This is part of our Ecuador Expats Series.
Ecuador Expat Profile: Cowtan Family, Capaes Ecuador
The Expats: Mark Cowtan and family
Where are your currently living?
Capaes, on the Salinas peninsula in Santa Elena Province.
What’s Your Story?
I am a British, and my wife is Peruvian, but we met in California where we were both living. She longed to return to Latin America, and I frankly had had enough of the grind.
When our small business went belly up, due to the real estate crash, we started to plan our escape from America. It took us a couple of years of research to take the plunge, sell everything, and start over in a new place.
To begin, we set up “base camp” in Lima, Peru, where my wife has family, and traveled up and down the coast of Peru and Ecuador for several weeks before finally settling on Ecuador.
My wife had already makes a couple of trips to Ecuador on her own to get the feel of the country, while I was still in the US packing up our home and getting the house sold.
Because my wife is Peruvian, Peru seemed like the obvious choice, but for a number of reasons, Ecuador proved to be a better option for us.
On our first trip together, we were more or less decided on where we wanted to settle, so we spent the time house hunting, and looking for an affordable car (Used cars are 50%-60% more expensive here than in the US, and in a lot worse condition, so it was tough to find one that felt like a fair deal).
We wanted to live by the coast, but just to be sure, we also checked out Cuenca, where we knew a lot of expats were settling too. Cuenca is lovely, but the coast was for us, and we returned to Peru with the wheels in motion to buy a condo near the beach in Capaes, Santa Elena.
On the next trip, we closed on the house, moved in, and started looking for contractors to help us fix up the condo.
My parents were big travelers, and so am I. So it was no big deal when I emigrated to California almost 20 years ago. It was an easy decision, and I was young and single, so I just did it.
But when you have a family to worry about, it’s a lot more complicated. It is not like being a 20-something traveler. There is a lot more to emigrating than meets the eye.
Not to mention this uneasy state of limbo, when your stuff is in a container somewhere, you don’t have a home anymore, and you’re living out of a suitcase (for 8 months already).
After 20 years in California, we were settled, and secure, but not happy with our lives. As the years rolled on, all we were doing was working, working, working. Besides the glorious weather, I wasn’t getting to enjoy most of the things that drew me to California in the first place – certainly not “smelling the roses”.
My wife and I started a real-estate marketing venture that collapsed along with the housing market, wiping out most of our savings. Then, we ALL took another beating in the financial meltdown. That was the last straw. The US was not working for us anymore!!!
But, like most Americans, we had our noses so close to the grindstone, we couldn’t see we were going round and round in circles.
We needed a fresh perspective and a fresh start. So, I used up all my accrued vacation and borrowed some from the next year, and we went to Puerto Rico for Christmas and camped by the beach for a month on Culebra island. Culebra reminded us of our dreams, and our passions, and it gave us time to think. The seed of the idea of leaving the US was born.
Planning Our Move Abroad
Over the next two years, we researched the Caribbean or Latin America, trying to find the right combination of things we wanted in our future life, our future home, and the future culture that our daughter would grow into.
The climate, uncontaminated food supply, nature around us, affordable housing, decent water supply, more relaxed lifestyle, access to cultural activities, and the list went on.
Although my wife is Peruvian, Ecuador kept winning. She tried skewing the scorecards in favor of Peru, with the “I’ve got family there” card. But it still wasn’t enough.
From Biodiversity to a low cost of living, Ecuador has a lot going for it, so for us the Ecuador coastline was the clear winner.
Having literally forgotten my first language Portuguese at the age of seven, I have always yearned to speak a Latin language again. In fact, it is one of the reasons I first met my Peruvian wife who was living in San Francisco.
But while we were in the US, I was lazy and learned very little, because her English is so good.
In Peru and Ecuador, it is a different story. I need Spanish every day, and it is improving poco-a-poco. I love the language, it is so rich. It is a big thrill to understand your first joke in a foreign language, and an even bigger thrill when you can make one!
The low cost of living really makes it easy to stretch ones budget. And the amazingly low $2.15/gallon gas price gives you the freedom to explore this beautiful country. We love the parks, the rivers and especially the beaches.
When we were researching Ecuador, we found it hard to connect the dots between where different towns and neighborhoods were, and what attractions or beaches they were near to.
So we’ve made it our weekend hobby, to visit and take photos of Ecuador beaches and put detailed information online for others to see. It’s a great way for us to learn about and appreciate the country too.
How’s Your Spanish?
In the US I was lazy because my wife speaks very good English. But now that I need it, my Spanish is coming along quite nicely.
What Do You Do?
Once the dust settles, we expect to start a local business here. Everywhere we turn, we can see so many opportunities here. We just need to spend more time understanding the market dynamics.
The low cost of living is a real blessing. Our money should last us pretty well until we get back up to speed with a new business. Low gas prices make traveling and exploring around very affordable.
What do you love about Ecuador?
Here are some the challenges we faced and some common misconceptions about Ecuador:
Schooling: One big concern for us was finding a decent school for our daughter who turns 7 this month. The school system in Guayas and Santa Elena provinces is pretty antiquated, and even more behind the times in the provincial towns along the coast. It’s like stepping back to 1960.
We have met the parents of a few wealthy Ecuadorean families who turned to homeschooling. We thought we might need to do the same.
But just in the nick of time, before the school year started, we found a new school that was much more progressive and offering something between a Montessori and traditional curriculum. It is called Educa, and is located in La Libertada.
Safety: Before coming to Ecuador, we had lots of warnings about crime and safety in the big cities. By the beach it is not an issue at all, but even in Guayaquil, we have never felt threatened.
We have a tiny stun-gun 30,000V that looks like a cell-phone (only about $30 in the US), which we carry in Guayaquil, or when we get money from the bank teller machine, just to be sure. It’s reassuring to have it, but we’ve never needed to use it.
Bureaucracy: Overall, we have found Ecuadorians to be exceptionally friendly and helpful, and we feel sure that coming here is the best decision we’ve made in a long time. Yes the speed of life and the bureaucracy, takes some getting used to. Be patient, and go with the flow… you’re in Ecuador!
Getting our residency and Cedula was a frustrating experience, and my best advice on this to anyone emigrating, is make sure you do as much preparation as you possibly can, in your home country. That means multiple copies of original birth and marriage certificates, with translations and apostil.
And then act immediately to get the ball rolling as soon as you arrive. There are a lot of time dependencies, so if say your visa or your police clearance letter expires, you’re back to square one, and it is much harder getting things done in the US, once you’re out of the country.
The bureaucracy aside, life here is a breeze, and the stress we lived under in the US is fading away into a distant memory. It’s a bit like waking up from a nightmare – the day ahead holds so much promise.
What We Love in Ecuador
Here are some of the top reasons why we chose Ecuador:
- Amazing Biodiversity, from the Galapagos to the Jungle
- 10% of land masses and lots of ocean are protected areas
- One of only two non-GMO countries in Latin America
- Hasn’t sold out to US, with mining and oil rights
- Government is making a dent in reducing poverty
- Affordable housing, and housing boom still to come
- No shortage of water, rain is abundant
- Great weather by the coast, not too hot
- Warm ocean with ~100 beautiful beaches
- Generally eco-friendly government policy
- Moderately Eco-aware population
- Incredible geology in a small geography
- Lots of places to go and things to do
- Low gas prices and low cost of living
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