John Brenner, a Minnesotan in his late 50s, was traveling in South America looking for a new place to live. The next leg of his trip was from Bogotá, Colombia to Lima, Peru. He was joined by three others, also Lima bound, whom he had met in the Bogotá hostel where he stayed. After an all-night bus ride they reached Ecuador's border, where they crossed on foot. Once in Ecuador the four had a stroke of luck.
Not long ago, I received a note from a high-school friend I haven't seen in many decades. "Did you follow a dream to South America?" he asked. "Yes," I replied, "but I'm not finished. I'm still following my dreams." The thing is, I don't know where my dreams will take me. I have a very full bucket list of places I want to visit. Who knows how long I might be seduced into staying in any one of them?
In much of Panama, sultry tropical days average 88F...but there are places where you can experience more temperate weather. Think mild and breezy—up to 10 degrees cooler (or more, when the sun's not out). Places where rain will be your biggest concern...where there's no hail, or snow, or hurricanes either. The most popular is the mountain town of Boquete, located in the Province of Chiriquí.
It is Christmas morning, and my wife Cynthia and I are celebrating the joyous occasion with our daughter’s family in New Jersey. Tomorrow we fly to North Carolina to do it all over again in the home of our son. When we moved to Cuenca, Ecuador three and a half years ago we had no grandchildren. In the space of 19 short months we experienced our own private “baby boom” and today we have three (and counting?).
Back when my husband and I started to have children, a dear friend began giving us beautiful Christmas village houses every year to collect and someday pass on to our children. Every year, as we unpacked the village, one building at a time, we would imagine what it would be like in a place like it. We would place the china characters carefully, connect the cobblestone paths, and talk about what the crunch of the snow sounded like on Christmas Eve. When it was set up perfectly, we would turn out the lights and the amber glow would pour from the windows and lanterns casting an ethereal radiance befitting the holiday season.
Alfredo and Yvonne Villoria were just another fast-paced, career-minded couple in Los Angeles. But money-making wasn't enough. "We felt that something was missing," says Yvonne. "In 1976, we decided that 1980 was the cut-off year. In 1980, we would leave the United States. All we were doing was chasing the dollar. We wanted more. We thought there had to be more to life than just working and owning things.
The cost of elective procedures such as dental and cosmetic surgery is cheaper in these four countries than in the U.S., even when you take the cost of travel into account.
"Don't worry, you won't have a problem finding a place to stay," said my friend as we drove into General Villamil Playas (commonly just called "Playas"), the closest beach town to Guayaquil. "The hotels here never fill up." He should know. He owns a condo in Playas and drives there easily in just over an hour from his home in Guayaquil to spend weekends and holidays at this beach town on Ecuador's southern coast, named by some as the "sunniest beach" in the country.
Photography was always my passion. But I hesitated making it my "job" because I did not want to ruin the joy it brought me. I was one of those people that thought art was a hobby, not something that could sustain me. So I went off to college, got a Bachelor of Science (in psychology, sociology, and anthropology), and emerged into the "real world" with a career in social services.
"Sometimes we just shake our heads in disbelief that we actually own a home right on the beach in one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever seen," Paula Irvin says. "It’s absolutely amazing!" Hummingbirds zip around the bright-red feeder hanging from the balcony. "They always come at this time—just as the sun begins to dip into the ocean and the other birds start calling to each other a goodnight song," says Paula. Paula and her husband Randy blissfully watch this evening routine...