Bored and about to be senior, I was living in an apartment in the heart of downtown Ottawa doing the daily old fellows coffee shop shuffle.
You know; the trip to the local coffee shop to read the paper, drink coffee and chat with the regular crowd. Not surprisingly, there were few problems in the world that we could not solve in the space of minutes.
I wrote the occasional letter to the editor of the local newspaper about the inadequacies of the city to address problems on the street and took pride when one was published. I also began researching the family genealogy.
There had to be more! My life had been full of accomplishments, some small and some to brag about. I was restless; and friends saw that I was.
Planning My South American Relocation
Knowing that I had an interest in Latin America, two friends, one of Venezuela and the other a Chilean, suggested that I seek adventure and go to South America. Ecuador, they said, was a fantastic place to learn Spanish.
The quality of the spoken language was decent; and the people spoke slower than in other parts of the continent, – a good thing for students. The warmest people in all of Latin America, they added, are Ecuadorians.
On a June morning, not long after, I opened the door to my apartment and invited my neighbors to take everything they wanted. It didn’t take long to see furniture heading out the door. The few personal things that remained were re-situated in my daughter’s house, my official home, my foot on the ground.
With two suitcases, a backpack containing my laptop and camera, and ticket in hand, I headed to Quito, Ecuador.
For the first three months, I lived with a family while I studied Spanish at a local school.
One afternoon, I was in my room when I heard the maid screaming. I hurried to the living room and saw the father lying on the floor with the family gathered, grieving over him. I knelt on the floor beside him and saw that his eyes were frozen to the ceiling, there was no pulse or respiration.
Without thinking, I began CPR as I recalled it from a first aid course that I took about 25 years before, modified by what I thought I had read in the interim. A few moments/minutes later he began to revive. By the time the ambulance arrived, he was sitting up complaining of a sore chest.
At the end of my time with the family, I was packing to move to my own apartment, when I heard another commotion and went to investigate. I saw the lady of the house, panic stricken, holding her throat and not able to breath. Her husband and sons milled about in a frazzle, not knowing what to do.
She had regurgitated something that was caught in her throat and blocking her throat. I applied the Heimlich maneuver, standing behind with my arms wrapped around her, my fists clenched, jamming them inward and upward. The action worked and whatever was in her throat cleared; and she breathed again.
(I was later presented with a Life Saving Award by The Saint John’s Ambulance, part of The Order of Saint John, a prestigious organization in the British Empire dating back to the Crusades.)
By October of that first year, I had made visits to most of the tourist sites and was beginning to look for something useful to do. Fortuitously, I came upon a solicitation by American Writers and Artists Incorporated for writers to submit articles in competition about a significant event that they had encountered over the year.
Curious as to how I would do, I submitted an entry, writing about finding the father on the floor and bringing him back to life. My article, entitled “Life’s Gifts”, won first prize and is available for you to read on my website.
Now highly motivated, I began building the website that you now see at andrehugosplace.com. The challenge of providing quality content, written and photographic, seems never-ending. There is no reason for me to be bored.
Christmas and New Year’s came and went. In February, I decided to take another month of Spanish-language training.
At the school, I was approached by a young woman who said that a friend of hers was recruiting people to be in a National Geographic film that was to be produced here in Quito. Was I interested? Sure! I could be part of a scene, walking down the street or filling a place in a café. I signed on.
When I arrived at the film studio, I was met by two producers who had flown in from England. They were making a film, part of the series Locked Up Abroad, and were looking for an actor to do more than fill a scene. They gave me a situation then told me to act it out imaginatively.
I had never acted in my life; but, that night they sent me the script. A month later I played the role of an FBI agent in the American Embassy in Bogotá, Colombia interviewing three Americans who had been recently released by guerrillas after several months of being held hostage in the jungle near the border with Panama. Friends in Canada and the USA have since reported having seen my acting performance on television.
Two months later, the studio called again and gave me an extremely short walk-on role in a Discovery Channel film. In addition to the fun of it all, – lights, camera, action – I even got paid!
Add to these incredible experiences, sliding along a wire strung between mountaintops, lifting off the side of a cliff on a parachute and sailing peacefully over the Pacific Ocean, and just experiencing this beautiful country and one can easily see how incredible retirement can be if you just make it happen.
Andre Hugo is a Canadian living in Ecuador.