The Road To Ecuador

vcxa8286I never made it to Vilcabamba. When the shuttle stopped in Loja, the voice in my head, my guide through life, said, “Get off here.” I did and the moment I walked through the town entrance, I fell in love with the city. I was under the castle’s spell. While walking from one end to the other, I decided to say here for the night rather than continue on to Vilcabamba. Another great thing about travel, changing plans in midstream when where you are, feels like the place you need to be.

I followed the streets according to my interest in the names and saw two men working outside a hotel. I asked about a room for the night. After a brief conversation, I asked the owner, if he knew of any apartments for rent in town. He showed me two of his in the final phase of completion on the top of the hotel. He offered for me to stay in one for the same price as the hotel room. I was concerned about the noise from the disco and took him up on his offer as a trial run for a possible future rental. When the music woke me around midnight, I thought of the wonderful times I had dancing with a group from the school on Friday and the salsa lessons I took at the school during the week. Any apartment in the area would still be affected by the sound as music was all over town. In my head, I danced myself back to sleep.

So, while looking for a hotel room, I found an apartment on the edge of El Centro. It is on the top floor of a four story disco/bar (The Mills) which is opened on Friday and Saturday nights. From the outside it looks like a modern version of the Taj Mahal and would not have grabbed my interest at all, visually, as a place to live. Rather over done for my taste, modern and trendy, but as fate would have it, I saw the inside first. Otherwise I would not have stopped.

One of my favorite poets, Charles Bukowski, recommends all writers live above a bar. The more rough and tumble the better. So, it appears this is my chosen fate. Now I have a place to land when I return. From the roof top, I have a 360 degree view of the city and the mountains. Climbing the eighty stairs to my apartment a few times a day will keep me in shape. Legs don’t fail me now.

This morning I visited the various open markets in town. Fruits, familiar and unknown, filled the makeshift stalls. Salted fish piled high. Beans of every size and variation one might imagine. I stopped in the main square and listened to the Marine Band Concert, saw men and women on horseback parade around the town and kids playing jump rope and using a loading ramp as a sliding board. This is a town of happy people. I am happy here. This is where I am supposed to be, and for now at least, Loja is home.

Here, Dreaming Of There

The highest and most beautiful things in life are not to be heard about, nor read about, nor seen but, if one will, are to be lived. — Søren Kierkegaard

Have you ever dreamed of being
in a different time and place?
Was the setting large and empty,
the windows covered with lace?
Was there a fire in the fireplace,
maybe snow outside the door?
Were you all alone there or
surrounded by those you adore?
Are there cities in your new home,
or old forests, dark and green?
Will all your fantasies come
true there, or will you
still have to dream?

Sanctuary

A house that offers sanctuary, that embraces family and friends alike with comfort and warmth, becomes a refuge from the world outside—a truly peaceful home and haven that soothes the senses and refreshes the spirit. — Ann Rooney Heuer 

I believe this body is my sacred space. Wherever I am, it is a place of refuge and sanctity for me and yet, without a sanctuary to retreat to this body would be lost in chaos. Perhaps this is the difference between a sacred space and a sanctuary. I believe that all space is sacred from the Buddhist temples in Thailand to the the mass burial grounds of Cambodia but not all sacred space is necessarily a sanctuary.

When I was a child, there was no place to go to be alone in my home. My brother and I shared the same room until he left for Viet Nam and I left for college. I found sanctuary in an old oak tree in the woods near the railroad tracks not far from our house. I would spend hours there watching the birds at eye level and following the ants as they made their way through hidden trails into the catacombs of the tree’s heart. It was my first conscious awareness of sacred space and what it meant to have a sanctuary. Once on a visit home from college, I discovered my beloved tree had been cut down and my small forest replaced with a mini-mall.

Some years ago I had the privilege of attending a lecture by Joseph Campbell shortly before his departure from this world. More than once he reiterated the importance of having a sacred space — a sanctuary where one could go listen to his favorite music, read his favorite books, lose awareness of the business of living and instead reflect on its joys. Ever since that experience, having a sanctuary has become as important to me as having air to breathe. After being around people all day at work, I look forward to the quiet and solitude. Sometimes I read or write but often I just sit and look out the window. At my core I am a loner yet I exist in a socialized world. I don’t fit well in today’s hustle, bustle 24/7 lifestyle. I need time alone to reflect, to recharge, to clear the cobwebs from my head and often to do nothing at all.

Throughout the years my sanctuary has taken on various forms. From a tiny two person tent during the four years I led bicycle tours around the world, to a small dormer loft that provided refuge from the winter’s cold during my stay in Canada, and my beach house in Fiji where the calming waters of the South Pacific would lull me to sleep. My current sanctuary is a studio apartment in the El Centro area of Cuenca, Ecuador located on the second floor of the hotel where I would stay during my visits to this city resting at 8500 feet above the sea and surrounded by the Andes mountains. Inside there is enough room to do yoga, a bed for naps and sleeping, a workspace for writing, a table for two to dine, and a trunk to hold my art supplies and other important items. My Chinese calligraphy brushes hang on the wall and my few remaining books have easily relocated to their new home. I am a king here of my own domaine with no responsibilities but to myself.

Blaise Pascal said,

All of man’s troubles stem from his inability to sit quietly alone in a room.

Private space is important and something we don’t always have access to. In many homes the bathroom has become the only place where one can find sanctuary from the outside world.

As much as my sanctuary is defined by what it contains. It is also defined by what is absent. There are no distractions here, no strangers knocking at my door, or the ringing of phones constantly interrupting my silence. I can close the door, and the world becomes this little room. I like knowing I can leave this space and when I return everything will be the same, waiting for me to take up life where I left off last. From this space of solitude, my sanctuary, I can travel to the farthest corners of the universe, or down a flight of stairs to the streets of my beloved city. I want for little more.

Everywhere

I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space.
William Shakespeare

So I start again,
as if for the first time
to build my life from scratch.
Without guide or map,
except for a voice
that speaks only in whispers
with no distinction of
wrong or right.
Cast into the journey
to witness a sky
so bright with stars
that darkness fights for space.
If home is where
the heart is, then
everywhere is my home.