It’s been a while in the making, but Roy and Linda Banning got the urge to explore new territory on Christmas Eve in 2009.
Already seasoned travelers — they had visited every state in the Union except North and South Dakota — they decided to extend their horizons.
Since the couple had already entered retirement, they decided to turn the page to a new chapter — and perhaps, a new language. That might mean leaving their family in the states, including their daughter Lynnae and her husband Richard Roberts, sports editor at the Cleveland Daily Banner.
The investigation began. Knowing it would cost thousands to check out places and countries first-hand, the Bannings began their search online and talked to people who could tell them what to expect and what countries to consider — people who had made these decisions, such as doctors, lawyers, real estate agents, travel agents and vacationers.
Of course, they had a panorama of options — Honduras, Ireland, France, England, Panama, Costa Rica, Ecuador.
Which would suit their needs better?
To answer that question, they visited Columbia, Uruguay, Peru and Buenos Aires, Argentina. And in March, the Bannings took a trip to Ecuador on the Pacific Ocean and decided that was THE place. After returning, they saw a house online and “I fell in love with it,” Linda said.
“Come look at this before I buy it,” she told her husband. But then it disappeared.
When they got back to Ecuador, they happened to eat lunch at the same place as a real estate agent, who was aware of the property in Manta. Linda inquired about the house and learned it had been put back on the market.
“I’ll show it to you,” the agent told them. The Bannings saw the house on Monday and bought it on Thursday. All the paper work was done in the lawyer’s office with cash and they don’t like paper money.
So the Bannings ended up with a 4,000-square-foot house near the beach plus a maid and gardener, both bilingual.
Although they had done research on the area and found needed information, living there was a new thing for them.
Linda told their real estate agent, “We don’t have a clue to what we’re gong to eat.”
She laughed as she said, “We are king and queen on a hot dog budget.”
Immediately, they found friends — others who had made Ecuador their retirement location — the Ex-pats.
“It was a nice thing,” Roy said.
They agreed it’s important that visitors and newcomers are embraced so warmly by Ecuadorans. The people feel a special bond and share the same mindset.
At their “get acquainted” gathering, some 80 people were there to welcome them into the community.
There are about 200 to 300 Ex-pats in Cuenca, which has a population of about 4,000.
“We feel it’s very important to be together,” Linda confided, “especially on holidays.” They had a big event slated for July 4, which the locals celebrated with the American transplants.
Fireworks and hot dogs are on the top of the list for the celebrants. Last year, the community enjoyed barbecue. And Linda has even started a Red Hat Society.
With Ecuador going through a large tourism campaign, Roy said a Chamber of Commerce for Americans had been organized. From the beaches to the mountains, visitors can find a variety of things to do — mountain climbing, hiking, walking, swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving and shopping.
Different communities produce different things such as handmade furniture, hand-painted dishes, leather products and wood.
It is also the home of Panama hats, which first became popular in Ecuador. The best ones are made of grass and could take six months to a year to make. Furniture has to be “Americanized” for the bigger-framed American people.
But what really is a drawing card for visiting or living in Ecuador is the “unbelieveable” beauty, Linda said, and its diverse geography.
One degree south of the equator, the country is the size of Nevada, but boasts the highest mountain in the world (in the Andes).
“And the mountains are growing,” Roy added. There are a few volcanos — “Ring of Fire” around the Pacific, they’re called.
And, Roy added, “it’s a bird paradise.” He bought a book showing 13 pages of 20 pictures each of birds in the country — “nowhere in the world are so many varieties of birds.”
They agree it looks like the Smoky Mountains, year ’round. Corn grows all year on the sides of the hills and fruits galore complete anyone’s diet, including watermelon and cantaloupe (which is juiced usually) and peanut butter — Roy makes his own.
The Amazon is called the world’s pharmacy and, one day the Bannings were tasters of a popular medicinal product — lemon ants — yes, real ants.
The Bannings determined to adapt to the new culture — “not to change them to our culture. You really have to step out of your comfort zone,” Roy said.
Time, they learned, was not the rigorous schedule they were used to.
“Time is a ‘mañana’ attitude,” they said. As an example, they said if a wedding invitation says 4:30 p.m., the wedding will begin at 6:30 p.m., and dinner will be at 11 p.m. going on through the early morning. Americans usually eat dinner at 6 p.m. when Europeans eat at 9 p.m. and can still be the restaurant at 1:30 a.m.
Prices for a usual dinner of soup, meat, rice, fruit and dessert runs from $2.50 to $3. Tipping is 5 to 10 percent. And there is a McDonald’s presence, if fast food is your preference.
Fish is plentiful. The waters from the Antarctica brings all kinds of fish and seafood. You can get it fresh from the fish market on the beach. Manta is the largest exporter of tuna. The fishermen fish at night and sell their catch beginning at 5 in the morning to locals and restaurants ... and they love to bargain.
And bargains galore abound. A 40-pound tank of propane is $2.50; get 50 roses for $10; taxi delivery $1. And when you turn 65, you are accorded other special privileges, such as half-price bus fares, flight discounts and being first in line anywhere.
But the people are what impressed the Bannings most.
“They are so gentle and courteous,” Linda said. “It’s always ‘at your service’ — taxis even bring groceries to the door.”
There is still one hurdle. Most Ecuadorans speak English, but the Bannings want to learn everything about the country, including the language.
“It’s a work in progress,” Roy declared.