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Author John Curran
Photo by John Curran, InternationalLiving.com
Are you for real? Do you have any kids? Do you like squirrels? How old are you? What does that do? Can I wear your hat? How did you get this job? Is John your real name? Answering questions. It seems I have been doing that for most of my adult life.
It started when I was a boat captain on an authentic sternwheeler. Passengers always had questions, but never more so than when 100 5- and 6-year-olds piled onboard for their end-of-the-school-year field trip. Only kindergartners could ask the above questions with such innocence and sincerity.
After 10 years chugging around the Chain O'Lakes in central Wisconsin, I spent the next 15 years working in the United Arab Emirates. As an American teaching locals in the Middle East, I found my students had questions on every subject imaginable... even some about their coursework! Since my better half, Sue, and I retired and moved to Vilcabamba, Ecuador, we get one question more than any other: Why Vilcabamba?
Most people tend to focus their search by country. Instead, we worked from the inside out. We were looking for a particular type of property; the country was secondary as long as it was doable. When we were looking for "just the right place," finding "just the right property" was more important than finding "just the right country." Because the property would have a direct effect on our day-to-day lives and with any luck, we'd find a country that wouldn't.
We were looking for a rural mountain setting, good weather, a healthy environment, access to clean water, good food, a population that spoke either English or Spanish, Internet access, a bit of land, and just enough of a house so we could live on the property while renovating.
After researching various properties on five continents over five years, we found just what we were looking for in Ecuador. So much so that we agreed to buy our property five minutes after seeing it on our first day ever in South America.
We hadn't even seen the nearby town of Vilcabamba yet. (Now, I'm not recommending you do the same, but it worked out for us.) I'm sure we could have found what we were looking for in another country, or even in another part of Ecuador. The property just happened to be the first we saw with everything we wanted.
We passed on a number of otherwise good properties because they did not meet all our criteria. Settle for less and that's exactly what you'll get. In Ecuador we found one of the most beautiful and bio-diverse countries in the world. And with a low cost of living, a government that leaves us alone and some of the friendliest people you're ever likely to meet, Ecuador more than exceeded our expectations.
Our good feelings about Ecuador started on our first flight there. We were treated to amazing views of volcanoes, mountains, jungles and rivers on a flight lasting only 50 minutes and costing just $65. Our fellow passengers (all locals) were polite, friendly and helpful. And before we even got on the plane, we were able to pass through security with full bottles of water... and our dignity.
As an added bonus, in Vilcabamba, we found one of those truly special places that cannot be explained, only experienced. I'll be the first to say it may not be for you, particularly if you're not a self-starter. However, as a place to live, it can be a town for a lifetime and possibly a very long one, given its reputation as the "Valley of Longevity."
Plus, Vilcabamba allows us a life in which there's no such thing as a "typical day." We wouldn't have it any other way. Rush hour traffic? Happy hour every Friday evening? No, thanks. If we wanted typical, we would have continued with the nine-to-five grind. But here, most days bring new opportunities and different challenges.
The way things grow in Vilcabamba, our trees and plants and flowers and weeds always needs tending to, but for the most part, we can do whatever we want, even if that is nothing. Our time is truly our own. I don't think anyone truly realizes how much of their life is in the hands of others, until it is not.
Here in Ecuador, we put our lives in our hands at the age of 44 and never looked back. Now, when we get up in the morning, the day is ours. Few people can say that, especially at our age. If there are specific things you want or need to do, make sure you can do them in your potential new home. In my case, I like to spend my day on the computer, behind a camera or working around the house or in the yard -- all things that can be done in Vilcabamba.
I'm not one to spend a lot of time in shopping malls, movie theaters or fast-food joints -- all things that cannot be done in Vilcabamba. Bottom line: Don't change your lifestyle to suit someplace else; find a place that fits the lifestyle you truly want.