FRANK’S AND SHEL’S EXCELLENT ECUADOR ADVENTUREPlenty of reasons to leave the surreal New World

Jun 12, 2010 | 0 comments

Editor’s Note: Frank and Shel Drake scouted Ecuador in February and March looking for a retirement and expatriation destination; the story of how and where they found it is told in 10 installments on This is the first installment of a new series on getting ready to move to Cuenca. Frank is a seasoned globe-trotter and travel writer while Shel is a professional photographer. 

Though the last episode of Frank and Shel’s Ecuador travelogue was posted on May 16, we’ve been home in Las Vegas since March 8, nearly three months. And life here is no less surreal than it was on the day we arrived back in the States.

Las Vegas is surreal under any circumstances, but in the peculiar consciousness of a couple between two countries, in the strange head space of national schizophrenia, this  city is especially twisted and illusory.

The Wizard of Odds hides behind the neon curtain, using smoke and mirrors to rake a little jack out of (almost) every bet in the house (a handful of pros eke out a living from tiny edges). And though everyone in the casino — tourists, pikers, punters, scufflers, scammers, low rollers, high rollers, comp hustlers, advantage players, dealers, cocktail waitresses, pit bosses, surveillance agents, shareholders — is playing a different game, they’re all fostering the same illusion: that they can afford to sustain their losses and that it’s all in good fun (the compulsive gamblers are all pretending they’re not hooked).

And is it any wonder that the most prevalent form of entertainment in the casino is based on magic? David Copperfield, Lance Burton, Mac King, and dozens of lesser illusionists pack ‘em in by making things big and small disappear.

Meanwhile, Elvis lives by way of scores of impersonators, some of whom (the Asian, African-American, female, teenage, and geezer varieties, to name a few) don’t seem concerned with the finer points of impostering.

And showgirls? No matter what their shining eyes and million-dollar smiles and skimpy G-strings and exposed mammaries might lead one to believe, they’re not available.

Conversely, the “darlings of the desert” in Nevada’s legal “houses of joy” are nothing if not available, but you wouldn’t confuse one with a showgirl.

Las Vegas is also a fine metaphor for the collective hallucination up here north of the border. Need I cite more than the tricks they’re playing with the dollar? The sham of the highly hyped “recovery”? The mass delusion that the government’s in control?

Though our putative leaders — politicians, apparatchiks, generals, bankers, lawyers, and the like — are dressed in the appropriate uniforms, the emperor simply isn’t wearing anything at all. It’s a game every bit as phony as those played in the casino and the result is black-gloved hands around the throat of our liberties, and they’re tightening by the day.

But one thing happened up here since Shel and I returned from Ecuador that has taken away any remaining doubts I might’ve had about leaving. This new development is so anathema to me that I can name it as the law that broke this camel’s back. And what could be the regulatory reason that I now have no choice but to flee this whole rotten regime?

Mandatory health insurance.

Now, other people might not object to having to pay a fine to the Internal Revenue Service for the heinous crime of opting out of the health-care system in this country, but that’s not me. I haven’t had health insurance for nearly two decades — and I’m proud of it. I’ve managed to stay healthy enough in my 58 years to avoid the Western medical model of drugs and surgeries. I’ve cured myself naturally on those rare occasions when I’ve been in physical distress. If I contract some chronic condition, I figure I can get excellent health care in Ecuador or a dozen different countries for pennies on the dollar and pay cash. And if I get hit by the proverbial bus and live, well, accidents happen and I'll suck it up and do what I can to pay off the hospital bills. But that's a gamble I'll take. I haven't live in Las Vegas for 20 years for nothing. 

Since the so-called health-reform package became the law of the land, the fat guy with the handcuffs and billy club and taser who’s in constant contact with a dozen official databases can now come around and put a gun to my head to collect a government penalty for refusing to pay for something I’ve never used and don’t even believe in.

Expats are exempt from having to pay this penalty. So far. And if/when that changes, I'm told that in Ecuador, you can fulfill the requirement for $50 a month.

I don’t know about you, but to me, since I have to choose, it’s not much of a contest between doing battle with the Internal Revenue Service and living in a condo on the Tomebamba in Cuenca.

Photo caption: Night view of the surreality of life on the Vegas strip

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