“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes” – Marcel Proust
Over a month into our stay, we are finally getting around to writing our first blog about temporarily relocating to the colonial city of Cuenca, Ecuador, high in the Andes mountains. One of our main passions for travel has been to expand the paradigm in which we view the world. One says that you have a choice between being a tourist, a traveler, or to plunge more deeply into another culture to explore those unknown parts of yourself and to learn skills that enable you to see the world through different lenses. We have had the good fortune to spend much of our lives doing the latter two and look forward to seeing how our lenses are reconstructed during the next few months, not only as we delve into a previously unfamiliar culture, but also as we retrieve those former parts of ourselves that have been buried in our hectic middle-aged lives. A quote Julia frequently uses in her training workshops by Anaïs Nin is “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” That is exactly what we are hoping to change during the next few months as a family as we slow down and decompress from the busy lives we lead in the U.S. and open to the mysteries of Ecuadorian culture on our own journey of discovery.
We have been trying to find ways to break the busyness of our lives for a while. A first step was Mark’s decision to leave his demanding government job last summer, which freed space for exploring more fulfilling and balanced professional and personal goals. One project he has started is the “The Busy Project”, which explores the impact of busyness on mental health and well-being. Stepping away from our daily lives in Washington DC also seemed integral to the process of re-establishing a sense of more alignment with our values and balance. Ironically, leading up to our departure was probably one of the busiest times for us, with Julia traveling nearly weekly for work and navigating all the big and small details in preparation for our move. We barely made our flight as we were literally still rushing to get our house ready for our tenants. A special thanks to friends in the community who stopped by to say goodbye and generously offered to help us in our final hours as well as the continued support from many family and friends while we are abroad.
The main goals for moving to Cuenca were threefold: 1) we could slow down, reboot and have more quality family time to do things we really enjoy, 2) to give Talia the chance to spend more in-depth time abroad and learn another language, and 3) to immerse ourselves in a new country and culture with which none of us were familiar to broaden our perspectives on living well.
One of the aspects we have really enjoyed about living here is getting to know our new community, including expats and Cuencanos (as the locals are called). We have been fortunate to have expat friends take us under their wing even before we arrived and host us upon arrival. Talia has formed friendships with our expat friends’ daughter and classmates at her Ecuadorian school. We especially appreciate the warmth that Ecuadorians exude, their politeness and patience. Typical transactions start with greetings that imply the human relationship is just as important as the transaction. As Alejandro, a Chilean who lead a recent retreat that Julia attended, observed, “North Americans and Europeans live in their heads, in Latin America people are much more connected to the heart.” Indeed, there is a different way of engaging, from giving everyone you meet a light beso (kiss) on the cheek when you greet them to taking the time to talk, even though Cuencanos also lead very busy lives, many working 10+ hours a day.
Another enjoyable aspect of living here is the opportunity to simplify our daily activities, even though they may take longer. Our days start early as Mark walks Talia the mile to school, passing the free daily Zumba classes offered by the City along the Tomebamba river, a block from our house, where Julia takes classes. Without cars, we walk most places, logging 20km (12 miles) or more daily on our Fitbits. An excursion to the Feria Libre market, where Quechua women in colorful skirts and top hats sell us exotic fruits and vegetables for a fraction of what we would pay in the U.S., takes much longer than dashing to the supermarket. Walking the two miles distance to the colonial center of Cuenca, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is much more pleasant as we can stroll along the Tomebamba, bordered by sweet smelling groves of eucalyptus trees.
So, as we enter our second month here, we continue to adjust not only to the high altitude (we’re at 8,300 ft above sea level) and more laid-back lifestyle, we are also beginning to break the busy patterns and learning more about the art of being.