You may have noticed that I am not a reliable contributor to my blog. I don’t keep to a schedule. My former life, in the peptic ulcer that is the classical music-presenting business, was all about schedules. A few were negotiable. Most were not. Self-imposed deadlines, now, in my retirement, seem almost absurd. The deeper I involve myself in this new experience, the less I feel like wearing a watch.
(A metaphor: I am obsessed with smartwatches. I can’t seem to shake my love of consumer tech.)
Beach life, as Chantal and I have discovered it in San Clemente, is not a thing that can be marked on a calendar. It has a beat but no rhythm. In six-some-odd hours the tide thunders in, and six-some-odd hours later it slides reluctantly back out. Squadrons of pelicans wing south at dawn to fish, then north at sunset to – I don’t know what: check into a motel for the night or something. We have the fixed, imposing circuits of the sun and moon. The dry season and the wet season. Everything else is ambition. I have sworn off ambition.
I assume that you read my blog because you want to know what it’s like to retire to a country like Ecuador. Well, here it is: the total absence of purpose. Trust me when I say, purposelessness is terrifying. It is also freeing, in the absolute.
By that, I do not mean to join some diesel-belching convoy of deluded know-nothings, or to behave like an obnoxious twat on Xitter. I mean to disengage, utterly. To stand apart. There are few more radical acts, in this social media-contaminated moment, than to leave no trace. If you don’t know what I mean, then you aren’t here.
We spent the last days of January and early February hosting. First a group of friends from Mirador San Jose, for a long weekend’s boozy comradery. Then we took in two fellow travelers, lately of Kemptville, Ontario, formerly of Moscow. Yes, that Moscow.
Craig is Canada’s affable former defence attaché to Russia. Kerry, Craig’s low-talking firecracker of a better half, somehow middle-fingered her way to FSB notoriety on YouTube. That instantly made her a hero in my world. Craig and Kerry are exploring their retirement options abroad. Craig found my blog a couple years back and reached out. We’ve been friends ever since.
Their first trip to Ecuador involved a Greatest Hits tour of Quito: the centro histórico; an hypoxia-inducing ride on the teleferico; our recommended stay at the ancient Hotel San Francisco de Quito, where you can enjoy huevos y tostadas in the same windowless vault that accommodated who-knows-how-many victims of The Inquisition in the New World.
The hotel eggs scandalized Craig. They were, he informed us, little more than sad, empty omelettes. Soggy Hot Pockets® with no stuff in the middle. I thought this was amusing. Over the six days he and Kerry were with us on the coast, it became something of a running gag to ask if he wanted huevos for breakfast. It was probably funnier at the time.
White teeth and shredded pecs
After Quito, they flew to Manta for a real estate tour with none other than Ryan Kelly of Ecuador Shores Realty and House Hunters International fame. Ryan Kelly, of the incredibly white teeth and shredded pecs. Ryan Kelly, the guy who inspires Americans to throw vast sums of money they don’t seem to need at concrete filing cabinets dressed up to look like “your perfect piece of paradise on the beach.” That Ryan Kelly.
Not that I have anything against the guy, personally. I just don’t like real estate agents. I have my reasons.
Our friends toured Manta’s primera linea del mar and Santa Marianita, to the south, which our gringo realtors are desperately trying to turn into the monied suburb of coastal Ecuador. So far, it isn’t working. Neither Craig nor Kerry was terribly excited. They went to Manta with a budget of $300,000 in mind. Naturally, Ryan showed them condos in the four hundred grand range. They saw some very nice properties, they told us, but none that struck them as value for the money.
Old fish and wet dog
We picked them up at Hotel Voyager Manta a couple days later and brought them to San Clemente for deprogramming. Prices here are much lower; the lifestyle is eclectically low-key; and you get to live on the beach. Not with a view of it, but right on it. You know what I mean.
In San Clemente, joy doesn’t come packaged in an exquisite luxury beachfront tower with stunning and unique visual experiences. Joy smells like old fish and wet dog. Occasionally you step in it. But it is always there, and you don’t have to look very hard to find it. Ask any regular at Caña Dreams.
Our friend Andrew Sweeny, also of House Hunters International fame, showed them a curated selection of properties here and in Bahia de Caraquez. We ate ceviche. We drank a lot of rum. We played Exploding Kittens. (Kerry was startlingly ruthless at this game.) They wanted to understand how we live our lives in Ecuador. This was it, in all its unvarnished ordinariness.
A mighty act of will
I also had an excellent opportunity to observe Craig, at the very beginning of his transition from anxious working stiff to happy-go-lucky beach dude. I must say, it was instructional. I am in what I call late-stage retirement. The don’t-give-a-shit phase. Craig seemed to be very much on an itinerary, which I totally get. He was, after all, vacationing. Vacations end too abruptly at the office. Retirement ends in a pine box.
There were mornings when Kerry joined me and Chantal on our balcony overlooking the sea. We watched Craig chase sand crabs or splash out past the break. I thought about the few frantic holidays I took with my ex and kids, as a younger professional: cramming experiences into my head like I was pulling an all-nighter before midterms. I couldn’t fault his mania. Why would I? Craig is not where I am. But if he and Kerry find their San Clemente, in Ecuador or Belize or Costa Rica, they’ll get here soon enough. We’ll be waiting for them.
It takes a mighty act of will, to put it all aside: our careers, our politics, Facebook, plastic straws. There is too much money in the way. Unless I can change it with a vote, then I can change nothing – except my own behaviour. Or, to pull a quote from one of my favourite films, Fight Club: “No fear. No distractions. The ability to let that which does not matter truly slide.”
Knowing this is my sovereignty. Knowing this is San Clemente.