I’ve just returned to Ecuador from a two-week spell in the U.S. and I’m still processing the experience. It was fabulous to see family again and connect with co-workers, but my time there was not quite as I expected. This was my first time back in three years and prior to my trip I kept thinking to myself that I was “going home.” But as it turns out I wasn’t as at home back in my mother country as I had imagined.
You see, Ecuador has changed me in ways I never could have imagined and I’m a much different person than I was in 2011 it appears.
My first stop was Las Vegas for a recent International Living conference. The conference was fabulous and I loved chatting with potential expats and helping answer all of those big questions that need to be asked before an international move. But, in my downtime I began to notice some differences in myself.
To start, I found during my first nights away, that I missed seeing the stars. While the lights of the Las Vegas strip are a sight to see, it never truly gets dark in Vegas. I longed for my view from quiet Cotacachi where millions of celestial bodies are visible on a clear evening from the middle of the world. It may seem trivial, but I felt out of place surrounded by man-made replicas of world wonders, when typically I sleep right in the midst of the real thing.
It turns out that I’m also no longer content to stroll through my life while having little if any contact with the people around me. Las Vegas is a big city with an even bigger reputation, but despite the millions of people roaming the streets alongside me I felt surprisingly alone and isolated. I longed for Ecuador’s streets full of friendly faces, where no one is a stranger, and where it’s not unusual to have a nice long chat with the person next to you on the bus or in line at the supermarket. Ecuador and her people have morphed my formerly introverted persona into that of a social extrovert.
Speaking of personality changes I also found that Ecuador has coaxed me into a state of tranquility that I never possessed while living the American lifestyle. After the conference, I set out on a road trip to see some of my family members. Due to a glitch (read user error) with Google Maps, what should have been a 13-hour drive from Las Vegas to Denver turned into a 22-hour, back-road adventure.
If this had occurred just a few years earlier my blood pressure would have gone sky high and there may or may not have been a few choice words thrown out in a tirade or two. Not this time. These days I’m the picture of serenity. You might wonder how one little country could mellow me out, but it’s really not hard to understand.
In Ecuador I have almost no stress. I still work for a living, I still have a family to tend to, and there are responsibilities to be met. But, thanks to the easy style of living in Latin America my tensions have melted away.
Superb public transportation systems and towns centered on pedestrians mean that I don’t have to worry about driving, traffic, or vehicle maintenance. Life is based on the here and now and priority goes to spending time with family and friends. All of this means that if I’m running a few minutes late to an appointment because I stopped to chat with one of the many friends I bumped into on the way, it’s not a tragedy. In fact, in Ecuador very little is considered catastrophic because there’s always tomorrow or the next day or the day after that to get things done. Life is not rushed, it is enjoyed.
Time away from the U.S. saves me from stress, but it also saves me money, too. A doctor’s visit will set you back around $10, while a main course in a restaurant can be had for as little as $2.50. The bus trip from Cotacachi to Otavalo will cost you 25 cent. For big ticket items like real estate, you can get a lot more for your dollar here than in the U.S. A couple can live well here on $1,400 a month, including rent.
I was astounded at the possession-driven market in the States. Ecuador is not a consumerist society and while I can find and buy nearly anything I want here, it turns out that I don’t need to. I’m not bombarded with advertising or big-box stores packed wall to wall and floor to ceiling full of stuff. And so my life has become far simpler.
So now I’m back in Cotacachi with a cup of tea and my laptop while a much-appreciated shower of rain is falling from the heavens. It’s well into autumn in the northern hemisphere and I’m hearing talk of snow from friends. But here in Ecuador, despite the rainy weather, I’m perfectly comfortable in jeans and a long-sleeved shirt—just as I was in August and in January and in every other month of the year. No heating bills, no cooling bills, and no winter wardrobe make for a happy life in my book.
So, no, I guess I didn’t return home when I flew into the United States, but I’m definitely home now.
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