At the end of November, all of our planning and preparing ends and our adventure takes flight. We will fly into Guayaqil in Southern Ecuador and catch a ride to Cuenca, a city in the highlands a few hours north. At about 8,400 feet in altitude, Cuenca is known for its mountain vistas, Spanish colonial architecture, museums, restaurants, thriving ex-pat community, and access to the Andes. We’ll be there a month before heading south to some smaller towns in the Andes for another three weeks or so. (See “Now What?” below.)
If you’ve been following along, you know that preparing for this next stage of our journey has had a lot of steps. It’s been more than a year since we decided to take the leap; since then we’ve “zero-sized” our possessions, sold our house, retired, and managed a ton of financial details to set ourselves up for the future (we hope!). We made plans and then pivoted more than once due to Covid. After our trip to the western U.S. this fall, we gave ourselves a month to tie up all the loose ends we hadn’t yet gotten to. We had no idea how much was left until we began to dive in!
I won’t bore you with all the details, but trust me, each one of these topics has required days of work to research and implement. So having the time here in Florida (and in Maine over the summer) to work on these things has been an incredible blessing. I’m quite sure I’ve forgotten many steps along the way—these are the ones that are freshest since we’ve been working on them this month. But it goes to show how many things we didn’t think about when we decided to embark on this crazy plan and it all sounded so romantic!
Documents: We made sure our passports will not expire within six months of our planned return date, renewed our Global Entry passes, and established residency in Florida by getting FL driver’s licenses, registering to vote, and changing the address on all of our accounts (to have a “permanent” address we can provide when needed).
Money: Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar, so we don’t need to get new currency, but there are a lot of other things to think about. We ensured that our bank accounts, credit cards, debit cards, etc., can be used outside the U.S. (no foreign transaction fees, no ATM fees, extra points/cash back for travel expenses, PINs for the credit cards, etc.). Made arrangements for doing our U.S. taxes remotely by getting documents sent electronically and figuring out how to handle those that are sent by mail. Got security pouches or belts to carry cash, as many small businesses in Ecuador —including an ecolodge where we’ll be staying—don’t accept credit cards and only the major cities have ATMs.
Health: Ecuadorian health care has a great reputation, but we needed to make sure our health insurance here will cover us there. We investigated other plans tailored for folks living outside the U.S. and decided we could stay with what we have for now. We also made sure all of our vaccinations were up to date, including a Covid booster, and requested vacation exceptions for any meds we need while away (in order to get more than a 90-day supply).
Tech Security: Here’s a big one. All of our devices could be targets of theft if we are not careful and we’ll be using a lot of unfamiliar and potentially unsecured wifi networks (which opens us up more opportunities to be hacked). So we researched and implemented a long list of recommended security measures like strengthening our passwords, using a password manager, and setting up encrypted backups. We decided to bring older phones, clear off anything non-essential, and make sure Apple’s “Find My” function is set up on all of our devices.
Phone Service: Adding international service to our Verizon plan is crazy expensive. We can get inexpensive phone service from an Ecuadorian company (with Ecuadorian phone numbers), but canceling Verizon means we lose the U.S. phone numbers we’ve had for years! Fortunately, we found a solution in a travelers’ blog—for $3/mo., we can “park” our phone numbers with a service and get an email whenever there’s a text or voice mail on them. That keeps the numbers alive and we can transfer them back to any phone service when we come back to the states (we hope!).
Along with all of these logistics, we began to think more about what we’ll do when we get to Ecuador—and even make some arrangements. Crazy, right? Knowing where we’ll be for a few months? So here’s where we’ll be through mid-February:
Cuenca—We start in Cuenca with two weeks of intensive Spanish lessons. Rachel is light years ahead of me in learning Spanish, but we can both use the immersion right from the start. Then we have another couple of weeks to explore the region—there are river walks, colonial cathedrals, central marketplaces, and more. We may even go on a trek through Incan ruins in the Andes. Here’s a video of 20 Things to Do in Cuenca if you’re interested in seeing more!
Loja—After that, we head a few hours further south in the Andes for two weeks in Loja, a smaller city at about 6700 feet. The pictures look stunningly beautiful and we’ll be staying close to numerous national parks and refuges. Here’s a “Portrait of Loja” tourist video to learn more.
Vilcabamba—Then we go to an ecolodge in Vilcabamba, another hour or so further south. Once a retreat for Incan royalty, Vilcabamba is now known as the “valley of longevity” due to the number of people who live more than 100 years (though, to be honest, that appears to be more legend than fact…). But it is near some beautiful hiking and Incan ruins, we’ve read.
Mangloralto—In late January, we go to the beach! Specifically, Mangloralto, a small fishing village about a mile walk down the beach from a larger beach town (Montañita) that has a reputation for surfing and partying but also has another language school if we want to step up our Spanish game. Here’s an aerial view video of Mangloralto‘s beach and river area that sure looks quiet—and that would suit us just fine, but it’s nice to know we can get to the bigger town if we want to!
After that, who knows? Perhaps a trip to the Galapagos, or perhaps we’ll decide that one of the places we’ve seen is where we want to settle in for the rest of our stay. Stay tuned!