This chapter is different from all the others on our site because we live in Ecuador, "commuting" back and forth to the United States several times a year.
One of the reasons we have chosen this place is the natural beauty of the country, whose capitol, Quito, is surrounded by a string of nine volcanoes. The snowy one in the picture above is tenderly called Mama Cotacachi (16,200ft.) by the natives. There is another volcano, Volcan Imbabura (15,121ft. not in this picture), which is called Daddy Imbabura.
Legend says that when Mama Cotacachi awakens in the morning with a fresh cover of snow, Daddy Imbabura has spent the night with her making love.
We first visited Ecuador early in 2008. I had been searching for a place where Nancy and I could continue to travel abroad, but with less stress and strain. Getting older has begun to make some of our more adventuresome travels harder.
For us, living on the East Coast of the United States, travel to Quito is easy because it is "vertical", rather than "horizontal" to get there. A single transfer in Panama or Miami is not too taxing. Except when the States go on Daylight Savings Time, we are in the same time zone, which eliminates jet lag. At at 8 hours airport to airport, we can do the trip in one day and not have to spend the next three or four days recuperating.
Standards of living are quite high- the cost of living is very affordable. Food, gasoline, medical expenses, and housing, are very reasonable, though prices for everything have become somewhat higher than just a few years ago.
Ecuador is many different things, and it is easy to find what pleases you- especially if you know what you are seeking! There are cities like Quito, there are coastal beach towns and villages; there are isolated areas at breath-taking elevations in the Andes. And because the country is so small, everything is relatively close to everything else.
Because of our special needs situation, we decided we would be best off living near a modern city, close to a good international airport and modern, Western-type medical facilities. The Ecuadorian consulate and ambassador in DC both immediately recommended Cumbaya, a suburb of Quito, located about 25 minutes drive from the old main airport- a little further from the new airport.
We quickly discovered you need someone familiar with the country to help you through the "minefield" that can overwhelm someone who is an obvious "outsider" in the land. You really need someone you can trust who has only YOUR best interests at heart.
We were fortunate to find a native Ecuadorian, Martha Perez, who has lived in the US, speaks English fluently, and understands the American and European way of thinking. We stayed at her house, Casa Isabella, and the photo of Cotacachi Volcano, above, is taken from her front yard. We went around the country with her. She is an invaluable resource for all things things Ecuadorian, and you can trust her completely. Visit her web site www.ecuadorpersonalassistant.com
This satellite photo from Google Earth, taken perhaps 10 or 12 years ago, gives slight hint to how rural the area was just a short few years past.
The main thoroughfare, Interoceanica Highway, is the artery to the left side. The orange roofs on the right side of the highway, down by the large traffic circle, were the first commercial stores built. Our little gated community in Cumbaya, La Comarca, is on the right side of the photo, to the right of the commercial buildings- close by, but protected from noise and commotion. At the time of the Google picture, our condominium has not yet been built (same for all the green spaces you see). Presently, it is now on the green plot marked by an "X", adjacent to a municipal park (marked with a yellow pin, top, center of the picture).
What a difference a few years can make! Now, commercial buildings line both sides of the Interoceanica Highway, and all but two of the green spaces in La Comarca have residential, low rise condominiums on them. In the very bottom left corner of the satellite image, a huge shopping mall is being constructed, along with an underground parking garage large enough to hold 2000 cars; the traffic circle itself is being re contoured with an underpass to handle the increased flow of cars and people.
We bought our place when it was about 80% completed. We were able to make some major structural modifications to suit our needs (for some additional expense), and have been extremely pleased with the results. On the day we moved in, I took this photo:
Our home is accessible, and spacious (3BR, 2 1/2BA, approx. 1,500 square feet, with 2 underground parking spaces and an ample, separate storage room). Real estate taxes last year were less than .00.
...a little furniture...
and you end up with two very happy people!
There is a small municipal park right behind us that has trees that flower several times a year. The trees are now mature, and full of birds all year around.
Beside the obvious economic considerations, there is so much to love about Ecuador! The temperatures are never harsh, and vary depending on where you are in the country, so you can virtually pick the type of weather you want to suit your needs. Where we live, in Cumbaya, daytime temperatures average around 78-82 degrees daytime, 56-58 degrees at night. A little warmer in "Summer"; a little cooler in "Winter". Never really "too hot" or "too cold".
There is an almost endless variety of activity to go with the varied natural beauty. Let us show you:
In the heart of the city is the large Parque Carolina, with a botanical garden, game spaces, soccer fields and open areas for whatever suits your fancy. Pedal boats ply along a man-made canal. One afternoon, we happened upon this scene:
A large crowd had gathered to watch a performance by this fellow, his puppet (dangling from his right hand), and his helper. While the show was entirely in Spanish, you don't really need to know what was said- you can read the faces of the children and understand everyone was being entertained.
He worked the crowd for nearly an hour- and was well rewarded at the end when his floppy hat was passed around. Nancy and I clearly had a great time.
In Quito itself, there is an "Old City" full of culture. Notable is the Street of the Seven Crosses where the Spanish Conquistadors erected seven churches centuries ago. But our favorite site is the Panecillo, a huge statue which overlooks the business district of the city:
Driving an hour or so north of the city, through mountains of such ruggedness and majesty, you will arrive at The City at the Middle of the World.
There is a museum here, a little train that runs around the park, a bandstand where performances are held, and a good play area for children. Nancy, however, far and away prefers the little shops sprinkled around the site. Please note the fancy Native- made tote bag on the back of her wheelchair.
Outside the city, perhaps an hour and a half drive east from our home through the most breathtaking mountains this side of Switzerland, is Papallacta, home to several spas and famous for its pools of volcanically heated water.
Papallacta is clean, inexpensive, very popular, and utterly relaxing. I took this photo of Nancy (with dark sunglasses) and Maria, her care-giver playing in the water. A total stranger had wandered over to be sure Nancy was O.K.
We were in the sun for exactly an hour and ten minutes. But because we are nearly on the Equator, closer to the sun, because the air is thin, clean, and contains far fewer pollutants, and because we are fair skinned, the strong sun turned both Nan and me pink!
Further east of Quito, about 3 1/2 hours drive from Cumbaya, we ventured into the part of Ecuador where the Rain Forest for the Amazon River begins. Picked up at our home and transported in their van, we stayed at Huasquilla Lodge, located near the town of Cotumbo. The lodge is well designed, handicap accessible, and everyone there, starting with Cecelia, the genial hostess, works hard and sincerely to be sure there are no "snags".
Much thought has been given to maximizing the unique assets of the surrounding area, and they have carefully developed a program of activities tailored to the abilities of the guests. (We obviously could not explore the nearby caves- but you can). Everything they planned provided us with a delightful four days. One of our first adventures was to an injured animal sanctuary near the main lodge, where our guide took this photograph.
Next, we visited an Indigenous village, where we were treated to some local lore and history, and had our faces painted in readiness to enter their lodge and participate (if we wish) in a sacred dance.
First, Cecelia, owner and our hostess:
Then Nancy, Queen of Disabled Travelers:
And a very pleased Special Needs couple emerges!
Being the kind of fearless travelers that we are, we also rafted down one of the rivers that feeds into the mighty Amazon River, more than a thousand miles further east, across the continent of South America. In fact, the experience stimulated us to travel to Brazil and sail on the actual Amazon River itself a few years later for our 50th Anniversary.
The little inset in the bottom right corner emphasizes the density of the jungle all around us. The lodge itself is gorgeous, and we were sorry to leave.
What is so utterly fascinating is that within a few hours drive- North, South, East, or West from our home in Cumbaya, we will encounter entirely different terrain, weather and experiences. This is true for most everywhere in Ecuador- and is part of what makes Ecuador so enticing. Hope you can feel our love...
Please remember, we are a "special needs"couple, in a wheelchair, with lots of requirements. If we can do these things, you can, too.
Please feel free to contact us if you have questions, suggestions, comments or just some friend words by clicking on our contact form