Nightly, Gary and I fall asleep to a chorus of street dogs barking the news of the day. We are awakened at dawn by church bells and roosters. The poor old church bells are non-melodious. After the last dull clang fades, we hear chickens squawking in waves across the valley. First, one barnyard goes off, then another, echoing off both volcanoes.
It’s Carnivale time: the weekend before Lent. Parades of musicians and dancers go down the streets at random times. Boys with squirt guns, water balloons, and shaving cream lurk in doorways, ready to douse the unsuspecting. Nobody is safe! Sidewalks are crowded with people from outlying areas. Both town squares host fireworks.
A Lovely Excursion
One afternoon we take a shuttle bus with expats from various countries to a serene, landscaped estate with stunning views outside town.
A wonderful charity called “Ami” is housed there. They help indigenous Quechua children in need.
Weekly movies help raise funds. The bus costs $1, the movie $5. At the movie, or in some of the expat-run cafes, it’s nice to meet other “gringos” and discuss why they’re here.
The primary reasons are the ability to live off Social Security, inexpensive medical care, temperate weather, and a relaxed lifestyle. Many find the US too dangerous.
The Expat Community
Those who are most successful at making a good life here are the ones who learn Spanish and integrate into the local community. It seems that the people who only speak English eventually feel isolated and frustrated by their small pool of acquaintances. There are some younger expat families here, but retirees predominate. Among the expats, a variety of lifestyles, personalities, and priorities exist in a kind of disharmonious harmony.
The Bountiful Mercado
Gary and I walk to the market or mercado on Sunday, when they have organic produce. Our backpack brims with tropical fruits.
I buy 2 dozen splendid roses for $3. As always, we meet other gringos and chat.
At the Mercado and on the sidewalks, we encounter the viejas. These are extremely old, tiny Quechua women who have no family.
Most are well under 4’ tall, hunched, barefoot. They silently beg for food or coins alongside the hungry street dogs.
At night, they sleep in a building called “Home for the Ancients.” The tiniest 3’ tall vieja with cataracts gets coins and bananas from us when we pass.
A Feeling of Safety
We feel utterly safe strolling here. The sidewalks are filled with relaxed families and laughing children, plus gringos and vacationers. In the bigger cities, pick-pocketing is a problem; it’s best not to carry a purse or have your cell phone in your pocket. In Cotacachi, that is not an issue from what I see.
This is a sleepy, safe, flower-filled town where people know one another, and not much happens. Everyone greets everyone on the sidewalks.
The locals consider the U.S. expats to be, in general, cold and unfriendly because most don’t greet their neighbors as they pass.
I get in the habit of greeting everyone and watching their faces light up to greet a friendly gringo.
After visiting the market, we stop at our favorite spot, the Serendipity cafe, to give a few roses to the gorgeous young Quechua owner, Maria. She reaches up to hug me (she’s 4-1/2’ tall) and draws me into a cheery conversation in Spanish, laughing warmly about my grammar, complimenting my progress. Gary orders guanabana juice and we stroll home, feeling surprisingly at home here in the quiet rhythm of Cotacachi.
Thinking of settling in Cotacachi? We’re happy to share our experiences with you.
by: Bonnie Willow