Three years ago I was working up to 60 hours a week as a public-school teacher in San Diego, California. The stress was killing me and depleting my joie de vivre. I didn’t want to work until the day I died, so I decided to escape the hectic and unaffordable U.S.
After doing some research online, which included International Living, I moved to Cuenca at age 54. I planned to travel throughout South America, but I just loved it here, feeling no need to go farther south. Then, six months later, at age 55, my teacher’s retirement kicked in, so I could qualify for a pensionado visa, living off my retirement income.
In the U.S., I’d have had to supplement my meager pension of $1,300 by substitute teaching. Though it’s less stressful than having a full-time teaching job, my time would have been very limited. I’d have had to live in a tiny apartment and I’d have been forced to own a car. In Cuenca I live in a spacious penthouse and walk everywhere. Only rarely do I take a cab and I almost never take a bus—basically only when going to another city.
My pension allows me to live a queenly life here, but I supplement that income by doing what I love: writing books. Being an author is a dream I’ve had since grade two, when I would read books I wrote in front of my class. And living here has given me the time to write, publish, and market three books. I earn anywhere from $200 to $1,000 a month, depending on how hard I market them.
With this additional money, I’ve been able to save for trips to the U.S. and even Europe. I recently walked 500 miles on Spain’s famous pilgrimage route, the Camino de Santiago.
Cuenca is where I live my dreams. I wake up every morning when I want to. My alarm clock is just for the three or four times a year when I catch an early flight. My time is now my own. But I often get up early—the difference is, I now own my time. I relish my morning coffee while reading, glancing every now and then at the majestic view from my condo, where I can see the Cajas mountains.
In the afternoons, if not the occasional morning, I join friends hiking in scenic areas near Cuenca: the Cajas Mountains, up to the second waterfall in Girón, and various paths in Paute. There are plenty of day trips you can do from Cuenca.
In the evenings I do yoga and I often eat out, which I can afford to do several times a week. I also socialize with friends. Like many people here, I am in awe that I’ve never had so many close friends in my life! There are so many like-minded people here. We all have time to socialize now that we’re retired or at least semi-retired.
My health has also greatly improved here. I’ve lost about 15 pounds since moving here, and I am down to my high-school weight of 125 pounds. (I’m 5’4.”) I walk a lot and I can take yoga classes for only five bucks, or go to a nearby gym for $3.
Then there’s the abundance of affordable organic produce. I can get organic greens for about 30 cents, which would cost maybe 10 times that much in the U.S. I can eat at Nectar Café, which serves an organic lunch (including entrée, vegetable, salad, juice, and dessert) for only $3.
I think I’ve found my paradise. No need for any further moves! I can always save money for travels, but this is my home. I count my blessings every single day. I often feel like a slave set free and I doubt I’ll ever take my current lifestyle for granted.
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