A New Lease on Life With a Guesthouse in Coastal Ecuador

“I’m kind of a social butterfly,” says Linda Flierl Hooks, owner of The Donkey Den Cafe and Guesthouse in Santa Marianita, Ecuador. At 71 years old, Linda’s life is socially active and satisfying. In fact, she knows almost every expat within a 20-mile radius of her ocean-view home on Ecuador’s Pacific coast, and many more down the coast and in Cuenca.

“Every week, I can spend Tuesday night at one restaurant, Wednesday at another,” says Linda. “Every Thursday a lunch here or there, and of course, back to the Donkey Den for Sunday breakfast. Throw in anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays, and life can be a non-stop party.”

After the death of her husband in 2005, Linda left her home in Florida in search of a better a life overseas. For a time, she explored Ecuador’s Andes. But after a little online research, she discovered Manta, a beach town with a central location for travel and exploring. It has an airport with regular service to the capital Quito, a regional bus station, and all of the infrastructure and shopping you would expect in a large, port city.

Linda quickly established a network of friends in Manta, and it wasn’t long before one of those friends offered to sell her a beachfront property in nearby Santa Marianita.

Santa Marianita is a small but growing beachfront community, just 20 minutes away from downtown Manta. And yet, it’s like a different world, with its beautiful and uncrowded beach, the ocean dotted with the colorful sails of windsurfers. In 2008, it was still mostly sand and a few bamboo structures, so Linda got a great deal on the property.

“I bought a 70-foot by 180-foot lot, up on a small rise on the beach for just $14,000,” says Linda. “At the time, I really had no plan.” Now that plot of land is the home of The Donkey Den Cafe and Guesthouse. In addition to being her home, Linda has eight units available for guests, four of which have full kitchens. Some of her guests stay for a night or two, while others spend a few months enjoying the beach or using it as a base while they look for their own new home in Ecuador.

Sunday mornings are special times at the Den, and one of the places where being a social butterfly is good for business. Typically, expats from the Manta region all descend on the Den for a full American-style breakfast. “We can have as many as 20 or more expats here for Sunday breakfast—it’s a terrific way to network,” says Linda.

Recently Linda has discovered a new way to help keep costs down. She has been offering a volunteer plan to youths from around the world who are looking to experience Ecuador. “Usually they are in the 20- to 30-year-old range, and we’ve had kids from South America, England, Germany, even Japan,” says Linda.

Volunteers are given a bed and breakfast in exchange for providing five hours of work each day. Linda says “they usually are here three weeks or more, and most of them stay in touch after they move on.”

Linda loves socializing with her guests and neighbors and is thankful for the fun, social lifestyle she found in Ecuador. When asked if she has any advice for retirees considering a move overseas, she says “they should take a look around at their lives, and if you’re not happy, came to Ecuador and try it. What have you got to lose?”

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