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Saving money with smart phone coupons.

I’ve recently gotten into using seed beads to make art projects. When we were in Sibundoy, Colombia I learned how to make bead bracelets and we were using Preciosa seed beads from the Czech Republic. The Preciosa seed beads are a very good quality bead at a very reasonable price. The cheapest seed beads are made in China and have very inconsistent quality and sizes. The best and most consistent, quality and sized, seed beads are made in Japan and are a bit more expensive than the Preciosa beads. One day we want into Michael’s which is an arts, crafts, hobby and decorating store.  We went into the store just to see what kind of seed beads they had for sale.  They did not have the Preciosa beads that I was looking for but only had cheap Chinese seed beads and expensive Toho brand seed beads from Japan.  We looked at the coupon page and saw that they offered a 40% off coupon for one item.  When you check out they simply scan the coupon bar code displayed on your smart phone screen.  Michael’s is selling the beads for $2.99 and with the 40% coupon brought down the price to $1.794, with the total is $1.96. I bought one package of beads, handed my phone to my wife who also bought one package of beads. We also got my mom to use her phone to get the coupon and buy one package of beads.

We thought we were doing pretty good getting 40% off.  You can’t even buy the Toho seed beads for that price on-line. So it seems to be a good deal.  However when the receipt printed we each got a 50% off coupon for one item good for the next week.

At 50% off the seed beads are an even better deal.  The next time we were near Michael’s we stopped in we both bought one package of seed beads using our 50% off one item coupon. The 50% off price is $1.49 and with taxes the total came to $1.63. That’s $.33 less than what we paid at the 40% off price.  It’s not a huge savings but $.33 adds up.

At checkout we received a 50% off coupon for one item for the next week. After using the 50% off coupon a 40% coupon had much less appeal. I was curious and looked online to see what coupon Michael’s had for that week. The current coupon was 50% off of one item.

The closest Michael’s is 13 miles away and driving that far to save $1.49 ($2.99 on 2 ) does not make economic sense. It would more than that in gasoline to drive there and back.

We were still at the store and were wondering how we could used the on-line coupon to save 50%. Both the printed and on-line coupons say “Limit one coupon per person per day”.  We had just used out paper 50% off coupon and if the cashier was strict with the coupon rules we would be out of luck. Fortunately for us the cashier that we had went on break and another cashier opened up another register. That cashier didn’t know that we had already made a purchase. So we each bought a package of beads using the 50% coupon on our phone.  While we were checking out the line for the cashier got long and they temporarily opened up another register.  Seeing another opportunity walked out the exit door and then went back into the store to buy more beads at with the new cashier, again using our 50% off coupon on our phone.

This was a rare circumstance that there were three different cashiers but we used it to our advantage and were able to buy 6 packages of Toho seed beads at 50% off. Plus we received 6 50% off coupons for the next week.

The next week we are in Michael’s again and both use our 50% off coupon. Unfortunately it is not busy so no more registers open and the cashier does not go on break. We left with 4 valid 50% off coupons in our pockets. We did some other shopping and returned to the store about an hour later. Luck was on our side and there was a new cashier. Again we were new customers to her and we both bought our one package of beads at 50% off. As we were leaving someone just opened up the service desk so back into the store we head and checkout with the service desk person.

Now we have 6 packages of beads in our pockets and 6 40% off coupons which are good the next week.   We won’t even use the 40% off coupons now, especially since we know that 50% off coupons exist.  Now we only stop in if there is a 50% off coupon AND we are in the area.

So far we’ve picked up 25 packages of beads for $38.26 and saved 37.98 using 3 40% off coupons and 22 50% off coupons.

Even today we were in the area and bought some beads. We ran some errands then returned to a new cashier and bought a couple more packages using this weeks 50% off coupon.  It works when you have more time than money.

It’s nice being able to make a purchase and save 50%. What I don’t like is the fact that if you are not using a coupon or buying things on sale you are getting ripped off and overpaying for something which the company is happily overcharging you for.  Michael’s made $176 million in profits on $4.2 Billion in sales in 2011 so I don’t mind going back through the line to save myself $1.49 each trip.  When the coupons stop so does my shopping.

That’s my idea. You can apply this concept for purchasing items other than beads, that’s just what I’m into at the moment.

Good luck!



Columbia’s Kindness

Today, July 15, 2014, we traveled from Popayan to Pasto, Columbia via a small bus.  I believe that actions speak louder than words.  This is more true for us in South America since we really can’t communicate unless someone speaks English.
We stopped to buy some chips for the bus ride and the lady in the store checked the dates on the chips and wouldn’t sell them to Chris because they were too old.  She gave him another kind that was similar. We were surprised and appreciative.
When we got on our bus all the seats were full except two and they were not together.   We only talked to each other and Chris said that he would take the seat closer to the back of the bus.  We started to sit and the gentleman beside Chris started getting up and pointed at us.  We think he asked if we wanted to sit together and we said yes.  He moved to the seat where I was going to sit. I thanked him for his kindness and thoughtfulness.   Of course that was done energetically because my Spanish vocabulary is limited to “muchas gracias”. 
If you happen to be thinking,  why do you need to sit together?   Well, it isn’t necessary but nice.  
I will try and explain all the details.   The bus seats are narrow so two inches of our shoulders are in the next persons’ seat and it is about 83 degrees, sometimes hotter or a little cooler.  The bus doesn’t have air conditioning,  so we ride with the windows open.  My left shoulder is laying on Chris’ right shoulder and our hips and thighs are touching as well,  and in no time we sweat together.   I could do this with a stranger but, I prefer to share my sweat with Chris instead of a stranger.  We also have two bags each to watch and if we are together it makes that much easier, especially when one person leaves for a bathroom break.
I am so thankful for this man’s awareness and consideration for us.

The Columbian people are so thoughtful and helpful to us despite our inability to speak Spanish.   Thank you Columbia,  we are enjoying your beautiful country.

Hoy, 15 de julio de 2014, viajamos desde Popayán a Pasto, Colombia a través de un pequeño autobús. Creo que las acciones hablan más que las palabras. Esto es más cierto para nosotros en América del Sur ya que realmente no podemos comunicarnos a menos que alguien habla Inglés.
Nos detuvimos para comprar algunas fichas para el autobús y la señora en la tienda verificaron las fechas en las fichas y no se lo vendemos a Chris porque eran demasiado viejos. Ella le dio otra clase que era similar. Nos quedamos sorprendidos y agradecidos.
Cuando llegamos en nuestro autobús todos los asientos estaban llenos excepto dos y no estaban juntos. Nosotros sólo hablamos el uno al otro y Chris dijo que iba a tomar el asiento más cercano a la parte trasera del autobús. Empezamos a sentarse y el caballero al lado de Chris empezó a levantarse y nos indicó a nosotros. Creemos que él nos preguntó si queríamos sentarnos juntos y nos dijo que sí. Se trasladó a la sede donde iba a sentarse. Le di las gracias por su amabilidad y consideración. Por supuesto que se hizo con energía porque mi vocabulario español se limita a “muchas gracias”.
Si le sucede a estar pensando, ¿por qué necesita para sentarse juntos? Bueno, no es necesario, pero agradable.
Voy a tratar de explicar todos los detalles. Los asientos del autobús son estrechas por lo que dos pulgadas de los hombros están en el asiento de los próximos personas ‘, y es cerca de 83 grados, a veces más caliente o un poco más fresco. El autobús no tiene aire acondicionado, así que andar con las ventanas abiertas. Mi hombro izquierdo está poniendo en el hombro derecho de Chris y de las caderas y los muslos se tocan también, y en ningún momento nos sudar juntos. Yo podría hacer esto con un extraño pero, prefiero esta cercanía con Chris. También tenemos dos bolsas cada uno para ver y si estamos juntos que hace mucho más fácil, sobre todo cuando una persona deja de ir al baño.
Estoy muy agradecido por la conciencia de este hombre y consideración para nosotros.

Los habitantes precolombinos son tan atento y servicial con nosotros a pesar de nuestra incapacidad de hablar español. Gracias Columbia, estamos disfrutando de su hermoso país.

Waiting for a boat to Ecuador

We are still in Iquitos, Peru, very close to where the Amazon River begins in Nauta.  It feels odd saying that we are here in a city that is on the banks of the Amazon River which has always been a distant place in the jungle.    We want to take a boat from the Amazon River up the Napo River to Coca, Ecuador.  Since that is an upstream destination, there are only 2 boats that usually travel that direction.  One is currently being repaired and the other one is Arabela.  There are no definite schedules of when the boat departs.  We have been told many different days of when the boat will depart, but that keeps being moved ahead.  Chris read about the irregular schedules and unexpected or unexplained delays before we came to Peru, so we are ok with waiting.  Waiting seems to just be part of the culture.

Yesterday, we went to Port Masusa to see the boat and see when the boat may leave and they told us Friday.  Some cargo has been loaded on the boat and that is a good sign that it is getting closer to the departure date, but the cargo area was not full.  This morning, we asked someone to call for us and they didn’t get a definite departure date either.  They were told that the boat would leave  Saturday or Monday.   We keep checking back with the boat to see when it may depart.

We have read about people coming from Ecuador to Iquitos, on the Napo river, by boat and it’s not an easy way to travel.  The boats traveling downstream from Ecuador have a bit more of a regular “schedule” because they are delivering produce and products for the markets in Iquitos.  The boats heading upstream have a fairly irregular schedule and leave when they have enough cargo.

What follows is the confusing and conflicting information that we received while trying to locate a large boat to take us up the Napo river towards Ecuador.

We first started looking for a boat to take us towards Ecuador on May 7th.  We were first told to go to Puerto Masusa (Port Masusa). When we arrived at the port we spoke with some of the people who were hanging out near the entrance. We were told that we needed to go to another port and that there were not any boats heading north at Puerto Masusa.  They gave us directions to Puerto Requena and they wrote it down in Spanish and we believed that we understood so we started walking.  A handicapped man in a wheel chair came along to show us the way.  He rolled thru mud and sand and we kept telling him that we are ok and that we didn’t need help but he kept going until we reached the turn for Puerto Requena.  It touched our hearts so much that he kept rolling through the sand and mud just to show us the way.  Everyone greeted him as we walked along the road.  When we turned into the Port, we thanked him and gave him some money.  He did not have his hand out for anything and shook his head no when we handed him the money, but we were so grateful for him making sure we make the correct turn.  There were no signs for Puerto Requena because it is one of the smaller ports.  We tried to speak with some people there.  One person that spoke a little bit of English said that we needed to go back to Puerto Masusa.  He said that there was a boat named Walter Junior that goes north to Pantoja, Peru and we should go talk to the people on the boat. Returning back to Puerto Masusa we skipped the people loitering by the front gate and just started walking around the port looking at all of the boats.  We weren’t sure if we had just got the gringos runaround by sending us to the other port or if the people just didn’t know anything about the boat and boat schedules. We later figured out that the people at the gate were day laborers that helped load and unload boats as they came in.

We wandered around the port reading all of the boat names and looking at the chalkboard they have on the front of each one that states the day they leave and their destination. We didn’t see Walter Junior.  Luckily a person approached us from one of the boats and he seemed to be a little more knowledgeable about the boats and departure times. He told us that Walter Junior would leave on May 12th which was about 5 days away. We were also told that there was another boat, the Arabela, that was not in the port yet but should have been there in about 2-3 days.

We came back to Puerto Masusa to see if Arabela had arrived yet and we were told that it was at Puerto Gomez. We had to take a motokar to Puerto Gomez because we could not understand any of the directions in Spanish.  We would have never have found it on our own, it was down a little muddy road very close to Port Masusa. We tried to speak with some of the people there but they only spoke Spanish and weren’t so helpful and basically said we need to go to Puerto Requena. They told the motokar driver to take us to the gas station where someone who works there knows how to call the Arabela. So off we go to the gas station where the motokar driver speaks with one of the attendants. A phone call is made and the best we can make out is that the Arabela won’t be in for another 12-15 days. From there we were told to go to Puerto Requena. We went to Puerto Requena for the second time and didn’t see Arabela. We spoke with one gentleman who tried to help us out and he said that Arabela would only be at Puerto Masusa. He offered to give us a ride in his motokar.  He was helping us because he wanted to give us a ride to make some money. We declined and started walking back to Puerto Masusa when a younger gentleman that spoke pretty good English started asking us questions about where we were trying to go and when. We told him what we had done so far and he walked with us back to the gas station where we got some clarification on the Arabela.  The Arabela would be leaving in about 12-15 days from whenever it arrived.  We keep getting such conflicting information but that’s just how it is, nobody knows when anyone is coming or going. Since the Arabela was possibly expected to arrive that day we walked back to Puerto Masusa. It was not there. We spoke with another helpful person from one of the other boats and we were told that it would be another week before it would arrive. So we planned on coming back a week later.  We also asked about Walter Junior and were shown that it was on the dry dock having its motor repaired.  The end result is that there is only one large boat headed north to Pantoja.

We returned to Puerto Masusa, several days later, and saw that the boat Arabela was there.  ArabelaWe walked onto the boat and looked around opening a door to what looked like it would be a private room. It was a hot steel box with 2 bunk beds, no windows or ventilation. Eventually the Administrados of the boat came and spoke with us. We asked about a private room which he showed us the door to and told us that it had 4 bunk beds and that we could sleep on the two bottom ones and put our luggage on the upper ones. He didn’t open the locked door but after seeing the other room we didn’t need it opened. The room had 4 bunk beds, no window and no ventilation unless you sleep with the door open. It would have been really hot and stuffy being enclosed by six sides of steel. We asked about price and we were quoted a price for the private room and also a price for just hanging our hammocks. The private room doubled the price.  Double the price for a more uncomfortable but private room did not seem like such a good deal. We also asked for the estimated departure date. We were told Saturday, May 17th. We had the receptionist at the hotel to call for us and she was told that they boat would be leaving on Monday, May 19th.  We went back to the port on Sunday May 18th just to verify that the boat was still leaving on Monday. We were surprised to see the sign on the front of the boat that said the boat was leaving on Thursday, May 22nd.  We went back to the port on Tuesday and spoke with the people on the boat again. This time we were told they would be leaving on Friday, May 23rd. Today we had the receptionist call to confirm and she was told that they boat would be leaving on Saturday, May 24th or on Monday, May 26th at the latest.

So here we are, 12 days after we had hoped to leave, waiting on a large boat to take us north to Pantoja, Peru.  There are smaller boats that we could take but we’re not quite ready for that experience. There are also faster boats that they call “speed boats” which would make the 5 day trip to Pantoja in much less time.  It’s not just about getting to the destination but about the experience of getting there.

And we are having an experience while we are here in Iquitos. We thought we had tried most of the regional foods based on what we have seen in the markets and based upon internet searches but today we got a new list from the receptionists.  While we are waiting for our boat we will be adventuring around the city to find and try these foods.  We tried to explain that we had never heard of the foods they told us to eat, and that was not comprehended.  Also they could not understand how we could not like one of the most popular regional fruits. The aguaje fruit grows on the aguaje palm tree. It’s hard reptilian looking skin is peeled and the yellow peach colored fruit is then soaked in slightly salty water. It’s so popular that almost every street vendor sells it as fruit or juice.   So now we’re off to try some new foods at one of the markets.

My beard, a curious oddity in Iquitos, Peru.

The beard as of May 19th 2014

You may have noticed in from the photo that I have a pretty long beard. In the United States it didn’t seem to get too much attention or stares. Here in Iquitos, Peru it’s a different story. I’ve never had so much indirect attention before.

Being in a country where most of the population is hairless, other than the hair on their heads, a person with a beard stands out.  There are a couple of other factors that make me stand out here.  One is that both young and old all have jet black hair.  My hair is blond and my beard is red (rojo in spanish). The second reason is that I am much taller that the average Peruvian which puts my red beard at their eye level.


Based on people's reactions it feels like I'm walking around with my beard like this.
Based on people’s reactions it feels like I’m walking around with my beard like this.

For me, walking down the street makes it feel as though I am from a different planet.

It’s as if nobody has ever seen a beard before even though they know the word for beard.  There are stares, many many stares, there are whispers, groups of people turning their heads to take a look.  There are smiles and laughs as people say something to each other about me or my beard.  People driving motokars or motorcycles slow down to get a better look as they are driving down the street. Sometimes it’s their passengers craning their necks to get a second look.

It’s interesting to watch people when I am walking around. You can see it in their eyes as they realize they are looking at a tall man with a big red beard.

The small markets are fun to walk through.  As I pass by vendors, you can see their eyes change as if there is a short-circuit happening in their brain. Some people just stare in disbelief as I go by. Other vendors have secret words or whistles or some other way to get other vendors attention so that they can all check out my beard. At first I didn’t know what they were saying but now that I’ve been in Iquitos for about 3 weeks I’ve started hearing the words they are using. If they are really blatant they’ll either say “barba” which is beard in Spanish or “barbón” which means a man with a big beard in Spanish. Most of they time they same something that I can’t hear or a word that I do not know yet. Many people speak their native tribal languages so that’s another possibility. Other times you just hear whistles or hear them shouting to get another person’s attention. When I see 4 or more people turn around to look in my direction I know that a signal was given ahead.

Some people look quizzically as if wondering “how is that possible?” or “why would you do that?”,  a few people have had looks of disgust.

My favorite is when people just stare. You can see it in their eyes and can tell that all brain activity has turned off. These are the ones that stop and forget whatever it is that they are doing, their head and eyes just following my beard as I walk by. Usually it’s the children under 5 years old that lose their minds the most. If we are being stationary the kids will walk by but they can’t take their eyes off of the beard. They turn their heads first sideways then backwards as their bodies continue walking forward. They just can’t stop staring. I usually wave at them, very few wave back but that could be a cultural thing too.

Walking around on the street is pretty interesting too. You can just see it in people’s eyes when they notice my beard. Some of the older men and women just stare with what seems like disgust but without the facial expressions. The younger kids are quick to get the attention of their parents to make sure everyone has seen me. The older kids and teenagers in groups usually look and will laugh or laugh after we pass each other. The rest of the population has various looks and stares. If we are in the gringos area then there is not so much attention. It’s when we get outside of that area that I get the most looks. Even among the gringos having a huge beard is unique.

Sometimes when we are waking we hear “barba” or “barbón” from the motokar drivers. They say it as if they have no control over the word coming out of their mouth.  Other times, it’s shouted from across the street or from groups of men in the back of trucks.

Another thing I’ve heard people say is “Papa Noël” (Santa Claus in English).  Usually it’s not directed towards me but if I hear someone say it I’ll tell them “Feliz Navidad” (Merry Christmas in English.)

There have been a few people who wanted to touch my beard. The first one was a drunk man on the street near the port when we were looking for a boat to take to Ecuador.  We don’t know what he was saying but he kept wanting to touch my beard but then it seemed like he wanted me to cut it too. The  second man who wanted to touch it was also a bit drunk in one of the bodegas. He said it was beautiful and kept running his hands down my beard.  The third man who touched my beard had beautiful long maroon hair and some tight skinny jeans. He was not drunk like the other men. He said my beard was so beautiful and ran his hands down my beard several times. When I was leaving, my beard still in his hands I received a wink with pursed lips as he told me again how beautiful my beard was.  There was one person that wanted to cut my beard off.  I was looking  at the snacks a street vendor was selling when the lady next to me was saying something about a girl that was just 20 years old.  I got the gist of what she was saying and said no thank you.  She paid for whatever she bought and left. I had gotten about 10 steps away when the same lady was saying something to me so I stopped and she came over and said something about an introduction. Her girl (a young escort) followed behind and I continued to say that I was not interested in any company. The girl made a scissors gesture with her fingers near her chin and promptly left.  I wasn’t sure what that interaction was about other than them trying to make some money. Perhaps to show the escort how good she had it not being with hairy bearded gringos.

Another interesting thing that we’ve both seen is that some men will unconsciously touch their chins as if stroking an invisible goatee.  We don’t think that they even realize that they are doing it. It’s kind of funny. It’s as if they are making sure that they DON’T have a beard.

It’s been interesting having a beard in Iquitos, Peru. I know what it’s like to receive lots of looks, stares or people looking at me wherever I go. Robbyn is usually walking behind me and gets to see everyone’s facial expressions after I walk by. It’s has been an exercise in being myself.

Part III (Hacking in the Jungle)

**update 2015-01-12  The center Luz Cosmica is now known as La Nueva Luz

We talked to James about the Luz Cosmica website and email address and even the PayPal account. The only thing that he would say was “Omar”. We weren’t sure if that meant that Omar was in control or that Omar had setup everything. Either way James didn’t know anything about who to contact or what to do. We also learned that Anaconda Cosmica was in the same situation. Fortunately they had a computer and Internet connection. I had noticed in previous communications with Anaconda that the emails from Omar had been from while the emails from Sonia, James’s step mom who is now managing Anaconda Cosmica, came from Sonia had already created a new email account. She was not able to update the information on their website so we volunteered to try to help them make the changes or at least point her in the right direction of whom to call. We managed to walk over to Anaconda Cosmica one day. We were told that it would be about a one hour walk but with all the rain the previous day it turned into a 2 1/2 hour walk. Once we arrived they fired up their generator and got out their laptop. We tried to get back their gmail account but we were not able to since we did not know the answers to any of their security questions. So Anaconda Cosmica has lost control of their email address. That’s a horrible situation to be in. Next we did a “whois” to see where the website was hosted at. We spent a little time and went to the hosting website and then we found the manage page. We went there and saw that the login name and password happened to be cached. Unfortunately the password was *******. Chris remembered that it was previously possible to reveal passwords obscured by ***** and he looked up the solution. Sure enough it worked. We went to view the source of the page, made a change in one field from “input type=password” to “input type=text” and there was the password. We wrote it down just in case it went away for some reason. We couldn’t belive that it was cached and that we were actually able to read it.
The management website was defaulting to the French language but we don’t speak French so we changed the language to English and tried to login. We got an error message. We tried to login a couple more times only to get the same error message. Then we tried leaving the language as French and then our jaw hit the floor as we were logged into the management page. We couldn’t belive that we were in. We immediately changed the contact information and owner for the domain name. We then spent the next 1 1/2 – 2 hours trying to figure out how to modify the web pages. We clicked on just about every option there was to click on but there was not graphical way to edit the web pages. Robbyn remembered that in the old days you needed to use FTP to upload your pages to the Internet. We located an FTP manager on the site and opened that and there were all of the pages listed. They were all .php pages and we were able to make some edits to the code to change the email address and to change some names. After about an hour of this we still could not find the way to edit the email and contact information on the main page. Then we saw the “search” option in very small text. We used that to find the remaining pages we needed to edit.
We were so lucky that we did not have to call anyone for support because that would have been a huge hassle and may not have worked out in out favor. We were also extremely lucky that the login name and password were cached. That never happens. So we were able to get the website updated with their new email address and also remove Omar’s name from the site, and also we were able to update the owner and contact information for the domain. We were not able to get the gmail account back and it looks like that’s not a possibility.

As for James Arevalo and the website and email address he has lost control of both. For a business that’s really a tough spot to be in. Someone can continue using your business website to make money and use your email in your name and you can’t do anything about it.
Unfortunately we were not able to help James with his website or email. Despite all of our years of experience in I.T. we feel incompetent and powerless that we are not able to help out in this situation.

Part II (Theft in the Jungle)

**update 2015-01-12  The center Luz Cosmica is now known as La Nueva Luz

The second reason that we left the Center early was a financial situation. No it wasn’t our situation but that of the owner. One difficulty in Peru and I maybe even South America is that it hard to know what is really happening as we’ve been told by several people that everyone here lies and that people would sell their mother or do just about anything for money.
We had first contacted Anaconda Cosmica Center and we received an email reply saying that they were full and they would be sending us to Luz Cosmica instead. We thought it was nice they were helping us out and handle all of the arrangements.
We didn’t want to carry a lot of cash with us because we heard of theft, muggings, kidnappings etc… So when the option came up to do a bank to bank transfer that seemed like a great idea. We wired the money to Omar and was told that it went through.
It wasn’t until a week before we were to leave that we received an email from Anaconda Cosmica asking if we were sill coming. We told them that we had worked with someone from Anaconda Cosmica to schedule at Luz Cosmica because Anaconda Cosmica was full. We also told them that we had already paid Omar Mori Segundo. Chris had verified that Omar worked for Anaconda Cosmica and also saw that he worked for Luz Cosmica. Omar’s name was on both websites as the contact person. We didn’t think too much of this at the time and just thought it was some kind of scheduling conflict. We were a little concerned that we may have paid the wrong person. We arrived in Iquitos late in the day on April 4th and thee next day we were picked up by a mototaxi for our ride out to Luz Cosmica. Omar met us to walk us out to the Center. It was good that he was a real person.
It wasn’t until about 2 weeks into our stay that we heard that the owner of the center James Arevalo had never received our money from Omar. We started asking questions of other people staying there. Most people did not pay in full like we did. Some only paid 20%, some paid just a week at a time, some paid via PayPal and some paid cash.
This is where it gets interesting. The person that paid via PayPal, their money never made it to James despite the receipt showing that it went to the Luz Cosmica gmail account. One person that brought cash made it all the way out to the center where Omar asked for the money which he handed over. Another person, from Switzerland, had also done the bank transfer and his money never made it to James either. It seems that Omar was keeping all of the money for himself. Whether it was cash, bank transfer or PayPal, Omar was keeping all of it. James and the Luz Cosmica center were getting nothing. A few people had paid James directly to extend their stays. So he at least had some cash.
We weren’t sure who or what to belive. In the coming weeks we learned that for the people that had given James some cash to extend their stays, James would come and ask for more money. He said he needed money for food or money for gasoline for the generator or money for this or that.
Even though the money that many of us had paid to Omar never made it to James there was still been enough cash paid directly to James to take care of all food and supplies.
We weren’t sure what to think of it. We never got hit up for additional cash but it was strange to hear that James would show up at 6:00 AM and ask a couple of people for cash then disappear for the rest of the day.
We were supposed to be eating a pretty basic diet of rice, eggs and some vegetables. But when the food started getting a bit low and the generator use had to be shortened to just 2 hours in the evening and then no generator the next evening, we thought it might be time to consider leaving. There was a growing unease about the whole situation and nobody knows what the whole story and what the true story is and we never will. It was even more intriguing when we learned that James’ sister, Hilda, was the manager at Anaconda Cosmica and that her husband was Omar Mori. So was it Omar that was taking all of the money or were Omar and Hilda working together? We will never know what really happened.
I just wanted to end by saying that James is a very good healer and is a very knowledgeable shaman, but perhaps not the best person at managing money.

Part I (Into and Out of the jungle)

We were originally scheduled to stay out in the selva (jungle) for 30 days but we’ve cut it short by one week. There were a couple of things happening that helped us decide on a shorter stay. The main issue is the fluid in Chris’ ears (Otitis Media with Effusion) the second one being some financial issues with the center we were staying at.
Chris’s ear problems started in our very first flight from Atlanta to Ft. Lauderdale. His ear problems would have started on the flight from Chattanooga to Atlanta but the flight was canceled and the airline decided to put everyone into a bunch of shuttle vans and drive us instead of flying us. Chris was on the tail end of a cold when we left and we thought nothing of it. The takeoff and ascent out of Atlanta was not a problem but the descent into Ft Lauderdale was a painful experience. Flying and even scuba diving have been problems in the past and with our healthier eating habits and reduced stress we didn’t think it would be a problem. The last time Chris had OME it was due to a bad cold and had to have tubes in his ears. That was over 5 years ago and a lot has changed in our lives since then and we’ve even flown several times without any issues. But it was an issue on the flight to Ft Lauderdale. The cabin of the airplane is pressurized and the theory is that the pressurization forces the air in your ears into the soft tissue. When that happens the fluid in the soft tissue enters the inside of the ear. What normally happens when you descend is that the Eustachian tube will be open and allow air in to equalize the pressure in the inside of your ear and allow the fluid to drain out. With a bit of Eustachian tube dysfunction or swelling around it the fluid is not able to drain out nor is air able to easily enter the inside of the ear to equalize the pressure. The descent becomes a painful experience where there is a vacuum formed on the inside of the ear. No amount of chewing gum, yawning or trying to blow air into your ears works. Some tiny bubbles, one or two at a time are able to forcefully find their way up the Eustachian tube. When they do it feels like a needle is being stuck deep into the neck muscles behind the ears. Eventually we land and there is no more pain but there is temporary loss of hearing of about a 40% and Chris can feel the fluid moving around if he looks up or down. This has happened in the past and usually clears on it’s own without any issue. We had one more flight from Ft Lauderdale to Lima Peru that day and same as before the takeoff and ascent were ok but the descent into Lima, Peru was painful and uncomfortable. We bought some ibuprofen and Sudafed at the pharmacy since that usually works. The ibuprofen worked to ease some of the pain but the Sudafed did nothing to open up the ears.
We spent the night in the hotel across the street from the airport in Lima. It was nice that it was so close and that we didn’t have to take a taxi or worry about any other issues late at night. Our flight to Iquitos, Peru was at 2 PM and Chris prepared by taking some Sudafed before the flight. Sudafed has worked many times on previous flights but not on this one. If you don’t have any issues it’s no problem to make a quick stopover to drop off and pick up a few new passengers. If you have ear problems each landing is an exercise in physical and mental restraint. On the second landing we arrived in Iquitos and were taken to the hotel by Eddie the motocar driver that the center uses. We paid 20 Soles but found out later that it should have only cost 10 Soles. We had never seen a motocar or mototaxi before but it is the transportation of choice in Iquitos. Cars are extremely rare and the buses have a limited route. The front part of a motocar is usually a 125cc motorcycle. The back half has large wheels and a covered bench seat that can hold 2 1/2 full Americans or about 3-4 Peruvians. They have exhaust pipes but most are loud and they are everywhere. We were told that they are called Iquitos Mosquitos because they are buzzing around everywhere. I don’t have they words to accurately describe the constant drone of these things. It’s great if you want to go anywhere in the city, there is always one available but if you are trying to talk to someone or even sleep it’s a bit of a problem. A new motocar cost about 6,000 Soles so it’s not too expensive to buy plus you can make money taking people around the city and surrounding area.
The next day we were driven to the Belen market to buy some rubber boots that we were told to get for our time in the jungle. They cost was 18 Soles each or about $6. We should have haggled with them because we’re pretty sure that’s the tourist price. We know better than that now. We’ve since learned that just about everything is negotiable.
From the market Eddie drove us out of town and down a very long dirt road that was mostly washboarded with potholes and covered with lots of water in places. After about about an hour the road ended because the seasonal rains. We paid Eddie 50 Soles. We later found out that others had paid about 20 Soles for this trip with other drivers. Another newbie tourist mistake that we will try not to make in the future. Without a road we hopped into a large canoe with Omar the person that we had been in communication with. He would be walking with us and taking us to the center. We walked about 20-25 minutes on a maintained trail, through water puddles, a few small log bridges where the water was a little deeper and over one large log bridge where the water was at least 3 feet deep. We were glad we bought the boots earlier that day.
We arrived on April 5th and decided to wait a few days to see what would happen with Chris’ ears. After 5 days Chris decided to go back to Iquitos to visit a doctor. Chris went to the clinic and it cost 40 Soles or about $15. The doctor did an exam and could see the fluid in Chris’ ears and could also see the redness from the infection. He wrote a prescription for a shot of Penicillin, Dextramethorphan and some tables of Alleve and a non-drowsy antihistamine. Chris was directed to take the prescription to the pharmacy near the front door. For 17 Soles he received a vial of penicillin and a glass ampoule of Dextramethorphan, a saline injection solution, a syringe with 2 needles, a couple of blister packs of Alleve and one blister pack of an antihistamine. All of that for just $6. Chris wasn’t sure what to do with the syringe and all of the liquids for injection. Would he have to administer his own shots? Fortunately he was told to go back and see the nurse. She escorted him to another room where she used one large diameter needle to fill the syringe with all of the medicines for injection then changed the needle to a smaller diameter one for the gluteal injection. Compared to prices in the U.S. $21 is almost unheard of for a Dr. visit AND medicines. The penicillin shot cleared up Chris’ ear infection very quickly and the Alleve took care of some of the pain until it did. Unfortunately none of the fluid ever drained out of Chris’ ears.
The shaman would work on Chris’ ears several times with massage and different ointments and natural antibiotics but nothing helped. The shaman even brewed up something called Boahuasca that is supposed to help with colds and help remove fluid. Chris had to drink it 2 times a day for 5 days. It did not taste very good at all. It didn’t work either so all of that horrible taste for nothing. But you never know if it’s going to work or not so it was worth a try. Otitis Media with Effusion (OME) is just not something that someone out in the selva is really able to treat and the shaman didn’t really have any experience with either.
So we are now in Iquitos, Peru. We returned to the clinic to see if we could get an appointment with the Otolaryngologist. They said come back at 7 PM which seemed really late for an appointment. And they also said to come back the same day which really seemed odd for someone familiar with waiting a week or two to see a specialist. So we returned early around 6:00 PM just in case there was an opening early. We waited around 20 minutes then one of the staff took us outside where we got in a taxi and she took us a few blocks away to where the Otolaryngolists office was located. We had assumed that the specialist would be located in the clinic so the taxi ride was a bit peculiar but luckily the lady that checked us into the clinic also rode in the taxi with us to the specialists office. Chris had some sentences written down in Spanish to describe his symptoms and after reading several the Doctor started speaking in English. Then a quick exam and some Ceftin antiobiotics were prescribed for 7 days. The Dr visit costs 50 soles or about $18 and the antibiotics costs 142 soles or about $51.
So now we are just waiting for the antibiotics to work and to see if we need to return to the doctor. Chris isn’t able to fly right now which isn’t a big deal since we aren’t schedule to fly out of Peru until August. We had thought about taking one flight while we were here in South America but now that does not seem like a good idea. We’re also not sure about going to Cusco or Machu Pichu beacuse of their elevation.
We are in good health otherwise, we both lost weight while staying at the Center out in the selva.

As you can see we are giants compared to most Peruvians.  This is Elias who was our shaman during ceremonies for the first couple of weeks. His Icaros (healing songs) were very strong and he would sing for about 2 hours or more. He would sing a couple of icaros to start the ceremony then sing one icaros at the foot of each person in the maloca then close out the ceremony by singing another icaros.
As you can see we are giants compared to most Peruvians. This is Elias who was our shaman during ceremonies for the first couple of weeks. His Icaros (healing songs) were very strong and he would sing for about 2 hours or more. He would sing a couple of icaros to start the ceremony then sing one icaros at the foot of each person in the maloca then close out the ceremony by singing another icaros.
This was our screened in hut that where we slept for 23 days.
This was our screened in hut that where we slept for 23 days.
The Maloca at Luz Cosmica where healing ceremonies are held at night.
The Maloca at Luz Cosmica where healing ceremonies are held at night.

30 days studying the traditional Amazonian medicine of the Shipibo people

We’re headed off to Iquitos, Peru where we will be spending 30 days in the jungle at Luz Cosmica. It’s a spiritual center that practices the traditional medicine in the Shipibo tradition.  It’ll be a time of physical and psychological purification, healing and learning about plants, plant medicines and Amazonian shamanism.

In searching for a center we found that there were a great many centers and shamen throughout the jungle area of Peru. The three main areas that came up in our searches were Iquitos, Pucallpa, San Francisco and Cusco. We focused mainly on the Iquitos area because it was one of the main tourist areas and the centers would have someone who could speak a little English to help us translate what the Shaman says. If we spoke Spanish we would have gone to the smaller towns of Pucallpa or San Francisco. But some of those places don’t even speak Spanish and only speak the native South American Quechua language. So we’re sticking to the more touristy area for this part of our adventure in Peru.

We read about many centers and many Shipibo shamen.  We had originally decided on staying at Anaconda Cosmica healing center ran by Maestro Guillermo Arevalo. We liked the fact that Guillermo has almost 40 years of experience and follows in the tradition of his father, uncles, grandfather and grandmother. Unfortunately Anaconda Cosmica is booked during the time we wanted to stay. They recommended Luz Cosmica  which is run by Guillermo’s son, James. James has 20+ years experience and his center is actually smaller than Anaconda Cosmica.  That actually is more what we were looking for as we didn’t want to be at a huge center. We like the idea of a much smaller, traditional, quieter and personalized experience.

Another center that we looked at is Nihue Rao ran by one of Gullermo’s apprentices, Ricardo Amaringo. This center was started in 2011 so it’s relatively new and has lots of modern conveniences like showers, toilets and even wi-fi.  We had such a great time disconnecting at our Vipassana retreat in Georgia without cell phones or even our car keys, it’s hard to imagine having a nice healing experience with cellphone and laptops around. Ricardo is said to be a very good shaman and we like the energy of this place but there was no discount for longer stays. We ruled out Nihue Rao for a long stay.

We also looked at El Purgero which is run by american Ron Wheelock. He has 18 years of experience and we read many reports that he makes a very good and very strong brew. We wanted more than just a strong brew and his energy and center just didn’t seem to have the right energy for us.

Another center that we looked at was Spiritual Healing Center DAS ran by Percy Garcia Lozano. We read some good things about Percy and that he has 20 years experience. We also liked the remoteness of his center. It seems like a good center and had some good reviews but it seemed like there was a little more downtime involved where you were not working with the plants as much as with other places. For the price charged it didn’t seem like a good value.

Another center that kept coming up in searches was Blue Morpho. It is really expensive and was way outside of our budget.  We didn’t need that much luxury. We wanted a more basic and traditional experience.

Another expensive one that sounded really nice was Temple of the Way of Light. It sounded really nice but was way out of our budget. They also had a 3 month work exchange program and even the price seemed pretty high to us for that.

Refugio Altiplano looked like a really nice center but again it was too expensive.  It is remote and reachable only by boat. So it seems like it would be a nice quiet place to visit.

There was also another center that we found on Workaway where we were going to volunteer and do service but the available spaces were filled by the time that we sent them an email.

There are  many healing centers and the only ones that we can search for and read about were those that have a presence on the Internet. I’m sure there are some really great centers that do not have, want or need the Internet but those centers were not meant for us at this time. So it seems as though we are guided to Luz Cosmica.

We’ll let you know how it goes. We will be able to put our newly learned Vipassana meditation skills to use to help us dive deep within.

Vipassana – 10 day residential training course

Learning a 2500 year old meditation technique in 10 days is not easy. And in reality after 10 days we have just learned the basics of the technique. It’s a long road.

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We arrived at the Southeast Vipassana Center after a 6 hour drive from Chattanooga, TN.  It seemed like such an out-of-the-way place but in the coming days that would be very appreciated as we learned to observe our mind.


This was the registration area which was is the original meditation hall when the center opened in 2008.


This is the meditation hall where we spent 10 days sitting.  Managed to sit on the cushions for the first 3 days before moving to a chair and Robbyn made if 4 days before moving to a chair.  if you can sit in the floor it’s better chairs are always an option if you can’t handle the floor.  At least give the floor a try first.

The men and women are segregated the women were on the left side and the men were on the right.



The cushions were pretty comfortable even with some extra padding to help support my knees.  Sitting  in chairs most of my life has not helped us to develop strong core and back muscles to be able to sit up without back support for so many hours of meditation. Gradually our backs are becoming stronger and we are able to sit without back support for longer and longer periods of time.


The facilities were really nice. We had small, maybe 8′ x 8′ rooms with bunk beds.   There is no talking, gesturing or even eye contact but everything works out and you can find your own flow without communicating.  I didn’t take a photo but I was really impressed with the quietness and efficiency of the ductless heat pump.  It quickly warmed up the room or cooled it down on the one day that it was just a bit too warm. The compressor units that were outside made almost no noise at all. That’s totally opposite of standard heat pumps installed in most homes that make a variety of loud noises.


I’ve never seen a bell like this before but it sounded so nice and rang for a long time.  It was flat and you strike it with a stick made of very hard wood.  It called a Burmese bell.  We would like to get one some day.

This particular bell was used for the dinner bell which rang at 6:30 AM for breakfast, 11:00 AM for lunch and 5:00 PM for tea.

Another bell was used as the wake-up bell at 4:00 AM and several other times throughout the day.

Even going to bed between 9:00 PM and 9:30 PM it’s amazing how quick that 4:00AM alarm comes.

We really enjoyed our time at the Southeast Vipassana center and we can see volunteering at other centers during our travels and even taking more 10 day courses in the future.  We had good facilities, a nice quiet and safe environment to work on ourselves, great food and got to meet some new people on a similar path.

We would recommend a 10 day Vipassana course to anyone that wants to learn a great meditation technique and wants to learn more about themselves. There are Vipassana centers all over the world so there is one not too far from where you live.

You can find out more information about Vipassana meditation here


A few photos from Savannah Georgia.

Just wanted to do a quick post with some photos of the trees in Savannah, Georgia.  The trees are massive and form nice tree tunnels. The leaves were just starting to grow but I’m sure when they are fully filled out the shade they give is welcomed in the southern sun and heat.  I wonder if you have to use headlights to drive in the tree tunnels?