Finding Freedom in Ecuador

Someone asked me recently what I liked most about living in Cuenca, Ecuador. My wife Cynthia and I have been here for over six years and, honestly, coming up with an answer wasn’t easy because there are a lot of things we like about our hometown.

After giving the question some thought, I think the best part of our life in Cuenca can be summed up in one word: freedom.

When we left the U.S. our financial picture was not pretty. Both of our high-paying jobs had been eliminated, employment opportunities were nonexistent, and our retirement nest egg was shrinking by the day.

We could have chosen to “keep on keeping on,” hoping that with diligence and perseverance we would right our capsized financial boat and get back on course. But what if after years of effort it didn’t turn out that way?

Instead we decided to find someplace abroad with a lower cost of living but not a lower standard of living. And for us that was Cuenca, Ecuador.

Today those concerns about money have disappeared. We reside in a beautiful two-story, penthouse apartment (often decorated with fresh flowers), have gym and yoga studio memberships, and eat out often. We even have a weekly housekeeper.

Who knew that we could enjoy this level of freedom on our Social Security incomes?

And then there’s the amazing joy of free time. We get up and go to bed whenever we want, and do as we choose in between. Reading, writing, exercising, socializing, and, yes, napping (the siesta is the easiest part of Latin American culture to embrace) are all woven into the daily fabric of our lives.

But that could be true for any retired couple anywhere. What makes Cuenca special is its manageable size. Friends who live in small towns in Ecuador have to drive or take a bus to a larger city if they want to visit a medical specialist or a large supermarket. While our capital Quito, with a population that is pushing 3 million, is too crowded for our liking.

Everything our daily life requires is within a 15-minute stroll from our home—doctors, groceries, restaurants, coffee shops, cinemas, parks—you name it. And we can visit friends on the other side of the city by taxi in the same amount of time for a $2.50 fare.

We’re certainly not the only expats in Cuenca enjoying life to the fullest. Many are exploring interests they always put off in the past. Some have opened restaurants and businesses. Others have discovered ways to earn a little extra spending money sharing their expertise (a little goes a long way when a couple can live well here for $1,500 to $2,000 a month).

As I walked to the gym this morning I thought back to the unbearable stress Cynthia and I bore before we moved to Cuenca. Now here I was, outside on a beautiful sunny day without a care in the world.

I am free, and it feels great.

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