Our Life in Ecuador: Jacquie & Don Mackenzie
The Expats: Jacquie and Don Mackenzie
Where are you currently living?
We moved to S.E. Ecuador, Chaupi in the Vilcabamba Valley, two weeks ago after living 2.5 years on the most western coastal peninsula in Salinas, Ecuador, and almost 6 years in rural Guanajuato, Mexico.
We began volunteer teaching in Mexico in 2005; we lived right on the Arizona/Sonora border for 12 years.
More reading: Vilcabamba is located near the city of Loja. Read why Jesse Bayer moved to Loja, Ecuador
What’s Your Story?
Don and I are both US Citizens. Don served in the USAF as did my father and my beloved uncle. Both my uncle and Don served in Vietnam; my dad served in WWII and the Korean War. As I was an instructor in private airplanes, both Don and I have seen a large percentage of the world.
We met in Florida, traveled the USA for two years while living in an RV, and then married in Arizona where we lived off the power grid.
Don’s single mother of two moved every few months most of her life. Later Don saw much of the world while in the military. After returning stateside after the war, he lived in Hawaii, Belize, and Mexico for years while also vacationing in Europe; by then, he was in the hospitality business.
Jacquie, as an only child, moved 22 times between 1st and 3rd grade due to her father’s military orders. She has lived in or visited 49 states, all of Canada, most of Mexico, and much of Europe.
Jacquie was in food service for 22 years, has managed a non-profit since 1986, before she began teaching disabled Spanish speakers full time and earning her doctorate in that field.
When and where did you get the idea of living in Ecuador?
In August of 2013, seven Mexican medical doctors advised Don (due to Agent Orange exposure and resulting and reoccuring health issues) to leave the high altitude, dusty roads, and cold winters of the desert of Guanajuato, for a sea level altitude with clean, warm air year round.
However, as we had always lived (safely) in rural mountainous areas, the high-rise beach life advised by other expats as a means to keep our possessions safe did not suit our personalities.
We enjoyed renewing our wedding vows on the beach, but very soon tired of the “party life” of a continuous stream of up to 200K wealthy visitors.
We longed for ecologically-minded people, opportunities to buy organically raised food, conversations with other adults seeking solutions to environmental challenges, a more diverse collection of visitors, and a chance to live on and garden in fertile soil.
In Vilcabamba, we have all those options. We intend to stay until we die.
How’s your Spanish?
Both of us have studies Spanish for years, but at our age, the process is not without pitfalls. Fortunately, Spanish speakers are very forgiving.
An added bonus for us is that people from all over the world are drawn to Vilcabamba, so it is common to hear several languages on any trip to town. Most locals had adapted with a positive attitude to other various means of communicating.
More reading: 11 best tools for learning Spanish
How do you make your living?
We are both on Social Security; Don has VA Disability benefits. We have no assets.
In our opinion, retired expats on limited or fixed incomes can live elegantly in rentals in Vilcabamba, but not in Salinas. Our current home costs us 70% LESS a month than a physically smaller, older, and significantly less elegant home on the Salinas peninsula.
Many long-time expats or local Ecuadorians have told us that living on the beach are the highest prices. Not just renting or buying real estate, but also food and other household goods.
Everyone knows that imported items are expensive due to the outlandish tariffs, but if you like local foods and eat meat-free as we do, one can survive on just Social Security.
Also, medical care is inexpensive as is the government health insurance (covering 100% of hospital care, medications, eye exams, and dental care) that can be kept for life.
One example, Jacquie paid $200USD for progressive, transition, glasses, and frames. Her total hip replacement was $6,200USD; that was just $1,800USD co-pay after her private health insurance payment.
What do you love about life in Ecuador?
Do not come if you are not adaptable to lots of change and really slowing down your life. This is a developing country.
Most consumer items need to be replaced often, mail is hard to obtain and the tariffs are so high it is often better to just fly home and get what you think that you need.
We love the people first, then the climate, and then looking at the amazing landscapes in Ecuador.
Is it any wonder that people from all over the world call Ecuador a paradise?
Hungry for more? Here are more Ecuador expat stories