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  • Writer's pictureCassie Stockamp

Bed Bugs, A New Continent and Reflections: Not necessarily in that order

Updated: Aug 4, 2019

I’ve been staying in hostels with travelers of all ages who are coming and going with backpacks and all sorts of sundries, and I’d wondered when it would happen. A friend reported that she had been bitten by bed bugs and the response from the hostel was fast and furious. They ripped off bedding, cleaned and sprayed the bed/luggage and guests moved back into the dorm later that day. The bites healed, the bitee (is that a word!?) was nonplussed and all was quickly forgotten.

“Todo bien” means “It’s all good!”

Both my daughter and I are flying our separate ways (me to continue this amazing journey in Africa and she back to University) ending a special chapter in our lives. We’ve been traveling together for almost three months which is a gift that I will always treasure! Actually, traveling with anyone 24/7 for three months is a lot to ask. Volunteering at hostels proved to be the perfect antidote as we made friends at each location which provided a needed distraction and occasionally a new trekking partner. Audi made friends that all followed each other from Santa Marianita to Banos and then to Cuenca. I’m smiling as I think about the conversations, the laughter and the adventures we’ve been on together.

Truly every mother’s dream...

Ecuador has been a delight as there is an abundance of diversity in this country; we giggled as we stepped over sun bathing iguanas in the Galapagos, experienced world class kite surfing on the windy beach, took magical hikes in the verdant Amazon jungle, got scared shitless and then exhilarated by canyoning (repelling down waterfalls) in what I dub as the extreme sports capitol of the world - Banos, rounded out by the beauty and ease of Cuenca. Oh, and getting robbed in Quito will be forever part of our story!

And I had a major “AHA” moment when I ran my financial projections and realized I could “retire” in South America. It’s SO WEIRD to think that I am old enough to say those words, but it’s really more about living on my terms and finding the right combination of purpose, adventure and joy...

Here’s a partial list of the good stuff I found in Cuenca: It’s a clean and safe city nestled in a valley between the beautiful Andes mountains at an elevation of 2,560 meters (8,399’). The historic old town is well preserved and beautiful - a UNESCO World Heritage site. It boasts a large ex-pat community. The city is graced by 4 beautiful rivers that the City has turned into miles of linear parks making it both pedestrian and bike friendly (no car needed which is a must for me!)! Fresh fruits and vegetables are abundant and within a mere walk to a tienda (small store) which are scattered throughout the City. Almuerzo (lunch) is $2 at the Mercado, a haircut is $5 and a yoga class can be had for a mere $3.The economy is stable and the cost of living index is:

Indianaplis average monthly = $3,800

Cuenca average monthly = $1,800

This Ecuadorian stay has had its share of creative, thoughtful travelers that I look forward to keeping in touch with; travelers like John who graduated from Vanderbilt two years ago and put his MCAT on hold while he took a position at John Hopkins Research Lab studying psychedelics. We had many an interesting conversation about drugs, their benefits and mind opening abilities. It was fascinating to carry on logical and unemotional conversation sans judgement. In those talks I was very aware of my acute fear surrounding drug use and reflective of its genesis, though I admit to being being very curious about psychedelics and may give it a go if the right opportunity presents itself. The mind opening, spiritual awakening and lack of addictive qualities makes a compelling argument for some of them to become a scheduled drug.... More to come, or so I’m told by the John Hopkins researcher soon to be MD.

And then there’s creative, smart and sassy Ezgi. Her father was born in Bangladesh and her mother in Turkey; they met while in grad school at IU, completed their PhD’s and stayed in the US. Ezgi grew up in Saint Louis, but is truly an international woman flitting back and forth between continents meeting up with parents and siblings. She has chosen to see and experience the world on her terms. Audrey met her while we were in Banos and she came to Cuenca and stayed at the hostel where we were volunteering. We traveled for 3 weeks together, and fingers crossed I get to meet up with her in Medellin next year!

Josh is a young, FUNNY Aussie who possessed the qualities and emotional intelligence of a man that I hope my daughters find in a partner some day. He was witty, kind and looking forward to meeting up with his mom in Colombia in 2 months. Yup, probably projecting a bit....

Carlos was the on site manager of the hostel in Cuenca where we volunteered while the owners were away on a short family reunion in Colombia. He was a kind and well spoken young Ecuadorian who taught himself English by watching movies and listening to music. He was pensive when he shared that he never felt like he fit in Cuenca as the population is very homogenous; he hopes to move to Colombia as he is looking for his “tribe.”

And then there was kind, quiet, beautiful Rachel. She was another Aussie who found joy in traveling. She travels for months at time until her money runs out, returns home to find work and saves for the next adventure. She and Ezgi are going to meet up in Chili in a couple of months... I’m betting Audi will track these two down some day.

Once I gave myself permission to think about what’s next without the stranglehold of having to get a job, my mind began to soar. I plopped myself in a small cafe one rainy afternoon, and over a cup of cappuccino I began to write my list of those things I have oft spoken of, but wasn’t quite sure how I would fit them into the rest of my life. It’s kind of odd to be pragmatic and realize that I have fewer years left then I have lived... Whoa, I felt that down to my toes even as I typed that sentence....

Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever. Mahatma Gandhi

One simple statement helped to form my thoughts on “retiring.” John’s research group included a segment about extraterrestrial life. Now before you dismiss this and stop reading, be reminded that this study is being funded by the DEA and is under the FDA watchdogs. Many people, while experiencing psychedelics have “interactions” with extraterrestrials. The researchers clearly admit that they have no idea whether these experiences are real or merely figments of the imagination. The consistent message that people heard when having these documented interactions was, “to enjoy life and stop taking yourself so seriously.” That little statement hit me between the proverbial eyes...

So, my list. These are the things I’ve talked and/or thought about over and over again throughout the years:

Ride my bike across the US

Do a stint in the Peace Corps

Own a B&B

Live in a foreign country

Learn Spanish fluently

Travel extensively

Live in or help to create an intentional community

Help to improve the environmental practices in the

community where I land

Help to bring awareness and improvement to the racial

and gender divide in my small part of the world

Help others on their spiritual journey

So... I’m going to start crossing things off this list starting with the bike ride in 2020!! Life just keeps opening up more possibilities...

I know that this list is subject to life’s whims and changes, but it feels pretty damn good to realize that some of it may be within my grasp. Whew.

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Jenni Gray Heimach
Jenni Gray Heimach
Aug 03, 2019

This is wonderful, Cassie. I'm so glad thoughts of your future taking a step closer. Miss you!

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