As I look outside at all the beautiful plants and flowers, the ocean, the mountains, the birds, butterflies and geckos surrounding our home, I can’t help but feel mountains of gratitude for the life we have created. Years ago my husband John and I set a goal, one which we worked towards with determination, perseverance, and faith.
25 years ago, John and I started searching for the ideal retirement haven, even though we weren’t ready to retire. We traveled to many countries that were deemed to be beautiful tropical oases. Many of them were, but in doing our research, we developed a checklist of criteria that we wanted to meet in order for us to invest in an escape from the frigid Western Canadian winters. It took us a lot of years, many travel miles, and even more research to stumble onto a country that resonated with us. That country was Ecuador.
Fast forward to 2010. John and I decided to take a cruise to the Galapagos, then go on real estate tours all over the country in order to see and feel the different areas of the country. We liked each place we toured, but fell in love with the Ecuadorian coast. Bahía de Caráquez, which was a nice town with some infrastructure and a lot of possibilities for growth and development, was our choice. We ended up buying a condo in an unbuilt building, which in retrospect was a huge leap of faith, but with the promise of being able to design our own spacious open concept dream home that overlooked the Pacific Ocean as well as the Chone River. That was 11 years ago. Bahía had some smaller hardware and grocery stores, and a wonderful “mercado” with a plethora of colourful fruits and vegetables, fish, seafood, chicken, cheese, eggs, bread. But when it came to buying things like air conditioning units, ceiling fans, decent light fixtures and other such things, we would hire a driver to take us to Manta or Portoviejo which were each about an hour and a half away. If one of the cities didn’t have what we needed, the driver would take us to the other city. We would leave early in the morning, and return after dark at night, exhausted and frustrated with the lack of products and materials we were used to in Canada. Nice things that were imported were expensive yet the beautiful fresh fruits, vegetables, seafood, chicken were extremely underpriced and bountiful.
Our dream condo was eventually ready for occupancy. I must admit, there were many times we questioned why we were doing this. Many times we were disappointed by workers who didn’t show up or who took money and then vanished. But there were just as many times when workers did show up and got the job done. We learned how to give a deposit, get things in writing, and have people translate for us, as our Spanish was almost nonexistent. We started shifting our focus to the people whose country we were living in, and to their culture. Although many of the people had little money, their riches were their families. These hard working folks were happy to help us with whatever we needed. We were foreigners in their beautiful country and we wanted to learn from the people, to understand the culture and traditions, to be able to speak with them, to find out more about their lives and their families.
Most of the Ecuadorian people worked Monday to a half day Saturday. But Sunday was the magic day, my favourite day of the week. I would watch the families enjoying the beach, building sand castles with discarded plastic glasses and take out containers, and playing with their kids in the shallow water. There would always be a soccer game, often a mix of young and old alike. Laughter and smiles abounded, the love and admiration for each other shone through. What these people had was richer and more valuable than any fancy house or car or toys or electronic devices. My thoughts would turn to Canada and the contrasting lifestyles. How most parents spent little time with their kids, substituted it with iPads and other fancy toys and devices. I would think of privileged kids who whine because they didn’t get the latest and greatest electronic device or article of clothing. That was the beginning of my love and total respect for these people.
Over the years, we’ve made many fabulous friends in Bahía and the surrounding area, people we would have otherwise never met in a million years. The expat community, a melting pot of people from all walks of life and corners of the earth, became involved in helping with different projects involving mainly children, particularly at Christmas. The need was great and over time, the community support increased. The feeling of contributing to a greater cause makes the soul sing. And it’s catchy!
The next chapter in our Ecuadorian adventure took us south to Puerto Cayo, to pursue our dream of building a house on the beach. Our construction Spanish was pretty good by this time, however the challenges of building were still present. Gaining more friends from the area, using referrals by others, our dream home eventually became a reality. We had tough times, and good times. We value the craftsmen, most of whom took pride in their work, and feel rich with so many meaningful relationships with both expats and South Americans.
Our life in Ecuador is special, yet we have a large family as well as friends scattered across Canada and the U.S. Unfortunately, they aren’t able to visit us as much as we would all like. Consequently, we split our time between Ecuador and Canada. It’s a bit of a hassle going back and forth, but each home is beautiful in its own right. John and I are blessed with excellent friends who look after our homes for us in our absence. And great professionals to help us with our lives!
In the past decade, John and I have learned many valuable lessons here in Ecuador. Creature comforts are nice to have, however we cherish our relationships with people the most. We’re foreigners in a country whose people are kind and generous, we honour Ecuador and the people, the environment and the incredible biodiversity of this small country. Gratitude and humility are the words that sum up how we feel. We are truly honoured to live here and be part of this fabulous community of expats.
Author: Darlene Blackett