Ecuador is a lesson in migration
"You are about to enter another world," wrote my friend, Clare, in an email. She had reached northern Ecuador a week before my scheduled arrival.
Another world, indeed! Ecuador offers perpetually spring-like weather, readily available bouquets of roses for a dollar and hearty lunches for approximately $3. An additional bonus is that Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar as its currency. (Read: no confusion with conversions and no bothersome exchange fees.)
While there is an abundance of cell phones in use and a mass of cars in the streets, this place still reminds me of the land I read about in my fifth-grade social studies book. It's easy to spot colorfully-patterned weavings, ubiquitous pan flutes, stout women wearing hand-embroidered blouses and men in black panama hats with single, long black braids down their backs.
Duluth remains my home base, but I've come here to explore for the next several months. My friends, Rod and Clare, are starting an ecotourism business in Otavalo, north of Quito, Ecuador's capital. I've come along for the initial setup. Due to the low cost of living and stable government, Ecuador has been rated by Forbes and Money Magazine to be one of the top places for retirees from the United States to settle. My friends are hoping to serve a steady stream of adventurers.
Migrating to a different place as the seasons change is a natural phenomenon. And so, I have ventured south for a time as days in the north grow shorter. According to the United States Census Bureau, 4.4 percent of the world's population lives in the United States. That means more than 95 percent of the world is beyond our borders and beyond our comprehension unless we explore.
The act of physically moving to another environment calls me to think new thoughts. It thrusts me out of comfortable routines and often shakes up my preconceived portrait of the world. Facing a host of novel daily challenges strengthens coping skills and creative problem solving. Being in a new part of the world brings out new parts of myself.
Hundreds of snowbirds from Duluth are preparing for their impending trek, too. There are "winter refugees" trying to avoid the perils of winter by moving to a warmer climate for a while. But more than just finding a different climate externally, travelers at heart hope to be moved internally as well.
Beloved travel writer Pico Iyer describes it this way: "A person susceptible to 'wanderlust' is not so much addicted to movement as committed to transformation."
On the back of a local bus here I saw the sign, "All You Need is Ecuador." I'm not ready to go that far just yet. But I have to admit that this migration has already been eye-opening. Let the transformation begin.
Arlene J. Anderson is a Twin Ports native turned writer, teacher and global explorer. She has lived in Norway and China and will live in Ecuador this fall. Follow her stories and join her email list at The Teachable Traveler Facebook site: www.facebook.com/teachabletraveler.