No More Stress: Living Healthy and Happy in Cotacachi

B.J. McNally knew it was time for big changes in her life when John, her husband of 48 years, nearly fell face-first into a plate of food after they had gone hiking in a state park in Wisconsin. That was the day they both knew John had to stop working 13-hour days at his hospital facilities management job and concentrate on his health. “He was working himself to death,” B.J. says. It was time to retire.

B.J., a successful financial manager, had saved enough for a decent retirement fund, but after the stock market crash in 2008, knew that she and John wanted to live in a place where they could live off their Social Security checks, and not touch their principal. Retiring abroad seemed the economical choice. After extensive research, they decided on an exploratory trip to Ecuador.

After a couple of visits, they found their new home in Cotacachi, a small indigenous community north of Ecuador’s capital city, Quito. The town is straddled by two volcanos, Imbabura and Cotacachi, lending spectacular views. It’s a tourist town known for its tiendas (shops) filled with the aroma of naturally tanned leather, selling purses, jackets, wallets, shoes…all things leather.

B.J. felt it was the perfect small town with the amenities and infrastructure of a much larger city. “It has great internet, reliable power, lots of WiFi hot spots, and a Tia (a large supermarket chain),” adds John. It also has a hospital just 30 minutes away in nearby Ibarra, and is close to the Quito airport, which allows the McNallys to get back to the States to visit their two children easily.

They also found their dream home, in the form of a Mediterranean/Tuscany-style condo on the edge of town, with Mexican tile and hardwood floors. It looks out on a beautifully landscaped garden complete with a small pond, where ducks float by. “They say rent for a year before you buy, but this was exactly what we wanted,” says John. They purchased the condo with stunning views of the nearby mountains during preconstruction, which allowed them to pick their finishes.

The McNallys joined the governmental socialized medical program, IESS, and pay around $168 for coverage for both of them, but pay for most of their expenses out of pocket because the healthcare runs approximately 80% lower than the States. IESS is reserved for emergencies or hospital stays, if needed. It came in handy when, in 2014, John suffered a heart attack and ended up in the Metropolitan Hospital in Ibarra, 30 minutes away.

“All the toll booths in Ecuador have an ambulance on the wayside. We jumped in a friend’s car, and when we got to the toll booth I was put in the ambulance and taken to the nearest hospital,” says John. With good luck, John didn’t need invasive surgery, instead finding he was dehydrated, but required a six-day hospital stay. “My bill in the hospital came to $3,600 including food, physical therapy, doctors, lab work, and the hospital stays. Wilson, our maintenance guy, went with us to translate,” he adds.

“The medical care was excellent. The doctors spend any length of time it takes to review your exams and to listen to your concerns. It’s way better here because there are no layers to the healthcare. If you want to see a specialist, you just make your own appointment and it only costs $30,” adds John.

They also found the year-round spring-like weather fits their active lifestyle. Since they consider themselves athletic, but not necessarily joiners, they found they could have the privacy they craved but could join in activities when they wanted. “We enjoy each other’s company. I like the quiet, so I can read,” says B.J. “But we also enjoy other people.”

Both B.J. and John love taking advantage of all the activities around town. “There’s pickleball, basketball pickup games, a couple of gyms… A facility with tai chi, yoga, chi gung, and a group here that meditates. There’s hiking groups, birding clubs, free Zumba classes,” B.J. says.

“If I want to get involved in a poker game once a week, play canasta or go birding, there’s a wealth of activities you can find in The List and other local e-newsletters,” adds John.

The McNallys have come a long way from working long hours and risking their health, and have traded a busy, stressful life to take time to lead a healthy lifestyle. They credit their move to giving them a place where they can regain their health, have fun exploring, and have fun playing like school kids with friends.

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