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Ecuador – Permanent or Temporary Move


I took a hiatus from writing specifically about Cuenca, Ecuador because I have been mulling over whether our family trip this summer will be a permanent versus a temporary move.  I have always been a “just do it” kind of gal, and I find the leap before you think approach to life very invigorating.  So why am I becoming more hesitant as the weeks roll past?

Because being on vacation is like being drunk at a party – your normal walls and insecurities come down, your hair is loose (be it yours or store-bought) and your soul is free and open.  Then you return home and after a few weeks of the normal routine, that vacation feel starts to wear-off.   That said, the best quick-fix solution I have come up with for reminding me why I am considering making this trip a more permanent move, is a visit to any McDonald’s between the hours of 8:30-10:00 am.

Is it the incredibly gross “beef” products they sell?  No. Is it the $1  any size coffee? No.  It’s all of the older, retired Americans who have made McDonald’s the new hotspot.  Yes people, if you are in your 70s and 80s and looking for a vibrant social scene of your peers….McDonald’s is the spot!!

This is both an interesting and distressing fact, depending on where the McDonald’s is located.  If in the wealthier suburbs, then you see groups playing cards, bingo, and being rather jolly. However, if in an urban or lower social economic center,  well then the scene is just depressing.

Depressing, because it is so clear that so many there simply crave human connection. Another person to hear their voice and know that they exist.  They sit and complain about the family members who no longer care about them, the friends who are awaiting open heart surgery, the medications they take, their aches and pain, their past glories, and the latest in local politics. It is depressing because their communion with the world happens for the few hours they are within the overly fried, mass-produced confines of Micky D’s.  Then it is back to home.

Now…granted, I am under forty, so bingo at Micky D’s is a way off…but it reminds me of how wonderful it is to live in a place where age is considered a privilege and not a purgatory, where friends and neighbors are family and your life is filled with the sight and sounds of young people (if you so choose). It reminds me that there are so many beautiful places and people to experience in this world and I am very blessed to have the opportunity to explore it.

So, we are looking forward to making Ecuador our home for a while and really learning about the country, its history, and its people.  We are looking forward to getting really good with our Spanish, growing our base of wonderful friends, and continuing to live a life rich in adventure, communion, love and laughter.

Yup, this a permanent move for us…well, about at permanent as we get.


Cuenca Day 1 – In the land of English


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The “In the Land of English” postings primarily deal with the expats and other visitors that we meet here in Cuenca.  The primary reason for this is that, generally speaking, Ecuadorians do not speak English.

My initial observations are:

  1. Yes, there is a large English speaking community here, primarily made up of retires from the United States and Canada.  Because the general population here is Spanish speaking, the English population can be a bit insular.  This is great if you do not want to attempt to learn a new language or essentially want to live an “American” life in Cuenca with North American friends. But, real interaction with the larger community requires some Spanish knowledge.
  2. Most of the Americans (even Ecuadorians call us “Americans”, and that lumps in the Canadians as well) that live and visit here, because they tend to be retired, are over 60. As an under 40 in the English community, I am definitely a “young-un” here. That said, everyone is welcome.

We are staying at the Hotel Apartamentos Otorongo, which is an apartment complex of 15 units, that primarily caters to expats (and its perfect for families). Click here to see my post on Hotel Otorongo. 

Why are so many American people here? 

On the one hand, it is to seek a new lifestyle in a fascinating and “exotic” place, with others who are culturally similar and like-minded. The weather here is temperate, ranging from warm in the day to chilly in the evenings and early mornings (think late May, early October in the upper Midwest US), the cost of living is very very inexpensive, and Ecuadorians are generally very nice, calm, friendly people. In addition, for families in particular, this is a wonderful place to raise children.  So, in essence, foreigners come here because it  has an attractive pull.

On the other hand, others come here to escape the life and lifestyle they are living back home.  They are running away from reduced buying power due to lower pensions and retirement checks, they are running from politics they do not agree with, and they are running from the fear of what will become of them in their old age. In search of a community to be a part of, especially if one is alone or not especially close to family, this desire creates its own push for Americans to look outside of North America (ex Mexico) for a new home.

One irony is that there are some, possibly many, who come to Ecuador because of significantly lower healthcare and prescription costs, yet, disparage “Obamacare” and the “rise” of socialism in the US.  That view is completely contradictory, because one of the primary reasons pensioners look to Cuenca, in particular, is because the medical costs at home are exorbitant.

In the land of English there is a lot of camaraderie.  At our apartment, neighbors visit with each other constantly and plan many activities together. They also look after each other in a way that is missing at home….kind of a Little House on the Prairie, my neighbor is my friend way. This is excellent.

Some of my Canadian neighbors commented that it seemed like “the Americans come to Cuenca to die”…..I thought that was so depressing.  But after thinking about it for two days, I think that is a positive fact.  Americans choose Cuenca because, for many, it represents an ideal existence and they would not want to return to the US.  If I found a city/town that I felt was a perfect fit for me and I never wanted to leave…then essentially I am saying this is the place I would want to spend my life and die in.  So essentially, what was initially a very depressing comment…held a truism that was absolutely positive.

So on this first day, my time in English language was spent saying hello to the neighbors and having deep discussions with Canadians about the negatives of the US and Canada.  Interesting!

African-Americans – The Retirement Challenge


Now I am going to make a statement that may be controversial to some, but it rings true nonetheless. The retirement challenge for many in the black community is one of exuberant overconfidence.   How many times have we overheard our friends and family dream aloud about their plans for retirement?  Yet, how many times are we realistic about planning for that life?  In our discussions, we are relatively confident that we will meet our retirement goals and our families will be taken care of…but we are paralyzed by inaction.

This notion was proved out in a 2011 study by Prudential called, ‘The African-American Financial Experience’ (click here).  According to the report, the retirement challenges for black people in the United States can be summed up as follows:

  • We are very confident about achieving our dreams but many of us do not take the tangible steps toward reaching those dreams, such as creating a plan, actively saving, or working with a financial professional.
  • We may participate in employer based retirement programs but we contribute less often and draw on our retirement plans more frequently to cover immediate expenses, thus accumulating less wealth over the same amount of time as others.
  • We neither plan to be the givers or beneficiaries of inheritance. So a smaller percentage of us execute wills, plan our estates, or participate in IRAs.

Okay, so we have laid out the broader challenges…but is it all doom and gloom?  As a consummate optimist, my answer is a loud and resounding, “Of course not!”  No matter your income, your job or family situation, or your age, we can all take actions today that will move us closer to the expectations we have about our later years.

  1. Create a will and get it notarized. Now let me state, I am not an attorney and I do not purport to provide legal advice.  All I am saying is, get your affairs in order today, so your family will not have to suffer indignity later. And if you have no family, there is always a charitable cause that could benefit.  Also, make sure  someone other than yourself has a copy of whatever document you end up with…or at least make sure they know where to find it and they have access.
  2. Do not just commit to making contributions to a retirement plan (at work or through an IRA) – actually make the contributions on a regular basis.  The power of compounding interest means that over time even $20 per month is worth significantly more than irregular, small payments or no payments. Consider that money untouchable.
  3. Create a realistic plan for achieving your goals.  Consider where you are today and what you can realistically accomplish toward that plan in this month, this year, over the next 5 years, etc.  Then do it!  We may or may not all retire as millionaires, but with a plan AND action, you can be comfortable.

Over-confidence and inaction cause the death of dreams. 

 So stop dreaming and start doing.