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Reflections

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My wife and I have been reflecting on the decision that we made nearly 3 years ago to leave our teaching jobs and relocate to Cotacachi, Ecuador. During that time, we have seen many changes. In October of 2008, when we purchased our condo at Primavera II, there were very few expat housing developments and only a handful of full time foreigners living in Cotacachi. Now, there are housing developments going up all around town and the expat community is growing by leaps and bounds.

5 Reasons

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5 Reasons to Move to Cotacachi

1) You love year round springlike weather and not having to pay for heating and cooling.

2) Your idea of a perfect morning is sipping a cup of South American coffee on the porch swing while taking in the stunning mountain scenery.

3) Your idea of a perfect evening is drinking a glass of red wine with good friends next to a cracklling fire.

4) You want to be able to take a $5.00 bill to the market and return home with all the produce you can carry.

5) You like living in a community where everybody knows your name.

5 R

Life in the U.S. Versus Life in Ecuador

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Sometimes, getting a little distance helps to see things more clearly. Such was the case with our recent visit back to the United States. After living in a developing country, it’s impossible not to appreciate the efficiency of the “First World.” Browsing the huge variety of products (Which end of the cereal aisle do I start on?), paying for the purchase with nothing more than a swipe of the credit card, and having our own car awaiting us was a refreshing change.

English Books

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When we first arrived in Cotacachi, one of the things that Angela and I missed the most was books. Both of us are avid readers and used to spend hours in the local library back in the States. Both of us were always in the middle of at least one book at any given time. All that changed when we moved to Ecuador. We soon discovered a couple of English bookstores in Quito, but the selection was quite limited and dated. It seemed that we were going to have to adjust to a life without much reading material.

Then came the Kindle.

Service Project

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In order to fulfill a requirement for graduation from high school, my nephew Cameron decided to come to Cotacachi for two weeks to work with the local Ecuadorian people.  Our townhouse at Jahua Pacha is surrounded by indigenous villages, so I asked our friend Jairo, who lives in the community of El Batan, if my nephew could teach English there.  He agreed that it was a great idea and arranged for kids of all ages to come for 2 hours per day of instruction in English.  It turned out to be a most rewarding experience for both the local kids as well as my nephew.  As Camero

Massage at La Mirage

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Some friends of ours gave us a gift certificate to La Mirage, the 5-star hotel and spa on the outskirts of Cotacachi.  By Ecuador standards, La Mirage is extremely expensive, hence the reason we have not visited there in the two plus years we have lived in Cotacachi.  This gift gave us the perfect excuse to indulge and treat ourselves to a luxurious massage. 

Europe versus Ecuador

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For those looking for a place to retire overseas, there are many options and things to consider. My wife and I just returned from a three month European trip around seven countries (Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Ukraine, Poland, and Czech Republic) with an eye toward comparing Cotacachi to potential retirement destinations in the Old World. A few observations…

The things that we missed most about Cotacachi…

1) Fresh produce

2) Cheap prices – Western Europe is expensive!

Europe Bound

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On the day after Christmas, I found a great airfare from Quito to Barcelona, and Angela and I decided to fulfill our dream of traveling throughout Europe.  So, we will be leaving on New Year’s Eve and returning to Cotacachi at the end of March.  Our plans are to spend time most of our time in Eastern Europe but will go wherever our spirit takes us.  After we return, it will be fun to see the changes  and meet the new people who have arrived in Cotacachi during the time we are gone.  Until then….hasta luego!

Rainy Season

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Last year’s rainy season was unusually dry resulting in rotating power outages for a couple of hours per day because of the reduction in energy output from the electrical generator in Cuenca.  This year has been just the opposite.

Contrast of Cultures

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Sometimes, in the routine of day to day life here, you can forget that you are in a foreign country. Other times, it becomes apparent that we are living in a very different culture. This morning, I made the two mile walk into town to the Sunday market through the indigenous community of El Batan. As this is a long holiday weekend commemorating the "Day of the Dead", the music and celebrations had continued throughout the night. My excursion into town this morning was like passing through the aftermath of a war zone. Men were passed out and laying on the side of the road.

Exploration

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We're always discovering something new here. Angela and I live in a development called Jahua Pacha about 2 miles outside of Cotacachi. The development is surrounded by small indigenous communities and vast areas of open space. This past weekend, we decided to explore one of the trails leading further into the mountains from our home. We initially had no intention of going as far as we did, but curiosity's hand kept pushing us forward to see what was over the next hill or around the upcoming bend.

Unrest

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The political events of the past few days have made headlines around the world.  Concerned about a new law that would limit their benefits, the police went on strike.  President Correa was attacked in Quito and fled to a nearby hospital.  A state of emergency was declared.  Surrounded by hostile demonstrators and virtually sequestered in the hospital for the entire day, Correa was finally freed when government troops stormed the building.  The events were broadcast throughout the day, and many shops were closed as everyone was glued to the local television. 

Mindo Trip

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After our recent trip to Mindo, a town in the Ecuadorian cloud forest, I made a video about the town that can be viewed below.

Colombia Trip

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A while back, my wife and I had the opportunity to take a day trip north into Colombia.  Passing through the border in our friend’s car was a breeze without even being stopped for a passport check.  Our destination was the Sanctuary of Las Lajas, a cathedral built on the site where an apparition of the Virgin Mary was claimed to be seen in the 1700’s.  It is constructed deep into a valley and is quite an architectural feat.  After spending the morning exploring the church and the grounds, we headed back to Ecuador, crossing the border into the city of Tulcan.

Bureaucracy

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Simple things in Ecuador take a long time. Bob, who bought our first apartment at Primavera II, and I have been working to change the name on the water bill. First, we went to the municipality. There we were told to go to the water plant for instructions. At the water plant, we were given a list of documents that we needed to get from the municipality. We returned to the municipality for the required documents. From there, it was back to the water plant where the papers were stamped. We were then sent back to the municipality to pay $10 to make the change.

President Correa

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I'm sometimes asked about my opinion of Ecuadorian President Correa who has been portrayed in the U.S. press as a socialist and close ally of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. Without getting into a discussion on politics, I can say from an expat's point of view that, at this time, Correa's policies do not seem to have much impact on our lives. On occasion, as was the case recently in a dispute with the government over water rights, the indigenous people will block the roadways throughout the country in protest.

What We Miss (and Don't Miss)

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Cotacachi is a small town and doesn't have all of the conveniences that we were used to back in the States. As much as we feel that we have gained by moving overseas, there are a few things that we miss.

Produce Market

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One of the great things about living in Ecuador is the abundance of produce. While there are several places where it is available, the large market is next to the bus station. Seven days a week, it is open and filled with almost every conceivable kind of fruit or vegetable, including some that I still haven't been able to identify. Sunday is the big market day when we stock up blackberries, blueberries, potatoes, oranges, onions, broccoli and other items for a fraction of what we would have paid back home. I am rarely without a stock of large avocados, which cost about 30 cents each.

Jahua Pacha

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After we had lived in Primavera II for about 6 months, we had the opportunity to purchase a townhouse in a new development called Jahua Pacha, about 2 miles outside of town. The word Jahua Pacha in Quichwa, the language of the indigenous people, means “heaven” and the townhouses are in a truly spectacular location. Built on the mountain side, there are amazing views of both Cotacachi and Imbabura volcanos. We bought the property 4 months before its scheduled completion and were able to move in at the end of February, 2010.

First Apartment

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Since arriving in Cotacachi 15 months ago, Angela and I have lived in four different places. Our first apartment at Primavera II is about 1,100 square feet and has 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, and a terrace. It is difficult to imagine how long it takes to fully furnish and decorate a new apartment here. In the States, it is possible to go to two or three different stores and have everything that you need delivered right to your door. Not so in Ecuador. Everything is painstakingly slow and requires going to multiple stores to get everything that you need.

Maid Services

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One of the benefits of living in Ecuador is the ability to hire a housekeeper at low cost. In general, it is possible to hire a local woman to clean and do laundry for $10 per day or less. It is not always easy, however, to find a good maid who cleans well and is reliable. Showing up for work on time is not always their highest priority. Angela and I have been fortunate to have had two good housekeepers during the time we have lived here.

Crime

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Theft is a problem in many low income countries, and Ecuador is no exception. As is the case everywhere, it pays to use common sense especially in large crowds. In Cotacachi, I am aware of a couple of break-ins during the time that we have been here. However, I have never felt insecure in Cotacachi while out at any time of the day or night. It still has a small town feel here. In Ibarra, I do not have the same feeling. On a shopping trip a while back, my wife's friend's fanny pack was snatched on a busy street in broad daylight.

Internet

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Internet options in Cotacachi are available but somewhat limited. The most common way is by using a small device called a Porta stick that plugs into your computer and allows wireless Internet from anywhere in Ecuador. The cost if $55 per month but the speed slows if you use more than your monthly limit. That can be a problem if you do much downloading or streaming. At Primavera II, where we live, a high speed wireless connection with our apartment is available for $70.

Eating at Bocaditos

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There are an increasing number of restaurants in Cotacachi. Two establishments have opened in the last few months and are very popular among the expats. One called “Bocaditos no Tipicos,” is owned by a couple from New York named Danny and June.. Danny worked as a chef in New York and is able to make a wide variety of dishes. The menu changes from day to day, so you never know what surprises await you.

Flowers

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Ecuador is a flower lover's paradise. At the market, two dozen long stemmed red, pink, or white roses can be yours for $2.50. A small assortment of a variety of flowers costs $1.00. Ecuador exports many flowers to the United States where the mark up on them is substantial. For all you romantics out there who want to lavish your wives with flowers without breaking the bank, Cotacachi is the place to be.

Driver

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As we do not have a car, it is sometimes more convenient to call a taxi rather than walk or take a bus. In our time here, we have had many taxi drivers, but none better than Giovanni. In the many times that we have used him, he has been punctual, courteous, responsible, and friendly. Although he does not speak English, most of his business comes from expats who have recommended him to their friends. He recently bought a new car with more space because the foreigners that he picks up at the Quito airport to bring back to Cotacachi usually have a lot of suitcases.

Climate

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I am amazed at how great the climate is in Cotacachi. For those who like 70 degree spring-like temperatures, I doubt that there is another place on earth that is better. The mornings, especially, are spectacular. We love taking a walk in the early part of the day when the sun is out and the air is crisp and clean. No matter what is troubling you, everything seems better after a morning stroll in Cotacachi. It is a little too cool to wear shorts and a jacket is often needed in the evenings or on rainy days.

Having a Car

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Having a car in Cotacachi is a luxury that few people find necessary. Virtually everything in town is within easy walking distance and taxi's are readily available at low cost. The expat housing developments, which are mostly on the outskirts of town are also within easy reach. Buses leave from the station for Otavalo and Ibarra every few minutes making it easy to go to the surrounding towns for shopping and entertainment. If you prefer to take a taxi, it costs $5 to go to Otavalo and $10 to Ibarra.

Renting

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Often you will find websites touting fully furnished rentals in Cotacachi for as little as $250 - $300 per month. My wife and I were offered a job managing rental properties for a period of time after we arrived in Cotacachi and learned a great deal about the rental market. Our experience has been that those rentals in the lower price range lack the amenities that many people expect, including hot water, safe wiring, and comfortable furniture. Often, they are located on noisy residential streets with a chorus of barking dogs.

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