Updated: Nov 23, 2021
As you may know, my first "big adventure" following my retirement begins early in the morning on December 2nd, 2021; on that day, I will board a United flight here in Spokane to San Francisco, then another to Houston, and finally a third that will drop me into the capital city of Ecuador, Quito sometime just after midnight the next morning.
I will spend a few days seeing the sights of Quito, especially its historical center, one of the best preserved colonial cities in South America and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On December 7th, I will board another plane for the Ecuadoran city of Cuenca. It will be a brief flight, I am told, and a more than reasonable alternative to the seven-hour ride through the Andes that it would take by ground transport. Like Quito, Cuenca is located in the Andean mountains, (some 8,400 feet above sea level), but is much smaller (a little bigger than Spokane), but boasts it's own "historic center", also a UNESCO World Heritage Site in its own right. Once I've landed at Cuenca's local airport, I'll be met my my friend, Richard, and ferried to my apartment, (already reserved!), located within easy walking distance of that historic center, and there I shall hang my hat for the next five months...if all goes according to plan!
While in Cuenca, I will, of course, enjoy its sights and savor its unique food, including its roasted-on-a-stick guinea pig, known locally as cuy. Its open markets are full of fruits and vegetables and all kinds of tasty delights. Besides its monumental Cathedral and colonial buildings, Cuenca is also home to thousands of North American "ex-pats" who have moved to the city because of its relative low cost of living, fine climate, and cultural riches. The Catholics among them gather on Sundays at the Church of Saint Francis in the center of the city where the local pastor, Padre Jorge, welcomes them. His English is quite limited so one of the ex-pats proclaims at least the Gospel reading in English, but the remainder of the liturgy is in Spanish. They have no other English-language resources available to them, so Padre Jorge is welcoming me to tend to their spiritual needs while I am there. As I understand it, he has set aside the 10:00 am hour on Sunday for us to celebrate Sunday Mass fully in English and, hopefully, we will soon begin some scripture study and community building activities. I hope to also have plenty of time to explore some of the riches of the country, including visits to nearby towns like Vilcabamba, famous for its long-lived residents, Amazonia, and the Galapagos Islands, made famous by one Charles Darwin.
As I have shared these plans with folks here in Spokane, a few questions arise, but the most common is simply, Why Ecuador? Let me offer a bit of an explanation of how and why I chose this particular country to land in in the months following my retirement.
Some years ago, when I was the pastor of the Catholic student center at Washington State University, a number of Ecuadoran graduate students joined our Spanish-language community for Mass and social activities; they were fine young people pursuing advanced degrees here so that they might return to their homeland and help their country develop and their compatriots advance agriculturally and economically. At those social gatherings, they would often encourage me to visit their homeland, describing its warm and welcoming people and the many beautiful places to visit. They particularly mentioned the city of Cuenca. They assured me that with my Spanish-language skills, I'd have no problem getting to know the people and culture of the place rather intimately.
I put their suggestion in the back of my mind where it has largely remained in the years since. Once I knew that retirement was actually going to happen, I began casting about for a place where I could just take some time for renewal and a fresh start after forty-two years of pastoral ministry, the last one being particularly difficult as all our churches and social institutions struggled under the weight of the COVID pandemic. The Ecuador option kept making its presence felt...almost as it if were calling to me. I did some research on the internet, of course, but mostly I just had the recommendations of those students in mind as I honed in on the possibility of visiting there, post-retirement. I like the Latin world, and it would be a great way to improve my Spanish, and it would fit my budget, and it has a reputation of being safe, stable, and, and, and....
In my noodling around on Facebook one evening, I came across the page for the English-speaking Catholic Community in Cuenca and found a contact for the group, Richard Fraumeni, originally from the Bay Area of California. I got in touch with Richard and we've been communicating a great deal since then. He has been wonderful in helping me get ready for my time there and his support has been invaluable. Funny, my arrival at the airport will be our first actual meeting in person, though I feel like I already know him well...our phone conversations and extended text messages have allowed us to become friends even over a great distance. I've also been in touch with Padre Jorge who has also welcomed me warmly and promised to take me around to visit some of his former parishes in small villages outside of the city.
As I write this, it is now less than a month before I catch that early morning flight out of Spokane and end a very long day tucking myself into a comfy hotel bed in Quito. Just about all the pieces are in place and I am ready to go. I've had my COVID booster shot, I've got plenty of KN95 masks for the planes and airports, and my bags are almost ready to go. I hope I am ready, too, for any surprises that come my way and pray for the grace to roll with whatever the Holy Spirit opens up before me.
So, why Ecuador? Simply put, because it feels like grace up ahead. Because it feels like renewal and restoration of my best self. Most of all, because it feels to me like this is where the Holy Spirit is blowing me.
I will be using this website to share with you "in real time" my experiences, insights, and photos. Thank you for coming along for the "big adventure", for accompanying me in this graced moment along the way.