Small town USA has been a coveted notion since the days when Andy Taylor and Barney Fife graced our television screens. Though a fictional setting, Mayberry wasn’t too different from other small towns at that time.
It was a place where neighbors knew one another, where folks came to each other’s aid in times of need, and where children could roam the streets without fear.
Today’s world is quite a bit different. Small towns still exist, but in this age of social media, 80-hour work weeks, and interpersonal disconnect, most of these locales have lost their charm.
But I’ve managed to find that retro, small-town vibe again here in Cotacachi, Ecuador. The town itself has only 8,000 or so residents so it’s not large to begin with. And the locals are extremely welcoming, friendly, and helpful. It’s a safe place where my kids can walk through the streets without being bothered and everyone you meet says hello.
What I didn’t expect to find though was such a great sense of community amongst the other expats. They are after all primarily North Americans who were once a part of that same fast-paced, can’t-be-bothered-with-others environment that I was looking to escape. But it seems that many of them were looking for the same thing that I was.
Even though we all enjoy our ability to eat out for under $5 a head, our $1 cab rides through town, and our mitten-less wardrobes, the real reason for our move here is more about lifestyle than economy. As it turns out the majority of us are here looking for a simpler life, for the chance to be involved in our community, and to be of use to others.
Make no mistake, we’re all still human. We have our flaws, our idiosyncrasies, and baggage just like any other member of the planet. But we all share a similar outlook on life and that makes our little expat populace tighter and more close-knit than any other small group of residents I’ve been a part of.
When a single retired expat woman fell and broke her shoulder several months ago, the response was immediate and great. People volunteered to visit her in the hospital, bring her meals when she returned home, and provide other services that she needed until healed. This wasn’t just a small group of her close friends—these included people who had never before met her.
When my son, a budding musician, decided to take piano lessons and earn money to buy his own keyboard, the community support was overwhelming. Justin has been making and selling cupcakes to fund his musical education and he has been inundated with orders. No doubt many of these folks are craving a fresh-baked dessert, but they all are also happy to back a young entrepreneur.
The generosity and kindness doesn’t stop there either. Nearly every expat I know is involved in the community in some way. There are folks who volunteer at the local schools, there are those giving English lessons to young Ecuadorians, some give their attention to the local animal rescue foundation, and that’s only a few of the ways that people are giving of their time, money, and talents.
So while Cotacachi has its high points—inexpensive living, idyllic weather, and gorgeous scenery—it’s the people who make me happy to call this my home.
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