“The first day of the rest of my life” was the note in my calendar for that day in September 2017. I was a 67-year-old retired man, and my co-adventurer was my 35-year-old daughter Jaye. We had each individually traveled on exploratory trips to Mexico, Ecuador, Roatán, and Belize. But after some unexpected family challenges, we decided to start our expat journey together in Ecuador, in a little Pacific Coast beach and fishing town. Santa Marianita has a population of just 3,500 and a beautiful five-mile-long beach, with reliable breezes that make it a world-class destination for kitesurfing. That breeze tempers the midday heat like a soothing whisper from mother earth.
We now live in a four-bedroom, three-bathroom home right on the beach that we rent, fully furnished, for $800 a month. As I grew up in the mountains of Utah and then spent seven years in the Mojave Desert town of Mesquite, Nevada, living on the ocean at the middle of the planet has been a new and exhilarating adventure.
What’s more, I can supplement my Social Security income from here. That’s because, even in a little fishing/kitesurfing town, I have fiber optic internet service. I still hold a license in the U.S. as a mortgage loan officer, and I have arranged three loans for U.S. clients during the past year. I have two more to do in the next six months. I made about $12,000 on the ones I did in 2018 and will make about the same amount in 2019. I don’t really “solicit” these customers, but I’m able to help them, and I make money when they call. A little extra cash never hurt anyone.
I have the same situation with a few tax clients, who still have me do their corporate and personal income tax returns. I currently make about $3,000 a year servicing these clients. I also have a few expats here asking if I will help them with their taxes. I haven’t started doing that yet, but the opportunity is there.
Don’t get me wrong. I still play golf two or three times a week and stroll on the beach nearly every day. But I have always been an early riser, and while I drink my morning coffee, I often slip behind my little desk that looks out onto the beach and respond to clients, review their needs, and maybe make some calls. My cellphone plan here costs about $20 a month, which provides tons of 4G data and several hundred minutes per month of free Stateside calls. It’s hard to think of this as work while sipping coffee made from renowned, Ecuadorian grown and roasted beans, but I get paid for it. I also get to stay in touch with some clients and friends from back home.
In Utah, I dreaded the short, dark, cold days.
Santa Marianita is beautiful, small, and peaceful during the week. It gets a little more activity on the weekends, when more people come to play and rest at the ocean’s side. It provides the perfect mix of quiet time on a nearly deserted beach, blended with some extra activity once in a while and some great people-watching. It’s just 15 minutes by car, taxi ($10), or the public camioneta ($1) to the city of Manta, where there is a small airport that is on track to become an international airport this year. In Manta you also find the clean, modern Terminal Terrestre bus terminal connecting to the rest of Ecuador and on into South America. The comfortable, modern bus costs $8 to go from Manta all the way down the coast to Salinas (about a four-hour ride) and $10 up to the capital city of Quito.
Manta is a city of about 240,000 and has all the big-city services you could want—international banks, huge supermarkets, a beautiful new mall, tons of restaurants, theaters, two excellent private hospitals, along with a brand-new IESS hospital operated by and for Ecuador’s national healthcare system, IESS, and all the other trappings of a metropolis. You don’t need to work at dieting here. Eating better and more healthily is just a way of life. Manta is one of the largest export ports in the world for fresh tuna, shrimp, bananas, and various other fruits and vegetables. It has huge fresh fish markets, produce markets, and a central market that stretches for about six blocks, where you can find almost anything you could want.
The vast variety of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, and fresh fish directly out of the ocean, just demands that you eat well, inexpensively, and more healthily than ever. Grill that swordfish, sauté that corvina (South American sea bass), char that fresh tuna, use fresh coconut to make coconut shrimp. All these seafood delights are available right out of the ocean at just $3 to $4 a pound.
In Ecuador, I enjoy a healthy rhythm of life. I dreaded the short, dark, cold days of winter in the mountains of Utah. I often commented that I felt like I was wasting half my remaining life, because I was effectively trapped indoors. In Ecuador, I’ve said good riddance to all that. The sun rises at 6:30 every morning and sets at 6:30 every evening, all year long. Your body and its chemistry don’t need to “change rhythm” or adjust at all. You get the same solid, relaxing night of rest every day of the year. The benefits of this stable rhythm, both physical and mental, combine for a relaxing and healthy routine. You just feel good.
I was 67 years old when I started this adventure. Now I feel 10 years younger.