1001 miles alone in an economy car A travelogue of ridiculous proportions

In late 2020 I started paying attention to my friend Joe’s Facebook posts about the retirement life he’s creating in Vilcabamba. His commentary and photos piqued my curiosity. Long story short, after 18 years in Hawaii, my retirement plans A–Y haven’t worked out. I’m of an age where that matters. So, I’m looking for Plan Z. After watching videos and doing online research for a couple of months, I started thinking Ecuador could be a real possibility. I liked that it offered a tropical environment similar to Hawaii. I decided to take a fact-finding journey to see if the country would welcome me. In late February 2021 I made a spontaneous decision to book a trip… for the following week! I chose four areas to visit during those 17 days: Cuenca, Manta, Salinas and Vilcabamba.

After 20 hours of travel, I arrived in Cuenca on a Saturday morning. I spent three days there… that’s another story. (Excerpt—Coastal Areas)

Day 4- Cuenca to the Coast

I rented a car—gulp—an economy car, with a stick shift and no cruise control—double gulp. At first, I couldn’t get the GPS to work and I didn’t know how to get from the rental car lot to the highway leading to the Andes overpass. Thank goodness my first Ecuador earth angel, Walid, an expat living in Cuenca, was able to talk me through it on the phone! What a beautiful drive through Cajas National Park, until—well—I didn’t do any weather research in advance. It turns out this is the rainy season—and it’s a rainier season than most—so there were landslides all over and I was driving this tiny economy car. What the hell was I thinking?!

At one point I had to get out of my car and move rocks from a rock slide that were too big for my car to drive over! A thought came to mind: living on the Big Island of Hawaii was the only thing that could’ve prepared me for this. The conditions were similar I’ve learned to always be aware of treacherous road conditions and prepared for unpredictable delays.

I made it to the other side of the Andes in a few hours, and was headed for the coast. GPS originally said it was a six-hour drive, so I expected to get there during daylight. Nine hours after I left the rental car place, I arrived in Santa Marianita. It was already dark, so I couldn’t see how beautiful the location was until morning. The manager of Soga Hostal, Oswaldo, speaks fluent English, and greeted me warmly, He laughingly told me, “whatever GPS says, double it”. He’s right. Oswaldo offered me a beer. I normally drink maybe one beer a year, but a cold beer sounded good and it turned out this brand, Club (pron. Cloob) wasn’t bitter. I liked the taste and it helped me relax. I slept great that night and awoke to a spectacular ocean view from my bed, for $35 a night!

Day 5- Santa Marianita

Oswaldo’s mom made breakfast, delicioso! I went for a walk on the beach, ate fresh fish for lunch on the malecón (boardwalk) and did some work on my computer. Being a lifelong ocean lover, I immediately felt at home in Santa Marianita. When Oswaldo got off work from his day job, he introduced me to some neighbors, Jen and Pete. Pete is from Ecuador; Jen is from Philadelphia

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They spontaneously and graciously invited me into their oceanfront home and we visited for about an hour. They had been living in Cuenca and recently moved here. Jen put me in contact with her friend Annie, an expat from Connecticut, who has lived in the area about four years. Annie ended up inviting me to lunch the next day.

Day 6 – Manta

Annie is one of the few people I met who has a car. She picked me up and we went to Manta, shopped at Super Kywi and to the mall, which could be anywhere in the US. We had pizza at an Italian restaurant. With Manta’s conveniences, I could see myself living in Santa Marianita—just a short taxi ride away. I’m a small-town girl, so living near a city, not right in it, appeals to me.

That evening Oswaldo introduced me to another expat, Donna, who told me about the Facebook group for Manta area expats.

Everyone I met was so nice and helpful—the Aloha Spirit that Hawaii is so famous for is alive and well in Ecuador. What would it be called in Spanish, Aloja?

Day 7- The Coast

Friday, I headed south along the coast, stopping at Puerto Lopez and Olón. Both have beautiful white sand beaches and crystal-clear water. The towns are sweet, lots of cute shops and restaurants. Around six hours later I arrived in Salinas, where I had reserved another ocean view room for $35. I walked to the beach, and waded in the water at sunset.

I had connected with new friend Dee Dee via one of the expat FB groups. She met me at the hotel and we walked along the malecón, then went to dinner at a small restaurant, where we were serenaded by a young musician. We got back together in the morning for breakfast and a tour of several Salinas neighborhoods where Dee Dee has lived in the past nine years. Fun coincidence is that she lived in Kona and worked for the same newspaper I did, just different decades. Small world! Dee Dee published a biography. One thing she wrote, about retiring in Ecuador, is she’s a “financial refugee.” I resonate with this statement. After leaving Salinas, I continued my journey to Vilcabamba and back to Cuenca with all kinds of twists and turns, which I will document another time.

Stay tuned…this story hasn’t ended yet.