I never imagined that the brutal, financial knock-out punch my wife, Diane, and I absorbed back in 2008 would turn out to be the best thing that's ever happened to us. It gave us the push we needed to leave the U.S. and begin our new lives overseas.
After significant research (aided greatly by International Living), we reckoned that Ecuador was the perfect place to begin our expat lives. It's gentle people and low cost of living allowed our psychological and financial wounds to heal and permitted the time for us to assess our next chapters. It also provided the portal to an entirely new and adventure-filled expat life that has stretched us beyond our previous bounds.
Exploring the Ecuadorian jungle had never been on any of my lists, and yet I regularly drove our rugged off-road vehicle along rough, slippery jungle trails, crossing swift rivers and once, spotted a small jungle cat. I've celebrated holidays by dancing in the streets among the locals. I've shared family meals with new friends in the humblest of surroundings, laughing together at my best attempts at the Spanish language.
A retired teacher, Diane often offered quick, basic English lessons to groups of children who regularly surrounded us in remote locations. We were an oddity and their curiosity was always disarming. I spent those first two years in wide-eyed wonder.
After two years, it was time to leave Ecuador. There was both sadness and excitement as we boarded the plane to Mexico.
I'm writing this from my home office in Cancún. The view through the large sliding door to my right is the sparkling Nichupte Lagoon just across the street. I am literally steps from a perfect, Caribbean beach on the other side of our building. And while the visuals of my current life are enviable postcards, they can't convey the sense of freedom that comes from a retirement without borders or the lack of pressure that accompanies zero financial worries. And there is also the pride that comes from learning a second language, and the comfort of having made friends in our adopted countries. None of that can be conveyed though a photograph…which is why, I suppose, I write about it.
Diane and I regularly load the Jeep for road trips throughout Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. We love finding new adventures and make a point to get off main roads. After all, as a correspondent for International Living, finding under-the-radar locations is what I do. A few weeks ago, we discovered a picturesque seaside village on the Gulf Coast. We've also driven south, to Belize, a couple of times and I'm currently organizing my notes and completing interviews for upcoming articles. And while I'm revealing a few secrets, I'll soon be checking out a place that I believe could be Mexico's next retirement hot spot. It's a modern city with upgraded infrastructure good hospitals, a beautiful waterfront, great fishing, plenty of shopping, low crime, a gorgeous university, and a very low cost of living.
Our life as expats has provided enormous wealth that can't be stored in some bank or tallied on a spread sheet. I've climbed and explored ancient Maya ruins, hiked through rainforests and jungles, spotted elusive jungle critters and tropical birds and I've soared over Ecuadorian cliffs on a paraglider. I've held tiny hatchling sea turtles in my hands and observed their enormous mama as she dug her nest and laid her eggs.
I've climbed down into ancient cenotes (natural caverns filled with crystal-clear water) and experienced the reverence of swimming among stalactites and stalagmites thousands of years old. I've crouched in a primitive outdoor kitchen, taking instruction from a tiny Maya woman, trying to teach me how to form tortillas by hand (it's not easy).
Our move to Ecuador became the launching pad for an amazing life adventure. We make daily deposits into our experience account and our balance continues to grow. In fact, I dare say we have become wealthy. And while there have been challenges along the way, I'd do it all again in a heartbeat.
Commentary by Don Murray, a correspondent for Internationalliving.com. Don moved overseas in 2012 and now lives in a beachfront condo in Cancun, Mexico.
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