Chautauqua 2014 – Higher elevation and new insights

Chautauqua 2014 –  Higher elevation and new insights


Recently, I travelled to San Pablo del Lago in Ecuador to seek some answers on a higher level….in about 9000 feet altitude to be specific.

I attended the second Chautauqua organised by Cheryl Reed with Above the Clouds Retreats.

The first event of this kind took place in 2013, only a few months after I had discovered both MMM’s and Jim Collin’s blogs. Blogs, that addressed the missing pieces of my financial puzzle and helped me undo some mistakes of the past. Already back then, I was tempted to just sign up and go, but felt I was too early in my journey and I first had some major cleaning up to do, which I did.

Spending about $2000 on a trip to Ecuador to bond with fellow financial independence seekers, sounds a bit counterintuitive, right? Yep, I wholeheartedly agree!

Like most attendees, I live a relatively frugal life and find ways to travel cheaply. To me $1895, just for the Chautauqua alone, is no small chunk of change for sure! Even considering the rest of my expenses were very reasonable. My flight was only $87 in fees and I probably spent less than $125 whilst in Ecuador, most of which on wine 😉

Let me tell you, that trip was worth every penny and more!

By early 2014 when information surfaced that a second Chautauqua was being planned, I had made some major progress towards FI, thanks to the above mentioned blogs, mainly by cleaning up financial messes and by moving investments to where they ought to be (one word: VTSAX 😉 thank you Uncle Jim!).

P1030436At the same time a few very significant changes in my personal life just had unfolded. So I felt the need to do something for myself…to get out and meet some like-minded people. People, who would not look at me funny for trying to find financial independence or maybe even consider early retirement some time later down the road. People who get it….who are probably trying to find ways to make more time for their own life passions themselves…and not to forget the bloggers who inspired me to get serious about my long hedged plans for financial independence.

The Chautauqua was the perfect mix of organized events (presentations, community project, sightseeing, hikes), one on one sessions and free time to reflect and/or mingle with other attendees.

We all got to pick one personal session with our favorite blogger ahead of time and upon arrival found out, that each attendee was going to receive a bonus session with a second blogger.

In addition to that, all the presenters were incredibly generous with their free time and offered additional personal sessions, to those who were interested, even if they did not have a scheduled session.

Like many others, I lucked out and ended up with three one on one discussions, each of which gave me new perspectives and lots of food for thought. Seriously, the opportunity to go over your personal plan with any of these fine folks, Cheryl Reed, Jim Collins, Jesse Mecham and Pete (aka MMM) and getting their opinions and advice is just plain priceless!

Jim Collins even spontaneously organized a much appreciated and very well attended discussion group one morning, because there was so much interest to further discuss some questions that had come up after his presentation.

P1030509I also truly enjoyed the community project. Cheryl’s project one corner philosophy resonates with me in so many ways. Not being able to change the entire world is no excuse to not do something in your little corner of the world, which has always been my credo. Even if people tell me, the little things I do with my own projects have no impact on the bigger picture. Well true, they don’t, but they make a whole lot of difference to the few people and pets I can reach with my very limited means (more about that in a future post). In this spirit, some of the proceeds from our Chautauqua went to help add a guest house to a local village, in order to attract more tourists to their community. We got to meet some of the locals and helped out a little bit with the construction materials.

We were a very diverse group, with attendees from many different walks of life and very different backgrounds, flying in from Europe, Australia, Canada and the US. Yet, we all had a lot in common.

I had hoped to find some kindred souls, but I did not expect so many of them with whom I could connect on so many levels and way beyond financial topics: fellow animal lovers, fellow geocachers, fellow language enthusiasts, fellow geeks, fellow construction product nerds, fellow movie aficionados and even, believe it or not, fellow humanists.

Evenings were spent in front of the fireplaces in the common areas, chatting, laughing, engaging in deep conversations or playing cards against humanity, whilst sharing a bottle of wine or two or three or……well you get the drift.

I know, this sounds terribly cliché: time flew and at the same time the experience was so intense, that I feel I was away from home, in a parallel universe for much much longer than only a week.


Just as every third world country Ecuador, has many contrasts: streets lined with half-finished buildings, poverty-stricken areas, lots of starving stray dogs (very tough for us animal lovers, who were trying to feed as many as we could), which make our privileges as visitors who can afford to come here on vacation so very apparent. At the same time breathtaking landscapes, friendly people, colorful markets, rich history and interesting sights.

Ecuador is a beautiful country, hands down!! I cannot wait to go back and explore more! I genuinely envy the folks who were able to stay longer to explore the Amazon or the Galapagos Islands. I wish I could have stayed longer and definitely will be back.


The Hacienda was incredible, a beautiful, beautiful place, with bits and pieces of history and stunning architectural details every way you turned. Rooftop views, hidden staircases, wood carvings, paintings, courtyards, Llamas and interesting nooks and crannies with new corners to discover on a daily basis. We were spoiled with wonderful meals three times a day, served by extremely attentive and friendly staff.
But the cherry on the cake were the fireplaces in the rooms. I have had this fascination, or maybe addiction to radiant heat all my life. There is nothing more soothing and comforting than a wood fire. I would find one of those crackling in my fireplace in the room every night after returning from our evening hangouts. Bliss!

All in all the Chautauqua was a wonderful experience in many ways, the camaraderie of the group, an opportunity to help a local community, the chance to review your FI plans with your favorite bloggers, the breathtaking landscape, the friendly locals, the luxurious accommodations, the good food….truly an exceptional value for memories of a lifetime!