The Happiest Expats I Know in Ecuador

Perhaps the happiest expat couple I’ve met in Ecuador came here with what fit in their suitcases and only two things that didn’t—a guitar and a fiddle. Leaving it all behind, they were free to “make their own kind of music.” And they did just that, building a new life for themselves that included putting on some toe-tappingly good music shows at local gatherings.

Leroy and Shirley didn’t end up here by chance though. Back in 2004, they saw what was happening in the States and decided they weren’t going to wait for the future—they were going to build their own.

In 2005, they investigated the possibilities in Ecuador and eventually bought a property in Vilcabamba. After returning to the States, they sold their house, packed their bags, said their goodbyes, and headed south.

Last I heard, they’ve never returned to the States, even for a visit. If family and friends want to see them, they come to  Ecuador. Those that have love it and return again and again.

Did I mention this couple was 77 and 67 years old when they moved here? No rocking chairs for these two, at least not until after they put in a hard day’s work. They built and landscaped two houses—one for themselves and another one for friends. And they really got involved, not just signing the checks. In fact, it’s how I met Leroy. Our paths crossed at the local building supply store where he was making up for his lack of Spanish with his big smile and down-home friendliness.

They were the first expats we met after moving to our home just outside of Vilcabamba back in 2007. Sadly, they moved away. Leroy began having trouble coping with Vilcabamba’s 5000-foot elevation. So they sold their house and moved to Ecuador’s coast where not only is it nearly sea level, it’s where they built their third house in Ecuador while renovating yet another! They were 80 and 70 years old at the time. While many people this age don’t buy green bananas, these two were still looking to the future… and building for it.

That’s one of the great things about moving overseas—it forces you to think ahead because most everything you knew…you just left behind. Stay put, especially in a place you know all too well, and you don’t have to think, much less think ahead, and the temptation to live in the past literally surrounds you.

But when you move overseas, yesterday’s gone. Really gone. What’s next is what matters and what’s not does not. It may be overwhelming at first—even frustrating at times when things don’t always work “the way they should.” Just remember it’s those challenges—the grease for your brain gears—that provide you with opportunities to grow and not just grow old.

Who knows, someday someone might cross paths with you at a local building supply store and be as inspired as I was by my chance encounter with Leroy. To this day, I can’t help but smile when I remember asking him why he was still building houses at his age and he responded with this gem: “John, I build houses because I’m gonna need a nice place to live when I’m a hundred… and twenty.”

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