In man’s search for meaning in life, a never-ending process of trials and tribulations, all without logical reason or rational explanation, whilst most live in the mind instead of in the heart, often it is a confusing mess, sometimes disastrous – where experience and growth trump all else, but one where happiness, a byproduct of the process, is the intended goal – with all of life’s lessons serving a greater purpose. The question of how to achieve this endmost goal through the phenomenal mystery of life begets humanity.
Society has replaced the hero’s journey, the person who faces his demons head-on, inevitably navigating through the labyrinth of darkness to find light, with stars in tabloid news, resulting in worship of the rich and famous. Modern society has never been as plentiful in wealth and choices as any time in history, yet we are more unhappy and unfulfilled as ever. Why? We have been taught that he with the biggest house, most impressive title and amount of toys wins. However, the answers lie within, not without.
Over twenty years ago, after leaving a successful career in corporate America, I decided to embark on an odyssey, the inner quest – replete with immense meaning and ambitious purpose – and so I looked into my heart and decided to follow where it directed me. It took me all over the world, from London to Tel Aviv to Hong Kong to Buenos Aires, all the while filling my soul with lessons that would in time mold me into who I was meant to be – the meaning of why I was on this magma filled rock hurling through space.
All that invaluable world experience gave me a unique perspective in which to give back to the world one day – but yet to no avail. At the age of thirty-seven I figured I had a few answers, the sum total of all those parts of my journey up till that point. It was not until a life changing event occurred, after waking up in a hospital trauma center with a priest by my side, that I knew I had no genuine answers, that a more imaginative approach had to be found – all so that I may heal and find light, love and happiness.
After a night out in Philadelphia celebrating the success of a new business venture, I awoke a full quadriplegic. Waking up paralyzed from your neck down is one way to gain new perspective in life, but not one I would recommend. Over the next ten years, with grueling physical therapy and countless insurmountable obstacles, by peering into my heart, making others the focus of my healing, writing a book and creating two blogs, mentoring and helping others in limitless ways, I found resolve, healing.
It was those years of never-ending hardship and healing that led me to my real purpose in life: to guide others on their journey, to help others in finding light through their darkness. Or, simply put: to assist others dismount their story horse, to look into their heart to discover their truth – which is exactly what eventually led to me to Colombia. It is a project that encompasses all the infinite lessons and experience of my life, fully preparing me for this new venture, specifically suited to someone with my detailed past.
Following a talk with an old college roommate, an idea being kicked around for two years, finally took form: a TV show to assist the masses. Steven Quigley Wheels Up was born. A spiritual travel show where I traverse the world conversing with others about their daily struggles, their desire to find new meaning and purpose in life, what led to their breakthrough, and the results – serving as a psychological mirror for the viewers at home. Soon after hearing my story a director and producer signed onto the project.
Life is a best learned through our peers – what we see in others we see in ourselves. It is only by hearing their stories and truth that we fully come to understand how to overcome our own battles. By learning that we all share the same life experiences, no matter the culture or country, we can relate to ourselves and one another in deeper ways. Through a travel show steeped in psychology we hope to utilize others’ examples in order to assist the viewers in their own personal journey for inner healing and happiness.
In May of 2020, expecting to move to Amsterdam to film the TV pilot, with the impetus of an international pandemic underway, thinking there was no reason to store my belongings, I decided to give them all away to the poor and homeless. Soon after in June, I left to NYC to see friends before flying to Europe. Little did I know what my future held and what my recent actions would mean to my life in due time. My profound journey into the heart to live out a dream project would be severely tested.
After being denied entry to board my plane at an empty Newark, NJ airport, resolute on making it to Europe, I moved into a hotel in Queens, NYC in order to await new entry rules into Europe. After three weeks at an expensive airport hotel, with funds dwindling while awaiting an update, I purchased a new ticket to Europe; once again I was unable to board the flight. That is when a good friend from Maine decided one morning to drive down to NYC to jettison me to Portland until the storm passed over.
Unable to find a suitable place to live, and after nine months living in a hotel in Maine – with nowhere in the world to move, as international travel was all but closed due to Covid-19 restrictions – eventually it appeared some countries would soon open. During this period I settled in to experience my first “Maine winter” while exploring moving to twelve different countries, but all were closed. The next part of my journey would bring me to Miami, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, back to Miami, and then finally to Colombia.
Tests completed, flight reserved, it was time to find a place to live in Cartagena. A good friend from Bogota, with local connections through family and friends, was determined to help me secure a new home in my adopted country. Prior to my arrival in Colombia, over six weeks many people helped me to find the right living match. With a stroke of luck, ten days before my departure, with thirty units already disqualified, she secured me a flat in the one of the hottest neighborhoods in Cartagena, Boca Grande.
Once landing in Cartagena and checking into a hotel for two weeks, while the lady we negotiated a deal with was away in Miami getting her vaccination, I relaxed and waited to sign the final contract. But soon that all changed as it became clear she was untrustworthy. From Bogota, of the newly minted nouveau riche class in Colombia, a result of recent expansive economic growth, she had zero commitment to a schedule or to her word. She paid almost no regard or respect to her renters, especially those in need.
Little did I realize how prescient a harbinger she would serve when attempting any successful real estate transactions in Colombia. Her behavior was egregious; her example did not set the bar too high. At this point, with no contract or apartment to rent on the horizon, I extended my stay at the hotel for another two weeks. With unexpected costs adding up (again), friends immediately went back to the drawing board, this time expanding their search to include other neighborhoods and possible living options.
One natural impediment to wheelchairs in South America kept repeating itself – small doorway widths. The main entrances are wide enough, as are many other doorways in homes, but bathroom doorways here are notoriously small, depriving access to the toilet and shower. Otherwise, when contractors are not cutting costs or because they are older buildings, limited consideration is paid to accessibility. Until recently many developing countries had no laws on the books requiring building codes for accessibility.
Two days before my hotel reservation was to expire it looked like as if we had found the perfect location, building and apartment. It was in the neighborhood I wished to live, with restaurants, shops, cafes, supermarkets and a pharmacy all within close distance. It also had a steep ramp, albeit suicidal – requiring assistance, and two balconies, including one with a view of the ocean and the other with a nice vista of the bay. Once all measurements were verified, I scheduled an appointment to meet the realtor.
The next day the realtor came to the hotel to take receipt of my deposit. All was set, I would move there in 48 hours. A good friend from Venezuela volunteered to help me with the move. Friday arrived and early that morning we got into two taxis with luggage in tow and drove to the building. Two hours later all my belongings were on the ninth floor, awaiting the contract and final payment. As soon I got things settled I headed to the back balcony. That is when I realized the bathroom entrance looked a bit tight.
Immediately I tried entering the bathroom and was unable to enter. The manager soon arrived and attempted to increase the doorway width. Now just barely able to squeeze into the bathroom, I was unable to access the shower. The manager’s response was for me to use a plastic bucket to shower on the balcony. Unwilling in the face of evidence on text between the realtor and my friend, with agreed measurements, he refused to refund my money. He placed the key on the kitchen table and departed.
Wow – what a precarious situation: to either live in an apartment where I could barely access the toilet, and certainly not the shower, or face becoming a vagrant on the streets of Cartagena in a wheelchair. To return to the hotel would have caused me to incur paying the highest daily rate. It was decided my friend and I would spend the night there and figure it out in the morning. Morning arrived and I was able to get a good daily price again at the hotel. Later I reported the transaction as fraud and was refunded.
Back at the hotel for a third extension the staff was beginning to think I may end up living there. Shortly after it was decided I would leave Colombia, returning to Europe. Holland recently opened their borders again to American travelers – and within two hours I had a reservation on KLM to Amsterdam. It was then that a good friend from another more relaxed city further up the Caribbean coast convinced me to give her country a second chance. Five days later I arrived at my new home: Barranquilla AKA Qiami.
Once there, after checking into another hotel, I immediately began looking for a new apartment. An exhaustive search resulted in no other possible options, until a friend at the hotel told me of a unit for rent in the private residences on the top floors of my building. That evening I met the owner, and after three hours of talking we came to a rental agreement. I was in heaven – a dream come true. Until the day before I was supposed to move in, a text arrived from the owner cancelling the deal at the 11th hour.
This meant I had to extend my stay in yet another hotel for an extended period of time, at full cost. It did not take long for the bill to add up to over two thousand USD, leaving me in a tough position continually paying such excessive living expenses. It was only a matter of ten days before I would be totally out of money. Until this point it was expected my monthly rent would only be a third of my hotel cost, but that was not my reality. My reality was I was about to be broke and on the streets in a second world country.
After careful consideration and conversing with close friends, it was decided I had to swallow my pride and ask others for assistance through public online donations. Otherwise, in the near future, I would have ended up living in the barrios in Colombia in a wheelchair. Since this had happened to me already twice in my life, first after my accident when I lost everything, and second when I could not enter Europe, I could not think of a less desirable place for such an event. A serious crisis was in the making.
A fundraiser was started and within a few weeks friends, through endless love and support, stepped up with legions of contributions. The support I received from the Hilton where I was staying was a Godsend. Christine, the manager, then Paola, the acting manager while Christine was on a leave of absence, along all with all the staff they supervise, were spectacular – both were essential in helping allow me to find a way to remain at my newfound home in Barranquilla. They allowed me to live on credit while I got it all figured out, whilst reducing my daily rate to a livable monthly fee – a true blessing from the heavens.
As life is one big mystical journey filled with otherwise impregnable hurdles, I am grateful for all the aforementioned – amalgamating me into who I am today. It is all a part of the magic of the spiritual trail. However difficult seeing a path forward, I had to remember it would all work out fine in the end. Iron sharpens iron. And although unknown at that time, as nothing worthy in life comes without sacrifice, I had to remind myself that it is all for a greater purpose to benefit myself and others in the near future.
When I set out on my quest to delve deep into the unplumbed frightening expanses of my heart, I had no idea where it would lead me. It has led me all over the world; and eventually to the vision of creating a TV show to help others find healing in life. There were inexhaustible barriers all along the way to derail me from my intention. Certainly I look forward to the day I can look back on all this with a smile. In the interim, I continue to follow the path of my heart, the hero’s journey, the fated work of life, my dream.
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10 thoughts on “Living out a dream during the Covid-19 pandemic: Becoming poor and homeless in Colombia in a wheelchair.”
“A Long & Winding Road” has certainly been your (and my) experience. “stars in tabloid news, resulting in worship of the rich and famous,” oh boy, can I relate.
I enjoyed this post immensely.
Keep on. Stay Strong. Strive on!
As always, THANKS!
Missing you from Maine Steven!💗
You have a way with words, with sloughing off that superficial layer of life to get to the heart of all things and revealing the freedom, but also the raw challenge of facing life head on.
I truly look up to you for that and am grateful to have met you, spent time with you, learned valuable life lessons with and from you. I continue to do so and look forward to seeing you again!
Why do you want to be during the pandemic outside your country going through bad times without home, alone in your wheelchair, without economic resources, risking your physical, emotional and mental health?
I don’t know why you want to be like this….