By the time you read this, I will be in Asunción, Paraguay, on my way back to the United States for summer.
As we are finalizing the preparations for our departure, I suspect – but can never know for sure – today's missive will be brief.
In today's missive, I plan on providing a book-end to the journey that started about seven months ago when our family moved to the remote Northwest of Argentina.
Argentines have a phrase, "mi lugar," for when you find your special place in this world – the perfect combination of place and people that entirely suits your nature. The phrase translates simply as "my place."
As I have related in past missives, I was very fortunate in my early thirties to be able to spend three years on a quest for paradise on earth, visiting pretty much every country I thought might be a suitable candidate. It turns out, in hindsight, what I was really looking for was not paradise, but mi lugar.
Much like "love at first sight," mi lugar has almost mystical connotations – it is the place in this world where, should you be fortunate enough to find it, you belong more than anywhere else.
When we arrived in Cafayate, it was with some entirely natural trepidation. After all, not only were we going to be living in a remote corner of Argentina, we were bringing along our teenage kids with all that that implies.
It is entirely human to worry about the unforeseeable, and so we pondered all manner of questions and concerns. Would our stumbling knowledge of the local lingo prove a hamper? Would the highly dysfunctional government hereabouts be an impediment at every turn, the bureaucracy frustrating? Would the kids adapt to the new environment and be able to get a good education?
Yet, never ones to worry ourselves into inaction, we plowed ahead and on October 22 set down our bags in Cafayate.
So, how's it gone? Were our fears – any of our fears – realized?
To the extent that it may be of interest to those of you currently contemplating seeking solace on the other side of the wall, I would like to tick down some of the good and the not-so-good we have discovered as a result of our move.
The first, and possibly most surprising, thing about life in Cafayate has been how social it is. The Argentines are very warm and welcoming people, and we have made a surprising number of local friends. In addition, there are the generally like-minded and almost entirely agreeable owners at La Estancia de Cafayate, complemented by a steady stream of visitors.
Interacting with only one of those groups would be more than enough social life for me, by temperament something of a recluse (my wife always laughs when I say that, but it's true). When taking all three groups into consideration, however, the amount of socializing gets positively over the top.
Case in point, here is a partial list of what we have done in the past week.
Last week it was a charity poker match, then my wife's big birthday bash with forty friends at the Club… I don't even know forty people in the town in Vermont where we lived the last 25 years.
It just never stops.
In fact, after seeing our friends and enjoying the beauty of a Vermont summer, the next-biggest reason for returning to the States for four months is to get some rest!
Other aspects of life here that represented a significant change from life back on the other side of the wall:
Our children are now 14 and 16, ages considered very important in terms of personal development.
Before getting into what they got from living down here, a quick word on what they didn't get. For example…
The Methuen, Mass., high school student was arrested last week after posting online videos that show him rapping an original song that police say contained "disturbing verbiage" and reportedly mentioned the White House and the Boston Marathon bombing. He is charged with communicating terrorist threats, a state felony, and faces a potential 20 years in prison. Bail is set at $1 million.
And it continues…
Using a zero tolerance approach to track domestic terrorists online is the only reasonable way to analyze online threats these days, especially after the Boston Marathon bombing and news that the suspects had subsequently planned to target Times Square in Manhattan, Mullins says. The way law enforcement agencies approach online activity that appears sinister is this: "If you're not a terrorist, if you're not a threat, prove it," he says.
"This is the price you pay to live in a free society right now. It's just the way it is," Mullins adds.
That method can result in arrests of teenagers whose online activity may be more aptly characterized as stupid pranks.
In February, Jessica Winslow and Ti'jeanae Harris, two high school girls in Rapids Parish, La., were arrested and charged with 10 counts of terrorism each after they allegedly e-mailed threats to students and faculty "to see if they could get away with it," detectives told a local television news station. "We take every threat in our schools as a credible threat, and I am happy to say we have made these arrests," Sheriff William Earl Hilton told reporters.
What they did get, however, was…
In the final analysis, hiring our own tutors and having a hand in a curriculum that focused on the core subjects of reading, writing, and arithmetic – with a side course of Spanish, and all of it structured to inculcate the love of learning – turned out to be a big win. So much so that the kids volunteered to continue studying over the summer with the remote guidance of their lead tutor.
In a phrase, I haven't felt this healthy, this fit, this alive, or this happy in decades. The active lifestyle, the high-quality food, the multitude of good-humored friends, the fun activities… the overall quality of life… have completely reenergized me.
Whereas before a dumb email from a colleague might have sent my blood pressure spiking, now it's all water off this duck's back. Hardly a day passes without me opening my arms to the beautiful skies, a happy grin on my face. Reflexively, I start singing, "Oh, what a beautiful morning" when walking outside first thing each day.
Call me goofy, but it sure feels like stark raving happiness to me.
Speaking of beauty, I have always been one of those people who, lost in thought, took almost no notice of my surroundings, no matter how striking (and Vermont can be pretty striking).
Down here, however, the beauty of the place grabs you by the collar and demands you view it in awe. It is like living in an ever-changing art display with the red rocks of the surrounding mountains the canvas.
I've written about this before, so won't dwell. But before moving here, I was only tenuously connected to the community I had lived in for 25 years. While it is not all fun and games – because every community, no matter how like-minded, has its small cadre of serial malcontents – the overwhelming majority of the people at La Estancia and in Cafayate are positive and constructive.
In short, they are people you want to spend time with… and so we do.
Additionally, there is a sense of wanting to help support and enhance the community. One day after lunch at the beautiful new Piattelli Bodega, a friend asked if we'd be interested in adopting a baby burro whose mother had been hit by a car. I didn't have to ponder the matter for more than a minute before agreeing.
And so it was that La Estancia gained a new resident, a three-month-old burro who picked up the name Princess Grace as we walked her into the property and passed by the sign for the five-star Grace Hotel scheduled to open here within the next few months.
And the community is not just physical, but virtual as well. There is constant email correspondence between the owners, and several of us have been involved in a writers' group going on a year now.
There is also a local photography group that a number of us have joined.
Here's my wife's entry for this month, a great shot (in my biased opinion) of the sort of transportation hijinks that are a common sight around here, but which would have you face down on the pavement, your arms handcuffed behind your back, were you to attempt the same in the Land of the Free.
In case you can't tell it from the dog's expression, it is having a great time (think sticking your head out the window, but better). Note his paw on the driver's shoulder… too funny.
Despite the active schedule, there is always time to linger over lunch or dinner, to have a siesta, to play a little golf with friends (even if it means getting up before dawn to get my work out of the way).
Today I ducked into town on an errand and ended up stopping for an hour and a half at Baco's café to have coffee with Mauricio the Chilean and Bausti, the son of the owner who is in the final phase of a three-week-long motorcycle ride from Cafayate to Northern Brazil and back.
Once the coffee was finished, the old David would have made his apologies and hit the road. Not anymore, as I settled into my chair at the table on the sidewalk, enjoying the perfect weather and sharing stories, music, and photos with my friends. Mauricio, despite having work to attend to at his lighting and paint store, stuck around as well. There are things far more important than money down here, especially time spent with friends.
In the US and other media-saturated countries, reality is defined by deviants with degrees in manipulating minds. The old standard "If it bleeds it leads" has been bolstered with "If it's green, it's good" and "If it scares, it blares."
I can't stress the point enough… down here none of that counts. Reality is what you have for lunch, it's not some imagined threat lurking around every corner. Terrorists, cyber-surveillance, school lockdowns… none of it matters in the slightest.
As for the stories trumpeted over and over in the global press about the Mad Queen Cristina who is tenuously holding power over these lands, no one really cares. And the inflation has again made Argentina one of the least expensive countries in the world for those of us who are not peso-based.
Last night I had an excellent dinner at the best restaurant on the plaza – and it's a very good restaurant – and the cost of my entree was all of US$7.00.
One of the best things about climbing over the wall is that so many things you will experience are new and, at least to me, interesting and exciting. While here, we have been on stunning hikes, amazing horse treks, wonderful drives deep into the Andes – on one memorable occasion spending a few days at fellow Argentine aficionado Bill Bonner's massive estancia, a place so remote that, to reach it, you have to drive for many kilometers on a dried-up river bed.
A deep-thinking friend of mine once explained how important it is to the maintenance of mental acuity to challenge yourself, even – or maybe especially – when it comes to the mundane. For example, if you are right handed, try brushing your teeth with your left as it forces you to use new connections in your brain.
Moving here from a completely different culture, with a completely different language, forces you out of your comfort zone every single day. For instance, when the patron of the well-known local bodega offered to let me ride his powerful champion stallion – he had heard I was a polo player and so assumed I could handle it – my initial reaction was to think, "Are you crazy?!" Fortunately, that thought was quickly supplanted by one akin to, "When will I ever have an opportunity like this again?" So I took him up on his offer, and what an amazing ride it was.
As our time here is growing short, I will sign off for the day with a few final thoughts.
First and foremost, as you may be able to tell from the above, despite the trepidations we felt before heading down here, my wife and I have not had a single regret… not for a second.
The house we built, which is fully paid for (as is the case with virtually all the houses in Argentina), was beautifully constructed. And, thanks to the competence of the architect who oversaw the construction, and the builder, the building went up with less hassle than was the case with our house back in Vermont.
We have fallen in love with the area, most ardently with Cafayate but also the province of Salta and the surrounding countries that, together, form what is called the Southern Cone. While life here, like everywhere, has its challenges, the challenges are nothing that a reasonably intelligent and patient person can't handle. In fact, with a little help from our local lawyer and knowledgeable friends, our interactions with the government amount to next to nothing… and, in most months, literally nothing.
Meanwhile, as noted above, the much-noted inflation here in Argentina has put the place on sale… and at a steep discount. Yet, even the locals in this tight-knit community don't appear to be overly disadvantaged. I suspect that's because, unlike the big city, this is an agricultural area where the cost of input is low, and so is the price of the output… thus the basic stuff of life is extremely cheap.
It is worth mentioning the cost of labor, as well. We have an exceptionally agreeable and hard-working maid who comes in for five or six hours a day, five days a week, at a cost equivalent to $40 a week. Simply put, that means that the drudgery of washing dishes and clothes, dusting, making beds, and so forth simply vanishes from your life, freeing you for far more agreeable pursuits. This is, in my view, almost the very definition of luxury – yet at a price many Americans push over the counter at Starbucks each week.
Now, this is not to say that other places in the world don't have their strengths as well as their weaknesses. If you love to snow ski or sail the big blue sea, this is probably not the place for you… at least not full time.
I also think, despite the low cost of living here, that it's probably not terribly well suited for people without at least some decent amount of money in the bank, or a source of revenue from outside the country. For example, from a job you can do over the Internet. That's because while there is 100% employment here, the local pay scale is low and the challenges of actually starting and running a business here are considerable.
While I have often said that "anyone who can live here and doesn't is a fool," in truth your own special lugar may have a completely different set of characteristics. I understand that some people even like big cities.
Whatever you do, if the place you are living doesn't make you feel alive, then do seriously consider setting out in the quest for a place that does.
This will be the end of what has turned into something of a series on life of an expat family in the Argentine outback. I hope you have found it of some interest and maybe even somewhat inspiring.
If you have any interest in visiting here, drop a note to VIPconnect@LaEst.com and they can help set you up with a customized itinerary. As the North American summer is the South American winter, the weather here will be growing somewhat less than perfect – though the skies are almost always blue with about 320 days of sunshine to chase away the night chills. If you live in the US deep south, I suspect you'd find the weather a refreshing alternative.
For those of you who might enjoy visiting as part of a small VIP group, this November – spring hereabouts – La Estancia will be hosting week-long visits for small groups in three successive weeks. The five-star Grace Resort and Villas will be in full operation, ensuring your stay at La Estancia is truly special. Again, if you are interested in participating, please contact VIPconnect@LaEst.com.
We will again be in residence here and will look forward to a bit of socializing.
Earlier I mentioned a recent game of beer pong with some of the younger set here in Cafayate. The site of the game was a hotel with the odd name of Paris Texas where one of the participants acts as a manager on those rare occasions that a guest darkens the door.
The absentee owner of the hotel apparently fancies himself a painter, and likewise appears to have something of an affinity for the macabre. The result is that the hotel rooms proudly display large canvases of his work. A photograph of one appears here with compliments of Pete Chandler. Now, the really funny thing is that this particular canvas, which is about four feet high from bottom to top, is planted squarely in front of the beds in a room set aside for families with small kids (by virtue that it has a third bed). If you can zoom in, you'll see the blood dripping from the fangs.
Though I suspect you'll be hard pressed to find a worse example of the genre, if you can find a worse hotel painting, feel free to send it along to me at David@caseyresearch.com...
The only Casey Research Summit of the year is being held October 4 – 6 at the beautiful Loews Ventana Canyon Resort in Tucson, Arizona.
Being the only Summit this year, we are pulling out all the stops for the faculty, most of whom are arranging their schedules to participate side by side with the attendees throughout the entire three-day event.
Among the faculty now confirmed is keynote speaker Dr. Ron Paul (who will be attending all three days). For the entire list of faculty, the schedule, and a secure registration form, click here.
I think you'll be most impressed. As always, registration at our events is strictly limited, and we expect a quick sell-out. Hope to see you there!
A few years ago, Porter Stansberry started what may be the most unusual club in the world, The Atlas 400. He asked me to join, and I did, simply because I both liked the idea and like and trust Porter.
The concept is, in some ways, similar to something I put together years ago called The Eris Society. The idea was to provide a forum for accomplished people who should know each other, but didn't, to hang out together. Everyone enjoyed it and benefitted from it – where else could you expect to be in the same room, as an equal, with the world's leading aircraft designer, the leader of the world's largest outlaw motorcycle club, several billionaires, the most decorated living US soldier, several of the world's leading life-extension scientists, and lots of best-selling authors? Among many others.
Porter has done an excellent variation on that theme. And now that it's been around, and vital, for several years, I feel confident in recommending it.
Atlas is quite expensive, like most proper men's clubs. That's a good idea; it excludes those who aren't successful. And it turns away two out of three applicants. That's also a good idea; it does a pretty good job of excluding the annoying, the pushy, the dull, and those of bad character. And instead of having just one meeting a year, as Eris did, it sponsors a number of adventures, where you can get to know your fellow members while doing something memorable.
I don't know about you, but I'm always up for both making new friends and having fun. The Atlas 400 makes both of those things better and easier. That's a huge plus. It's why I don't go to most cocktail parties; it's like dealing with the public is usually a frustrating waste of time.
Atlas isn't for everybody, but if you can qualify, I think I can assure you that you'll be very pleased with your membership. Feel free to check out this interesting video of club highlights and apply to join The Atlas 400 here.
David again. One other housekeeping item: There's a new Casey phyle starting in downtown Chicago – so if you're interested in getting together with like-minded investors, shoot us an email at email@example.com and we connect you.
And with that, I will sign off for now and return to packing for the trip back to the States. Until next time, thanks for reading and thanks for being a Casey Research subscriber!