Visualize a path leading from Ecuador to California. My wife, Belinda, and I do as we eagerly anticipate our return home to Monterey. The nature of our travel will be both business and personal. Belinda has Ecuadorian artesanias (hand crafted products) to market at boutiques with similar lines. It is true that life opens another door when you have closed the one behind you.
Moving two and a half years ago from North America to South, was a leap of faith; the belief that we would create a new and exciting life to replace our work and lives as apartment managers. Belinda and I took many steps over a dozen months to prepare the groundwork for a successful transition to Cuenca, Ecuador from one of the United States’ most beautiful places to live, the Monterey Peninsula of Central Coastal California.
Today, we lead full lives immersed in the expat community of one of South America’s favorite retirement locations for foreigners. As a new year unfolds, we take pride in overcoming many hurdles to have arrived in Cuenca, and for joining in a fast paced society which combines indigenous folk with the dominant Spanish culture.
We spent New Years Eve at Cuenca’s Ali Baba Kabab Grill and Bar. We enjoyed the belly dancing of delightful Sussy Shabana and gorgeous Jouvana. Belly dancing started in ancient Egypt. People danced in temples, worshipping gods, and celebrating human fertility and the earth’s bounty.
Their crowd pleasing style and warm smiles brought to mind the energetic talent of our Monterey, CA, friend, Christina, having in common with Ali Baba’s sinuous performers, luxuriant hair styles of free flowing brown tresses. Christina taught Zumba, a popular dance fitness program originated in Colombia. She also performed with The Sambahemians, a Brazilian samba group of Monterey-area dancers and drummers, which she organized after visiting Rio de Janeiro and experiencing its samba-fueled nightlife.
Middle-aged and petite, always smiling, Christina came into our lives in 2011 and charmed us as a favorite tenant where we managed the Royal Oak Apartments at Sixth Street and Ocean Avenue in Monterey, a short walk to the sandy beach. With new managers in our former apartment, we stayed as her guests in September 2013 for the short time it took to pack and deliver our remaining earthly possessions to Sky2C, our Fremont, CA, shippers.
Christina, one of twins originally from Michoacan, Mexico, grew up in Stockton, CA, daughter of restauranteurs. Our Monterey Herald classified ad led her to us in early 2011. “Well, we’ll see. If it’s meant to be, I’d love to live here. I’ll let you know,” she coyly declared in the early afternoon sunshine of coastal Central California.
She appeared very business-like in her long elegant dress which the wind would playfully lift while Belinda and I chatted with her. We had just showed her the vacant one bedroom, one bath unit, and now we stood outside the manager’s apartment and office. The building complex of similar units was connected on the second floor by a wood deck adorned with a profusion of flowers spilt over from well-tended boxes.
Christina favorably impressed us, and we hoped she would apply to take an inside unit with a large street-side balcony. It took a second visit before she applied, a month later. The landlord at her current location refused to make improvements, and she sought a new home.
The pursuit of exercise motivated Christina. She loved to surf in her black wet suit on Monterey Bay. Always active, we watched her come and go from Royal Oaks. She drove an older model Mercedes convertible, as well as a VW camper van. Whenever the mood struck her, she headed into the mountains on the California coast, or to campgrounds, just off the Pacific Ocean, usually accompanied by her boyfriend, David, now her husband.
Christina admired the lead singer and dancer with Oakland’s Samba Da, Dandha Da Hora, native of Salvador da Bahia, Brazil. She modeled her Sambahemians on the success of Samba Da, whose spirited show we witnessed at Sand City’s West End Art Festival, summer of 2012. Elegantly costumed and wearing a matching head scarf, Dandha and her group highlighted the day long event, and warmly greeted us off the stage.
Once moved from California where we had to continue to work to survive, to Ecuador, where we are “jubilados,” retired and living on Social Security benefits, I seek emotional associations which ground me in our new circumstances. Music, socializing and conversation amongst friends connect me with feelings which I experienced in Monterey.
Settled into Cuenca, I realize that I have to make more effort in speaking Spanish. Feeling good about making progress in South America, goes a long ways toward embracing the expat experience. The culture and third world poverty of the common folk stands in sharp contrast to the lives and pursuits of the expats and tourists. They travel to Ecuador to explore and have a good, safe adventure. Christina appreciates Latin America’s many dance styles. She has traveled three times to Brazil and many times to Mexico. We hope that Ecuador and its varied regions and cultures will eventually lead her to our new home.
When I watch Christina and the belly dancers, I observe that dance must lead into the psyche, and transforms the dancer. Movement inspired by different rhythms of music, results in a heightened mental state. Once you take your craft into the public arena, the dancer shifts beyond the personal absorption to a shared experience. The dancer becomes the performer, aware of her audience who she wishes to please and involve more deeply in her transformation.
Celebrating New Year 2016 with friends at Ali Baba Kabab, Belinda and I are delighted with Sussy and Jouvana’s spirited belly dancing. We turn our attention to the solicitation by children hawking flowers for a dollar each. Belinda rewards the persistence of the boy wearing a blue and white cap with the logo “Hawks.” He is befuddled when she gives him two dollars for only the single red rose. The street children are regulars at the restaurants and bars, hoping to cash in on the amorous couples who patronize the late hour establishments.
Sussy is making the rounds of the two-roomed Ali Baba, balancing a silver sword on her head, while keeping the tribal beat which emanates from speakers attached to a laptop computer. A dark insect-like tattoo by her left breast catches my eye as she passes with outstretched arms. The connection between dancer and audience becomes evident when they enthusiastically join her on the dance floor. The alcoholic libations stimulate the participants in this basic art form, standing and moving in time to Arabian influenced music.
When Belinda and I arrive back in the Monterey Peninsula, we will stay with Christina and David in their Pacific Grove home just a couple of blocks from the ocean. Certainly, Cuenca and Ecuador will dominate the conversation, but in a good way. We feel like veteran expats and look forward to inviting our friends to travel to our new home in Ecuador. The new year presents this and other challenging opportunities to broaden our lives as we share the excitement of opening a new door which leads to further adventures in South America.