“What do you think about Ecuador?’
The question split the silence.
My husband was intently reading an e-mail about a promotional trip to the coast of the South American country.
We had talked about leaving the United States for months. No, years. First, my husband considered pursuing his Belgian heritage by claiming citizenship. We ruled that out as a costly venture for our next act. He pondered various Caribbean islands with attractive retirement plans. We visited a few, but none beckoned to us.
With our mutual love of Latin America, we also were drawn to Costa Rica, Panama, and perhaps Brazil.
We longed for a change of scenery.
We lived in the same house in El Paso, Texas, for almost 20 years. It was now too large and silent. The children were gone. Our pets had passed away. Worse, we lost the last of eight relatives in six months – an entire generation – to a variety of diseases.
Retiring to an exciting new, affordable locale was an attractive idea. Putting adventure and wonder back into our lives as we entered the Golden Years was even more compelling.
“Sure! Why not? When do we leave?” I asked brightly.
It was time. I had just crossed over the 60 mark and my husband was entering his seventh decade. Our careers had been long, fruitful and rewarding. We launched a son into a house-flipping business and helped a daughter and her husband buy their first house. We no longer were tied to our Southwest Texas home by responsibility or routine.
We booked the promotional trip to the coast of Ecuador. Sandwiched between Peru and Venezuela, Ecuador never was on our radar. It’s one of those countries you rarely hear about. This may explain why it also is one of the most quiet and peaceful – tranquilo – as the natives often say.
Straddling the equator on South America’s west coast, Ecuador is a diverse land. The coast contains the country’s most fertile lands, producing bananas for Dole and Chiquita, and roses for worldwide export. The highlands feature snow-capped peaks as high as 20,549 feet and most of Ecuador’s volcanoes. El Oriente, or the Amazon, is composed primarily of huge national parks and native reservations, and features the largest preserves of petroleum in the country. Ecuador also includes the Galapagos Islands, the UNESCO world heritage natural site 620 miles west of the mainland in the Pacific.
Ecuador is a country of more than 16 million people, governed by democratically elected president Lenin Moreno. Shot in 1998 in a robbery attempt, the wheelchair-bound president was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012 for his advocacy for people with disabilities. When he assumed office in May 2017, Moreno became the world’s only currently serving head of state in a wheelchair.
Ecuador is beautiful. Its coastal hamlet, Salinas, was a tempting slice of life. The variety of affordable homes – from apartments to haciendas – was astounding. The ocean-front properties were priced well below our expectations, each offering seductive views of the Pacific Ocean. Near the promenade, dolphins and sea lions frolicked. In season, migratory humpback whales are a breath-taking sight. Ecuadorians were kind and helpful, curious about the new Gringos in town. But it was hot. It didn’t feel like home.
We spent days traveling from Salinas to a variety of smaller beachside communities. Montanita is the party town. Traveling back in time to the late 60s and early 70s, we were transported by the boisterous atmosphere, good food and late-night partying. There was sunlight and clean beaches and laughter. But it wasn’t home.
Quieter enclaves, like Punta Blanca and Olon north of Salinas, beckoned to us. We considered a quiet duplex near Santa Domingo, with a patio surveying the glittering ocean. Was it too remote? Without a car we would be confined to walking dirt roads and waiting for lumbering local buses. It was too quiet. It wasn’t home.
My husband and I were blessed with multiple happy addresses in our life together. Careers and opportunity drove us to four cities in 33 years, where we found comfort and safety in seven different homes. Each time we moved, we happened on a house or apartment that just felt right. Our homes were comfortable and welcoming, exuding warmth to visitors and providing the safety and comfort in which our family thrived.
Slightly discouraged, we made plans to head back to Texas. Someone suggested we stop off in Cuenca, Ecuador’s historic UNESCO World Heritage Site located high in the Andes Mountains. Not crazy about the altitude – 8200 feet – and the average 68 degree weather, I was apprehensive.
Cuenca is enchanting. Designated a historic site for its 16th and 17th century era Spanish colonial architecture, the town has a population of almost 400,000. Predominantly Spanish-speakers, we were pleasantly surprised a few attempt English.
Making our way to our hotel, we dropped our suitcases and headed out for a walk. Visiting the gorgeous green grounds of the Pumapungo Museum, we got a sense of the city’s Incan history. We learned that Panama hats are actually from Ecuador in the world-famous Homero Ortega factory. At Mirador de Turi, we experienced breath-taking vistas of the city’s Spanish, red-tiled roofs.
The second day, we discovered the central park, Parque Calderon. There, we joined sun-bronzed old men chatting on benches and velvet-skirted women selling their wares from baskets skillfully balanced on their heads.
Soaking up the dazzling sunshine and diverse culture, we sat in silence. We gazed at the brilliant blue domes of the spectacular new cathedral, completed after 90 years in 1975. Turning, we could see the “old” cathedral opposite us, a captivating stone church built in 1567.
Laughing children chased homemade tops across the crumbling, cobblestoned paths. Pungent smells wafted through the air: Freshly baked bread and garlic from restaurants blended with aromatic roses at the nearby flower market. Around us, the explosive tolling of ancient church bells shattered the quiet.
Reaching across to the sun-splashed bench to one another, we grasped hands.
We were home.