Chantal and I officially retired to Ecuador on 4 January 2019. The actual in-country date was 5 January. We missed our connecting flight in Cancun and were required to spend the next 18 hours, courtesy Air Canada, at a mediocre all-inclusive resort populated by drunken frat bros and their equally sloshed, essentially naked girlfriends. Woe is us.
Still, that night in Mexico set the tone for what became the three-star Michelin clusterfuck of our lives. If you’re new to this blog, here’s the rundown. (If you’re as sick of this story as I am, click here to skip ahead to the next section.)
It began with the near-total collapse of our corruptly mismanaged coastal resort community, Mirador San Jose. (You can read about MSJ here.) The global pandemic arrived while we were dealing with that outrage. Then, in very short order, came a military enforced nationwide lockdown; escape to an abandoned condo tower in Manta; dodgy diplomatic transit papers; emergency repatriation flights to Canada; nasty bouts of COVID; and a two-month stay in a partly renovated house in Trenton, Ontario.
That summer, we brought an expensive criminal suit against MSJ’s sociopathic general manager, Danielle Charles. We lost the following year, when our ruthless opponent’s sleazebag lawyer threatened the provincial prosecutor of Montecristi, probably with her life. We’ll never know for certain, because that same provincial prosecutor, and her driver, were executed in an alley outside her office a few weeks later.
Are those events connected? Probably not. But this is Ecuador.
We spent the next two years drifting from one rental to another, while Chantal consulted remotely with Canada’s National Defence response to the pandemic. In 2022, we landed on the beach in San Clemente, and sold at a loss the South Pacific home we built to live out the long, lazy days of our retirement.
Best laid plans
It probably goes without saying that ours is the atypical experience.
Perhaps it’s made me a bit jaundiced. But I say to you, who may be reading this with an eye to retire on the beach or in the hills, that Ecuador is unmoved by your dreams. It cares not one whit what you saw on House Hunters International. There is no complaint department when you sell everything you own, and leave behind everything you’ve ever known, only to discover that the idyllic beach cabaña photo you found online was of Caye Caulker, Belize.
(You laugh. That actually happened.)
While still very much smitten, I wrote my first year-end review on New Year’s 2020. Today, I offer these contrary notes on what it’s like to be expatriated to Ecuador, four years on, and from a very different perspective. Take them for what they’re worth.
Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition
One of my favourite pastimes is to read the Facebook expat groups for gringos who are shocked – shocked, I tell you! – that their new Tropical Paradise in Coastal Ecuador® is not as described in the brochure. Most of them wind up on the primera linea de mar in Manta, which is as exotic and luxurious as any one human being could, or should be able to, afford. Nothing wrong with that, if you have the money. Many of us don’t. Ecuadorians certainly do not.
Where our more affluent and entitled countrymen start to grumble is during their interactions with bureaucrats. Once you get past the wavy palms, emerald seas, and obligatory Facebook posts about how much fresh produce you can buy for eight bucks, there are still the pressing questions of taxes and health care and bank accounts, to name but three.
I’ve written previously of this phenomenon. Ecuador’s institutions are Gordian knots of red tape. Moreover, you learn not to conduct official business on Fridays or Mondays. Friday because government workers are too busy preparing for the weekend to care about your problem, and Monday because they’re nursing epic hangovers. That leaves three working days to accomplish anything of consequence; and whatever you desperately need – visa, car registration, life-saving surgery (kidding) – gets done at a pace you might charitably describe as lethargic.
Some folks don’t enjoy such inefficiency. Others, like me and Chantal, build it into our planning. An obligation that might take a few hours in Canada will, in Ecuador, consume your entire day, or entire month – or, in the case of my 2021-22 motorcycle sale, a numbing three-month administrative grind. If you don’t expect the unexpected, then that’s exactly what you’ll receive.
I had no idea it would take so long to be conversationally fluent
I was born and raised in Quebec. We were required to learn French at an early age. Problem was, the only French taught in English schools in the backwater 1970s was of the ooo la la Parisian variety. I still remember listening to those infernal Edith Piaf recordings. My teacher was a huge fan. I was not.
It would be an understatement to suggest that French Canadians do not appreciate a Metropolitan accent. After years of trying – and failing – to learn fluent Quebecois French, I decided that I was too stupid to accommodate a second language, and I let the entire matter drop.
As anyone who knows me will attest, I have taken ferocious hold of the notion that fluent Spanish is within my reach. I have conquered transactional Spanish, which allows me to conduct my affairs in Ecuador with minimal fuss. But conversational Spanish eludes me. I find that enormously frustrating.
I thought by now I’d have some sense of how to hold my own in a tête-à-tête (see what I did there?) with a native speaker. Then it occurred to me: I don’t like to chat with people in English. Maybe my real issue is that I detest small talk and I’m not very personable, even in my mother tongue.
In other words: I’m not stupid. I’m antisocial. That makes me feel so much better now.
There’s this one black vulture who sits atop the lamppost outside our bedroom window every morning and stares at me. I don’t care for that shit one bit.
YouTube “celebrity” season
Speaking of scavengers, it’s around this time of year that self-described YouTube “celebrities” turn up in the Facebook groups to pimp their travel channels. It’s always the same deal. Some guy with a man bun, or some couple with a man bun and unshaved armpits, asks us to “hit that Subscribe button” and hopefully click on a few AdSense ads to underwrite their trip.
Production quality ranges from student filmmaker to ISIS hostage video. The better creations include actual B-roll footage to liven up what must surely be the ten-thousandth “series” to start with Five Reasons Why We’re Moving to Ecuador. (Reason Number One: Cost of Living!)
Cheesier offerings are shot on inexpensive smartphones, in bad lighting, and usually end with an appeal to buy a Welcome Kit for $15. There’s one for Olon, population 1600, that includes the on-air personality’s restaurant picks. All two of them.
I hate to break it to these folks, but Anthony Bourdain you are not. Wanna try something truly unique? Pass anonymously through Ecuador. Leave your phone in your pocket. Enjoy the scenery.
Says the guy with the blog.
MAGA is everywhere
I don’t know what it is about Ecuador in particular that attracts them, but Donald Trump’s crackpot minions are everywhere in this country. And they’re not necessarily Americanos.
You meet them most often in grocery stores. They hear English, run over to introduce themselves, and immediately launch into something about the dictator Justin Trudeau or the Freedom Convoy or George Soros/Bill Gates/World Economic Forum using COVID vaccines to fire space lasers at The Great Reset or whatever. I think it’s my beard and ballcap that confuse them.
In Canada, the batshit contingent represents about 18 percent of our voter-age population. In Ecuador, you have a better than sixty-forty chance of running into one on the street.
Chantal and I have learned to back away slowly and to never to make eye contact.
It is my hypothesis that Ecuador attracts the somehow maladjusted. It also occurs to me that we expats are, all of us, maladjusted in some way. As I told a buddy last night, you have to be three or four chips short of a bag to do what we’re doing. People who are thrilled with their sedentary lives do not run off to places that call themselves the bellybutton of the world.
For what it’s worth, and as frustrating as it may seem, crazy is a big part of this experience. It may be the entire experience, I don’t know. One of these days, it will all make sense to me.
For now, our life in Ecuador remains endlessly, insanely entertaining, and there are many more stories to tell.