My wife and I recently came across an old videotape of our first visit to Cotacachi in 2008 that caused us to reflect on all the changes that have occurred over the past few years. In those days, Cotacachi was a sleepy, small town with only a handful of expats living there full time. Buses would drop off tourists for a day of shopping on “Leather Street,” but the town still had the feeling of being an undiscovered destination. The expat housing developments of Primavera II, San Miguel, and Jahua Pacha were still getting off the ground.
Over time, as more and more foreigners trickled in, new businesses began to open. Serendipity was the first expat owned restaurant in Cotacachi, and it was a welcome addition. When we grew tired of standard Ecuadorian fare, there was always a plate of meatloaf and some friendly faces there. Every week, “gringos” would meet at the Rancho Santa Fe hotel to drink a few beers and welcome any newcomers to town. Spotting a fellow North American walking down the street was always an occasion to stop and chat. My wife and I were taken in by the simple, slow paced life, one where we could buy a 15 cent pastry from the panaderia (bakery) and rest contentedly on a park bench for as long as we wished.
Since that time, the trickle of newcomers has turned into a river. Numerous expat-owned businesses have opened including bars with live music. The arrival of the “Tia” grocery/department store has made it much more convenient to find those daily necessities without taking the 40-minute bus ride to Ibarra. Several gated housing developments have been built ranging from apartment complexes to single family homes. Common interest groups such as animal welfare and Bible study have formed. Social opportunities abound. It appears that the “critical mass” has been reached where there are enough other English speaking residents and ample activities to attract a widening group of expats.
As with everything in life, change brings with it a tradeoff. Many of the original expat pioneers have moved on, either back to their home countries or on to another “less traveled” location. Although some of the original charm has worn off, expat life in Cotacachi is undoubtedly more convenient than in 2008.
Looking back at that video taken six years ago in a local restaurant toasting our new life in Ecuador, we felt a tinge of nostalgia. Cotacachi is still a wonderful small town nestled in a valley with breathtaking scenery. Nevertheless, there is no denying that the winds of change are blowing in a new era for this Andean town making us wonder what the next six years will bring.
Below is a video that we took on our first visit to Cotacachi in 2008.