While visiting family recently in the U.S., we were reminded again that North American expats aren't the only ones who love living and retiring in Latin America.
Latin Americans like it, too.
The sales clerk at a local business in Phoenix was surprised and pleased to learn that we lived in Ecuador. She looked and sounded like any other young U.S. saleswoman, but when she found out that we lived abroad, she said, "I envy you. I'd really like to go back to Venezuela."
Ecuadorians are returning home in droves to be with family, friends, and community again. Photo by Erica Mills, InternationalLiving.com
Turns out her family moved to the U.S. some years ago, and she is now working and raising a family in the Southwest.
But what she's really looking forward to is going back home someday.
"The U.S. is great," she said, "but it's not like back home. Where I come from in Venezuela, people are relaxed and happy. They talk to each other and laugh. They sit outside in the evening and get together with the rest of the neighborhood, right on the sidewalks and in the street. Nobody is rich, but there is always enough food and drink to go around."
Pretty much the same where we live in Ecuador, we agreed.
"Here in the U.S.," she said, "people have everything, but they're angry all the time. They're always in a hurry, always in a rush. They argue about everything, but nobody listens to anybody else, they just yell at each other. Nobody sits in front of the house or gets together with the neighbors on the block. Nobody relaxes. If you get in somebody's way or disagree with them, you could get shot."
"I'm so jealous of you living in Ecuador," she said. "I bet it's happy and relaxed there, like my home town in Venezuela... people saying 'hi' to you on the street and inviting you to stop and have a drink or something to eat. Someday I'm going back. I really miss it, and I want my daughter to know that life. I want her to know that family and friends and community are the most important things in life. I think she'll learn that better in Venezuela."
We've heard the same from Ecuadorians. In fact, thousands of Ecuadorians are returning from sojourns in North America and Europe, where they went for better job opportunities. Now the economies of their host countries aren't doing so well... at least for the working classes... and they've gotten tired of the frantic, demanding "First World" lifestyle. They're coming home in droves to be with family, friends, and community again. They may not make as much money, but they don't need as much to enjoy life in Ecuador.
And the same thing is happening in many of the other Latin American countries we've lived in and visited.
We're sure there are places in the States where people still politely great each other in passing and wish even strangers a good day. Where neighbors chat with each other on evening strolls, and children play happily in the street in front of their houses under the watchful eyes of the entire block. Where the list of priorities for the day starts with "Laugh with family over breakfast" instead of "Get to work early and crush competition."
But in our experience, those places are getting harder and harder to find in the U.S. Which is why we understand the desire of our Venezuelan friend to return home, and why we're so happy to get back to Ecuador after our visits to the States.
Forty-five minutes south of Loja, tiny Vilcabamba (population 2,000) enjoys some of Ecuador’s best weather. The area is touted for the longevity of its residents, many of whom claim to be over 100. Their vigor has been attributed to a variety of exotic influences but is most likely due to climate, simple food, exercise, and the unhurried pace of life. (Photo courtesy of InternationalLiving.com)
The town of Loja is a four-hour drive south of Cuenca and is often little more than a stopover to the tourist destination of Vilcabamba. But before you hurry through, take some time to admire Loja’s beautiful parks, rivers, and churches. (Photo courtesy of InternationalLiving.com)
North of Quito, Otavalo is home to one of the largest indigenous markets in South America. Otavalo and the surrounding mountains are simply stunning and the town of 75,000 people is clean and vibrant. Otavalo Indians are among Ecuador’s most business-savvy and prosperous citizens, making and selling some of the finest textiles, woolen items and hand crafts around. (Photo courtesy of InternationalLiving.com)
A few miles north of Otavalo, Cotacachi is a town of about 9,000 that has attracted scores of expats who appreciate the proximity to the markets and to Quito. Cotacachi has sprouted several new gated housing developments that are popular with foreigners. (Photo courtesy of InternationalLiving.com)
Quito is Ecuador’s capital city, and was the country’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. Quito has a rich history, and many areas of the city retain their old colonial charm. There are also modern neighborhoods as well as a wealth of restaurants, bars, museums, and churches. (Photo courtesy of InternationalLiving.com)
Located at an elevation of 8,200 feet in Ecuador’s southern highlands, Cuenca is considered by most Ecuadorians to be the intellectual and cultural heart of the country. Like Quito, Cuenca (population 518,000) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With its well-preserved Spanish architecture and cobblestone streets, it retains more of its colonial charm than Quito. (Photo courtesy of InternationalLiving.com)
Salinas is Ecuador’s largest coastal resort and offers one of the country’s best real estate investment markets and most popular and most upscale beach lifestyle. Located at Ecuador’s western-most point, the town is less than a two-hour drive from the international airport at Guayaquil. (Photo courtesy of InternationalLiving.com)