9 Months Abroad: Living the Good Life

As the pages flip past on the calendar, like the images in old cartoons, we look at the dates as if we’ve been suspended in time. In many ways our assimilation into a new life and culture has been so encompassing, that we could have forgotten the rest of the world existed. Although to some, it appears glamorous from afar, these have surely been the toughest moments in our life. It is not easy to pack up your family and leave behind a life that is routine and predictable. Not easy to say goodbye to the only friends and family you have known. Not easy to alienate yourself from all signs of comfort and familiarity, in lieu of all things that are brand new.

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Me and the kids sitting on the Equator!

There have been so, so many days that I have wanted to pack up our bags and return “home” with my tail between my legs. But, those days were mostly in the beginning and by now they have thankfully faded into memories of our struggles to acclimate. We’ve been through the ringer folks, but we don’t dwell on it much, as it’s hard to carry on when you’re stuck looking back. For months on end we were sick far more days than we were well; and we were moving far more often than we were settling in. From what I know now, this a familiar tale, and is reminiscent for most families who move abroad. But, finally, we have been rewarded with enough time to catch our breath, to claim a home, and fully absorb just how far we have come. We are now in our 4th home since our arrival in Ecuador just nine months ago. The earthquake that uprooted us from our second house is over 6 months past now. The aftershocks have finally quieted and mostly we don’t notice them anymore. It feels like the event happened ten years ago.

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Our 4 year old picking up a coconut on the beach.

Life has a funny way of throwing a wrench right in the middle of the best laid plans, and kicking you square in the rear to put you on the right path again. Why we all fight the universe so hard is something I’ll never comprehend. But, if we’ve learned anything at all, it is that we aren’t as in control as we think we are. It doesn’t really matter if you believe in god or some other entity, or in no one at all; there is at least some sort of force that guides us, if only we will listen. We came to the village of San Clemente, where we now live, shortly after the earthquake. This community wrapped its arms around us and shielded us from our shock. The citizens pulled us in as quickly as they could, to comfort us and reassure us, and to make us part of them. They have won us over with their hearts and their charm, and from this moment we are sure this where we belong.  This place is one that we ran circles around, likes bees to the perfect flower, trying to deny it until the choice was ours no more. But, it wasn’t meant to be until the moment that is was, even as inspiring as the circumstances are.

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The view from the balcony at our beach cottage!

Tonight I sit writing from the kitchen, in the heart of the house; that was always intended from the start. I picked this quaint sea-side home from my over-sized android screen, over a year ago, in the midst of the brownest winter I’d ever seen in Iowa. Even then, all the arrows were pointing here. We were blessed with almost no snow that year, as we organized mid-winter garage sales and home-for-sale tours at our nearly-rural location. It should have been a dead-zone, an impossible time to get rid of everything in that space and place. But, somehow the planets aligned, and everything was gone in just four months over the typically worst days of winter, and the house sold long before summer surfaced. At least by then we were listening, and it paid off, as life was going smoothly and better than according to our plans.

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Carlos and the kids from high about the capital city of Quito

Funny enough, we didn’t choose this house back then; there were too many unknowns in planning a new life with a young family from behind a screen on a different continent. We knew this village was small and without many modern conveniences, we couldn’t tell if there was a school, a doctor, or even a market. We just weren’t that ready to leap so far out of our comfort zone. So, we settled in a neighboring small city of about 20,000 people.  Bahia de Caraquez is a known vacation haven for expats and city dwellers. It was known for being criminally safe, and a little more modern, with an American school, and paved streets, a department store and reliable taxi services. Bahia, as the locals call it, was the perfect place for us the blend the best parts of both worlds. We were happy there, acclimating, starting to gain confidence in our new surroundings. But even then, we knew it wasn’t permanent as we just aren’t city souls. We continued to wander around through several small beach villages, looking for the right fit.

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My husband, Carlos, learning to be a Bullfighter in the Andes Mountains.

We loved San Clemente immediately and by some miracle, this very house was still available to rent, almost half a year after the first time we had seen it online. We made our choice and proceeded to make plans to move in at the beginning of May. We pondered several times, if we should cut our losses and sacrifice a few weeks of rent in Bahia, to move in to this beach house in mid-April.  For some reason we kept our patience, and decided to finish out the month where we were. The night of April 16th was when the earth shattering 7.8 earthquake hit the coast of Ecuador. We were in Bahia, sitting outside the house on the sidewalk. As the buildings crumbled and the streets buckled, we were fortunate to escape unharmed. But, we stayed in our unstable home beneath a faltering hotel for nearly a week without running water, electricity, or humanitarian aid. We couldn’t reach the realtor, as the phone lines and internet connections were also nonexistent.  We wrestled with ourselves all week, feeling unsafe and afraid, and wondering if we would have been okay had we moved to San Clemente the day before the quake.

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Our 2.5 year old son, sliding down the sand banks in San Clemente, Ecuador.

When we finally got the news about this house, the order of events was eerily intact. As awful as the earthquake situation had been, we were all alive and unharmed. That would not have been the case if we had moved in to the seaside cottage early. We very well would have been killed or severely injured on just our second night here.  The entire roof of the front balcony that overlooks the ocean had caved in; the pieces were splintered and mangled, and largely unrecognizable. We are certain we would have been sitting there that night, just as were in Bahia, watching the sun set. It still makes me feel ill, just as it did the first time I saw it, as I realized what the universe had spared us.

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Local girls dancing in the streets during one of San Clemente´s cultural festivals.

We still moved to San Clemente, but not to this house for obvious reasons, it wasn’t condemned but was in dire need of major repairs. And regardless, I was terrified and uninterested, afraid of more earthquakes and tidal waves. I didn’t even want to see the ocean for awhile. We moved into the condo back against the mountains, and did all our recovering hidden at the end of dusty street in a guarded community. A few weeks crept by and my husband took up residency for his gym, in a vacant building just two lots down from here. For months, we looked at this house almost every day. Watched the debris move away, the new bricks come in, and new roof going up. We pondered it, weighed it, and debated it. Hesitated, and even briefly thought about leaving this area. But, exiting San Clemente wasn’t in the cards for us, and just as it wasn’t mean to be, other plans never panned out.

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Bicycle Banana vendors in Ecuador.

Eventually we found ourselves standing here, looking at this perfect space again. Hair dancing in the wind, noses turned to the sea; squeezing hands in confirmation that this was the place to be. Our children squealed with laughter when we broke the news. We wanted to move in that night but we had learned to wait until the timing is right.

We have since moved in, just a bit over a month ago. All of the colors on the wall are perfect, even though we never would have picked them.  The floor plan is ideal. The location is a dream. We have two bedrooms, but we all fit comfortably in one. We have learned that being close is essential in this family, and even night- time separation is unnecessary for all of us. The tiny kitchen is the center, as all kitchens should be, without walls and open to the sounds of the house and the sights of the sea. And somehow, perfectly, there is one corner meant exactly for this computer. So I can effectively write, and cook, and parent, while enjoying life from this control center of sorts. From here, I can see the sights, seemingly as I had imagined from nearly a year ago, when I hoped that this was the perfect place for me and my family from far, far away.

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In this moment, I can safely say, through the good and the bad, this place was meant to be. This journey has been worth it. We feel at home more than ever before. Yesterday, we hung the paintings and photos on the wall, the very few things we brought with us from our life before. We even put a small Christmas Tree up, that glows from the glassed- in corner window. A tree we never thought we’d purchase here. I said the day we moved in, that exact space was made for nothing more than a lit up holiday icon. And there it is, sparkling back at me, as I write this beloved note on how wonderful life is in Ecuador after just 9 months abroad.

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Merry Christmas from Ecuador!
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30 Comments Add yours

  1. I really enjoyed reading this post Stephanie. It was the same for us when we sold our place and decided to become nomadic. We learned to listen, really listen, to what was wanted of us as you two obviously have. If we listen to our intuition, to spirit, to whatever you want to call it, we will be safe and supported. How wonderful that you have found your true home, and can feel it’s embrace around you. I think it will be a place for you all to thrive. I’m amazed by you and your husband’s spirit, and courage, and willingness to live life out of the box. Not many people can do that.
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Alison! These days, week, and months have certainly been life changing. We are excited to see what the future holds, and in addition we are eager to see the long term impacts on our children. We hope that our experiences here and beyond will breed in them; a comfort in moving against the crowd when it intrigues them. We can only hope that through this life they can be open to the many avenues of happiness, and not feel restricted by only one. That they can hear the voice of the universe above their own, and most importantly beyond the many influences of others. As adults, we have had to struggle through the mind shift at times, but hopefully for them, it will be in their nature to “think outside the box”.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Carama says:

    It’s hard to believe you went a week without humanitarian aid,my husband and were in Bahia during the earthquake and we received aid, provisions and water within 36 hours. Also there was never a tidal wave during this devastating event. Over all glad you have found your place and your family is safe and happy in Ecuador.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow that’s incredible for you all, that is the first I’ve heard of someone that received public aid that quickly. There was one small truck that came to our neighborhood late on the 4th day but the supplies were exhausted in minutes and most of us were left empty handed. Although we do recall one private building that had received a few minimal supplies from within their organization. Otherwise there were plenty of workers around helping with debris removal, but no one with supplies. It could be that we were simply secluded from where the resources were, as we chose to stay in our residence on the oceanfront next to the La Herradura Hotel. It was mostly deserted aside from us. Where we you and your husband located? Also, we were very thankful that there was not a tidal wave, but it was prominent part of our experience..moving with the masses to get as far away from the ocean during the hysteria over concerns for a tidal wave. I know much more about earthquakes and the occurrence of tidal waves now, but in the weeks following the quake I have to admit a strong lack of rational. Even though the threat had long since passed, I was still quite fearful of a re-occurrence..another earthquake another threat of tidal surge. Thankfully all turned out well, and we are grateful to have escaped unharmed and that you and your husband did as well.

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      1. Carama says:

        We are in Leónidas Plaza, so maybe that was the difference. Our immediate loss was not having our phones charged 😟 And not being able to let our children that live in the states know we were safe. It was emotionally stressful. I agree not an experience we want to go through again, but we love it here and don’t have plans to move. We have helped many relocate and rebuild homes and had a family stay with us that lost their home. We have had many positive experiences come from such a distressing event.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Okay, that makes a little more sense! We did receive word that supplies had reached that area, as we understand was a bit more populate as well as accessible and maybe even higher priority. Either way, so thankful that many us of came out of it with not more to report than frazzled nerves. Bless you for all of those that you were able to help, the kindness of others is exactly what has given the coast so much strength to rebuild and carry one. I must say that I completely agree with you, that a distressing experience like this could have deterred us from living here, but instead had quite the opposite effect. In those days and moments, the kindness and strength of the Ecuadorian people were highlighted. We saw so many examples of a community that banded together to ensure that we all took care of one another. As relative outsiders, we could have easily been forgotten or left behind. But, what became obvious to us, was how many people knew we were there and made sure that all of us, especially our “babies” and dogs were okay. It was in those moments that we sat in the back of a stranger´s pickup, huddled with a dozen other people..all fleeing from the peninsula in fear of the flooding..that I knew we would not be leaving Ecuador. How could we turn our backs on all of these people that refused to turn their backs on us? During a time of such great tragedy, we knew that we had found the type of brotherhood we had been searching for. A place not only suitable, but genuinely desirable as a place to raise our children, where they could grow to reflect the ideals of such a great people. *Fuerza Ecuador!!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. We’ve been abroad for 11 years now. The first few are crazy but I promise it does get easier! You’ve had more than your fair share of crazy though. How lucky that you hadn’t moved before the quake.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow! Eleven years! I can’t even begin to imagine how different life will be after that much time..and with the kids in their teens. I do think that our first experiences were a bit out of the ordinary and hopefully from that, the rest will be a little bit easier.

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  4. Lisa (Simple Sojourner) says:

    Sounds like you are living quite an adventure. It takes a special mind set to say we are getting out of our comfort zone and going for it. I’m not there yet so good for you! I wish you all best in your new home and enjoy every day!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Lisa. I’m not sure if the mindset is something that you wait for. For us it was more something that we took by the reigns and claimed.I’m pretty sure that if we would have over thought it, we could have found a million ways to hesitate. In our minds the only way to do it, was to just go! It’s going to be hard either way, to ponder it or to dive into it. Thank you for your sentiments, and good luck in your journey as well!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Fair Dinkum Traveller says:

    A really nice read. How I long to sped a good amount of time living abroad, although that may have to wait for now. Your adventures in South America looked very exciting, nice pics, I hope your husband survived the bull fighting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Our life abroad has certainly had it’s exciting moments, but overall it’s as glamorous as people tend to believe. Aside from the occasional adventure, we live a mostly regular life on a different latitude. The experience is something I highly recommend to everyone who dreams of travel, to do more than visit, and to challenge yourself to living abroad at least once in your life. And yes, the bull fighting experience has been the highlight of the almost-year so far. I’m sure my husband would spend every day in the bull fighting ring if the opportunity presented itself!

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  6. Gokul Raj says:

    I have never left my country till now. But living abroad can be a great experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Definitely some good and some bad…just like life anywhere else. 😀

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  7. It must have been truly frightening to experience that earthquake. So glad to hear you were all OK. And I love your Christmas tree 🎄🎄🎄

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was pretty tough for awhile there, but just another experience now. Thank you so much!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Louiela says:

    Thanks for being strong amidst those difficulties. Going back home is soooo easy but you hold on to your dreams… Your kids are having the best time of their lives and for sure, they will have more adventures to come,,

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for these words. It´s always nice to get some outside encouragement. We know it is the best thing for our kids..and they are the reason that we keeping going!

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  9. Agnes says:

    Great story! I think you really grow a lot as a family going through some challenges together. And your kids will learn so much and grow up wonderful people. I am glad that you all were unharmed by the earthquake. Lot’s of luck for your journey 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, growing together has been such a beautiful part of the journey. Thank you so much!

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  10. it’s pretty crazy that there was an earthquake, but glad you guys were safe! Also glad that the new town was so welcoming and comforting for you. Sometimes the universe just throws so much at you but if you make it through, there are lots of rewards, as you have experienced!.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely, sometimes life- no matter where you are, is more about overcoming the obstacles that life dishes out. And pushing on to prevail in the end!

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  11. Janine Good says:

    Ecuador does look lovely! What a great place to settle. It is hard to be away from the familiar sometimes, while enduring such things as earthquakes and I am glad that you are all okay. Merry Christmas to all of you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! Merry Christmas too you as well!

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  12. Aleks F. says:

    What an amazing article and story! Your family is so beautiful and it’s so incredible to hear how you all have overcome so much and how you have finally found a place of comfort and joy after everything. You’re absolutely right that sometimes the universe has strange ways of redirecting us on different paths, and we all need to do a better job at listening. So happy you all listened and are now enjoying your new home!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, reader appreciation is to valuable for me, especially when it reaffirms what I am writing about! It is always touching to know when our stories make an impact on others. 😀

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  13. I always say there is a reason for everything. Taking such a positive look on even the toughest of times is , I think, how one is meant to live life. Sometimes things happen for a reason to make us grow or in this situation keep your family out of harms way. Living in the here and now… in the moment is so healthy

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it becomes more clear all the time, how much meaning lies behind each and every step we take! A greater cause, a bigger destination, a larger whole that we can’t always see in the moment!

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    1. Thank you for sharing!

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