Living the Good Life in Ecuador

Recently, we left our home in Salinas, Ecuador to visit the US for the best possible reason – my daughter had just given birth to twins, one boy and one girl! We had a great visit, but as always, there is some “reverse culture shock” to deal with when we are confronted with life in the States. I had one incident in particular that I found both amusing and instructive.

As you might expect, I spent a lot of time at my daughter’s house, playing with babies. One evening, hungry twins interrupted my daughter and me just as we finished our dinner, so naturally we left everything on the table, and each grabbed a baby. My new little granddaughter drained her bottle first. I burped her, and laid her back down (asleep again already), and thought I should make myself useful, and go ahead and clean up the table and wash the dinner dishes.

I proceeded to run one sink full of soapy water, cleaned off the plates, and started washing. I was momentarily annoyed when I couldn’t find the drying rack, but there was a dishtowel on one part of the counter, so I used that. I was just finishing up the pots, when my daughter came over and said “Dad, you didn’t have to do that”.

I of course smiled and deprecated, “Oh, it’s no big deal, I don’t mind.”

“No, I mean you didn’t have to do that”, she said as she pointed at the automatic dishwasher.


Seems like after four years of living in Ecuador, it had just slipped my mind that there were appliances to do that for you. It’s not that there are no dishwashers in Ecuador, it is just that they are not ubiquitous. Especially where we live, on the warm Pacific coast. I remember when we first moved here, being surprised that many Ecuadorians in this region do not even have hot water heaters. The simply did not see the need. Most homes have their water supply stored in tubs on the roof, kept warm by the equatorial sun.

Rita and I are entering our fifth year on the Pacific coast now, and last June we started the process of applying for Ecuadorian citizenship. This isn’t a political statement, we are still keeping our US citizenship – it is just that there are some real advantages to being a citizen of more than one country, and having a second passport.

Anyway, to prepare for our interviews and a test on Ecuadorian history and culture, I’ve been reading the Ecuadorian Constitution. It is really very interesting, and of course I couldn’t help but compare it to the US Constitution. The US version is a thoughtful and historic document, full of almost poetic language as it strives to “secure the Blessings of Liberty”. For the most part, it is concerned with laying out the form and function of the government. Two years after its ratification, the Bill of Rights was added, and citizens were promised certain rights, and more limits were placed on government.

The Ecuadorian Constitution by comparison is a bit more prosaic. It is very upfront with the rights of Ecuadorian citizens. For example, it states they have the right to food, water, shelter, health care, education – even discounts and protection for senior citizens are part of the Constitution. This has its poetic side too, as all of this is aimed at the idea of having the chance for la Vida Buena. This should not be confused with “buena vida”. In this case, it does not mean the “Good Life” as much as “A Life That is Good”.

What does the Life That is Good mean? Here in Ecuador, it means to live a life with good food and good health, and showing respect for each other. It means cherishing the youth and caring for the elderly. Even acceptance of other cultures, traditions, and languages is promised, and every citizen can file a claim to stand up for Pacha Mama if they feel Mother Earth is threatened.

It seems that in the States, the Good Life has a different meaning. In the US, the emphasis seems to be on how many things you have, what kind of car you drive, do you have the latest cellphone, or the newest Fit Bit, or all of the other electronic minutia of American Life? Are you shopping at the best stores, eating in the best restaurants, watching the latest movies?

Of course, both Constitutions are just words on paper. It is easy to say that rights are guaranteed, but in the real world, things do not always seem to work out that way. Ecuador and the US can both sometimes fall short of their ideals, but I’m glad that we made the decision to move to Ecuador and live simpler, happier, and healthier.

Our veggie vendor, Celinda – Photo from Salinas Alcaldia

Since we moved to Ecuador, our lives have become more filled with experiences than with consumer products. We found that after an initial adjustment period, we are actually happy that we do not need to own a car. We spend two or more hours walking each day running errands, or just for fun and exercise. We spend more time watching boat traffic and sunrises and sunsets over the ocean than we spend watching TV. I look forward to my trips to the local market, to see what fresh produce the vendors have today that I will use to cook a healthy, wholesome meal. I like that the fishmonger recognizes me, and smiles when he yells “Pangora!” to let me know he has my favorite crab claws this morning. And yes, I really don’t mind washing the dishes by hand, as I stare out across the Pacific Ocean (our kitchen sink view is the Featured Image up top).

Sure, it is great when we go to a local restaurant and have a delicious lunch for $4 each, or a simple Ecuadorian dinner for $9. Yesterday my wife and I each got haircuts a short walk from home for $5 each. It is great that for a 30-cent bus ride we can go to Big Ralph’s, and get a gourmet meal from an English-trained chef for less than half of what it would cost in the States – but it really is not about the money. We are not in Ecuador because we can live the Good Life on the cheap: we are here because we can live the Life That is Good.

Sunset over La Puntilla

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  • Aaron White says:

    Thank you for this excellent description of the important distinctions between “The Good Life” and “the life that is good.” Everybody wants to get a good deal, wherever we live. But knowing to look for the the life that is good, this is the key.

  • Veter says:

    Not everybody in the US lives for the newest gadget, latest car model, and other material things. Speak for yourself. Bad stereotyping … You could buy your food from the local farmer’s market and walk more than drive in the US too. The only point that is worth anything here is that Ecuador is cheaper – of course, it helps if you have US income.

    • Jim Santos says:

      That is true. It is also true that not all Ecuadorians live simply. Obviously, I’m comparing cultures, not individuals. I’m sorry for you if all you see of value in Ecuador is “it’s cheaper”. I’m afraid you missed the whole point of the article. Sure, money helps no matter where you live. But the quality of life is not measured in dollars.

  • Cathy Cunningham says:

    Preparing to move to Cuenca in April, thank you for this comparison & reinforcement that we are making the right decision.

    • Jim Santos says:

      Expat life in Ecuador is definitely not for everyone, but if you enter into it with an open mind and a willingness to adapt, it can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Best of luck, and stay in touch! We’ve been to Cuenca a few times, it is a beautiful city.

  • Dodie says:

    love this perspective; thanks!

  • Haha! I have also started washing dishes while visiting family in the US without remembering there is a machine for that. It is interesting the things we just forget about when we rarely see them, like dishwashers.

    Regarding the comment above saying that in the US people can do the same… In the US you CAN do those things – go to farmers markets, walk a lot, etc. but the majority of people drive to the grocery store and purchase food there. In Ecuador, it is just the opposite – you CAN drive to the grocery store and purchase food but the majority of people walk to the market instead.

    • Jim Santos says:

      True, we shopped whenever we could at farmer’s markets when we lived in the States. However, you can only do it seasonally, and we found the produce to be much more expensive at the US markets than they are here in Ecuador. Thanks for your comment!

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