I’m Bill Stanley, and along with Caroline Belfour, my wife of six years, we moved to Olón in April 2019. We were studying for a future move for several years beforehand and even spent our first anniversary in Montanita, dreaming that we may relocate to Ecuador one day. Everytime we made a short list of potential locations, Ecuador came out on top. We knew we wanted to be close to the beach, and we had already visited before and loved it.
Caroline and I were both lifelong hospitality workers. She was a bartender/server, and I had been a DJ since 1975, working in clubs since 1982. Naturally, we wanted to live close to our work, and for us that was Dallas’ city center. For years, we lived in a cool, slowly gentrifying area that was a ten minute drive to work. Living in a more affordable suburb was just not practical because of her double/split shifts and my late hours, with highways being very dangerous for driving home at such hours.
The timing of my eligibility for Social Security, and the awarding of a fairly large settlement to my siblings and I after a years long court battle couldn’t have been better if we planned it. My neighborhood of fifteen years was going through a radical change with the modest homes of musicians, servers, first- generation immigrant families, and the like, being rapidly displaced by condos designed for the influx of tech workers following their employers to Texas. Suddenly, we couldn’t afford to live anywhere within twenty miles of the area we were both employed. We had money then, but it would not have lasted in the expensive environment that had become our beloved Dallas.
We knew we had to get out; so we decided to come back to Montañita and this time check out Olón, since we read a lot of great things about the Comuna. We allowed ourselves one week in each, but we knew we had found our new home within the first week. We celebrated our third anniversary November 29, 2018 in Olón, knowing we had decided on our new forever home. That sounds bold to say forever, but we were all in. We went back to close out our Texas life and prepare for our move, reserved a twenty foot shipping container, and took almost everything we owned! We even added to the cargo with purchases for our new condo that was multiple times larger that what we have been living in. Talking to other expats, that’s not the norm, but we have never had a problem making life changing decisions with no trepidation.
Our condo in Olón is in an urbanization that is just off the central part of town, is accessible to shopping and restaurants, and best of all, the main part of Olón’s beautiful beach. We chose our condo mainly for the location, and we are grateful we made location the number one priority. Olón was then, and now even more, a melting pot of different cultures and nationalities. It seems everyone lives their lives outside of their homes. We can make a short trip to the tienda for milk, and stop to have three or four conversations in passing with our friends, both expats and nationals.
My Spanish is still terrible, but I get by alright. This is a tourist town, so many locals know some English or have the desire to practice it. I will still plug away at Spanish, but it’s good to have a little help, and in return, I can help a bit with their English.
I describe the street life as reminding me of Mayberry from “The Andy Griffith Show.” Just like that! I mentioned restaurants, and we have plenty! There are traditional Ecuadorian dishes and ethnic dishes from all over the world! …Except Tex Mex, and Texas Barbeque. We miss those.
The expat community here really gets involved to make Olón the best. I have volunteered the use of my PA and DJ services many times for various fundraisers at the many expat hangouts, and others do what they do best, for the benefit of us all.The locals are mostly very kind and welcoming, although there is some resentment to those that move here but are resistant to accept the way things are. We moved to Olón to leave the way of life that was urban Texas, not to bring that attitude and lifestyle here and force it on the locals.
Caroline and I started a Facebook Group over two years ago called ‘Olón Life’ to help expats with info for just about everything one might need. Since the creation of the group, we have taken on the local community and now we share info with the whole northern Santa Elena province. There are now Facebook Groups similar to ours in most communities in Ecuador. These may be the best ‘on the ground’ places to research your potential move.
With our almost three years of experience living on the coast of Ecuador, I would like to share just a few recommendations.
Please don’t try to be a ‘DIY’ person in regards to any legal matters, such as visas, real estate, or almost anything dealing with a government agency. Anecdotally, for every person that has successfully obtained their visa and ‘cedulas’ (government ID cards), there are two that have wasted their time and money with multiple unsuccessful trips to the various government agencies. The rules seem to change depending on who is behind the desk. For real estate, there are many traps that we expats would never think of. Same goes for shipping. Look at the reviews and find someone that does shipping every day. Customs can wreck your life. Facilitators are there for you, use them.
Don’t assume that all expats are your friend. Just like anywhere, there will be people that you won’t get along with. The important part of this is to keep your peace and keep your differences to yourself. Many of these communities are small and the subset of expats is even smaller. I’ve seen many expats leave the area because of clashes that have been publicized with gossip. It will backfire. Don’t do it.
For some that have had purposeful work all their adult lives, retirement can be very lonely, even with your spouse with you. Always reach out and meet others here. You will find like minded expats, and that will lead to activities and new or rediscovered hobbies. The most satisfying is volunteering with the cause that you can best relate to. There are endless possibilities.
We have yet to explore all that Ecuador has to offer. I partially blame the pandemic, but we will be out soon for some exploration. Let’s sit over a drink and exchange notes when we come through your new paradise!
Author: Bill Stanley