Getting a Life In Ecuador

by Manya on October 4, 2014

It’s happening. I want to say finally but that’s my impatience chiming in.  It’s taken 14 months of being in our adopted country, Ecuador, to feel like I am beginning to have a new life.  And I am very thankful.

The first six months, I didn’t care about getting a life.  I just wanted to get settled in our new home, to nest, to figure out where I could get both the basic and special things that give comfort and delight in day to day living.

What I really mean is that I wanted a life but I wasn’t quite sure how I wanted it to look now.  Besides the act of expatriation, I didn’t know if I was retired or not.  Having been self-employed for much of my adult life during which my activity and income would wax and wane, there was no hard line in the sand where I stepped over into retirement when I moved to Ecuador.

The second six months, I started to consciously yearn for a life.  The one-year limbo phase was a transitional mélange of not knowing, running around, anxiety and doubts, interspersed with moments of connection, new experiences, small and sometimes larger pleasures, the patience required to weather the emotional roller coaster, and the faith to believe that I could make a life out of this big change we had initiated.  I knew if that didn’t happen, I would end up leaving like many do within a few years.

A spate of questions reverberated continuously through my mind: “What exactly does having a life in this third stage and in a new country mean?  If I am retired, what does that mean?  If I’m not retired, what does that mean? What is a meaningful life in this third act? What is the contribution that I can uniquely make?  Is volunteer work enough?  What is the right balance of meaning, contribution and fun?”

These questions worked me hard and relentlessly.  Others’ answers didn’t actually help me, much as I wished they would.  It still came down to answering the “Who Am I Now?” question, something one can only discover for oneself.

And in reality, regardless of one’s station in life, isn’t creating our life always what we’re meant to be doing?

Thrusting myself into a new culture, with all the accompanying discomfort and discovery, continues to be a potent catalyst for growth and transformation.  Finding a beautiful place to live with an easily affordable cost of living has been truly liberating, more than one can ever know prior to taking the leap, like so many major life changes.

So what has changed?

At the more superficial level, I’ve noticed a perceptible shift in how I’m feeling at home in Ecuador.  Driving into Cuenca recently, I felt a palpable pleasure in the recognition that I actually know how to navigate my way around the center of this town!  And I’m willing to venture further afield to new places as my Spanish slowly improves and I now have the confidence to persist until I can understand someone.  Certainly, feeling at home is grounding, the foundation for a life.

On the meaning level, life is coming into sharper focus once again.  I now have a sense of rhythm that was missing the first year, as well as a focus that has greater specificity, breadth and depth.

I’ve decided I am NOT retired, since meaning, contribution, fun and experiencing life have the same weight they have always had for me.  In my angst quest for focus and meaning, I came back to the roadmaps I trust and turn to when I’m confused or fear that I’m lost.  This included deepening my study of the Enneagram, a powerful tool for conscious living that I first encountered 40 years ago.  Re-immersion in this profound system for understanding one’s personality and soul journey has been another deeply gratifying homecoming.

Over the last several months, a dawning awareness arose in me that I could now devote myself to what I had envisioned doing when I was in my 20’s – follow the passion I’ve had for guiding others in their psycho-spiritual development and personal transformation.  Through my online study (thank God for the Internet which has led me to several fabulous experiences), I discovered an Enneagram workshop in Buenos Aires and thought, “What a great excuse to visit Buenos Aires! I can actually do this now that I live in South America!”   Meeting Argentinian English-speaking folks with my same passion further solidified and expanded the sense of my new life.  I then knew that I can play at work and work at play with as much exploration, travel, teaching, coaching, writing, photography, learning new handcrafts, fun and relaxing time as I want.


The freedom of it is actually daunting at times.

When you no longer have to assume responsibilities to maintain a certain lifestyle – you get to come to terms with what you actually want to do, who you want to be and to become.  What is your life and yours alone to live?

At the risk of stating the obvious, it takes intent, experimentation, courage, determination, and persistence to create a life that is uniquely yours.  And let me not forget initiation.  If you don’t find the opportunities that resonate with you, you have to create them.

Call it late blooming (true), or natural maturing, or walking through the fire and coming out the other side by stepping up to challenges for a prolonged period of time, but I am liking this life I am creating.   It is authentic, free of the need to prove myself, and a continual practice in being Present to what is possible.

I’d love to hear what you’ve discovered and learned about getting and creating a life.



Holly November 8, 2014 at 4:55 pm

I’m enjoying your articles. Wanted to let you know that your Enneagram link in Getting a Life (above) appears to need editing. It seems there’s a comma at the end of the URL that doesn’t belong. Keep writing and linking. You are much appreciated!

Manya November 8, 2014 at 5:16 pm

Holly – I’m glad you’re finding the articles useful, and thanks for the feedback on the link which is now fixed:-)

Pamela October 14, 2014 at 12:15 pm

Hi, Manya. I’m just wondering why you selected Cuenca? I’m in the decision process of relocating to Ecuador, but can’t make up my mind exactly where. I’ve narrowed it down to Cuenca and Cotacachi. (That’s major progress!) Can you tell me what made you decide on Cuenca?

Manya October 14, 2014 at 12:47 pm

Hi Pamela – we chose Chordeleg, about 45-60 minutes outside of Cuenca, because we wanted to live in the mountains but near a large city with lots of cultural activity and good health care facilities. Cotacachi is of course beautiful and has a large expat community itself, but is further from Quito and Quito was a larger city than we wanted. I do go into Cuenca several times a week often, so I get the best of living in a beautiful mountain village while enjoying the amenities of Cuenca. Good luck with your move, and if you haven’t joined the Ecuador Expat Faccebook page, you may want to do so as it is a wonderful information exchange.

Jaci October 6, 2014 at 6:15 pm

Thanks for sharing your story, Manya.

I hit the “second six months” in many ways before we even arrived 7 months ago. We spent four months in limbo before the actual move. The house had sold, we quit our jobs, moved out of Dallas to a friend’s guest house, distributed those “special things,” gathered documents, packed, and waited for life in Ecuador to begin.

Arriving in a wonderful, fully furnished (and then some) condo posed none of the settling in challenges/opportunities most expats face. Spanish classes began on our Day 3, the residency process went smoothly, and we quickly met wonderful new people to explore new friendships. I am so grateful … and yet… now what?

I don’t have the answers, but beginning to feel more at ease with the questions. I look forward to that “14 month” point of reflection.

Manya October 6, 2014 at 6:27 pm

I will be very curious to hear your reflections at your 14-month point as I imagine you’ll be further along in the process of your new life. I suspect that living in El Centro where there is such a concentration of gringos also can accelerate the process of finding what’s yours and what isn’t. Thanks for sharing your experience, Jaci!

Manya October 5, 2014 at 3:25 pm

Thanks for sharing your experience and perspective, Nancy. Actually I don’t know that I will ever fully retire as I love teaching and supporting others in their journey, though undoubted the quantity, form, and necessity to do those (on my part) will continue to evolve. I’d love for you to show me the places and finds you’ve discovered in Gualaceo sometime.

Nancy October 5, 2014 at 1:57 pm

Thanks for the article. As I am several years older than you, I AM retired. And, since I have moved out of Cuenca after 2.75 years, I am finding myself back at what you describe as the beginning. Again, I am not finding time to do all the things I planned to do “when I retire” such as actually reading every single book I own (>1000), creating something wonderful with every piece of fabric and yarn I have, and completing every needlework chart I have. Instead, I am putting up screening and chicken wire to keep the cats in the yard and out of the way of the wandering dogs.

I love this place we call a “developing country.” I loved exploring Cuenca, and enjoy going back to sit in the Parque Calderon under the trees when the music comes over the speakers in the afternoon. I do like the hustle and bustle of El Centro for a little while, and am glad to get on the bus that takes me away from it when my errands are done. There is no place like Modatex fabrics in Gualaceo that I have found so far. Unfortunately, cat litter from SM is essential.

I am having fun finding new places in Gualaceo to get the things I was told were not available “way out there.” And, there is a park here where I can sit under the trees and read. Also, since I live across the street from the river with its family friendly amenities, I can sit on a bench under the trees next to the river to read. I love the water. I used to live in Laguna Beach in CA, just across Pacific Coast Highway from the ocean. I am grateful to have water back in my life.

Sometimes, the frustrations of having to learn a new place get in my way. That is the time to sit down with a cup of tea, let the cats fill up my lap, and be grateful for the gift of being allowed to live here.

kathy October 5, 2014 at 1:08 am

Love this piece, Manya! So happy you didn’t change the beginning. Yes, let’s do lunch a week from Tuesday. We can work out the details in the coming days. I’m hoping Sara will be able to join us.

Manya October 5, 2014 at 1:46 am

Thanks, Kathy! Sounds like a plan….hasta pronto.

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