Sipping wine sitting on the deck of his 36-foot cabin cruiser, Fish Trap, John Pasnau takes a slow deep breath of clean, salt air and reflects on his new life. He and his wife, Valerie, are getting ready to cast off for a short cruise to watch another Caribbean sunset along the Riviera Maya. "Retiring to Mexico almost a year ago was probably the best decision I've ever made...except for asking Valerie to marry me," he says.
We came to Cancun after beginning our expat retirement adventures in Ecuador. Our retirement plans were in serious trouble in the U.S. I had suffered my second heart attack in 2009…and soon after I lost a good job and the health insurance that came with it. I was unemployed, uninsured, and the medical expenses were stacking up. So, we decided to take a chance and live overseas, a decision that first brought us to the small fishing and farming community of San Vicente on Ecuador’s coast, just a short distance from the equator. We spent two great years there, but with my heart issues, we decided it would be wise to live closer to top-notch emergency medical care.
Our tumble from a very nice, safe, and secure middle-class life began when my second heart attack struck in 2009—right in the middle of a global financial crisis. I lost my upper-level management position and the health insurance that came with it. Try as I might, I was unable to find a good job for the first time in my life. I was unemployed, uninsured, and recovering from a serious heart attack with ongoing medical expenses every week. I did what work I could find, but my earnings combined with those from my wife Diane’s job barely managed to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads.
We were sitting in a rustic beach bar in the small town of Puerto Morelos on Mexican's Mayan Riviera sampling what the bartender promised was the best margarita in town. The temperature was about 85 F and the ever-present sea breeze was wafting in from the Caribbean. Shore birds were circling overhead in a cloudless blue sky.
I was accidentally napping (it happens sometimes) in my favorite chair in the den when I was awakened by the loud, unmistakable lowing of a cow. It was the local milkman announcing his arrival with an amplified recording. In just a few minutes, we received our delivery of milk and cheese from his specially equipped motorcycle and cart. Other vendors regularly wind their way through our middle-class Mexican neighborhood selling fruits, vegetables, prepared food, bottled water, and even pots and pans. It is not only charming, it is convenient.
The place was packed; festive and noisy with a funky, thumping rhythm adding to the party atmosphere. It was a mixed crowd—some retired gringos along with a younger North American group accounted for about 60% with the rest a mix of European travelers and locals. Everyone was having a great time. My wife Diane and I were fortunate to snag a table. At the very moment a group stood to leave, I moved quickly to claim the space.
With the divisive and toxic nature of U.S. politics these days and the associated economic impact, I understand those who might wonder about our motivation for packing a few suitcases and moving to Ecuador’s coast nearly 18 months ago. While politics and the economy had definitely impacted our lives, our reasons for seeking a life outside the United States had nothing to do with political disagreement.
On Tuesday, I will open my Ecuadorian bank account. No big deal; just a savings account with an ATM card. So, why am I so excited? When we arrived in San Vicente, Ecuador nearly 18 months ago, my wife Diane and I were as prepared as we were able to be, which is to say: we had a lot to learn! We had done our best to get ready for our transition, while attending to the myriad tasks necessary when making an international move.
Our journey to Ecuador started a few years ago. First the bottom fell out of the U.S. economy...and the equity in our home vanished in a few months. Then I had my second heart attack and lost my job—just about the time that retirement was looming.