Powder-soft, white sand beaches. Crystal-clear Caribbean water. Year-round balmy weather and tropical breezes. World-class shopping, recreational pursuits, and modern, reliable infrastructure.
A light rain is falling outside as I use the time I would normally spend enjoying a dip in the translucent turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea to contemplate my experiences as an expat over the last four years or so.
Swimming with endangered green sea turtles in Akumal, strolling the cobblestone shopping district in Playa del Carmen, exploring cenotes or ancient Maya ruins or just lazing in a hammock…this is my life today. But it’s a far cry from where my husband Don and I were back in 2008. In the wake of the financial collapse and the deep recession that followed, our comfortable existence was completely upended. At an age when we expected we could begin to slow down, we found ourselves starting over in a very inhospitable economy. Add to that Don’s second heart attack and the loss of his health insurance when his job disappeared, and you have a recipe for real desperation.
Financial struggles weren’t the only thing motivating our retirement abroad, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that’s what got us looking for an out-of-the-box solution to begin with. Like a lot of people during the financial crisis, my husband, Donald, and I took a big hit. Here we were nearing the end of our working years, and our financial security had evaporated in a seeming instant. My husband had his second heart attack in three years, and then lost his job—along with his medical insurance. We were tired, vulnerable, and drowning in stress. I remember my husband declaring that he felt as if he’d, “been running a marathon for 60 years.” We both worked regular jobs, and even started a couple of small businesses on the side to claw our way back. But it would be years before we could hope to retire, and we were spending all our time and energy just to hold on.
I realized years ago that, by and large, happiness is a choice. I'll admit that there have been times when maintaining that choice has required significant, conscious effort. But, the choice is easier now that I'm retired and living on Mexico's Riviera Maya. Here it would take considerable, deliberate effort to be anything but happy.
A little over two years ago, my husband and I turned that quest to rescue our retirement into a reality and relocated to the Pacific coast of Ecuador. A big part of the process was shedding all the excess stuff we'd accumulated in pursuit of the "American Middle Class" ideal, in favor of the new experiences we'd be free to have once out from under it all. Swapping the hamster wheel for a simpler, less object-oriented way of life turned out to be the trade of a lifetime.
I often catch myself being taken aback by the stunning view of the Pacific that greets me from every western-facing window of my home in San Vicente, Ecuador. I don't know exactly why I still experience a flash of surprise at the sight at this point. Maybe it's because less than two years ago, such a thing was merely a dream. Like so many when the Great Recession struck, my husband and I were struggling to maintain the lifestyle we had built over the years.