Archive for December, 2011

The Way – A Meaningful Film About Traveling the Camino de Santiago

I have envisioned walking the “El Camino de Santiago” from St. Jean Pied de Port, France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain since I was 21, when I had the privilege of staying at the Parador de los Reis Catolicos in Santiago with one of my sisters. Imagine ending up here after an almost 500 mile walk!! (See photo below)


Room at Parador de Santiago, Santiago de Compostela

One of the next best things to taking that walk is watching The Way-The Movie about that journey. For me it was a blessing to see this soul-searching film just in time for Christmas!

Do not wish to spoil the pilgrimage for you so I’ll refrain from mentioning the story line, but thought I’d introduce you to the four main characters – a sweet Dutchman, a tough cookie Canadian gal, a charming Irish writer, and Martin Sheen as the American ophthalmologist who has just lost his son. None of them have met each other before; they meet on the road, just as the universe intended. The film is lovingly produced, directed, and written by Martin’s real-life son Emilio Estevez, who also appears in magic realism moments. Special notes: part of the movie is filmed in Galicia which is the land of the Sheen-Estevez ancestry.  And Taylor, Martin’s grandson and Emilio’s son, is married to a young woman Taylor met on his first trip to Burgos with Martin.

After watching the movie you might be compelled to run out and buy Spanish sheep’s cheese, some rustic bread, and a Jerez sherry, or, if more inclined, you might be compelled to make this trip of a lifetime, or another trip you’ve always had in mind.

Below the photo you’ll find a review of my favorite book on the subject of this journey which was written for

David Alexanian/Arc Entertainment

Yorick van Wageningen, Deborah Kara Unger, James Nesbitt and Martin Sheen in “The Way.”

Review of Hape Kerkeling’s I’m Off Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago:

This is my favorite book so far this year. Perhaps because I wish I could have written it, perhaps because I’ve always wanted to be one of those pilgrims arriving in Santiago de Compostela after experiencing the long walk from the French Alps through Spain. This often arduous journey to the Shrine of St. James in Galicia, on a route that is 1,200 years old, is followed by over 100,000 people per year. And it is popular German TV comedian Hape (Hans Peter) who has paved our way. His road trip diary is engaging and hilarious – sore feet, sore knees, big angry dogs (or dogs that just look dangerous), blazing sun, filthy hostels, unusual encounters, breathtaking landscapes, and all. You get a feeling for what you might or might not do. Maybe you’ll do what he did, treat yourself to special hotels on occasion, stay more than one night in one place, and every now and then take the train instead of walking. What matters, as he shares, is what you experience, what you learn about yourself, what you may or may not learn from meeting other pilgrims, how you bring yourself to the events, the feelings, your thoughts, your soul. He braved much to bring us his charming story. (Thanks Hape, I feel happy reading about you and your friends). You’ll understand why this book is a bestseller in Germany (kudos by the way for the stellar translation by Shelley Frisch), how it won the Bruce Chatwin Prize for Best Travel Book of the Year, and how it has sold over 3 million copies. Highly recommended. – September, 2009

Happy traveling to all!!!!!

December 25, 2011 at 10:01 pm 1 comment

Lasse Hallstrom Movie to See in Spring 2012, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

For all you Lasse Hallstrom fans (me), lovers of south Yemen (one of my all time favorite destinations), fly-fishing  afficionados (some day), and multi-cultural stories (me), this movie will be a must see!!  Imagine,  an Arab who hires a Scotsman to bring fly-fishing to the high desert.  Fun!!  Release date is set for March 2012. Yalla!!


CBS Films has released a trailer for Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, adapted from Paul Torday’s novel and directed by Lasse Hallstrom from a script by Oscar winner Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire). reported the film, which stars Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt and Kristin Scott Thomas, was originally seen “as a possible awards contender after it premiered at Toronto in the fall, but the distributor decided it was too late for the tale of Middle East politics and fly-fishing to enter this year’s Oscar race. It instead has set it for a limited-run release March 2, 2012.”

See the trailer at

December 19, 2011 at 11:04 pm 3 comments

Are You Wondering About Retirement in Cotacachi, Ecuador?

If you are reading the Expat Exchange, International Living, Retirement Abroad, Shelter Offshore, Street Wise World, Transitions Abroad, or other web publications about retiring in another country because it might be a better use for the funds you currently live on, you have no doubt discovered Cotacachi, Ecuador.

If you haven’t discovered it yet and are wondering where it is and why several Americans, Canadians, and a few Europeans have made their way to this immaculate town, here is a bit of information I’ve both read and heard from locals about why this place is so well liked:

It is located in the northern most province of Imbabura (close to Columbia) and offers pleasing views as it is set in a valley between two volcanoes

It is small; population 8,000

It is relatively quiet compared to other Ecuadorian cities and it is flat; no steep inclines and therefore senior friendly

It is clean – no litter

There is a plethora of potable water, and if you know what you are buying and where it comes from, organic produce

The quality of air is a vast improvement over most North American and European cities

The cost for a two bedroom unfurnished apartment is around $200/month and goes up from there; there are eco-friendly “green” homes already built and continuing to be built of adobe and other materials

There is a Relais & Chateau Spa & Resort

There is an impressive community of alternative health care practitioners.  I have heard there is an ayurvedic doctor, a very well-liked American naturopath, a group of Cuban energy medicine men that visit once a year, plus midwives and masseurs.

There are plans for a small six-bed assisted living home for ex-pats, and for a high-end assisted living facility where the business model is to buy your living space (ground has been broken but its completion is about a year or two away).  There is one home for elderly women, the Hogar de Ancianas Carmen Ruiz Echeverria, considered by the government as one of the best elder care facilities in the country, according to the secretary.  It is run by loving nuns and attentive caregivers.  Half the population is indigenous Quechua-speaking; women with smiling eyes and hearts.

Eldercare home in Cotacachi

adorable residents of the eldercare home

The currency of Ecuador is the U.S. dollar

WiFi and telephone are about $100/month, electricity about $100/month, gas $2.50/month (these amounts have not been verified)

Meals in restaurants are under $5

If you own a car, gasoline is a little over $1 a gallon (the country produces petroleum)

Larger towns of Ibarra and Otavalo are 30-45 minutes away, Quito is 2 hours away

The municipality is encouraging growth and has a progressive indigenous mayor who is well regarded for his “participatory democracy,” which include efforts to bring together all residents – black, indigenous,mestizo, and ex-pats.  One of his city colleagues, a refined and charming gentleman, spends his days devoted to community building and outreach.  The city motto is “vive, ama, y compartelo” roughly translated to live, love, and share. Read more at .

Cotacachi City Hall

There is an excellent American breakfast and lunch restaurant Serendipity offering healthy as well as vegetarian choices (plus natural products and medicinal herbs), and Café Intag, which also serve as ex-pat meeting places

Serendipity Cafe

You can qualify for a residency visa if you can show proof of an income of $800/month, and will live at least 9 months a year for two years in Ecuador. Or, you can buy property or bring added value with a business which also assist in qualifying for the resident visa. See the visa page of the Ecuadorian Embassy in the U.S. for details at

Ecuadoreans are generally kind-hearted and will welcome you

There’s an American couple that teaches tango!

The challenges:

Rain which causes electrical outages every so often

Apparently no mosquitoes at this elevation (around 9,000 feet), but there are biting flies

A developing infrastructure with a long way to go

Pockets of poverty (low standard of living) though not readily evident in town

Like most of northern Ecuador, it is often damp and humid in Cotacachi, except for nearby Ibarra-Inbaya which is known to be warmer. This detail is important for asthmatics and those who are easily susceptible to bronchitis. Note: most buildings are constructed of brick, cement, and tile.

You need to stay healthy; ex-pats tell me they go to Ibarra, Otavalo, or Quito for emergencies and/or to find a hospital.

For culture (Cotacachi is not a university town, a museum town, a library town, or a theater town though there are important local fiestas and artisan fairs) and shopping, ex-pats seem to go to Quito or Cuenca, or back to the U.S., Canada, etc. They order books, clothing and other items from the U.S. Note: there is a kind American woman who has a small resale shop with books, clothing, nick-knacks

Some Ecuadorians will tell you that the increase in crime in their country is because of a new wave of immigrants from Columbia and Peru, although in my experience and that of expats who have lived here a long time, theft has been in existence in Ecuador long before the new wave of immigration. I have not heard of any incidents in Cotacachi.  Be extra careful in Ibarra is what I’ve been told. I understand there are expats who live in Ibarra and surrounding areas; I have yet to meet with any to hear their experiences and perspective.

The best thing to do is take a trip to find out in person how it feels as you explore Cotacachi and surrounding cites.  Meet the residents.  You will know if this city makes sense or not for your health, your pocket book, and your lifestyle. Happy journeying!

December 1, 2011 at 10:58 pm 3 comments

"If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there." - Lewis Carroll