As our one year anniversary is rapidly approaching here in Ecuador, we have had enough time to assess our situation. After all, if one has been dating someone for a year, that’s generally enough time to get to know the person fairly well. Such has been our dating experience with Ecuador. To be fair, we have not seen the entire country and frankly, have no need or desire to do so. We are “coasties”. After 20+ years in Alaska, I am thoroughly indoctrinated into mountain weather patterns and chilly weather and feel no need to do that again. Diane tells me that she is perfectly content…happy in fact…where we are. It is I who feels the need for a bit of an improvement in our lifestyle.
While we haven’t seen the entire country, we have been to the Andes and while absolutely gorgeous, the weather and altitude do not suit us.In fact, we are planning a couple of trips to the high country as I write this. We have also not seen the entire Ecuadorian coast. Most of our time has been spent in and around the Bahia de Caraquez area and while it is most generally a great place to live, we have found it lacking in some significant areas that we feel are desirable and, perhaps, necessary for our long-term satisfaction. As a result, we have begun to look around for other coastal locations on the planet that may offer some of we have found missing here.
Now, before I begin to list the few but significant things that are missing for us here in the Bahia area, we fully acknowledge that our list has absolutely nothing to do with those others who find this area to be absolutely great for them. This is merely our list. We are also aware that some of what is lacking in our area is available in other, Ecuadorian coastal cities.
First on the list is the lack of good quality EMERGENCY medical care. Yes, there is very inexpensive routine care available and routine office visits seem to provide adequate care. However, the two hospitals in Bahia are not equipped to save the life of a person having a heart attack or to move quickly to remove a hematoma on the surface of the brain caused by a traffic accident. The often proclaimed notion that one can be “stabilized” and then transported to Guayaquil some 5 hours away is bunk! A heart attack is caused by a blocked blood vessel in the heart muscle. Every minute that the vessel remains blocked creates damaged heart tissue. Unblocking the vessel within 20 minutes provides the best chance for survival and recovery. No I.V. drip will accomplish that. The patient needs to get into a cardiac cath lab pronto! Impossible here and the closest cath lab is some 5 hours south in Guayaquil.
I recently spoke with a young, local physician who received his excellent medical training in Cuba. While his training was excellent, he explained that his ability to perform updated procedures and save lives here in Bahia was severely hindered by the lack of current medical technology in the local hospitals. People needlessly die here, he said, because equipment is either broken or non-existent. Oh…and on a side note, the fire department is not trained in First Aid.
YES, Cuenca, Quito and Guayaquil all have excellent hospitals so if living closer to excellent emergency medical care was our only priority, we’d simply move to one of those wonderful cities…but there’s more.
Our second reason for broadening our search for another coastal environment is that this area feels a bit too primitive for us. That has been hard to define but the best I can do is to say that it would be nice to drive down a road without regularly falling into chuckhole after chuckhole after chuckhole. The sturdy grab bar built into the front panel of our 4 wheel drive vehicle is regularly used by Diane as she is often thrown forward, backward and side-to-side as a result of the road conditions. Some roads are great for a stretch and then one will have to dodge a huge hole or….if you don’t see it in time, suffer the consequences. I know it doesn’t sound like much but a 2 hour drive can beat the tar outta’ you.
Then, there are the power outages. Yesterday’s lasted nearly 6 hours and extended deep into the night. It was hot and humid, without a breath of air moving. They don’t happen every week. Sometimes, we can go for a couple of weeks without an outage. But they are never convenient. We certainly know that power outages are a major part of living in a developing nation but it seems my patience for such development is not as great as I had imagined.
It is also a bit cumbersome to have to always “hunt” for something that you may need. Going to 3-5 different stores to find what you need is not uncommon, frequently resulting in not finding it at all. We’ve learned to make do, repair, modify and survive. This, I know is customary throughout all developing nations. It comes with the territory. This can most certainly be viewed as part of the adventure and that is how we have been viewing it. But now that I have reached my 64th year, apparently, I am not up for as much adventure as I was some years ago. I wouldn’t mind going into one store and finding what I want. I wouldn’t mind having more choices for restaurants when I felt like it.
Again, this is the situation here in the small twin communities of Bahia de Caraquez/San Vicente. I’m certain that the larger cities have fewer of these problems but we are not big-city people and the big cities are many hours away.
The next thing on our complaint list is the quality of the beach water close to us. We selected the coast to have access to the beach. Bahia and San Vicente are situated on opposite sides of the mouth of the Chone River, where the river drains into the Pacific. It is a wide river mouth that dumps tons of debris and mud into the Pacific as is common with most rivers across the globe. The effects of this are to create a brownish, debris-strewn, muddy beach experience for miles down the coast becoming much worse during the wet season. A pleasant drive to Canoa some 15 or so miles south of us, allows for some clear water some of the time but the debris problem remains with large front-end loaders regularly pushing the beach debris into huge piles and loading those piles onto trucks. Further, the reputation that Canoa has as a surfing destination is well deserved. Powerful waves regularly roll onto the beach. It is a surfer’s paradise. It is not, however, the sort of Sunday afternoon, lazy beach experience that someone my age might enjoy. A walk into the surf is a full-body workout as one must fight the powerful beach currents simply to remain standing. Ten or fifteen minutes in this surfline can be exhausting. Remember, now…I’m 64 years old. Folks much younger will have a different take on this experience. Diane has tried and has enjoyed surfing but going to the beach here is not a relaxing experience. The locals can be seen frolicking in the brownish, debris-strewn mouth of the river. For them, it is what they know. They use the floating debris as impromptu rafts and incorporate it into their play. I wish I could be more like them in that way.
Further, I love to fish and spent some years in South Florida as a young boy fishing with my dad from boats a bit offshore. There was access to bait and tackle, rods and reels and reliable boats that could be either bought or rented or chartered for a day on the water. That is not the case here. While fishing happens all around this area, it is done with nets. Sport fishing is simply not something that can be easily done here as there are no tackle shops anywhere nearby. One of the small dugouts or Pangas can be hired for $15 dollars, I’m told, to take me out into the blue water Pacific. No thanks! In my many years in Alaska, I fished both fresh and salt water regularly. Fishing has always been one of my major recreational outlets. Not easily done here! What’s the big deal, you might ask. Well, when one is retired…that is the time to do those things that you truly want to do. I spent several months buying some very special fishing tackle prior to our departure from Florida and now discover that there is truly no way to practically use any of it.
When we first made the decision to leave the states in search of a better lifestyle, that decision was primarily prompted by the desire to live comfortably somewhere on our fixed income; something that could not have happened in the states. Research indicated that moving to one of a number of locations across the globe could accomplish this. We based our search on having “X” dollars coming in every month from Social Security. It certainly appeared that one could live on our “X” dollars in Ecuador and a few other places and, in fact, that is absolutely correct! We are fortunate in that we now have “X” dollars plus some additional dollars coming in each month that we thought might happen but did not know when or how much the “X+” amount would be. Now that we know, we have the option to seek other locations that were a bit beyond our economic reach when we first began our research.
We expect to remain in Ecuador for at least one more year. That will allow us to research other locations across the globe and tuck a few more dollars into the sock. Also, completing 2 years of residency under our retirement visa will allow us to come and go from Ecuador as much as we wish with no restrictions while maintaining our residency status. Leaving Ecuador for an extended period prior to our 2 year threshold would cause us to lose our permanent residency status and we’d have to start the process all over again. We simply do not wish to burn that bridge behind us.
Our experience in Ecuador has been and remains mostly wonderful. In fact, we had talked of checking out Cuenca as a possible new home here. Cuenca offers access to modern hospitals, great shopping and many wonderful restaurants. Many, many retirees have moved there and love it! BUT…as I said before, we are essentially “coasties”. So, we’ll take a look around over the next year and see what we can see. At the moment, the coast of Mexico looks inviting, somewhere north of Puerta Vallarte.
Some folks buy a motorhome or a sailboat and travel non-stop during their retirement years. We know some of those folks. While that is not our desire, we might just find the next place on the planet that calls to us and go check it out.
It’s nice to have options!