The dense jungle thinned a bit as I approached the first river. I shifted into a lower gear and locked my rugged, 30-year-old Daihatsu into four-wheel drive. The rutted, muddy trail fought to yank the steering wheel from my grasp as I pitched and rolled my way up the slippery incline. I could feel the front tires digging and clawing through the muck as a soft rain fell.
I was on my way to visit with friends in the northern Manabi province of Ecuador; the owners of a very unique, sustainable organic farm a few miles deeper into the lush tangle.
My wife Diane and I had retired to Ecuador’s northern coast about a year before, escaping the economic recession in the U.S. and building a new life from scratch. Our research had shown us that there were a number of places on the planet where we could live a great life on our modest retirement income. And we had selected Ecuador.
We had a beautiful furnished condo with lush landscaping, air conditioning, two pools, and a housekeeper. Our expenses were just under $1,500 per month, all in, including regularly dipping into savings. We were enjoying a much higher quality of life for those dollars in Ecuador than would have been possible in the U.S.
I shifted gears and crested the hill, knowing that the trail ahead only became worse, when movement in the dense brush to my right caught my eye. I could just make out some kind of animal when a smallish, dark-colored jungle cat slinked across the trail directly in front of me. It was stunning. It had a large rat or maybe a small coatimundi in its mouth. I had eyes-on contact for only two or three seconds and I snapped quick mental images of what I saw.
Turns out, that beautiful cat was a Jaguarundi, a unique species of jungle cat found in South and Central America. I had driven this trail a dozen times without ever seeing one before that moment. It was a truly awesome experience.
My mental image of that gorgeous, wild jungle cat will be with me forever. It’s burned into my mental hard drive. Family aside, my favorite mental snapshots have come from my life as an expat. I have accumulated thousands of images and experiences that would not have happened without making the decision we made to move abroad; Diane dancing with the locals in a small village square at midnight on New Year’s eve…the spectacular, colorful indigenous market in Otavalo…one string of Christmas lights on a lonely bamboo dwelling in the mountains…and so many more.
After two years in Ecuador, wanting to be closer to the U.S., we moved to Mexico’s Caribbean coast where our adventure continues and I’m adding more images to my biological hard drive.
I don’t think that any of us live our lives with the express purpose of creating memories. We join the stream and allow life’s currents to push us along, often without much effort on our part to change direction. That’s understandable. As a kayaker, I know how hard it is to paddle against the current. But sometimes, a few strong paddle strokes can deliver you to a completely different and wonderful destination; one you’d never have experienced otherwise.
Moving overseas isn’t for everyone and for those of us who have made that transition, we’ve had to paddle against the current; saying farewell to our old lives while accepting the challenges and excitement of a new life; learning new languages, and adapting to entirely different cultures with different foods, customs, and expectations.
The payoff, however, is a mental hard drive filled with snapshots and experiences unavailable to others.
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