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James Whittall, Mirador San Jose

Who are you?

When you ask who I am, the answer always includes my wife. We’re from Ottawa, Canada. We’re both 55.I am the former head of marketing at a major music festival. My wife is a retired lieutenant colonel, Royal Canadian Air Force. We moved to Ecuador in January 2019. We own a villa in Mirador San Jose, one hour south of Manta.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

Travel is a big part of who we are, as a couple. We both spent our careers on the road, she with the military and me with my job. We don’t have any strong attachments to our home country, except for my kids and our grandkids. What drew us together, when we met later in life, was our shared desire to live abroad.

In 2013, we took a cruise through the Panama Canal and down the Pacific coast of South America. One of our ports was Manta. From the moment we set foot in this place, we knew it was where we would retire. We even have a photo of us in front of the immigration office in Manta where we would eventually apply for residency.

What challenges did you face during the move?

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We didn’t really experience challenges. My wife and I are obsessive nitpickers. We’ve had this thing planned to the nth degree for several years.

Are there many other expats in your area?

Uh, a few. See “dislikes” below.

What do you like about life where you are?

I have always wanted to live on the beach, and now here I am! The sunsets are glorious. I love learning the language and customs.

We’re making new friends outside our urbanization, charming people who have welcomed us into their lives. I can’t say enough about how wonderful Ecuadorians are. We’re very happy here.

What do you dislike about your expat life?

I didn’t realize that I’d be surrounded by so many of my fellow Canadians. Our urbanization is a Canadian project, so I guess that should have clued me in. But the developer did say a third of the lots would be sold to Ecuadorians, and my wife and I thought: “Great! An opportunity to immerse ourselves in the culture.”

As it turns out, Ecuadorians who bought here are building recreational properties, and they visit only on holidays. The folks who live here full-time are, weirdly, from the same area in Quebec where I was born and grew up. One of our neighbours went to high school with my younger brother. It seems there’s no place on Earth where you can escape these people.

What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?

We’re both a little taken aback by how entrenched patriarchal customs are in this country. When we opened a bank account, the woman who helped us would put it only in my name. Same when we bought our car.

Our housekeeper clears her schedule only with me; she tells us it’s her job to make my wife’s life easier. Even though I do all the cooking. My wife, the lieutenant colonel, finds it very amusing. I have a terrible memory and I’m not nearly as financially literate as she. I’m probably the last person who should be entrusted with this stuff.

What do you think of the food and drink in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?

I’ve been here ten months and I’ve lost thirty pounds. I’m down three waist sizes, effortlessly. We visited Canada this summer, for seven weeks. In that time, I put ten pounds back on. That tells you something about the quality of the food in this country. It’s all whole grains and legumes and fresh vegetables and lean meats with no growth hormones or antibiotics. There’s very little reliance on prepared foods.

The quality of ingredients is far superior to what we have at home, and the foods are sold soon after harvest. They don’t travel across an entire continent before they arrive on our store shelves. They don’t ripen on the truck.

What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?

Don’t buy property! Rent. Rent in several locations, see which one suits your style. For us, it was Manta. I wish we had come here earlier and spent time in this place, learning more about it, rather than pursuing the notion of a vacation property/retirement home in some rural, gated community. At the time, that seemed our easiest route: to deal with a Canadian company headquartered across the river from us in Ottawa. In retrospect, we should have investigated our options. Not that we’re unhappy at Mirador San Jose. But we think life in Manta would have been better for us.

What are your plans for the future?

At this time, we’re temporary residents of Ecuador and can be out of the country for a maximum three months every year for two years. That limits our ability to travel. We plan to get permanent residency status. Then, with our villa as home base, we will explore South America. All of it. While we’re still young enough to have adventures.

You can keep up to date with James' adventures on his blog, PapaJefe.

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