This is part of our Ecuador Expats Series. In this interview, American Cassie McClellan talks about living in Otavalo as an expat.
Cassie McClellan Talks About Living in Otavalo
- The Expat: Cassie McClellan
- Connect with Cassie: on her Facebook cooking page
Where are you currently living?
We are living in the northern Andes region in Otavalo, Ecuador, and have been here five and half years.
What's Your Story?
My husband and I are Georgia natives. We met and became friends in college. We lost touch as I moved to New York while my husband went to L.A. for a few years.
We re-connected twenty years later on Facebook and fell madly and hopelessly in love. We married two years later and within a year of getting married, moved to Ecuador.
Where did you get the idea of living in Ecuador?
During our first phone conversation after re-connecting, we both jokingly mentioned living abroad.
The idea starts taking serious shape after we moved in together. We were both interested in the adventure and the cultural experience of living in a foreign country.
We had the idea to go to different countries such as Panama, Costa Rica, etc., with Ecuador first on the list. We arrived, fell in love in with the country, and decided to look no further.
We purchased our first home here before we moved permanently. We spent two working vacations here furnishing our home and made the final leap in November of 2011.
We are now living in our third home here, high in the mountains above Otavalo in an almost all indigenous community. We never say never and who knows what adventure might present itself. As for the here and now, we couldn't be happier.
More reading: 11 Things to Know When Visiting Otavalo Market
How's your Spanish?
My husband had some high school Spanish under his belt, while I only had bits of Spanish that I had picked up while visiting my brother who lived in Spain.
Before we moved, we both dedicated a few hours each evening to Spanish learning programs.
While it certainly helped with a good basic foundation for learning, our Spanish improved dramatically with full immersion.
The Ecuadorians are very forgiving of our inevitable mistakes, but it is very important to try. You miss out on so much without the language. It is an ever-constant learning experience and we welcome the challenge.
You might enjoy: The Best Way to Learn Spanish
How do you make your living?
We started a small bed and breakfast and microbrewery. Our guests were mostly budget-minded young travelers.
There is a lot of competition in the small hostel business in Otavalo so we thought we could offer something special by brewing up our own stouts and ales.
At that time, there was very little variety out there for beer drinkers in Ecuador. We started brewing small five gallon batches and found we couldn't keep up with production. We decided to invest in proper brewing equipment which we had fabricated for us and upped our production to 250 liter batches.
A few of the local restaurants started carrying our beer as well. This provided us with a modest income and a wealth of experience. We eventually sold our home and brewery thinking that we would be moving back to the United States. Our situation changed somewhat and we decided to stay.
We bought our third home (which we are living in now) and some financial investments provides us a monthly interest payment. We are currently updating our home to include a small apartment that we intend on renting, either full time or airbnb to provide some extra income.
More reading: Ecuador Real Estate Guide
We try to live on a budget and still enjoy our little extras like dining out and little exploratory trips within Ecuador.
What do you love about Ecuador?
We have really come to love the Ecuadorian people and their constant smiles and laid back lifestyle. We love the freedom of not owning a car, we savor the street food, we are never (almost never) in a hurry.
We have the time to turn our attentions to our passions. For me, it's cooking. For my husband, it's his music.
We enjoy the best of country and town life, as we are out of town and away from most of the noise. We wake to roosters crowing and bird song and incredible mountain vistas every morning.
Yet, we can step on a bus that runs by our home every forty minutes and be in the heart of our vibrant town in 15 minutes, or if we choose, we can walk it in about thirty minutes.
Having lived in both a gated, mostly expat community, and now out in a rural, indigenous community, we can honestly say we feel safer here with a real sense of camaraderie with our neighbors.
We sought out any and all resources for research on Ecuador. International living, personal blogs, GringosAbroad, of course. Pretty much anything and everything I could find on the internet.
My honest advice to anyone considering moving to Ecuador would be to do diligent research, visit as much as feasible before taking the leap, learn at least some basic Spanish, travel around this diverse country to find the area that best fits your lifestyle, and above all, learn patience, smile, and embrace it all.
Ecuador is a wonderful and beautifully diverse country, but it's not a Utopia. Stay long enough to take off any rose-colored glasses and see it with honest eyes.
We have found that after years of living here, we love it more than the day we first arrived.
And there you have it: a glimpse of what living in Otavalo is actually like.
Hungry for more? Here are another 25+ Ecuador Expat interviews.
Have a question for Cassie about what it’s like to live in Otavalo, Ecuador? Join her in the comments below!