Five years ago, I was at a crossroads. My parental caregiving came to a natural conclusion, I was in my early 50s and, by this time in life, I knew the importance of “living while you are living.” Back then I was working long hours as a healthcare executive. It was meaningful work, but another life was calling to me.
What did I really want to do? My answer: travel, write, play music, and dance. These were the “must-haves” in my life going forward.
I left my job and accepted a one-year Business Lecturer position at an international college in China, fulfilling a long-time personal dream. There, I met colleagues from all over the world, including two Americans who were starting a business in Cotacachi, Ecuador. I’d never heard of the place but it sounded intriguing. So, I accepted their invitation to come soon for an extended visit.
What I discovered in Cotacachi was fresh air, friendly locals, inexpensive living, a relaxed pace, and the chance to try out Spanish. More than that, I found a thriving expat writers group, easy-going salsa dance lessons, and a natural high from hiking next to sky-blue crater lakes.
My first visit of two months was only enough to get me started. This place had everything on my wish list and I was hooked. The pleasure of watching the daily “goat parade” on the street as the herd returned to its home each afternoon, and going to the Sunday morning indigenous mercado (market) were priceless extras.
The following spring, I scheduled a second two-month stay, this time renting a room with a local family that I had met in dance class during my first visit. They offered room and board for $300 a month. I jammed with expat musicians on weekends and had fun meeting even more friends in Spanish classes on weekday afternoons.
I returned to the U.S. one more time to prepare for the big move. A few months later I returned to Ecuador for good—I was officially an expat.
For a budget of $1,200 a month, I live my dream lifestyle in Cotacachi. I spend $350 for rent, $500 for food (which includes a lot of eating out), and $350 for dance lessons, entertainment, and occasional weekend explorations. Sometimes I might go wild and splurge for a $15-an-hour massage or $5 manicure. I don’t have Social Security or a pension yet, so I’m using some savings along with some money I make writing to finance my life here. What a joy to pay so little for so much freedom.
Shortly after I moved to Cotacachi, I went to hear some local live music in Otavalo, a city of 90,000 that is a 15-minute, 35-cent bus ride away from my new home. (Being car-free is another bonus and certainly a money saver.) During the first set, seeing me smiling and tapping along with the rhythms, a band member called to me in the audience and asked, “Are you by chance a musician?” It was a sign.
By the next evening I became part of the act. We spend hours practicing and after gigs we share meals and stories. “You’re one of us,” my new friends tell me, promising that after one year here I will be proficient in Spanish. They introduced me to their families (a very special treat) and have even taken me dancing where the locals go.
What’s on your wish list? If it includes economical living, a friendly atmosphere, and a chance to freely pursue your passions, you just might find it in Ecuador. You’ll also be in luck, like I was, if you want to write, play music, or dance.