Why Ecuador Beats California

Cut down coconut bunch with machete. Put one or two coconuts in the fridge to get cold. Cut a hole in the top of the coconut. Insert straw…

This routine is part of my daily life on the north central coast of Ecuador. My husband Ron and I live in the small fishing village of El Matal near the town of Jama and drink fresh coconut water daily—from our very own coconut trees. El Matal happens to be the setting for the award-winning film Pescador by Sebastian Cordero, but to us it’s just home.

We never dreamed of retiring early to such a life, but we have fallen in love with it—the simplicity, the beauty, the climate, the people, and a way of life the locals call tranquilo.

We are expats from Southern California who wanted to retire early, but could not bring ourselves to venture far from the ocean and the warm weather. But retiring on the coast of California was out of our realm of possibilities. The coast of Ecuador captured our attention in 2008 and in 2011, we made the leap.

Here in El Matal we have a unique situation: a beach too beautiful for words with hardly anyone on it—okay, a couple of cows saunter by on occasion, but scant few people on the whole. The concept of a rural beach sounds like a paradox. Don’t beaches this beautiful boast of high-rises and crowds of tourists?

Not this one. And with fingers crossed, we hope it stays this way for a long time.

Such a rural setting is not for everyone. Cities offer convenience, shopping, amenities, and social stimulation. We do enjoy our visits to cities. But we are quiet people who love nature, so for putting down roots, we chose the rural end of the spectrum. We prefer to wake up, not to city noise, but to the rhythmic sounds of the sea and the whistle of blackbirds in the coconut trees.

On sunny days the warm, turquoise water reminds us of the Caribbean. On cloudy days the cooler temperatures attract large flocks of pelicans. We live according to the tides. Every day is different like the sea.

Aren’t we bored? On the contrary, we’re busy and active—sometimes too much so. We teach online and write and practice our Spanish when we’re not walking the beach on the hunt for shells and pre-Columbian pottery.

We chose Ecuador for its natural beauty and low cost. We have found both. Our cost of living is a fifth of that in Southern California. But we do, by choice, live a simple life. We don’t even own a car! (Southern Californians without a car? Another paradox). For me, this means grocery shopping in the nearby town of Jama by means of “moto-taxi”—settling back on the red-cushioned seat of an open-air cab while enjoying the sight of fishermen working their nets, vistas of green hills arching up in the distance, and serene shrimp ponds dotted with ducks and snowy egrets.

Making the transition from urban California to rural Ecuador was no easy matter. At times we questioned our sanity. But the Ecuadorian locals are always there to help. And there are other expats—a growing number, even here in El Matal—among whom we find mutual support. I’m not saying that we don’t continue to face challenges and frustrations, but as we near the three-year anniversary of our life in Ecuador, we feel grateful beyond measure to have found such a place as El Matal to call home.

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