Man of Flowers

Vilcabamba artist, James Birthrong, talks to a difficult bitch about love, drugs and the higher ground on the eve of his latest show, First Harvest, opening this Friday in Ecuador.

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The artist smokes. He eats meat if he wants to, gambles, swears, describes himself as try-sexual (“I’ll try anything, twice!”)… and is brave enough to be interviewed by me – notorious in our tiny pueblo as a dangerous bitch.

His studio is lush with erotic art; arched thigh, flashes of panty, a degustation of breastmeat, voluptuous goddesses, waterfalls, scenes of ecstasy, divas from all tribes, engorged members, lush-petaledcunts and love-hearts… all tricked out with blossoms.

His moustachejames7 is stained gold from tobacco. His white hair wild with curls. He wears Hawaiian shirts, emblazoned with exotic flowers, inside of which he tends a garden of pain.

James Birthrong is a difficult interview. He is a man who deserves a book, not an article. In our three hours together he surfs me through a world so rich with gods, adventure, continents, loneliness, agony, sex, delight and ferocity…so many gems he has gathered from a curious life that it is almost impossible now, reading my notes, to know through which jewel to shine the light of this story.

He says, “I am a man who has experienced such agony that the only thing to do was laugh.”

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He says, “I am a man who discovered that what really matters, what to shoot for, is contentment. When you give up everything you think you want and go for contentment – then you will get more than you could ever ask for.”

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“True love? True love is when somebody really knows you, and loves you anyway,” he says, and laughs – deep and belly-full, in a way he has learned that does not show he is totally bereft of teeth… and almost breaks my heart.

Birthrong agrees to tell me his story of a quest through hell into the tender embrace of the goddess in a week when I am disoriented and vulnerable, tasting again, in this little town, the bitter harvest of bullying and gossip that are the strange fruits of my own journey this year as The Inconvenient Woman in a ferociously upwardly mobile gringo village.

On my way to meet him I passed a mural on the street, in indigo, that said, Piensa Bonito think beautifully… and I clung to this as I walked the rubble-streets to James’ gallery for the rare and terrifying gift of being trusted with a story.

So.. let’s begin here: in 1971, when Birthrong, at 24 made a deal with himself about whether or not to face his next birthday.

He tells it like this, eyes twinkling; “I was born a cripple and lived a childhood in isolation. I was a child with a broken body; a limp, a deformed hip, a cleft palate and a weird way of speaking. I was the kid that nobody wanted to be friends with, from a family in serious trouble, in a world writhing in an inhumane reality based on separation and hatred. From very early on I knew what it was to be the freak that took the load of a cruel society.

“From the playground on up we are consumed with a violence of judgment and elitism; separating ourselves into black, white, American, Indian, man, woman, rich, poor, powerful, weak, ugly or beautiful in order to feast our egos on the difference or suffering of others. As the outcast kid I took all that – the hatred and the isolation – and I learned very early that the human experience we have created is very, very sick. It’s like fighting with your own right hand because it’s different to your left – how fucking stupid is all that!”

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“As the third-grade milk monitor I stood at the little table where I gave out cartons at playtime, watching all the children, and realized I was separate from life, from humanity… it was a wound I lived with all my young life, as an outsider, the object of ridicule, and the subject of severe, continual pain. I felt a deep despair over humanity, the inhumanity of it, and from these early days I had to invent a sort of reality, a meaning to make it worth living.”

His reality included ways to survive the chronic pain of his body which he learned to call ‘sensations’, and can now compartmentalize by experiencing it that way, in parts, without resistance. It included the surf, where he found peace and freedom from the terrestrial realities of ostracism. He was to dive into mythology, travel, LSD, art, erotica, taboo, and the biggest waves Hawaii could throw at him. Years later, he fell, writhing and armed, into the arms of the goddess – but had to suffer more before she would take him to her land of drunken flowers.

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So… on this summer day, James’ private myth hit a wall. Deep in a personal hell, he made the decision to test whether the myth he had woven was strong enough, really, to build a life on.

“I was heavily involved with the acid scene at the time, a kind of LSD guru back then, and I had not one friend, ever. My life revolved around depression and loneliness, physical pain and an earnest determination for the life most everybody else just takes for granted. I wanted all that.. the troubles other people knew because they were included in life.

“I knew it was time to find out, for real, if the story I had told to make it all bareable was real – or whether I was just full of sad, deluded shit. I took 21 hits of LSD as a suicide pact to see if I could really live up to my own philosophy. I knew acid only really amplifies things that are haunting our own realities, and I wanted to blow open the doors of my subconscious and face everything there – throw myself at the mercy of who I really was. I knew if I couldn’t face myself fully, then I was a hypocrite and I should just jump.”

So he took himself to a cliff. And he did it.

It was a night he describes as “dramatic”. But the real blessing came as he headed away from his own edge, walking delirious through the streets before dawn, craving a cigarette.

“I was staggering along, perpendicular to a parking lot,” he says, “it was just breaking day, and a lone car pulled up about 50 metres away from me at a stop sign. I desperately wanted a smoke but I was a fucked up hobbling man who had just survived a massive dose of acid. I didn’t have a lot of energy. I wasn’t looking all that great, and that place was known for freaks and weirdoes.

I managed to raise my arm just slightly, to make a gesture at my waist with my smoking fingers into the darkness, to an invisible driver in the distance – the only human soul in all the world. It was impossible! The logical thing, if this guy even saw this movement in the dark, was for him to think, ‘who the fuck is that freak?’”

But that’s not how it turned out. “This man, he got out of the car, he walked all the way over to me, handed me a cigarette, lit it, and said, “You have a nice day.”

.. and the spell, indeed, was broken.

“That was when I knew I had made it,” James says. “That I could live here, be part of it. I could make a life based on my own creativity, my words, my self. It was a small thing, but a magnificent thing: from that moment on I knew, I had the absolute confidence, that there was a place in life for me.”

He falls silent, beaming at me with tears in his eyes, and blows a sideways fountain of Philip Morris into the street. “We’re all really the same,” he whispers, “We’re all absolutely connected.”

On the compassion of strangers, in the surf, in the boudoir and on canvass James Birthrong designed a life and a philosophy that has taken him, he says, lounging his aching body in a plastic chair outside his gallery in Vilcabamba, Ecuador, to the greatest contentment he has ever known.

Six years after completing an immense, hyper-sexy, riotously scandalous and gorgeous body of Tantric work with his partner, Venus and her Lover, Birthrong, depleted and ripe, has re-united with the paintbrush and is preparing his first show of new work, First Harvest this week at his Vilcabamba gallery, Galeria del Mundo.

With his epic series of blush-inducing erotica almost ready for publishing, he has set his brush toward what remains to delight him; flowers, waterfalls, his adoration of his beloved Rebecca, and the pursuit of freedom from darkness.jamesrebecca

Venus and her Lover was a project that compromised everything I stood for as an artist,” he says. “It was a project that was demanded of us because we were somehow qualified to express this work – a service to the Muse, a sort of spiritual assignment. Through it, and through my love for Rebecca I was stripped of everything I believed about art and knew about men, women, love, desire, sex, limits, religion, life.. everything. And during the final painting, at the end of ten years, I myself, as an expression of the dominant male, of power and masculinity, violence, strength, sexuality and control.. finally learned how to lay down my sword.”

Much of all this he attributes to the lead of his real-life Muse. “Rebecca is the reason for everything,” he says. “She is the expression of female beauty, she has a body to die for, but what I love most, the sexiest thing about her, is her smarts. Intelligence and beauty go so well together – like icing on a cake.”

“We entered relationship when I was 50 – so remember this: sometimes life saves the best ‘til last!” he grins.

Together, James and Rebecca have made a personal quest through travel, mythology, art and poetry, to tear down the veils from human love. They have explored and re-interpreted archetypes from every religion, as well as wounds left in society and in our own bodies from tyranny, violence, genocide, misogyony, religion, war and the lost cosmology of a healthy humanity. Through this quest they invented in their own lives an architecture for love and sensuality beyond the legacy of the violated feminine and a crucifictious male-paradigm based on war, pornography and loneliness.

After that, James never painted again. He thought he never would. But relocating to Vilcabamba after journeys around the world, rest, nourishment and finding a home where he feels ‘some sense of peace’… the new work has emerged, tentative and sweet, from new earth inside him.

The 8 pieces are vivid and intuitive, eclectic and bright. There is a disarmed simplicity about them which belies the gifts of the artist, and a humility which is tribute to what I see in James; an earth-stained and alert, joyful and fire-tempered expression of genuine human courage.

He opens at 5pm on Friday, December the 13th – a date which delights him, in tribute to the magical symbols of the goddess, distorted and perverted by the cloaks of religion.

‘You’re all about the goddess,” I say.
“Obviously!” he quips.
“And I’ve done a lot more than just talk about it, idealise it, or wish for it.
I’ve lived it.
I’ve loved it.
I’ve been crucified and come up adoring her.
I’ve walked the walk into her arms… and it isn’t over yet.”

The Last Beautiful Thing

Of all the cities in the world to soothe a tattered dream, I hand my vote to Cuenca, in Ecuador. With regrets, of course, to Paris.
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Folks from the more rural, southern parts of Ecuador will say the little city of cobble stones, cathedrals and actual cappuccino is too cold to be comfortable, too wet to be cosey and too busy to be elegant, but those folks have never been to Rome, Barcelona, Bordeaux or Melbourne – obviously!

Cuenca, snuggled beneath the flanks of the fierce and magical Cajas National Park, with its witches brewing healing herbs, its holy virgins popping up out of nowhere and its voluptuous wilderness occasionally devouring lost hikers and Bohemians overnight, is to romantics what Cronulla is to bogans.

For me, Cuenca is a four-hour ride through the womanly curves of the lovely southern Andes in a tidy white minivan. To get to the road I set off up the windy driveway at Love Bug Farm as little birds sing their heads off, and the eucalypts drip morning sunshine. I pass Pepe, the wondermule, doing his dawn unicorn impression in the paddock. A Picasso-esque crow eyes me asymmetrically on the barbed wire. A hurtling taxi thrusts its bucket of dust in my teeth as I headed to the highway… as usual.

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On the shuttle north, the driver kills El Condor Passa to play Eminem. We surf past little bent shacks and drink views of Podocarpus National Park swooning in the raunchy green lingerie of steamy biodiversty. Chickens, churches, crates, sheds, forests, dogs, donkeys, children and washing lines, blowing like prayer flags, spin by as we tease our way up, up and in and out of little cities and farmland, highway squats and fertile plains, rugged mountains and clouds, drunk on ocean, toward the best coffee in at least 2000kms, and the clunkiest church bells anywhere.

This is my own mini exodus – a dash out of The Valley of Longevity where various flies have settled in the ointments of immortality and tranquility, causing a sickly sort of longing for life that turns out to be a reasonably universal reason why people flee to Cuenca.

Mine was a short trip, relatively. Thousands have crossed the equator to be here. Americans, mostly. And while I admit I came to Cuenca with a sore heart and a slightly disarrayed sense of confidence in my little pueblo world, I was to meet American after American who had a far more perilous crossing to this city of roses than I, with a lot more at stake.

Heavily marketed online and on tv as a potential new contender for Paradise, a vast herd has packed for Cuenca, which officially shelters more than 5000 gringos under her moody blue skies. They have come to flee everything from The End of American Exceptionalism, to aging, obesity, credit card debt and broken hearts.

They come in through Miami, mostly. At which airport their fears of hostile homeland security, the general meanness in even low-level US officials, and the medicalization of the previously romantic experience of aviation are severely aggravated. They come because they are, I think I can say, terrified of what might happen if they don’t.

There are new faces every day, and hundreds of visitors each month – here to see if the prettiest city in Ecuador could be their El Dorado. You can pick them easily, on Cuenca’s bright polished cobbles, with their heavy-shapes, fat backpacks and adventure footwear. They are huddled over steaming mugs of coffee with newspapers and local lawyers at the famous gringo hangouts. They cruise the streets with the bewildered eyes of the hunted, and the manicured hair-styles of an uneasy bourgeoisie.

I met a couple who had just arrived from Pennsylvania. They said they were “looking for peace. Just a chance to turn it all off. “…to escape the States,” he said. “It’s all gone crazy. Crazy and dangerous.”

“We live in a corridor, and it never stops; the traffic, the gun shots, the pressure, the calls, work, life, money, debt, travel… it’s clear just from our own lives, and it’s clear on all the news: the US is over. We have come remember what life is.” And do they love Cuenca? “Oh yes! We just love it here,” they say, her eyes brimming with tears. “But the other Americans, they mostly ignore us.. we don’t understand it. The only terrible experience we’ve had is just being nice to the other gringos… it’s as if they resent seeing us here.”

Americans have been leaving the Land of the Free in a steady flood since 2007 but this year, even without referring to the statistics, you can measure the exodus out of the USA by sitting beside the fireplace at Café Eucalyptus with an Argentinian Shiraz and simply watching it.

In one way or other, the conversation is all the same this side of Mexico: how it was that Lady Liberty came to be eclipsed by a new American idol: a sort of lurching, gurgling ogre-beastie presently in the process of tearing itself and the universe to bloody shreds. It’s clear to everybody here that there is about to be some major demolition work on the Home of the Brave.

Obamacare, surging costs insurance, FEMA camps, Fukushima fallout, depopulation plans, hostile drones, martial law, forced disarmament, chemtrails, the consequences of a deep-fried diet, terror of retirement options and the looming taboo of aged care in the States figure high among the reasons so many no longer feel safe in the Land of the Free. When you get to know them better the new exiles also talk of tiredness, loneliness, a need for adventure and a strange sort of seeping sadness that has crept into the autumn page of the baby boomer story. They talk about ‘finding themselves’ here, where life is simpler and cheaper and vaguely exotic. They talk about farms with chickens, about learning tango, cheap land, meditation, flipping houses, property development, the price of white goods, how to ship a container, lose weight, gain a few extra years and the advantages of virgin country, cheap sex, drugs and electricity.

“Me? I am American,” tells a retired accountant just arrived from Texas. “Which means that I am a man who no longer has a country.”

It used to be that Americans had a kinda-creepy-feeling that Uncle Sam was acting weird. These days nobody wants to leave their kids at his place. Americans are shedding their citizenship and fighting off the opiates of religion, war, cable and confidence in their national superiority in horrified certainty that Uncle Sam has either terminal dementia or is possessed by the devil. That Nirvana-feeling that something’s really wrong around here could these days be described as a clear and present full-blown mortal panic – with a dash of rage, three drops cognitive dissonance and a twist of premium vintage despair.

Over generations now, this kind of thing has been dismissed by parents, businessmen and politicians as the silly poetic bleats of hippies, wasters, greenies and commies – those who had listened to too much Cat Stevens or were too lazy to join in and get on with plundering the planet and making it rich. It was a diss-ease that used to brew up at universities and Grateful Dead concerts. A blight upon the young, or those damaged by war and acid, who suffered a phase of dreadlocks, pot-smoking, hugging trees and feeling queasy about the things we were doing to rabbits and rivers and African Americans.

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In the beginning, they called them hippies. People who were not so much ‘dropping out’ as reminding us all of the fundamental difference between staring down a country road and the barrel of a military industrial complex. People who were eventually despised as smelly, hairy, regressive and probably-not-going-to-make-it-in-the-real-wolrld… which itself, was busily being engineered at the time.

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Hippies have either ended up filthy rich in Byron Bay, Australia, or buying over-priced superfoods in Vilcabamba – while their descendants though the generations have explored new ways of dressing up the essential hippy horror – a clear insight to the inherent corruption of the order of things – in new cults and movements including grunge, trailer-trash, Occupy, conspiracy theory, dumpster diving, alcoholism, insanity, chronic depression and evacuation to as yet undeveloped nations.

This same fear and loathing that set off the Hippy-thing, sparked the Weather Underground and inspired the US government to get real nasty then, forever!… has since caused legion of clever young minds and clear-seeing souls to  choose between a treacherous decent into chasms of depression and frustration, or a perilous ascent into clouds of marijuana smoke to escape what has been described as culture and progress but is clearly a vicious, blood-soaked nightmare of bitter greed and whole-scale violence.

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Until now, such a ‘failure to function’ in the democratic structure has been strictly ascribed to misfits, but in Cuenca, and everywhere else where the Americans are running, it is not the lost and the stoned who are backing out of the system – it is the successful, the upper middle-class, the executives and retiring baby boomers. Sitting fat on their takings from a game they prospered in last Century, even the well-to-do and graduates of Anthony Robbins are admitting that something sure smells wrong around the water fountain.

It’s something they’ve known all along. Secretly.

For white folk, drunk on a frenzy of other people’s land and labour, hi on the things we can make from the earth, then throw out the window for a dizzying, oil-soaked century now, the scream of the cosmic Canary broke through the fizz of fast money around the time American ‘administrators’ and their mates ploughed somewhere around five millions souls into the soil of Vietnam and her neighbours. But most people agreed to sacrifice the bird.

Folks all knew, there was something wrong around here… mate, when their Vets came back mental and the news showed Good Young Americans, Australians and New Zealand troops murdering with bludgeons and poisons and bombs and rap music the obviously innocent in southeast Asia.

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It was around this time that the Americans were offered their epiphany. I saw it myself, but agreed not to notice.

 

I was reminded last weekend, beside the lovely deep fire at Eucalyptus, in Cuenca, when a retired American music executive brought it all back into view.

Ed was at university in California when the American Dream was being massacred. He was studying for a business career while the shit was going down, “It was a time,” he tells me, “when you could see, I mean actually see the last glow of American innocence.

“It was something in those people, the ones who were trying to change everything; the hippies and the Berkley crew. It was a look, a particular kind of beauty in the eyes of those who saw what was coming and who were begging the rest to let go.”

Ed, I think, is realizing all this at the same time as he tells me, the fire on his back, and a new life as an American exile in Ecuador on his horizon.

“The hippies, what they really were, is gone and can never be again. They held in their gaze the last light of our nation’s freedom and you can’t fake that or forge it or reinvent it. It was a depth of understanding, a sadness as well. It was a type of beauty, like they were looking through you – like they were seeing beyond, into a country that could have been – something we can never hope for now.

“It died with Vietnam, and with the shift of race relations. It died, that light, from things we still don’t understand but which are destroying all of us now.”

Snakebite! – Evilcabamba Diary #3

As murder tops the list of crime and skulduggery in Vilcabamba this week, I am reminded of the timely lesson of the Snake Goddess: while sucking the delectable poisons of someone else’s myth, beware the compulsion to bite your own tongue!

She had been beckoning me for years, the snake goddess of the cubist pueblo of Vilcabamba in the dusty wilds of Ecuador. She summoned me in dreams, of course, because snake goddesses are prone to skulking about in invisible realms and don’t go in for facebook.

Theeeese are important times,” she lisped in dreamspeak, with a slightly Austrian hiss. “The place, she is infested with the hippies, the weirdos and theeeese stewpid California shaman f$ckers. The Earth Mother, she is eeetchy. The Pacha Mamma, she is asking her revenges.”

After almost a decade between $2 cigarettes and cask wine with my favourite long-toothed lady of the magical cactus medicine (aka dark surfer of the magic slime, vomit-drummer and bitch, witch or wonderwoman, depending on who you ask) I packed my designer travel bags in Bali and sky-hopped for a week to the Other Side of the world to find that things were indeed going sideways in her wilderness.

I arrived amidst the unfolding story of the strange death of a beautiful American boy. People were bitching, there were vile rumours. Then, here in a parish marketed by land seculators and other parasites looking to turn a buck from an undeveloped (read ‘exploited’) community, as The Valley of Longevity, there were the consecutive deaths of a middle-aged foreign woman from cancer, a young local worker on a construction site, four youths in a car crash, an Ecuadorian farmer who suicided, the rape of at least four tourists in the heart of town, my own near-escape (and resultant sledging as a bitchy alcoholic slut who deserved it) and this week the unsolved bloody murder of a Canadian real estate agent.

Vilcabamba became famous as a peaceful place with a high number of Centurions. Those two ‘facts’, recently shaken into a persuasive cocktail by International Living and and others to lure life-style changers into the property market, have this decade caused the plundering of the lifestyle that presumably led to longevity, as well as the peace and quiet. So much for that myth!

But it’s not just the mass-arrival of the new residents that has caused problems, it’s their quality that is the real mystery.

My theory is that Vilcabamba is where all those kids from school: the fat, the greasy, the slimy ones who told the wrong jokes, had the wrong hair, smelt funny…  the ones we cruelly (but instinctively) rejected as flotsam on the evolutionary surge – have ended up. And here, with the advantages of being white, having some US cash, being over 5 foot, and with very high opinions of themselves (and not enough Spanish to understand the insults the locals snicker at them), they gleefully discharge the pus from the chips imbedded in their shoulders with no limits at all.

Vilcabamba is where losers get their revenge.

And since , if there are any cool people in town at all, they have sensibly made themselves invisible, like rats in a jar, the losers go cannibal and feast on each other.

If you take even the fleetest glimpse backwards you will easily find that rape, murder, bashings, the mysterious disappearances of land holders while others slip into their places, and a nasty, seething bitterness has underwritten the Vilcabamba story since gringos first started using it as a base to peddle their illusions and prosper from Other People’s land – which is what Ecuador is.

Not that the new Americans think so. With an ear-infecting jingoism and kitsch-glory nationalism, the new ex-pat residents (mostly hailing from USA and Canada, with some shameful inclusions from Britain, Australia and New Zealand.. you know who you are…) loudly insist that their residency (bought for $15,000 or secured by the hasty delivery of a convenient visa-baby) entitles them to the same sense of ‘ownership and rights’ in Ecuador as any actual Ecuadorian. They do not for an instant feel ashamed at the gross idiocy of such a claim, but ferociously insist that indigenous wisdom is soooo cool, and paste it all over facebook.

If North Americans were criticised for being ignorant about the world for lack of passports last Century, they can be insulted to their faces in this one for achieving a will to travel, but dragging with them their inflated arrogance, colossal ignorance, fierce narcisism and superiority delusions.

The new North Americans in Vilcabamba, here because they say they want a better, fairer, less violent life than that they have created for themselves in the States, are too loud. Too opinionated. Too secure on their disability/ mental health/ parents’ pensions, with their false names, their kooky ideas about Illuminati terror-plots and other ways to make it rich… too drunk on the venoms that have risen up in them over their experience as losers elsewhere to even notice that they are the enemies they are running from.

At least two of them seriously think they are present-day interpretations of Jesus Christ. One declares that he is a fully-integrated (is that an upgrade from enlightened?) being, several claim to be Targeted Individuals (of special interest to USA Secret Intelligence) and everybody in the plaza agrees that the CIA has a mole and nano-spies in the village because the expats oozing around are so very important and special and dangerous to other, similar ruling elites…  like the Pentagon, China and probably the Vatican as well.

Yes, the Snake Goddess and I agreed, the previously charming hamlet of Vilcabamba, once the perfect nowhere to practice shamanic arts like hammock-riding, gardening and river-listening was no longer nowhere. It was ranking Very High online with other Ecuadorian hotspots as the latest best place to start a new life. Peace in this shady oasis for wandering vagabonds, harmony lovers and refugees from the End of the American Dream in the 70’s, and other biographical wash-ups, for so long broken only by humming bird buzz and the sparkle of fireflies in the deep forest nights, was shattered. “The worssssst is still to come!” declared the Snake Goddess. “Thiiissss place, she is broken in the heart, broken in the spirit, and it is all from these stupid gringos! The Nature, she is very angry with thiiissssss… the Goddess, she is rising.”

Murder reported this week is tragic news, and after suffering violence and brutality there myself just 2 months ago, I know what it is to be afraid for your life. But murder is the logical outcome of the Vilcabamaba story. Double-crossing, bitch-festing, drug dealing, land pimping, gazumping, whoring, boozing, and exploiting the locals – of any colour –is de rigeur.

I heard reports from a recent meeting of the new feminist women’s community effort, Vilcamummas, which claims to represent the interest of the indigenous women of Vilcabamba, that there was a stand-off when the Ecuadorian women wanted to know where the money was going. “It was shocking,” I heard. “When the Ecuadorian women wanted to see the accounts, to know where the donations were going, the Americans got visibly angry, very defensive and practically shouted at them that they were being ungrateful!” This kind of pimping of a good cause is known as third line forcing and is an old trick in the cunning capitalist’s handbook. But is causes resentment, it displaces good people, it steals the stories from a culture, as well as their dignity, trust and peace of mind.

Bad joojoo has been pumping through the Vilcabamba ether at such an alarming pulse that talk of Black Magic abounds, even at the best tables. Violence really is escalating. Bitter feuds on the community fb networks (where somebody is called a bitch, f*cker, loser etc. almost every day in standard Vilca parley), rapes, gossip, ferocious cliques and factionalism are rampant. Tempers are visibly rising, boiling, bursting and re-infecting themselves. The police are insulted as uselessly corrupt, land deals are going sour, newly-built million dollar gated trophy homes are empty and for sale, thievery is rife between the gringos (of clothes, cash, ideas, lovers etc.)and the actual Ecuadorians? the people from Vilcabamba? They are largely inscrutable. Silently they watch, avoiding eye contact with outsiders mostly, as the prophecy fulfils itself… the invaders, they will succumb to their own wounds.

Six months ago two prominent spiritualists and long-term land-holders were warned by mystical sources that Vilcabamba was the site of a Black Magic War. The couple, already bound and bashed once in a previous home over an access dispute when they blocked ancestral trails used by locals, left. I saw them in Cuenca, they had a haunted look. She whispered to me, “There’s black magic everywhere! Get out while you can.”

At Christmas my only female friend, a beautiful heiress with longterm land and business interests in Ecuador, became concerned about the behaviour  of her daughter . She was recommended a shamanic intervention by the plumber at her luxury estate. “It was incredible!” she confided to me. “Unbelievable! He was a beautiful man, the Maestro, very serious and kind. He made a cleansing of the house. He said it was FULL of black magic. Satanic rituals had been there. He said babies had been killed! My daughter, he made a diagnosis of her by passing over her whole body with an egg. When he cracked it open you could see there exactly –  a kind of deformity in it, like a cloud. She was being possessed, he said! Incredible!”

Do you believe it? I asked her. “Absolutely!” said the heiress. “We are flying out on Friday. We are leaving immediately. The whole family.”

While Evilcabambans had been gazing starward, perfecting themselves for the dud End of the World event last December with mercury filling removals, coffee enemas and parasite cleanses in honour of the sexy aliens who would choose them to be among the new fifth-dimension elite (compensation for not making the grade in any sort of elite at all in the actual world?), they had failed to notice that dark forces were cruising the very ground they were shitting on.

Case in Point: the Vilcabamba Guru himself, one Kacper Postawski. The first time I met him he was lying on the modular lounge he was trying to make famous at his online ascension site Silent Furnace.com, lazily nursing a half-blown erection and boasting about his recent transcendental orgy fantasy, featuring  Pliaedian star-troupers. If you were going to have a Miss Ex-pat Vilcabamba contest, Kacper would be the perfect candidate.

The runt of a twisted litter, Machiavellian puppet-master to his obese gimp, Danish Joshua (the blubber that fuels the farting furnace), this self-styled plunderer of the lucrative niche in anxious online outsiders is a ruthless, unscrupulous, hair-backed jackal with pupils that slip around like marbles on an autopsy slab. He is just one among many using the Vilcabamba myth to his advantage, now peddling ‘special water’ to his lists online, and claiming that he has special access to cosmic forces from here when what he really has is special access to cheap land, hi-speed internet and zero alpha males.

And what do the real Vilcabamba leaders, teachers, medicine workers and shaman make of all this?

They call it Black Magic. They know it will seek out its own. They work around it in secret.

The Snake Goddess, she sips her wine salaciously and sings praises to the divinely elegant, sweetly fragrant, bitch-mother, baby-crusher, giver-of-honey, twister of continents and decapitating seductress, Nature. She beams adoringly at the tiniest flowers in her pleasure gardens, cradles their pretty bonnets with her long fingers and kisses them like babies. She caresses the sparkling shafts of the needle-fine thorns of her Great Daddy, the mighty San Pedro cactus, and pricks herself ecstatically on their demystifying points. “The Valley, it is thick with bad medicine,” she laments. “There is a fog, a slime, a heavy mist over everything. The new people, they brought it with them, it gets so heavy, heavy, heavy. On some days it feels I can hardly breath.”

The Snake Goddess is bored of the Apocalypse. She is bored of the politics as well. She is bored of listening to prospective clients for her powerful magic and wise counsel rant on flatulantly with their hobgoblin ideas about conspiracies, aliens, Armageddon and the CIA. She has not had her teeth re-engineered for ascension. She admires how her upper incisors are growing fiendishly longer. She sucks at her front teeth in a very snakish way, inhaling kisses and fluttering her eyelashes dangerously as she says, “the human mouth is full of intoxicating nectars as well as nasty poisons. This medicine is delicious! But what is coming from the mouths of these Americans… it is a poison and they are sipping on it every day.”

In my opinion, this Universe has a great love for sorting things. She is tidy, like my mother. She likes socks in the sock place, knickers (ironed, preferably) in the place for knickers, placemats here, blue footed boobies there, red crabs here, penguins over here, kookaburras there, and lets sprinkle just a few snowdrops over… there. Lovely!

There are so many examples of this that it’s unbelievable that Darwin and co. missed it. A curious one is a little island in the Cocos Islands that has an entire geology made only of flip-flops. Left ones, I believe. These flip-flops have sailed the currents between northern Australia and Indonesia and PNG, arriving, millions of them, in exactly the same spot.

Now, if a flip-flop had an idea (who knows?), it might think it was its own idea to head for the Cocos. But what even scientists have to admit is that the Earth sorted flip flops into kinds and had a tidy spot set aside for them, a place where they could be neatly stored, like any good mother would naturally do.

So, if we follow this logic, we can imagine that Mother Nature, the Flower of Life, Geometrical forces using currents, jetstreams, lunar radiation and whatever is required, has separated a particular batch of ‘types’ out of the human mix, gathered them up and stored them in Vilcabamba. Since these ‘types’ are human, and believe they (alone in the cosmos haha!) have Free Will, they are convinced that they chose to come here. But what if…

The Snake Goddess is unshakeable in her theory. “The Nature, she is in control of everything,” she proclaims, stabbing her cigarette toward the village. “She is more wise and powerful, more fierce and ancient than any beetch who rivals her,” she says. “Theeeese people who have come here to Vilcabamba, I ssssee them. There are many, many, many with this dark cloud around them, with dark entities upon them. They are possessed by demons, perhapssss. Those demons have made something like an eclipsssse on them, so that the person who usually lives inside the body, he is not really conscious anymore – it is the demons who use these bodies, and they use them as vehicles to get to Vilcabamba,” she concludes with a decisive explosion of American Spirit.

At first we were despairing. You could see the damage being done everywhere; original architecture gobbled up in cement facades, huge luxury homes, ostentatious mansions looming over humble earthen dwellings, cars everywhere, prices soaring, lowered gazes over shop counters, a slow-simmering resentment issuing from the real people of the land.

But then we saw it differently. Vilcabamba is an old, old place. A place of strong medicine, powerful psychotropics that grow naturally there in the Wilco trees and the cactus. One legend has it that the place was once a dangerous medicine ground for elite shaman specialised in powerful magic using the crushed seed of the Wilco, ground into the flesh of a snail to create a suppository (my reporting of which will no doubt create yet another idiot American to launch a business doing just the same).

In any case, Vilcabamba, where even I once saw Kali herself, smashing compasses and tearing down the veil of human thinking as she danced erotically through the back country, is one of Mother Nature’s special places – a sweetspot and a thunderdome. Perhaps, the Snake Goddess and I mused, it’s really all just perfect?

These unhappy people, these violent thinkers and sad losers, these mutants and orphans who disprove Darwin and are a disgrace to both the Condor and the Eagle… perhaps they have been brought here deliberately indeed. Sorted out from their tribe. Separated like rotten apples from a barrel, to be dealt with in the wild cathedral of Cosmic Magic. Perhaps forces beyond our imaginations, forces that were truly judging and choosing from among the Evilcabambans: elite or delete – was not being broken as the land was. Perhaps the judgment and the sorting, the descents and the resurrections were actually really happening –  inside their own heads in the form of a poison (as the Vedas describe), which had brewed there long enough, becoming rich and honey-like on bad thinking, unhappiness, evil and violence, jealousy, bitterness and indifference… perhaps these people are those who failed to read the moral compass, who never felt ashamed when they were being cruel and who had therefore cultivated a resonance, a nectar which used them as a breeding ground to inflict itself upon the host and its environment. A self-aware nectar, a mood, that had seized the personality and administered itself in continuous miniscule doses by a medium even more perfect and dastardly than the cigarette: through the roots of their own living teeth. A personalised, homeopathic, signature venom that vaccinates its own host with the perfect psychological state for its own destruction in order that the best of the species can thrive unmolested.

___________________________________________________________________________

May Glenn Sanderse have been spared from suffering, may he rest in peace and may his story join with the stories of others who have met with bad fortune, violence – physical, verbal and emotional in Vilcabamba – to bring an end to the abuse of this village and all who live there.

Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

Evilcabamba Diary #2 – Miss piggy cries wolf!

In the story of The Three Little Pigs there was the one who made his house out of straw, the one who built from sticks and the last one who was (unfashionably) fond of red brick.

I have had reason of late to wonder about this story. First off, what’s the deal with making up nasty little tales to scare the wits out of the kiddies, herding them toward hideous architecture and demonising wolves? Secondly, what about those little pigs? Surely there are terrible repercussions from having your house blown in? And what if they were girl pigs? Would they have called the police? Or were they secretly askin’ for it ????

piggyAnd then.. what would have happened if there was a fourth little pig… one who came home tired and bored from a Crappy New Year in the feral little pueblo of Evilcabamba to a house made of adobe, and shaped like a dome with nothing but candles and a little orphan dog to protect her when the Big Bad Wolf came huffin’ by?

In twenty years of world travel I can honestly say that until 2012 I had suffered no more loss than that one pair of sneakers that went missing on the beach in Peru after a long night of bad salsa. The only times I was ever in danger were in Turkey and South America. Some time around ’94 I was in the filthy little oil town of Coca on my way into the Amazon when the manager of my decrepid hostel got that certain look as he gave me the key to my room. I slept with the bed pushed against the door which turned out to have been a Very Good Thing.

Around 1999 I was in Bolivia with the great and tiny Australian Mountainatrix, Sue Fear, when two dark figures broke the lock on our door after midnight. Sue, who always slept with a knife, got rid of them before I had time to join the fight, and we both went back to sleep without even a cigarette.

Things have changed since those days. And it’s not because traveling has become more dangerous. The reason it’s not safe on the road and in the villages, mostly, is because of the people who are traveling with you!

Since arriving in Ecuador last May I have had stolen; one phone, one sarong, a cardigan, woollen wrap, about $200 and been accused of thieving, lying, being a slut, a whore, a bitch and a moaner who looks old and untoned and is prone to a scathing meanness toward raw food millionaires, idiot mystics and ridiculous middle-class pretenders who claim to be shaman. And that’s just what the expats have said to my face!

In part it’s because of this blog. But mostly it’s because of the types of folk that are washing out of the first world on a murky tide of poverty, dodgey mental-health, pensions, criminal records and the intoxicating sniff of a profitable scam. It’s the gringos you have to watch out for. Even the locals are scared of them. And if one should dare mention any of the skullduggery that abounds in places like once-charming Vilcabamba, one can reasonably expect the same outcome as when one upsets a nest of scorpions anywhere.

The townsfolk of Vilcabamba, like the grizzled folk who have invaded other sweet hamlets around the world, like to brag that people who don’t fit in are eventually removed by mystical forces. They love to gossip about how ‘missfits’ are ‘taken care of’ by a mysterious force capable of eradicating those unworthy of residence in their precious gringo-landias, while ‘chosen ones’ are allowed all the cheap beer, real estate and treacherous friendships their swollen livers can handle.

Those who have been ‘taken care of’ by Vilcabamba’s invisible immigration elite over the years have been murdered, disappeared, bashed, raped, frozen out or gone bonkers on bad drugs and beer. These hints that you are not welcome in ‘paradise’ are largely blamed, of course, on bad indians. But you only need to order a pizza at Charlitos and tune in to the word to find out that it’s the cowboys who are the problem.

Scary shit and bad mojo is hard to avoid in Vilcabamba. The locals know that, and have known it for ages, so at the end of the year, when dark medicine runs thick in the veins of those who have been smeared, shamed, slied, shafted or sidewinded, the people take the chance to exorcise their demons, redeem their villains and get as violently pissed as possible… to make it all go away.

It’s the same sort of thing we do all over the world… people dashing about from one limp party to another, hoping to be popular and to avoid their debtors and ex’s, people being asphyxiated by trillions of dollars worth of fireworks before spending the newborn hours of the smoky new year stuck in traffic, or vomiting into a toilet. People writing lists about getting rich, getting skinny, getting laid and going skydiving…. people wanting to be new again.

New Year’s Eve in Ecuador is a time for calling up the bad spirits, dark energies, and the nasty and the mean to celebrate, satiate and honour them so that good folk might live in peace and prosperity. The people in each village make puppets of bad sorts, shamed neighbours, thieves and no-goods to burn in the main square, on the steps of the church, at midnight to purge bad mojo and symbolise new beginnings.

This year at least half of the puppets to be burnt in Vilcabamba were effigies of gringos. Which the expats shrewdly ignored. There was still a sense of tragedy and gloom about the place after the failure of the world to end on December 21st, and the non-appearance of sexy intergalactic reptilians on which so many folk had based their online guru-status.

I had a pedicure, spent the afternoon in the hammock, exchanged Christmas gifts with Scott then went to town to see the crowds and receive my punishment.

To cut a long, repetitive and traumatic story short, let’s just say that the woman who left home in 2012 was not the woman who woke up in a room bespangled by shards of exploded glass, still echoing with the violence of a splintered door, twisted metal and the threats of her would-be rapist still curling and writhing about the white-washed walls of her little adobe bedroom.

This woman was tired. This woman was breathing shallow. She was wearing the clothes from the night before, flecks of glass in her hair, and a swollen tongue that would take no water.

She was the kind of woman now who would never again be Friends with a man who used a picture of a wolf as his facebook portrait. One who knows about certain mysteries; why women don’t scream when a violent man accosts them, why negotiating with a man who wants to rape you can make things much worse, why it’s hard to call the police and what it feels like to be helpless and tortured, assaulted, intimidated, threatened and screamed at knowing that your pain is an aphrodisiac to the Wooluf at your window.

In my own case, the rapist did not get in. He smashed my window with a rock which he placed against the panes he intended to shatter next, if I refused to let him in. “You choose,” he said, “We can do this the easy way, or the hard way. It’s your choice. You have 30 seconds.”

“You need to be taught the consequences,” he said. “There are consequences for women like you. There is no escape. Open the fucking door!”

Boom! Boom! Boom! The wolfman kicked the heavy door again and again. My teeth chilled as the wood splintered, I felt the adobe shudder but I never moved once. I never spoke. I never begged. I never argued or cried or screamed. I did not curse this man or appease him. I did not try to appeal to his better nature, I did not threaten him with a knife.

I faced him for almost five hours. I heard every word and watched every movement. I was a witnessing being with an invisible body, but I did not shrink an inch. I eased out of my self gently, and hovered beside my own form like a shadow. I became my eyes, witnessing. I became an electrical storm. I became a listening thing, receiving words like boulders which smashed strange glasses inside me, and kept coming from midnight until 4.30am. “Liar. Slut. Bitch. Fucking Bitch! I’m going to teach you about men. I’m going to teach you about life.”

I saw the man who would teach me, and I saw myself too… a small, unborn girl in the white uterus of an adobe dome. I saw my little dog, Honey, strangely quiet in her genius. She never left my side.  I saw my altar in the moonlight-lit womb, every tiny detail of the balsa angel, her hands at prayer, the scuffs from her rides in my suitcase, the curve of her shoulders; the little Thai buddha candleholder I had unwrapped just hours before, her mirrored skirt picking up flashes of the wolfman’s torch and turning them into a tiny galaxy of stars in her lap; my clothes, hanging limp there without me, and a photograph of my three nephews in a tree, blonde boys to be one day blue-eyed men.

A stillness of superb radiance fell upon me. I felt the heaviness of my frail body, sweating for its survival, and the lightness of my witnessing self, riding on the gently overlapping tide of my breath. I felt again my love for a high school sweetheart, I felt the trust I had for my jungle healer with his deadly plant smoothies, I felt gratitude for my editor, my Aboriginal teacher, my best friends and lover… all men. All Good Men. All men I have struggled with in many ways, and who have shown me great respect and patience, even as I tested them. Who know the difference between power and violence.

“Where I come from we rape women like you, we teach them that lesson. How do you want it? The hard way? You Stupid Bitch! LET ME IN!”

The wolfman huffed and the wolfman puffed. He smoked endless chains of cheap cigarettes. He made phone calls to his brother throughout the night. He dared me to call the police. Call the police? How does one call the police in Vilcabamba? What is the emergency code for Ecuador? How will anybody find me in this remote little house in the forest?

I called Scott. He snuck down the rubbled streets out of town, over the rickety bridge, down along the river, over boulders and through the wilderness to hide in the darkness and watch over me.

He sent me a text, “I am here”.

The wolfman prowled the house, pushing every window, forcing every lock. He shone a light on me and rapped his ring against the window to force me to look him in the eye. That one eye that he used, a dead blue orb in a sagging hammock of greying flesh.

The wolfman and the American. What would happen? The wolf, despite his opinion of himself, is a weak man. He has injured legs, a sick liver, hepatitis. But as everybody knows it is precisely the sick that are the most dangerous… injured bears, starving sharks, short men etc.

I texted to Scott not to hit him. Not to hurt him. Why would I do that? Why do women do that? Is it because they secretly want this? Because they get off on the attention of men? Because there’s a power kick in this much unexploded ammunition?

When a friend, a man, asked me later why I didn’t just stab the guy, I was horrified to think of it. Could I live with being the victim of a rape thwarted only by a cheap metal lock that somehow managed to hold despite the twist and thunder? Could I live with the image of my own hand thrusting a knife into another? What about those eyes? If pain brought that chill blue to life I doubt I’d ever recover from the terror.

In the end Scott took him away. The Wolf was a pussy in his hands. He practically purred, then said it would be so much easier if the two of them smashed in the door, then they could rape me together.

What a drama! What a scene! But the most important part is still to come…

I spent two days afraid to leave the house in case the Wolf should see me in town and hurt me, in case the Wolf should get inside while I was out and lay in wait to ‘teach me’. When I did go in I asked four women for help. The first was an acquaintance, she said, “Well, in this town, because of how you write, people will no doubt say that you deserved it.”

The second, a friend of the Wolf’s family, she said, “AHo! I don’t want to get involved. Be careful. Think it through, you don’t want to damage the family business. Tell the police, but don’t tell me, I want to stay out of big stories.”

The third, the Wolf’s private counselor and healer, she held up her hand and said, “I don’t want to be involved. There are two sides to every story.” I pressed her about it, saying that since she was his ‘shaman’, she might also be his enabler, and she said, “If there’s any more trouble I’ll report him myself, I’ve been through this too.” And then she walked away. I heard later that she said I was “an angry type.”

Miss-Piggy-Instyle-Magazine-2The fourth spoke to Scott about it. She wanted all the details. She was asking for the facts. When she was satisfied she looked serious, because she is all about empowering women, and said, “Well, the way she dresses has been noticed.”

That really pissed me off!

In the end I decided to just let it go. A week later a tourist was raped in the street not far from my house. She did not report and when word got around the local women thought it ‘would be fun’ to learn self defence. The best form of which, they were told by the local American martial arts dude, was ‘to gauge out a man’s eyes with their fingers’, but better still, they said on facebook, was to carry a knife or a gun.

My landlord took $100 from the Wolf to repair the house, but only replaced the window and kept the rest for himself. The Wolf threatened me for 7 days by text but then wanted to be lovers. He said I had been an inspiring influence in his life but that I didn’t know a thing about men.

Evilcabamba Diary 1

It’s difficult to say, really, who ruined everything.

I mean, where the rot really set in.

Of course, there was that whole thing with the Spanish, and there has been that whole thing with the USA and its calculated plundering of the islands and continents sequentially, but I doubt that even these horrendous incursions, betrayals and greed-fests at the cost of the Simple Good People of the Quiet Earth were as diabolical as what you can witness right now, every day, in places like Vilcabamba.

In the very beginning, it was alcoholics and nature-lovers who settled in these little hamlets around the world. Looking for peace and quiet to set about their passions. Then it was property speculators, then online millionaires who’d made a killing with cacao beans and poisonous lies like Adyar Clarity, and were desperate not to have a single penny of their unworthy fortunes be wasted on American taxes, inflation and an unstable dollar.

These gross new rich ran like rats to developing nations where they could not only ‘roid up their fortunes on cheap living, but further propagate their lies about health, prospering from selling it in packets.

It’s a mystery to me, given that raw foodies, in general, are among the most wretched-looking specimens of humanity you can find outside of an actual war or drought zone. And they’re typically moody, elitist, prone to violent outburst and extremely, pathologically, ruthlessly greedy. I just love hearing Matt Monarch, for example, compared to a surfer.. it makes me almost wet my pants, given that, in real life here in Vilcabamba, where he lives in a luxury gated villa tended by maids and gardeners, (without any neighbours because he recently either evicted or betrayed them all) this battery-hen of a self-appointed guru on spirituality and health, looks like he could barely lift a whole carrot, let alone a surfboard!

I’d love for an actual surfer to turn up in this town, or a nice, decent ordinary man who has made his own way in the world and knows how to hammer a nail, flip a burger and get on with living life instead of just squeezing every last dram of a dollar out of it. The ones who aren’t on the make are hopeless megalomaniacs, in general, who are never seen to be chatting with the locals, or walking or riding in the hills.. so what the hell are they doing here, really?

These health-industry folk have more impact than you’d think. They’ve infested the planet from Ecuador to Ko Samui, trading in weight loss, NLP, berries, ibogane, plant magic, Tantra.. whatever they can flog for at least a %1000 profit, and gain a cult following with as well. They are succeeding, not so much because they are clever, but because they have huge lists for online marketing, and the feeble trust of thousands of lost souls. And because they are ruthless about combining their online forces, then shafting each other for the spoils.. that’s you Matt Monarch, and you, David Wolfe, and you… Kacper. Yes, you.

People like Matt Monarch, and the health ranger dude, while yelling and screaming fit to curdle their own livers about the evils of fluoride, or pharmaceuticals, or the food industry, made Fortunes, deliberately, out of selling alternatives they invented out of thin air to the people they had frightened.

In one case, Kacper Postawski, who lets it be known he made his millions (but not how it was from some kind of online book about tomatoes, and then skimming the fat off the notorious trade of a toxic potion called Adya Clarity, touted as the most important healing tonic in the world, and then found to be horrendously toxic and dangerous)…. boasts continually in this microscopic little town about how grotesquely rich he is. He lures the crusading American pilgrims into his lair with promises of financial gifts, spends a good deal of his time warning folks about the corruption and fraud of the ruling elite, the evils of hostile aliens harvesting human energy for their dastardly plots, and fishing for healing products he can promote to his list, then letting the big fat no care, no responsibility dollars tick over. Kacper is famous for being hit on the shin by a reversing taxi here in town this summer, and claiming to have died and been illuminated, selling his great wisdom at http://www.silentfurnace.com

Between deaths, marketing adventures and all this bullshit, he  rents a mansion in town for $3,000 a month, when the going rate for luxury accommodation is $500 – $800 at most. He is busy ‘positioning himself’ as an enlightened guru who will guide you out of despair and suffering at the end of the world this December, for a price of about $400 online.

More than one person has commented here that if Kacper were able to find it in himself to rent a house at even half that flatulent and narcissistic price in Ecuador, he could use the rest of the money to actually change real people’s lives – the people who live next door to him, for example, who earn less than $180 a month working 10-hour days for the gringos as maids and builders and electricians. Or the artisan family here whose baby died a month ago because the hospital would not admit them for care because they appeared to be unable to foot the bill.

Whatever. These people are not the only ones exploiting the benefits of this undeveloped hamlet, stuffing it up forever, and destroying the community that has existed in it for generations, but is invisible to the inflamed gringos, mainly.

Baby boomers afeared of the dread loneliness and isolation of retired life in the West are here, drinking their money and spying openly on the pretty girls. Divorcees with bad botox and cash dollar are here, looking to install themselves as Queens of the Domain, helping all the poor Ecuadorians, and showing them the light of Feminism and organic broccoli and the delights and joy of an entrepreneurial life… completely, hopelessly, pathetically oblivious to the delicate threads of the culture they are unpicking with their inspirational leadership.

Ex-US Marines are here, with their rage and their cheques, aging hippies, with their half-baked ideas, gun freaks who hide away in the hills with their trembling fists and their shiny new weapons, advertising on facebook the sale of cheap crossbows, and how they are the real heroes of our times, who will shoot to kill if they face any kind of trouble on their land, in Ecuador. Hellllloooooo?

There are all kinds of losers, basically, who see it as a place to make BIG cash dollar on land, build private empires where they can be emperors in their synthetic drawstring pants, hide from a potential war while creating their own mini one, which they can launch from their luxury villas and private bunkers, all stocked up with the 38 items you must horde before the End of the World… and lifestylers who can’t afford (or don’t get invited) to the best parties on Maui.

The others hide away in the hills. You don’t see more than 80% of the rest of the gringo population of this valley, which is estimated to be about 1,500 people. They hide. And I don’t blame them.

Recent disturbances in the Middle Class security blanket, especially in the USA (and likely, actually, because of the USA) have caused what appears to me to be the most heinous act of colonisation since the Conquistadors, and a more ruthless, stupid, dominating, insidious force for destruction of peace and culture in the world I doubt you could convince me of.

Americans, once mocked for their myopic view of the planet, and failure to explore except for franchise opportunities, have recently been applying for passports at a rate ten times higher than any other time in their history. Americans are leaving. In droves. It’s a mass migration. No kidding.

The New Vilcabambanites, overwhelmingly American (in every way) can, much to their disdain, be pretty easily type-cast. Even their compatriots, Americans who sniffed out Vilcabamba as a potential new homeland (by surfing online, and not by doing any actual bothersome traveling, unfortunately, because that would surely have weeded more than half of them out), then snorted fiercely before stomping back to Cuenca, classify the American Vilcabimbos in two ways, as I was told at a party recently by a woman from Florida; “they are either disgusting hippies in those horrendous long skirts, with filthy hair, or useless acid-victims on government pensions looking to be top of the dung heap”.

That’s simplifying things, but it will do.

You can see, outside the Vilcabamba Juice Bar, any day of the week (except closing day, Monday, when the town falls into a depression and settles into facebook disputes and de-friending frenzies to bide the excruciating time) an excellent cross-section of the folks who broadcast that they are here in a brave crusade to create a New Reality on Earth in these sad and changing times, building visions of a New Age, striving for love and peace and purity, and risking all to build true community, despite the corporate greedheads and all those dreadful other people who have made such a mess of it.

When they’re not spouting off their enamel-corroding rhetoric, they’re usually involved in vicious little spats concerning popularity or money, or obsessively proving to themselves that even at 60ish, being fat and ugly and gross and loud, they can still pull a woman, any woman, if they can let it be known that they own real estate.

On regular occasions you might see an actual fight. Or a hissy fit. In such cases, even if the aggressor is an ex-Marine on a government pension attacking a hapless writer with a small orphaned dog in her arms, you can be confident that none of the courageous world-changers will do a thing about it, they will not leave their detoxifying superfood smoothies unattended for a moment.

Instead, they will say that communication drums installed nearby are messing with their ‘frequencies’ and making them agitated. In Vilcabamba, if you are a bitch, or abusive, or mean-spirited or fat, cowardly and alcoholic, you can blame it happily on these drums, or on aliens, or on the government. That is considered perfectly normal.

Or, they might be colouring in an A4 advertisement to place on the noticeboard, saying how they are manifesting their dream house.

Here in the remote Andean wilds of Ecuador, dream houses ain’t what they used to be. As the Middle Class colonisers sweep in with their Trust Funds in swaddling, terrified that their free rides should dwindle in any way should there be trouble in America, and other hordes on counterfeit pensions from the States and Canada, and raw food millionaires, with their grey skin and their evil empires swelling and farting and sucking the helpless into their vortexes of fear and privilege, dream houses have become quite specific.

According to one hand drawn ad, placed by a recent arrival feathering her nest here after so much fun in the Hawaii real estate scramble, a dream house in Ecuador (still among one of the world’s poorest nations) should have a full size bath with 24/7 hot water, fully equipped kitchen, cathedral ceilings, wooden floors, landscaped gardens, water features, domestic help (no more than $2.50ph, thanks) and sweeping views in all directions, with absolute privacy essential!

Meanwhile, to the hedonistic gringo world-changers, the impact of all of this on the actual people who built this town are largely invisible. Unless they can build an NGO on their backs.

Not long ago a local farmer killed himself in the valley. His death may or may not have been part of this story, but it is a fact that all over the world, even in Australia and the States, farmers are killing themselves because of the massive, terminal upheavals in land ownership and crop fashions.

In South American entire tribes are threatening to be the instigators of their own extinction through mass suicides, rather than let Big Oil and the World Bank destroy them less visibly as they chunder up their land and all the rites, wonders, meaning, belonging and legends that live within it.

Those of us in less united cultures feel these devastations alone, without counsel, and the death of every farmer by his own hand because of poverty, development or forced cultural atrophy should be seen as a crime against all of our rights to cultivate a life and a spiritual home on the Earth,our Mother, our birthplace, our home…. and the enemy is just as likely to be a dream house hunter as a bloody oil company! get with it!!!

In Bali, rice farmers have started suiciding at an alarming rate as the wine bars and the luxury villas go in, and sustainable lifestyles of the Earth carers go out.

So, this farmer in Vilcabamba died, and I was fascinated to note that his story, which I don’t think even included his name, was used by a foreign permaculturalist living here as evidence against the use of pesticides. He had, apparently died by drinking a half cup of chemicals, and this was, she wrote, concrete evidence of the dangers of non-organic farming.

Which is a bit like saying, when the Uwa tribe threaten to commit mass genocide by jumping from their own sacred waterfall before they are exterminated by oil development contaminating their land, that this is clear evidence of the dangers of having sacred waterfalls.

Which is a bit like saying, hey! those bad guys in the media and the government and the military, in engineering and science and medicine have messed the whole world up with their cunning, evil plots, there might be a war on… it’s not safe in the States.

So let’s all move to Vilcabamba and start a better community by eradicating or just ignoring the one that’s already in place, and putting me at the head, (because I’ve got the cash for the land) and lets allow everybody whose white, or cashed up, or useful for our purposes to just do their own thing, no matter who they bully or betray, ’cause they’ve all got their pensions and they are all worthy aspects of the divine, and you know, let’s make sure we have guns as well, and bunkers, in case any ‘bad guys’ come after us… the Ecuadorians are unpredictable, you know…

The Goddess of Cauliflower Soup

A recipe for Disaster.

Oh, this was a great blog! An incredible, witty, passionate and inspirational blog. It was My Best Blog Ever. But I accidentally deleted the whole thing fooling around on WordPress and it is lost forever.

Oh, woe!

I have been grieving for three solid hours over the loss of the caffeine-inspired brilliance of this morning’s musings in a dried out Vilcabamba. And it was upon taking stock of my accomplishments in this grief, that I began to wonder if it is not indeed time for me to launch a website selling tickets to myself.

In previous years (more than I care to tell), sudden loss, grief, frustration or careless acts of stupidity would usually result in the following actions:

1. smoking

2. panicked fury and a wild zest for life oriented toward finding an object to smoke, if one was not readily available.

3. sulking

4. having a shower, in order to sulk more vibrantly

5. overwhelming sense of futility and hopelessness

6. morbid fascination for old works of Depeche Mode and Lloyd Cole

7. more smoking

The whole show would culminate with what would amount to a kind of introverted glee as my cells and juices would note that the day was fading, the sun had reached a certain pitch, the daylight was softening – and I could have a nice little drinky poo, in which to drown out the failure or the frustration of the day, all that existential agony, and the futility which had me by the neck, and switch to modern rock.

A quick catalogue of today’s achievements, despite the terminal loss of my work, has inspired me no end. Perhaps five years on the road, and all that yoga has really made a difference… perhaps I’m doing it.. look mum!  no hands!!

Upon immediate loss of work:

- ground teeth and did obsessive clicking about through past pages in desperate hope of relocating my writing

- quivers in heart region, slight headache and exasperation at farting dog

- washed yoga pants in bucket

- folded sheets (including fitted one – always a tricky business)

- toasted croissant in frying pan.

- read brilliant introduction to A. Lowen’s The Language of the Body, and began to wonder when psychiatry will seriously meet yoga and finally become useful.

- about half an hour of obsessive internet activity

- wondered about Freud. He did so well, despite his terrible sexual fixations.

- learnt how to make real Saag paneer (spinach curry) online – not the boring, fake basic recipe you get by being a lazy recipe surfer… but the actual Indian one.

- soaked the ‘darks’ in two buckets and swept the floor (with an actual broom)

I am extremely excited about making Saag Paneer for dinner tonight because in this life, without a fridge (!) yes, sisters!!! it is of vital importance that one should feel like eating what one bought at the market yesterday, otherwise one will be tossing it directly into the compost before 10am tomorrow.

For the first few weeks here I felt very sorry indeed for myself that I should be 42 and living in a house without a fridge. Even if it is in Ecuador. With views over the sacred valley of the Incas. And even though, laid out upon the grounds on which I walk, every day, are actual Inca trails. And even when I am possibly surveyed by aliens, who are very interested in the folk of Vilcabamba -according to err, the folk of Vilcabamba. Even with all this potential magic and wonderment, I still felt like I was coming to a very sticky end, without a fridge.

Anyhow, yes. I was beginning to have fears for my future, and regrets about my past, even, That I should end up fridgeless here. It was all about shame.

The lack of hot water (and a rose for the shower) did not wound me as mortally. I thought myself quite heroic, actually, concerning life without running hot water. In the beginning, it was a simple matter of time. The new gas system and all the tubes and whatnot are sitting right here, ready for installation, promising that I might be rained upon by hot water any minute, so I was very brave about not having hot water. I had a bucket. And a blue plastic cup. And a kettle – it would have to do. The gardener made a big show of how he was going to fix up the pipes to the gas thingo “manyana”… he’s been “manyana-ing” for three weeks now, this is the Ecuador way, apparently.

But these three weeks of bathing in a bucket have taught me precious things. I know now, for example, that it takes exactly three kettles-full of almost boiling water to fill the bucket to 3/4. The rest I top up with cold water from the bathroom, meaning I don’t have to carry a huge weight of water, and the resulting bucketful of gorgeous warm and clean wild spring water will be the perfect temperature, and the perfect amount to bathe a 5 foot 2″ blonde of medium build.

In the beginning I stared at the bucket and sent it little psychic emails of superiority and blame. “I am better than you, bucket!” I would snipe.

“You! Bucket! Know your limits!” I would snear.

I would fantasise about Bali.. oh, the hot water in Bali! And the lavish baths and showers and pools and ocean. Oh, the flower bath at Cantik! Oh, lovely gushing hot and beautiful Bali hot water.. even though it does, in the end, make your hair fall out.

But gradually, slowly, gracefully, even – my view changed. My attitude softened. The bucket called out to me: “remember me”. It invited me, “remember me. We used to play together.”

A bucket, in childhood, is one of those great marvels of engineering – the wellspring of play. A bucket, once upon a time, to me, would have been Nirvana for abultions. Without even knowing it, without deciding, I got over myself. I made friends with my fate. I borrowed A Year in Provence from the library. I got into the flow.

Into the bucket I put a rose-full of petals, a drop or two of fragrant oil and now that I’m really getting the ritual going, when I’m done with the bathwater, in goes the little $1 puppy I found at the library.

It’s a good life, with a bucket for a bath.

But without a fridge, one must be even more spiritually-oriented and clear of resistance and projections. One must be present, clear-headed and disciplined in one’s fancies.

ie – one must learn to like what one has. Now.

Last night I triumphed spectacularly.

My bounty from the Vilcabamba market included:

- a bunch of spinach

- large head of cauliflower

- bag of fresh red beans

- potatoes

- parsley

- 4 croissants

- a kilo of strawberries

and hunks of carcass for the dogs. Which adds up to about $10.

The collected life-span of these items, in this climate, is two days ABSOLUTE MAX!

In order to avoid the scattergun approach to consuming one’s bounty known as a stir-fry, I decided to divide the cache into two groups: white and green. Last night, being full moon and all, was dedicated to White. Guided by cosmic forces and necessity I made a recipe that’s just too good to go unrecorded.

The full moon being a matter of great importance to the conspiracy theorists and End of Worlders here in Vilcabamba (they’re always saying how this full moon is even more significant than the last one, and how the stars are acting weird, and Venus is dropping her panties and Uranus should be ashamed of himself, the way he carries on…) I was wondering what would come over me as the ripened orb swelled up her cheeks and sailed above the cottage.

She made friends of mine cry. There were sobs on the phone. She made friends of mine dance. They shook their nipples and their stinky socks around the fire pit at Breiky’s Bar. She saw the dashing Italian man’s dog bite his face so he would need 50 stitches and fail to invite me over for mushroom risotto. There was wild love making in some quarters. And flying ants as well.

But in my little nook here on the blue planet what the moon made for me was a recipe.

Moon Soup 

I medium potato, diced

2 mugs full of roughly chopped cauliflower

1 small white onion, sliced

1 tsp corriander powder

1/2 tsp cumin

1 tbs grated ginger

1/2 tsp tumeric

1 medium garlic clove

2 tbs live oil

1 knob of butter

Fry everything together in olive oil and butter, using 2 tbs of water to create steam and prevent burning. Once the spices start smelling lovely, add water – about 2 cups, cover and simmer for about half an hour or until the potato is tender.

Add 1/2 cup of milk

1 tbs coconut oil

A good dash of vodka.

A squeeze of lime

and blend.

Yum!

Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with a dash of olive oil, light squeeze of lemon and sprinkle of salt on top.

Death in Vilcabamba

I’ve always had this intuitive feeling that ‘going back’ is a path fraught with disappointment, a dangerous reversal of the tides, a sure way to lance the boil of regret that grows quietly on the under-side of nostalgia.

In love, in career and travel, ‘going back’ risks curdling all that warm milky romance that time and memory so gently nurture us with, after the event.

Lovers of great tenderness and dreadsome mood swings are longed for with a ferocity far beyond their worth after a month (or a day) of separation, and places of enchantment, where younger dreams were realised or conceived are likely to have fallen to the bulldozer, been riddled with billboards or standardised by the Sheraton.

Or fallen into the weird, desperate grip of ex-pats, like Vilcabamba.

Twenty years ago I stumbled across this tiny hamlet in the low eastern bosom of the Ecuadorian Andes in most unusual circumstances. I was 22. I was on the run from a leukaemia diagnosis and a short career in the women’s magazine business where I had found myself writing about cellulite and Kylie Minogue and buying exclusives with people like a woman who had stabbed her husband to death, only to mourn at his cheap grave with a Wuthering Heights flair after getting off on the new battered wife syndrome defence. She was prepared to tell all to me, exclusively, for a cheque made out for $5000 by Mr Packer who owned and engineered the crappy magazine I was working for. Things like that. Things that were not what I had imagined myself offering, as journalist and daisy flower cringing beside the thorn tree of feminism, to my generation.

I had healed myself of woe and despatched its helpful sister, illness, on a 12-day boot-less escapade across Sulawesi, in Indonesia. Corrupted myself in Edinburgh, and filled my sails with passion and sunflowers on a 6-month tour of Europe in a converted ice cream van. Then one day, under the luxurious blue velvet skies of Princes Street, beneath the castle, I was gonged by a ‘voice’ out of nowhere. It said, get thee to South America.

RTEmagicC_south_america_people_04.jpg.jpg

So I painted gift cards to raise the funds and went. To Quito. And wandered about amongst volcanos, markets, dusty bus stops and hamster eaters, waiting for further instructions.

They came in Otavalo, a pretty, desolate market village where I walked into a quaint cafe in the twilight to behold a jesus-like figure, in robes, with ragged ringlets, sitting alone with two full glasses of red wine and an avocado, halved at two settings. He quietly stood up, held out his long, elegant fingers and said, “Welcome to the few. I know why you’re here.”

Didier was, Once upon a time, a lawyer in France, he said. He had abandoned the whole world for the Americas, for Columbia, specifically, where he was a recluse, living with natives, helping them with building, and was a gem trader for cash. He had a quietness, a depth and steadiness about him that I did not know then that I would never see again. I presumed we were all headed toward perfection.

Didier told me he had waited just one half hour for my arrival. Then he told me to surrender all plans, to re-pack more lightly, head to Vilcabamba and find a man named Peter, I think it was, from whom I would order one dose of his special brew, and then walk into the mountains. He drew me a map on a serviette.

Didier told me both he and I were under orders from the San Pedro cactus. That I had been summoned, and he, commissioned with the duty to relay this message. The mission was accomplished and he was now at leave to return to his beloved wilderness. He gave me a large, uncut quartz crystal, with the look of a dagger, and said to me, “Be careful. It is more difficult than you think to hold the light.”

Which proved to be true. An hour later, as I stripped under the shower in my grotty hostel, the crystal plunged out of its nest in my bra and fell, without touching the sides, down the open drain. I heard it break water with a definitive plonk! and wondered if had just failed myself abysmally, or if I had struck my sword deep and forever into the gruesome lakes of Ecuador’s sewer.

And I went to Vilcabamba. At that time it was a wild and beautiful journey, long and bruising, difficult and majestic. The bus seats were never screwed to their frames in those days, the pews were wretched with pathetic chickens, bewildered goats, sacks of grain, and women who sat on them with heavy breasts and bowler hats. Everything smelt of human cheese, and manger straw. The volcanos, the maize fields, the sugar cane went by in a flickerfest of golden light: postcards of children sleeping under smoking skies, beggars beaming toothlessly at the bus windows, hawkers with bags full of passionfruit, steamed dumplings, cordials, choclo con queso pressing their wares against the rattling panes.

Somewhere en route I met two young Canadians on the return journey from little-known Vilcabamba. They had drunk of the San Pedro cactus, and had visions. The adventure had been long and magical, profound and mystical, they said. The cactus has shown them a world of joy and miracles and had revealed to them, through psychedelic magic, that the Vilcabamba pastures were teeming with Smurf. The girls had three packets of photographs they had shot on their shamanic quest – all of them close-ups of grass.

In these days travelers were not yet salivating over the notion of ‘getting high’ on indigenous plant medicines. Shamanism was not in vogue. There were no Americans wearing feathers and ponchos and charging fifty bucks to drink their counterfeit concoctions and receive ‘healings’. In those days, ‘healing’ was not the purpose of traveling. We did not think of ourselves as sick, we saw ourselves as students of the road. Our minds were as open as the Altiplano, we were thirsty for torrents of starlight and new flavours because we loved life, and not because we were scared of it.

I arrived in the village of Vilcabamba just after the hummingbirds had would up their springs for a full day of suckling at the trillion blooms that burst forth in Technicolor everywhere. You couldn’t move for the butterflies. Jasmine and honeysuckle were both drunk before breakfast, and the cobbled streets were clean and bright and awash with golden light. I stayed at the Hidden Garden hostel for three days, dazzled by poets, dreamers, eloquent drunks and cowboys who washed in, washed out like weavers adding new shapes and dazzling colours to the splendid fabric of daydreams and adventures on the loom of a contented life.

In those days the fabrics were not synthetic yet, the land was not being gobbled up by ex-pats drowned in Club beer, rhetoric, neurosis, do-goodery and a neurotic confidence in the End of the World.

I enquired about ‘Peter’, and met him in the square, where he sold me a bottle of his gruesome brew for $10, and recommended I buy a chuppa chup, “to help with the taste” before disappearing along with any memory I might have made of him. The nectar was foul. It was wretched, and clung to my tastebuds. I sipped on a strawberry lollypop as I made my way up, up and further on yonder into the hills of Vilcabamba, fending off the yellow, blue, the vermillion and chequered butterflies that careered about in the lazy breezes like sunbeams who’d been to Cirque de Soleil.

Vilcabamba, in those days, was a living Kaleidoscope – every footstep turned the prism a knotch, switching the mandala of the landscape from turquoise, to indigo, lollypop pink to fuscia. The donkeys laughed and frolicked, the local people beamed and glowed, the views everywhere were elaborate with life. I walked on and on, past Charlie’s Place, over a bridge, up hills and into a profound, desperate weariness. At a river somewhere I lay down to die. I was wracked with nausea, illness was heavy in my bones, and lardy in my mouth. I vomited my guts up into the river. I writhed in pain on the grassy shores. I sweated and frothed, groaned and begged, I had been poisoned by the cactus and, alone in my misery, I was not afraid I would die, but more afraid that I wouldn’t.

Who knows how long it lasted? In the kingdom of the sick, time is something else. At a certain point, perhaps just after midday, I came to notice that my dress was over my head, and the grass kind of itchy. I managed to wash my face, I re-laced my boots (Rosignols I wept over when they finally gave out, in the Himalaya, six years later) and felt a passion to head on. And so began a climb that would change my life forever.

ButterflectionAt the peak of this experience, once I had made a mediation seat on the crest of a ridge, and steadied myself in the splendour of a cosmos in which my rods and cones could perceive the minutia of the cosmos: the facial expression of flying bees, their eyelashes pressing back against their foreheads as they sped by, the oceanic ripple of the plates on a butterfly wing as she rode the Van Gogh eddies, the heartbeat of a prickly pear, and its electric fizzle, and I too was blessed with a vision of who it was that loved and presided over the Ecuadorian pastures. It was more than a decade later that I was able to put a name to her, in another nation altogether.

She who danced for me, stamping her heavy, gnarly feet upon the spindle bushes, and blowing the colour into the sky, adorned with broken watches, smashed compasses, aborted babies and heavy breasts, was the goddess known as Kali.

Goddess Kali

Kali, the Hindu goddess, the Dark Mother, presented me with her ferocious creation dance and what has become known these days  (shudder) as a ‘download’, but which might be properly called a flowering of insight, a teaching, a blessing about the cruelty inherent in the idea of mechanics, especially of the drip, drip, metronome of measured time, she relieved me with a proper notion of feminism (she wore no shoulder pads, but carried skulls around her neck), she feasted on her creation. It took me ten years to even begin to appreciate the vision, thank god there were no helpful gringos spouting their fully integrated wisdom then in Vilcabamba, so I was able to let the vision plant its mysterious seed in my biography un-rhetoriced.

When I returned to Vilcabamba, all these years later, it was not Kali, not hummingbirds, nor wildflowers or even Smurfs who abounded and danced in her petrified loins. The circus of the wild has packed its bags and left lint in this clapped-out teaching ground. Shaken out, or disgusted and relocated, the menagerie of teaching things has been replaced by a grizzly mob of End of the Worldists, entrepreneurs in spiritual questing, idiot gringos who claim ‘special powers’ and provide Paypal access to their packaged waffle or trumped up superfoods, direct marketed online.

The streets, still pedaled and waxed majestic in online sites where afeared Americans shop for new lands to build their middle class castles, are sad and dusty. The locals are jaded and afraid for their children. The donkeys are not laughing and you cannot walk the wilds for barbed wire. At the Hidden Garden loud, dried-out Americans will pollute the fields of your mind with their fear-encrusted warblings about alien invasions, the collapse of the Earth (by which they mean the collapse of the dollar), chem sprays and no end of hysteria. The endless bitching and snarling that pesters the ‘community’, they blame on interference from mind-warping radio waves issued by sat dishes about the valleys, and not on their own boredom and anxiety.

I have not dared to drink the cactus, as I thought I had been called to. Who knows what demons or abandoned gods have taken tenancy of the mystic realms? But I heard that you can drink any of the mighty indigenous ‘medicines’ here now, for $50 at the luxury home of a newly emergent Gringo shaman with views to make a motsa as guide and teacher to the fretting masses at http://www.silentfurnace.com, as well as here in town where he hosts any charlatan with a poncho who washes up into town offering ‘ceremony’.