So the world as we know it is ending, not with a bang but probably a prolonged, gut wrenching whimper (unless some stupid, mindless orangutan…oh wait a minute…) . And yet, being hopelessly optimistic, I cannot just accept this as, well, hopeless.
For several years – being semi-retired and with the privilege imbued upon us by virtue of living in a semi-socialist state and having a wee bit of pension income – we have begun taking increasingly long vacations in warmer climates during the winter. First a couple of weeks then a month and then 90 days and most recently 6 months. We enjoyed Mexico (Zihuatenejo) for several years then Merida in the Yucatan and last few years in Ecuador.
Zihua was getting severely Americanized (and somewhat dangerous) when we discovered Merida – the White City. Whereas Zihua was a relatively small fishing and tourist place Merida had the Mayan history and culture and about a half million population. At about 4 hours away from the glitz and amenities of Cancun, it felt like an oasis removed from the usual touristy beach environment. We loved our visits there. And the Mexican peso was at a low ebb, making our Canadian pesos feel almost worth something. Unfortunately it was rapidly getting to be much more expensive as gringo expats were discovering it and buying up quaint old colonial homes in the historic centro section of the city, upgrading and flipping and air bnbing until it was no longer in our particular snack bracket.
Besides the fact that the Yucatan has virtually no surface water (underground “cenotes” providing all drinking water) it is pretty much as flat as a pancake. For those who see future sea level rise as a reality – coupled with the occasional hurricane washing across this peninsula – this does not seem the ideal place to escape. The people are incredibly friendly and it is arguably the safest area of Mexico…just not quite what we were looking for.
Basically I had a few criteria I was looking for:
-Southern hemisphere (probably less immediate fallout from nuclear catastrophes)
–Low crime rates
-acceptably warm climate with year round growing season
When I asked Guy Mcpherson where one might find greatest chance of surviving (however temporarily) his forecast of human extinction he mentioned two places – New Zealand and Chile. While New Zealand seems attractive it also has stricter immigration requirements, housing is fairly expensive and most of the country has a definite heating season – maybe not quite Canadian cold, but occasional snow and frosty nights.
Chile…I don’t know….still recovering from years of neo-liberalism under Pinochet and having massive fires in the dry northern section while the warming oceans and El Nino have played havoc on the seafood industry all along the coast…and Chile seems to be ALL coast.
One country seemed to touch all the bases – Ecuador. A very small country straddling the equator and with separate and distinct geographical regions to suit all tastes – all reachable within mere hours of each other: endless beautiful beaches and lowlands; the majestic, spectacular Andes with many lush, cozy valleys; Amazonia – the headwaters of the Amazon river; and of course the iconic Galapagos Islands. And reachable in under 9 hours from Canada!
On our first reconnaissance mission – 90 days in 2015 – we bused all around the country with backpacks and just lingered wherever felt good. Thus we spent a few weeks village hopping up the coast, soaking up the sun and frolicking (well, wading anyway, we are seniors after all) in the surf of countless magnificent beaches – all claiming to be the best surf towns on the planet. And they all could make that claim, since to my amateur eye they all seemed equally awe inspiring when viewed from a boogie board!
Then we ascended, over the course of a week, to the capitol, Quito, at about 9500 feet above sea level. We did experience some minor discomforts adjusting to the elevation but it was the surprisingly chilly evenings that put us off – while we were in the country (but not in the city at the time, thankfully) we saw photos of hailstorms that created drifts in the streets there! Quito is a massive, sprawling city with both very old, impressive colonial architecture alongside new high rise edifices. Of course, as with most large cities, there are stories of criminal elements – primarily opportunistic theft and pickpocketing – which overall seem tame compared to what one sees on the evening news in almost any major city in North America. We were advised strongly and often not to venture out after dark.
We actually stayed in Cotacachi, a small town a couple hours north of Quito, near Otavalo, for a couple of weeks – it was on our list primarily because of glowing reports on International Living. It is known locally as “the leather town” – although by now it is probably better known for the influx of gringos (possibly due to the exposure in IL). A very pleasant and beautiful town but a bit cooler and a bit too “gentrified” for our liking. The two volcanoes defining the valley are both thought to be extinct – or probably!
Nearby is the much larger city of Ibarra, which we visited for a few days, that had much more going for it in terms of city amenities – despite being regarded mostly disparagingly by the expats in Cotacachi. Still at a pretty high elevation and the closest large city to the Columbian border in the northeast part of the country…whenever something bad happens anywhere in northern Ecuador it seems to be blamed on Columbians.
We did a 5 day, 4 night excursion into Amazonia – down the Cuyabeno river in motorized canoes – while in that northern part of the country. That was pretty amazing, although the prevalence of poisonous spiders, snakes and other pesky biting critters was discouraging.
Banos de Agua Sante (literally “baths of the holy water”) was a lovely, very multicultural town in a tiny valley with many waterfalls, tourist attractions, a vibrant core with lots of hotels, restaurants and, of course, the famous hot springs. It was attractive enough that we spent a couple of weeks there and we loved it. The very much not extinct volcano, Tungurahua, looms, smoking, over the town however, and there are evacuation arrows painted on the streets showing which way to flee when (not if) it decides to start belching in earnest. Last major eruption was less than 20 years ago.
Heading southward we spent another couple of weeks in Cuenca, the third largest city in Ecuador (after Guayaquil and Quito) at around 600,000 people. At 8400 feet elevation its climate is billed as “springlike year round”. It is, indeed, much like spring in Ontario. Although it never gets much warmer than the high 70’s, because of its proximity to the sun any cloudless day requires attention to the sunscreen because it can get intense. Sunny days are T-shirt weather, but everyone seems to have umbrellas with them because there are often brief (and sometimes not so brief) showers. Once the sun sets (which it does every day all year at about 6:30) it gets cool enough to need a sweater or light jacket. Even on a partly cloudy day. That being said there is no need for either air conditioning or furnaces. A lot of places have fireplaces, but they are generally not well designed – probably because they are hardly ever used.
The city is a magnificent world heritage site with old Spanish colonial buildings – including upward of 30 cathedrals – that is gradually entering the 20th century. They are a few years behind schedule in constructing a tram system (should possibly, maybe, but not definitely be ready by 2018…or 19…almost certainly, they hope by 2020) and are hoping that will help to eliminate some of the diesel spewing buses which foul the air and are a great source of noise pollution. The city has more restaurants, cafes and nightspots per foot than you could imagine. Museums, theatres, galleries, open air stages, live music, karaoke…this place has it all. In other words it’s happening!!
We descended even further down the mountains as far as Vilcabamba, at around 5000 feet nestled in what they call the valley of longevity. Notable apparently at one time for the number of really old codgers found there, it is now most notable for the percentage of the gringo population – many of the tin foil hat persuasion. In other words you could not swing a cat in this tiny town without hitting someone wearing a tie dyed dashiki. I should state for full disclosure that we are old hippies of the “back to the land, communal living” variety ourselves…so this was a real flashback!
The ratio of gringos to Ecuadorians is a bit unfortunate in that this valley is amazingly beautiful but has become a place where you feel like you have a target on your back. Still, we spent two lovely weeks there and returned again last year with our daughter (who fell in love with it right away!)
Ecuador is a socialist country with all the things people love and hate about socialist countries. As an oil exporting country (the smallest member of OPEC) it has spent its petro money building infrastructure – roads, schools, hospitals, bridges – and raising the wages and increasing the rights of the most disadvantaged. They have taxed the wealthy and the corporations. In other words, the exact opposite of herr Dumbo’s latest budget. Of course the elite of Ecuador have not liked this and have been waging a media war to convince the hoi poloi that it is in their own best interest to turf these scoundrels. Their banker candidate only lost the election in May by 2% so obviously they are all pissy about that. Still, another 4 years to resist the neoliberal tide!!
I guess you can tell where this is going…we love this country and its amazingly friendly, generous and resilient people. The climate is more or less whatever you want – just move a little higher or lower until you hit your sweet spot. As a place to possibly avoid (or delay) the worst impacts of impending climate driven catastrophe it is looking very attractive.
Next up: No, but what do you really think?