, tailor shops, shoe repair, corner grocery stores, Mom and Pop businesses. Now in the States, Mom and Pop are divorced and living in gated retirement communities in Florida, but here, they’re still at work, selling penny candy to school kids. In Argentina and Uruguay, school kids wear white smocks, like lab coats, with a big black bow in front. I guess it’s a European thing. Most of the people who immigrated to Argentina and Europe back at the turn of the last century hailed from Italy, France, Germany and Spain.
I will venture here to say that the most beautiful country I’ve seen in South America is Colombia. It is lush, largely mountainous, almost on the equator so much of it enjoys tropical flowers but cool nights. The women tend to be exceptionally good-looking.


Retire Cheaply and Affect Meaningful Change in Your Life

Advertisers try to reach us by promising devices that will save time, as well as increase convenience. Most of us are wrongly convinced that we are short on time. yet We fritter away our time consuming entertainments that pretend to be customized for us, while we are actually behaving as a mob of consumers, unconsciously reacting in predictable and programmed ways. We don’t really need convenience as much as we’ve led to believe, but we are starved for meaning.

If you want something to change in your life, you’ll have to first risk changing your behavior. You can’t be addicted to Facebook or check your email a hundred times a day and still have an interior thought life. Any changes you feel under those conditions will merely be externally programmed desires designed to make you buy something you didn’t know you needed.

Scrolling through items on Amazon or eBay is not the same as opening up space in your thought life for something new to enter. Buying something new won’t have the same effect as not doing anything long enough to allow for substantive change. You’re not hungry for more things, you’re simply sick and tired of your life as it has been. There’s a big difference between those two states!

Being retired from work and relocating to a new country is the perfect time to begin this substantive change. This is the chapter of your life you’ve been waiting for!

palm tree and cloud

Can You Really Be Happy Anywhere?

Yes, and you can also be miserable anywhere, under any circumstances. Being happy is choice you make. It is, of course, much harder to choose happiness if you’ve recently suffered a loss, or are sick, or worried about money or a loved one’s welfare. The great opportunity involved in choosing to live somewhere new involves temporarily being released from things you’ve already decided are boring or oppressive. Of course, human nature being what it is, it’s only a matter of time before you form the same opinion about parts of your new surroundings and daily experiences. But here, you’ve given yourself a second chance. Take it, keeping in mind that no matter how beautifully the setting sun shines on the water, there is no smooth sailing off into the sunset, even if you bought a new home in what looks like paradise. The quality of your life will depend far more on the relationships you establish with ex-pat friends and your new neighbors, than on picture-postcard views of your new home that you can post online to share with your friends back home.

The Skies Down Here at 30 Degrees South

Most dramatic would be to show you the stars, which down here, far from city light pollution, are impressive. The only constellation I recognize is Orion, but he’s upside down, with his sword jutting upward. The Southern Cross floats directly overhead, and the Magellanic clouds in the Milky Way are impressive even to the naked eye.

the skies at sunset last night
the skies at sunset last night

I’ve noticed that often a large circle forms in the clouds. Sometimes lately it’s been accompanied by sun dogs at opposite sides of the circle, and the whole thing disappears after a few minutes. Look away, and it’s gone when you look back. Don’t know if this has anything to do with the recent solar flares.


What happens if you just hate your new home abroad? Say you give it a few years, you learn enough of their language to conduct routine business and make acquaintances, and you still don’t like it. What then?

The good news is, that’s not going to happen.  You’re never going to completely feel one way or the other about any place. If you invest time and energy into a place, you’re going to form attachments. Some days you´ll love it, some days you´ll wish you were someplace else.

You may get homesick, but after a few trips home, you’ll find that you’re itching to leave again within a few weeks of your homecoming. You may fall prey to the grass is greener syndrome that all ex-pats are prone to, and allow yourself to become convinced that the place you chose and were so excited about turned out not to be the perfect place after all, but the next place, the one you just heard about, is. Give it time. Stay in touch with the person who was so lately singing its praises and see how that person feels in a year or so.

Anything worth doing takes longer than you expected and is a bit harder to pull off. If it weren’t that way, we’d all be constantly slipping and sliding around the globe. Greased by money, some of the super rich already are. They’re no happier than the rest of us. In fact, they’re often slightly ashamed of themselves, and spend an inordinate amount of time in remorse.

Retiring Cheaply – just how important is cheap?

Retire Cheaply

There’s always a trade-off when you focus only on price. Maybe what you want more than cheap is the feeling of not having to worry about money and the opportunity of finding new things to stimulate you.

If you’ve considering making a move to a totally different country and culture, then you’re probably bored or fed up with some aspect of our culture. You’re looking for change, and hoping to be surprised. Surprised you will be, and not always delightfully. But it will be a learning experience of the first order, and those aren’t always guaranteed to be pleasant.

Patience and acceptance will get you far.

There are different components to feeling well-off enough to not worry about money. For example, it’s far easier to control your spending than it is to earn more money. You can bankrupt yourself with foolish spending or bad investments even in Southeast Asia or the Andes, two regions where most prices are a fifth of what they are in the States.

My advice: give up on the idea of real-estate investments, land speculation, or starting a profitable business. Start a business if you must in order to have something to do, but simply assume that if you do most things right, you’ll break even. Think of yourself as retired. Your level of income will not rise again. This is it. Learn to live within your means and you’ll never worry about money again.

This will, of course, be much easier in a place with a cost of living that is a fraction of what it is where you came from.

A place that is five times cheaper might not be more fun to relocate to than a place three times cheaper. That’s up to you. More important that the actual cost of living will be the health and happiness of the community in which you choose to live.

The poorer the country, the more likely they are to put heavy import duties on technology. So don’t expect to pay what you would in the states for a new laptop. You’ll have to pick one up on your next trip back to the States, if there ever is one.

That brings us to the next item:

There may not be another trip “home.” This may be it. You’ve made your bed, now lie in it.

An awful lot of people make an abortive attempt to retire somewhere, buy a new house on the coast for a fraction of what they would have paid in Florida or California, and then get tired of it six months later. I mean, how much enjoyment can you really get from a stunning view? How many of your friends are really going to come visit? So there are many lightly-used vacation properties in gated communities in third-world countries that are on the market again. A building and a view do not constitute a life.

No matter where you end up, you’ll need to find something to do or you’ll drink yourself to death, or start an affair with the neighbor’s spouse. Neither approach will end well.

Even if you do figure out what you want to do with yourself most of the time, you’ll still have to transition from one task to the next, and during that down time, you’re bound to notice that most folks all around you are simply struggling to make do. It will make you feel separate from them. This gulf will exacerbate any feelings of loneliness you’re already experiencing. Seeing all your neighbors bent over in a rice paddy or hacking away at plants with a machete doesn’t enhance your fragile sense of belonging.

In the time you have left on this planet, you can’t possibly change their economic condition. You can’t fix it, or make it all better. You’ll just have to figure out where and how you can fit in to the prevailing structure. Surely your presence here is a help to at least some of your neighbors. You’re a customer for many of their services. Your very presence is bringing income to their community.

People are highly capable of change, and the neighbors can adapt to you the same way you’re attempting to adapt to your new community. They’ll accept and value you for who you are, if you do the same for them.

An Overview of my travels this last year and a half



I left Thailand after several of my female students turned out to be boys, and my offer of improved grades based on performance had to hastily be withdrawn. Word spread rapidly across campus, and within hours I was in a windowless van, crossing the Burma border, where Karin rebels housed me, blindfolded in a grass hut, until I could safely be moved to Bangladesh. From there it was only five thousand miles or so, by water buffalo, to the Iranian sea coast, the infamous Straits of Hormuz, where I languished on an island whose only other occupants were prostitutes waiting sixty days to have their Dubai tourist visas renewed, so they could return to the land of too much money and get some for themselves.

Alas, my presence in the Arab Emirates was not appreciated to the level I had, at least in my mind, become accustomed. My collection of sand pictures brought only yawns from the few gallery visitors and reviewers. So I leapt at an offer from a wealthy (aren’t they all?) Arab to supervise his cattle holdings at a ranch in Paraguay. Looking back, I think he simply wanted me to count them. But I assumed he wanted me to write back stories and character motivation sketches for each cow and steer, and when I presented these to him, inked in la sangre de vaca on fine vellum, he had me deported to Argentina, which is once again on the brink of economic collapse. I took this opportunity to begin trading in the “blue market” for dollars and pesos, doing quite well at first, until my competitors got wind of my success. Within days I was again in the back of a windowless van, speeding toward the Chilean/Bolivian border, near Salta, where I almost rented a luxurious apartment at a laughably low rent, thanks to the aforementioned exchange rate. Before I could sign the lease, I learned that the Arab prince had dispatched a legion of men to follow me, assassins who had vowed to neither eat nor drink until I was dead. So I took an all-night bus to the Uruguayan border, where I was denied entrance, and to this day relax, practicing my Spanish verb tenses, a guest of the Uruguayan people, awaiting the moment I can get John Kerry’s attention, and be removed from the watch list they have provided to all our so-called allies.