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The dancing yellow flames that provided a small island of light in the black jungle had all but disappeared. The only illumination left was a heaping mound of glowing coals that cast a dim, orange hue on the shadowed faces of my fellow travelers. Barely able to see each other in this open-sided gathering room, we sat in a circle around its large, ceremonial fire pit.

A little nervous, we stared silently into the embers.

The shaman rose to his feet, and his ritual chant began to rise over the background jungle noises. The monkeys who had followed us to the ceremony watched, almost-respectfully, from the surrounding trees.

Deep in the Amazon, our spiritual cleansing ceremony was about to begin.

And, as is often the case, the journey to get to our host village was as exciting as the destination itself. A two-hour boat trip up the Amazon’s headwaters (followed by a three-hour hike through the jungle) was hardly how I got to work back when I had a “real” job.

This was my first actual writing assignment, almost a year after I’d sent in that first brief article. True, I’d been writing to pay for my travel for part of that year… but this was the first time that someone was paying for my time, my travel, and the articles I’d write.

As it turns out, it was the first of many such trips. I found myself “working” in a medieval Irish tavern, sampling the stout ales as only the Irish can make them… plying the beaches of The Bahamas, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Uruguay… exploring the high cities of Peru and Ecuador, and the mountains of Chile. A week in the French countryside… a long weekend in the tapas bars of Madrid.

Last year, I spent the entire winter writing from a Brazilian island to the sound of the sea… with my small wooden desk on the front porch just 35 feet from the breaking waves.

Friends often ask whether I’ve missed my old job and the challenges of an operating nuclear plant. And the honest answer is no… I haven’t. Not even for a single day.

The shaman’s voice rang out over the jungle, repeating the same Quichua chant that would replay in our heads endlessly for days to come. One by one, his large, strong hands gripped each of our heads while he chanted, as he sought to learn the secrets and troubles hidden within.

Three days later, we hiked back to the dugouts, drifted down the Amazon’s headwaters, and returned to that bend in the river where the van would pick us up.  My fellow travelers were subdued. They were sad to leave our magic environment, knowing that they had to return to “reality” the next day… the real world.

Except for me, that is. When we parted ways, I continued down the Inca Trail toward my house on the river in southern Ecuador. For me, the return to “reality” is no longer necessary.

[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]

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