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Escape from America

Fri, Jan 26th, 2001
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Monday, December 11, 2000

I guess Iím a snowbird at heart because every year about this time, once the temperature dips below zero and looks like itís going to stay there awhile, I start yearning to go south. Way south. All the way down to Ecuador.

Itís been fourteen years since Iíve lived there, but I still feel spiritually connected to the country and its people. I hungrily search the Internet for news of the latest presidential overthrow or volcanic eruption and even find myself still having an occasional dream in Spanish, though itís becoming harder and harder to comprende the lingo.

Ecuador has gone through some rough times lately but a quick glance at its history indicates that this is nothing out of the ordinary. Social unrest, along with political and economic instability are the three basic everyday facts that Ecuadorians can count on. Itís part of the charm of the place.

Since 1947, theyíve gone through 22 presidents, including AbdalŠ Bucaram known as El Loco (the Crazy One), whose personal hero was Adolph Hitler. Like most of his predecessors, Bucaram didnít last long and was kicked out of office in 1997 by the legislature for mental instability.

Politics and anarchy aside, I still think I could live there again, at least for a few months. Who wouldnít trade this deepest darkest Midwest winter for a verdant tropical paradise?

I recently came across a site on the Net called "Escape From America" and was surprised to find that Iím not the only one thinking Ecuador would be a pleasant place to live. In fact, because of the incredible economic problems the country is experiencing; houses, property and daily staples such as cerveza and lobster dinners can be picked up at fantastic bargains by anybody with a bag full of almighty Yankee dollars.

A guy named Lawrence Williams of Sacramento, California wrote that he had recently returned from ten days in Ecuador. He and his wife were so impressed that they were selling their house and immediately moving there. "We are arranging for eight weeks of one-on-one classes in Spanish and are applying for residency," he wrote.

"In my mind, Ecuador is the new Land of Milk and Honey," Williams went on to say. "The opportunities are unbelievable. They far outweigh the risks. Anyone with a bit of adventure in his soul should move to Ecuador as soon as possible. It would take volumes to write about all of the possible business, tourist, and personal things you could do. I am 65 years old and may need two or three lifetimes to accomplish everything I have already planned."

I forwarded this message to an old friend of mind, J.J., who lives in Cuenca, a stately and somewhat refined city in the southern Andes of Ecuador. J.J. is originally from Indiana but has spent the last twenty yearsóever since Reagan was electedóin either Africa or South America. The USA just doesnít do it for him.

"Wait until they rob that poor S.O.B.," J.J. shot back in an e-mail. "Or he walks into a cloud of tear gas. The first of the new year the government is going to raise taxes and people will be rioting in the streets in the land of milk and honey. This is the Ďwild wild Westí down here."

Back on the Net I read of more incredible real estate deals. There was the five-bedroom mansion in the best part of Ecaudorís capital, Quito, with a garden and real-live gardener that rented for $600 a month. There was the new development near the city of Manta on the Pacific Coast with houses going for $20,000. This was a gated community with all the infrastructure and amenities in place. Amenities, now that was a word I had never once heard used when I lived in Ecuador.

A bit farther north was a site, which would fall under the category of being Ďoff the beaten pathí. It was a primitive house with a one acre lot full of coconut palms on a large completely private beach.

"This area will appeal to the person who really wants to get away," the text read, "who doesnít mind sandy roads, likes to spend time with the natives, and isnít too upset when the electricity doesnít work for a few days at a time." The asking price was $14,000, which, come to think of it, is about the same price youíd pay for a gas-guzzling five year old SUV with 120,000 miles on it.

That does it! Itís time to dust off my passport. Itís time to head south. By Al Mathison

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