I´ve been living in Ecuador for 25 years.
That’s officially longer than I lived in the United States growing up. I won’t say how much longer. A woman never touts her age.
If you had told me 25 years ago that I would still be living in Ecuador 25 years down the road, I doubt I would have believed it. In fact, I´ve debated whether I should stay in Quito during every summer trip I’ve taken every year since I moved here. But here I am. A fixed asset.
Most of my expat friends are fixed here, as well. I’d like to tell you why…
But before I get to that… why did I move to Ecuador in the first place?
It was my college sweetheart’s idea. He suggested that we come here after finishing our master’s programs. It’s his home country. I´m one of those imports. I’ve met many of us over the years.
It wasn’t an easy choice. I left behind family, professional prospects, and a country I loved. But off I went on an adventure, determined to make the most of it.
We gave ourselves three to five years to decide if we really liked it. We needed to commit to at least three years, we figured, to give the place a fair shot.
At the time, in the early 90s, the dollar was king. The country’s sucre-based economy suffered from inflation and devaluation, meaning that people like me could live the high life on very little money.
I recall paying US$7 per person for a delicious, three-course, gourmet Italian meal with wine at my favorite restaurant. I raised my employees’ salaries once every few months, trying to keep their standard of living at a decent level.
It was hard for a woman to find professional work in Ecuador at that time, but my husband’s career was more than enough to provide well for the family, allowing me to do freelance writing and develop a career as a singer and social entrepreneur, all things I would have found hard to do on a 9-to-5 schedule in the United States.
Some of that has changed in 25 years. I´m no longer married to that Ecuadorian, for example…
In addition, the country is now dollarized and much more expensive. Some imported consumer items, like cars, were always more expensive in Ecuador than in the States, due to tariffs, and that remains the same.
That said, I can still afford good, wholesome food, as well as things like help around the house, massages, and music lessons. These things are still much more affordable than in the States, which means my quality of life remains high. Let me show you what I mean…
My Typical Day In Quito
One of the unusual changes in my life since moving to Ecuador is that I’ve become a morning person.
When I lived in New York (most of my life before moving to Quito), I was a night owl, staying up to read, to watch movies, or to listen to music. Not that you can’t do those things in Ecuador. They’re all available. But, somehow, the mountain air changes your metabolism.
Now I find that, at first light, around 6 a.m., I’m up and moving, and I’m ready for bed by 9 or 10. Unless I´m going to a jam session… but that’s another story…
Currently I’m making my living as a freelance writer, meaning I’m in charge of my schedule. This allows me to make the most of what this country has to offer.
I set up my mornings as I like. I wake when the birds start to sing and take advantage of the early hour to meditate. Then the day begins.
Once I’ve put my children on the school bus, I head out for exercise in my garden. Some might find it boring to walk in the same space every day, but I love watching the day-to-day progress of the fruit trees and flowers I pass each morning. Our year-round growing season means there’s always something new to see.
With the mild weather, there are very few times when I can’t be outside first thing in the morning. I’m lucky to live in a rural area just a few miles from the airport and town. I’m near everything but still on my own little piece of paradise.
After my walk, it’s time for a quick breakfast. Fresh fruit juice or cut-up fruits, eggs, bread from any of the city’s great bakeries, Greek yogurt, artisanal cheese… pretty much anything you might enjoy for breakfast is available. Maybe not 50 varieties like in U.S. grocery stores, but these days in Quito you really can find almost anything you want.
Even my favorite former splurges during trips home—like blueberries and cherries—are now available, albeit sometimes seasonally, while the variety and low cost of local fruits and vegetables, some well-known and others exotic, make a healthy diet not only possible but affordable.
I dedicate my mornings to work, whether at home on the laptop or out and about at meetings. I make time to mix my corporate communications work with music practice and, my current priority, my work as a social entrepreneur using art, technology, and community-based support to reduce gender-based violence. It’s a big problem here as well as elsewhere around the world, and I have decided to be a part of the solution.
What’s Wrong With A Sandwich?
Lunchtime in Ecuador is a different affair from what I grew up with. As a kid, it was peanut butter and jelly or a tuna fish sandwich. I could have those things here, too… although now it would be homemade jelly made from apricots, blackberries, or sour cherries grown on my own trees.
When I was a graduate student, I was part of an international student body. All of us Americans ate the normal mainstay foods for lunch—a sandwich, a salad, a piece of pizza—saving our appetite for dinner. I used to wonder how my fellow international students could eat big meals at lunchtime, as I watched them down soup, meat, rice, salad, and juice.
Now, in Ecuador, that’s exactly what we do. The big meal is at lunchtime. It’s healthier. It helps keep weight down. And I’ve grown to love it. Now when I go back to the States on vacation, a simple sandwich is no longer enough for lunch.
What could be better than a cafecito (a little coffee) with friends at the end of the work day?
For many Quiteños, including adoptive Quiteños like myself, a stop at a shop or café serving coffee, tea, snacks, and other goodies is a great way to wind down the day, visit with friends, and make the most of networking opportunities.
On a Thursday or Friday, the cafecito might turn into a beer at one of the growing number of craft beer pubs or dinner at eateries ranging from burger joints to upscale Asian fusion restaurants. The city offers many culinary options. In fact, having seen the growth in food variety and quality, including the renaissance in rescuing local food ingredients and traditions, I would say that Quito is on its way to becoming a food destination.
And nightlife? It depends on whether you succumb to the mountain air or not. Traditionally, people in Quito go to bed early, but there are definitely entertainment options, including bars, live music, dancing, and movies.
Personally, I like a mix. Sometimes I head out to a musical event, be it at a small dive in the downtown area that mixes jazz and salsa with up-and-coming local artists, a festival run by the Teatro Sucre, or a concert at the world-class Casa de la Música concert hall.
Other nights I prefer to curl up by a fire and read a good book or watch a movie on Netflix with my family.
Either way, it’s been another good day at home in Quito.
About Lisa Markovits
Lisa Markovits is a multifaceted artist and social entrepreneur. Born and raised in New York, she studied Romance Languages (B.A.) at Cornell University, graduating magna cum laude, and international relations (M.A.L.D.) at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy of Tufts University. She moved to Quito, Ecuador over 25 years ago and continues to reside there. Her varied pursuits have always revolved around words and music and have ranged from corporate communications to professional jazz singing to facilitation of dialog circles as a certified community therapist. A founding member of Pa’Arriba Foundation (www.paarriba.org) and the founder and current director of the No Más en Ecuador (www.nomasenecuador.org) project, she is the proud mother of two sons and a woman who is committed to leaving behind a better world than she found.