Monday, July 28, 2008

What did we Learn in Ecuador Today?

We got on the computer and e-mailed one of the U.S. expats we'd met when we were down in Cuenca in the Winter and almost immediately got an e-mail back inviting us for an afternoon drink. Another woman from Germany came as well and we were shown around a beautiful 3 bedroom apartment that he'd purchased for $75,000. We talked about rents in Cuenca and the weather and how to hook up TV and internet once we got into an apartment. It was a delightful couple of hours and shows once again how friendly the people are here (both expats and natives).

Ecuador Forums contacted us through the blog and invited us to link with them and post on their site. Some of the postings were helpful to us. It's a relatively new site and should grow with time so it will probably prove to be a font of information for expats in Ecuador and those thinking of moving here.

We're sleeping like crazy. It's the altitude. Brian usually sleeps 6 or 7 hours at the outside but has now put in 2 ten hour nights.

You can't get ground coffee in the people's markets (only instant coffee), you have to go to SuperMaxi which is like the Safeway of Ecuador. We picked up a 500 grams of coffee for $3.46 and then went searching for cream. Twice Shelley went past it and didn't recognize it as such because they sell it in soft plastic pouches. As a consequence, we also picked up a glass cream container. We took a cab to the SuperMaxi as we didn't know where it was. It definitely turned out to be too far to walk (maybe 3 or 4 k). The cab cost $1.50. A terrific bargain when you consider that it cost $2.50 for one person to take a bus in Vancouver. When we learn the bus routes, it'll only cost us 25 cents to get there. When we got home we made a pot of coffee and it was terrific!

The people's market presented another great bargain with the purchase of a huge mango, 3 bananas and the equivalent of 2 baskets of strawberries for $2.60. This will provide an addition to our free breakfast for at least 4 days. While we were at the market Brian tried to buy a sweater (mas grande) but we couldn't find one big enough. The plan is to go back and have one made to order. It'll probably cost $20 for a very heavy alpaca wool.

If you've been following our blog, by now you're getting the picture that it is really cheap to live here. Once we get used to it ourselves we'll stop bragging about it but we're still amazed.

Monday has proven to be a landmark day with our visit to our immigration lawyer. A couple of minor glitches but she assures us that for all intent and purpose we can consider ourselves permanent residents. There is still a fair amount of paperwork to plow our way through but she does not anticipate any eventuality that would prevent us from staying in the country. So...we have done some fairly serious window shopping for furniture, primarily at a store we visited the last time we were in Cuenca. They have their own factory and produce hand crafted, gorgeous furniture at a fraction of what it would cost in Canada. We looked at completely furnishing a living room, bedroom and second bedroom/den/office well within our anticipated budget. We hope to be in our new digs by September 1st.

Tomorrow we're off to the Doctor for blood work to show that we are free of HIV and HEP B. This is another requirement for permanent status.

Shelley has a poopy cold. We're resigned to getting more colds than usual as the bugs are different here than in Canada. When we visited for 2 months we each got 2 colds and our friend Jan got a cold during his 2 weeks.

We went for pizza this evening and even though we thought it was rather expensive both ordered personal pan pizzas for $6.50 each. They turned out to be about the size of a medium pizza in Canada so guess what we're having for supper tomorrow.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Settling In

Our day in Quito was busy busy busy while we searched for internet and someone with enough English to help us get a phone up and running. We were successful on both points. An added bonus was that the phone number we used when we were in Ecuador on vacation only needed to be re-activated, so we have the same phone number. We took the bus (25 cents) across town to the airport to confirm our reservations on TAME Airlines and paid them money. It was a good thing we'd booked in advance because when we arrived for our flight it was completely sold out and there were about 40 people waiting on stand-by.

The flight took about 40 minutes from Quito to Cuenca and we flew right down the Avenue of Volcanoes. Three of them were quite spectacular, covered in snow, poking above the cloud line. On our final approach into Cuenca we remarked on how red the City was. It seems that virtually all the houses have terra cotta tiles on the roofs. The taxi that took us to the hostel where we're staying for at least a month (Macondo) turned out to be a complete offset from the jerk who drove us in Quito. Armando cheerfully helped us with our luggage, charging no extra for the trip and gave us his card to call him whenever we need a cab. We gave him a big tip (almost double his fare)!

Macondo has given us a lovely big room with ensuite bathroom, lots of closet space and 3 hangers for the outrageous fee of $13 a day, which includes a breakfast of fresh fruit juice, toast, jam and coffee. Their breakfasts used to include eggs and pancakes but they now charge extra for the good stuff.

We spent the next day basically wandering Quenca and reintroducing ourselves to its many wonders. Brian's thinking of getting a custom made leather coat (he picks the style and leather) for the astonishing price of $98. We checked out a few furniture stores and reaffirmed we could fully furnish an apartment with very nice solid wood furniture for under $5,000. I thought of the kids visiting our apartment for the first time and seeing all the lovely furniture and being shocked. They grew up with second hand furniture and then we moved on the boat.

Cuenca feels cooler than we remembered. It's undoubtedly because we came here during the dead of B.C. winter and this time we arrived during a Vancouver hot spell. It's sweater weather here. Brian's also thinking of getting a hand knit alpaca sweater with a zipper for $18.

We've made an appointment to see the immigration lawyer on Monday and got passport pictures taken today for our Visa. All in all things are going very well. The high altitude, even though we're taking altitude pills, is getting to us a little bit. Minor headaches, shortness of breath and easy fatigue are typical symptoms. However, we should be acclimatized in a couple more days.

We dropped into a language school and for $10 an hour we can get 2 on 1 Spanish lessons from an accredited teacher. They suggested we do a 3 hour lesson 3 times a week but we're probably going to go for 2 hour lessons, 2 times a week because as Brian said: "We're old." The administrator at the school laughed and assured us that could be arranged.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Flying Out

Up at 2:30 a.m. we fell out of bed. The coffee pot was packed so a quick cup of tea was all that we had and then we headed up the dock with our 6 pieces of luggage. Just before we'd gone to bed a scant 3 hours before we'd dropped FloCat's food and litter box with the neighbour and showed her where it was. She never came home last night. Flo seems to have adjusted rather well.

"Fickle floosy" Brian commented.

Brian's ex-employer had arranged to have one of their patrol cars pick us up and take us to the airport.

"Only the best for Brian" his old boss commented.

We were grateful and rode to the airport in style.

At YVR it was hurry up and wait. It was so early that even the Starbucks at the airport wasn't open. We waited in a line to get through U.S. customs. We waited at U.S. customs whilst people took off their belts and shoes. We waited in a waiting room for the plane to load and we waited on the plane to take off. They fed us peanuts and the kind of coffee that tastes like weak tea. After all our weighing of luggage at home to make sure everything was under 50 pounds, the lady at the ticket counter simply picked the pieces up, hefted them a bit and judged them OK. They never were weighed at any point during our trip.

At Salt Lake City we left the plane, walked down 2 long corridors and virtually instantly boarded our next plane to Atlanta. On that plane they fed us apple juice and packaged cheese & crackers. At the Atlanta Airport we had to take an underground train to get to our next plane as it was almost a mile away. The Atlanta Airport was crowded with soldiers and people with heavy 'merican accents. Even with the rush we stole 5 minutes to grab what will probably be our last frappacino.

The longest leg of our journey (5 hours) was from Atlanta to Quito. They fed us a dry sandwich, that tea/coffee stuff again, a teeny bag of chips and a miniscule brownie. The brownie was pretty good! From our seats we could look through First Class all the way to the cockpit as the door was open. Shelley asked the stewardess if she could take a picture. The stewardess said it would be fine to take a picture of the flight crew right at the cockpit door. The Captain and his First Mate were extremely accommodating and very nice. They told Shelley, "Tell all your friends to take Delta Airlines!

Brian played a computer Trivial Pursuit game provided by the Airlines and got into quite a contest with Hans (another passenger on the plane). We actually met Hans in the line-up at customs in Quito and chatted about games, Holland (that's where he was from), Ecuador, Canada, travelling and such things. We think we got ripped off on the shuttle ride from the airport to our hotel. We can't be sure but think we paid them at the airport, although the driver insisted we hadn't. It wouldn't be Ecuador if we didn't get ripped off soon as we hit the country.

Tomorrow we fly from Quito to Cuenca. Our flight doesn't leave until 5:30 in the evening, so we can sleep in and wander Quito a bit and chow up on some real food to make up for today.

We're happy to be here. Overjoyed all our luggage made it through all those transfers and totally exhausted and somewhat stinky.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

We're Off!

We're leaving in the wee hours tomorrow morning and none of it seems real at this point. After a couple of years of wistful wishing and then earnest planning and then stressful implementing, our dreams are about to come true (once again). It's no wonder it doesn't seem real, we are in a dream state.

We'll be staying at the Hostel Macondo for the first month. When we were down there in February and March we stayed at the Macondo several times and liked the ambiance and the staff. You can take a quick look at their website at: It's charming and inexpensive and they feed us breakfast every day, all for $395 a month, including private bath.

We'd sent several e-mails to them trying to make a reservation and finally bit the bullet and phoned. It seems to be a Spanish thing; there's no urgency. MaƱana means tomorrow and it's an oft heard expression in Ecuador that they seem to take quite seriously.

We seemed to have eaten our way out of Canada. We had dinner down the dock with some friends and stuffed ourselves on pork ribs, wine and margaritas, then an evening of champagne and sushi with the new owners, lunch a couple of times with friends of Brian from work, lunch with Brian's kids and lunch with Shelley's kids and dinner with Shelley's kids again. A serious diet of fruit and no bread will have to be implemented as soon as we settle into Macondo.

We're packed, the money from the boat is in the bank, we've turned off the phone and the TV and have succeeded in diverting all of our mail to the internet. We have documents galore impressively stamped and sealed. We've given all of the wisdom that came to mind to the new owners of the boat and hugged the kids extra hard. Our flight goes to Salt Lake City then Atlanta, Georgia and then to Quito Ecuador. We stay overnight at Quito and then fly on Tame Airline to Cuenca late the next afternoon. We'll call a van taxi this evening to pick us up at 2:30 in the morning in Vancouver and all we have to do after that is try and sleep for a couple of hours tonight.

Like that'll happen!

On the phone to Aiden, Brian's first grandson, they talked about South America. Aiden's 6. "Do you know where that is?" Brian asked.

"You don't know what a map is!" Brian exclaimed. "How about Goggle Earth?"

"They have monkeys and iguanas and when you come to visit us, we'll show you everything" Brian told him.

Sabrina's already talking about buying property down there for her own retirement. Sammy & Bennan have promised to visit as soon as they can. Jaci has assured us she'll make it down. Numerous people down the dock have asked for our e-mail address and promised they'd look us up when they were in the neighbourhood. Jan's coming for Christmas. We're looking forward to seeing them all!

It's all very poignant and yet it's not. Shelley looked on the internet under Shakespeare to find a good quote that said it all but wasn't successful. We'll have to find our own quotes and put them in this blog as we go along. Wish us luck and love to all.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Chaos & Fury

Brian went downtown Monday morning to pick up our refund cheque from the Insurance Company and have lunch with Sabrina and Brian Jr. It was chaos. The news reports say it could take BC Hydro officials several days to figure out what caused a fire that burned through 14 circuit cables, knocking out power supply to 20,000 customers in a large section of Vancouver's downtown core. The force of the explosion blew out a manhole cover near West Pender Street and Richards Street, sending thick clouds of smoke into the air.

When he finally arrived at the Insurance Company's office there were no lights on and the doors were locked. Winding his way through the streets with no traffic lights working he did make it to his lunch with the kids but the whole excursion proved confusing and ultimately disappointing.

Meanwhile, that morning he'd put in a call to the Ecuadorian Consulate and a Vancouver lawyer trying to get our paperwork together. Because of the power outage the lawyer's office had no power and thus no telephones and the Consulate simply had an answering machine. He left messages.

That evening we had an appointment with the new owners of the boat to take them through Dowager's various idiosyncrasies and guide them through docking procedures. Dock rats were on hand to shout encouragement (not) and although the new owners are very nice people, we were glad to see them leave so we could collapse on the couch and stress down for awhile.

Tuesday morning Brian's back on the phones trying to put our documents together. After numerous calls to the Translator and various Spanish speaking lawyers in Vancouver, as well as to the Consulate, he managed to put together a "plan" that might have us on our way by the time we have to leave the boat.

Problems (or Challenges for those born in 1970 and later):

1. We had to find a lawyer that wasn't located in downtown Vancouver because of the power outage and who could speak Spanish and was a member in good standing with the Bar Association.
2. We had to get the Translator together with said lawyer.
3. The Translator was taking classes and had limited time available to meet with a lawyer.
4. After the lawyer notarized the translated documents, we had to take the notarized copies to the Bar Association so they could complete an Affidavit saying the lawyer was in good standing.
5. The turn around time with the Bar Association is usually 2 or 3 days.
6. Brian sweet talked the lady at the Bar Association into doing it right away but we had to be there before 3:00 p.m. because "there probably wouldn't be anybody around authorized to sign it after that".
7. The Consulate was going to be closed from July 16th to July 24th.
8. We have to be off the boat by July 21st.
9. Everything cost $200 or $500 or our first born child.

4:00 p.m. found us sitting downtown in a Tim Hortons, slurping an Ice Cap. We'd tried to pick up our insurance cheque but the office was still closed due to power outages. Shelley commented:

"It's a lot like work. I've got that drained, tired feeling you have after work."
Brian agreed.

We'd found a lawyer on Broadway from the Philippines who spoke Spanish. We e-mailed our documents to him and several telephone calls later the Translator e-mailed the translated documents to him as well. The lawyer was 70 years old and proud of it as he informed us of this fact several times. He'd been accepted to the bar the year Shelley was born. We were grateful to have found anyone, but his slow, careful, methodical, step by step, ponderous way of dealing with the paperwork drove us out of our minds.

Our Translator, a lawyer himself in Columbia before he'd moved to Canada, told us over fruit juices while we waited for our elderly lawyer to get it together, that he'd never seen anything quite like it! They had gotten into a bit of an argument in the office, in Spanish, voices slightly raised in that quick talking manner, to the point where we felt it was best to separate the two of them until it was down to the nitty gritty.

We'd arrived at the lawyer's office at 1:00 p.m. Finally Shelley, in desperation, stepped into the elderly lawyer's office and told him she used to be a legal secretary and had a pretty good idea how long things should take. She explained to him if we didn't get to the Bar Association before 3 o'clock the timing of the whole thing would go down the drain.

It did seem to speed him up just a tad.

After much signing and stapling and stamping of documents, we rushed from the office at 2:45 and caught a taxi downtown. The taxi driver, seeing desperation in our faces, did a real "follow that car" routine and got us downtown in record time despite the traffic. We gave him a big tip!

At the Bar Association, for their $105 we got a lovely stamp 3 inches around!

Documents in hand, sitting slumped at the Tim Hortons, we phoned the Ecuadorian Consulate. Three phoned calls later it was established we could see the Consulate between 9 and 10 p.m. that night.

Brian's good friend Greg picked us up at 8:15 and off we went to Richmond to visit a little piece of Ecuador in Canada. The Consulate was in a mega house, beautiful and immense inside. After carefully looking at the documents we were informed it would cost us four times as much as quoted as we'd had each document certified separately.

We were happy to pay the money. We only wanted to get this done. We smiled and nodded our heads eagerly. "Anything you want!"

After 4 stamps on 4 separate documents, Shelley began to weary and went to the car to wait with Greg. Twenty minutes later Brian came out resplendent with several more stamps and a sticker.

"It's done!" he crowed. "It's done!"

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Murphy's Law

We met Sammy and Brennan on Saturday for lunch. We needed a scale to weigh the luggage and make sure nothing was over 50 pounds. They were going to lend us one. We had a lovely lunch with the kids and then saw them off. They were going to Bard on the Beach.

Armed with our scale we trooped back to the boat. Both of us working in the fo'c'sle, bumping into each other, pulling heavy luggage from the bunks and weighing them on a small scale was hot, sweaty and ultimately frustrating work. After 2 weigh-ins and 2 rearrangements of contents, the scale began to flash at us "batt batt".

We phoned Sammy still waiting in the line-up for Bard on the Beach.

"Oh, I'm sorry!" she said. "That means it needs a new battery."

A trip through www world and 3 phone calls later we determined London Drugs on Broadway had a stock of the special battery we required.

"Can we take the bus?" Brian asked. "We've already had our long walk for the day."

We trooped up to the bus stop, just missing the bus and sat down in the July sun beside an odorous bag lady. Shelley wondered if she'd paid for her Starbucks coffee or if it was a freebie.

London Drugs did in fact have the battery we required as well as a special adapter we needed for our telephone. They did not, however, stock batteries for cell phones! We left to catch the bus home. It wasn't until we were on the bus again that Shelley remembered we hadn't bought Nicorettes.

Shortly after arriving home the Translator gave us a call and advised he couldn't get his computer to read the documents we'd e-mailed him the day before. They were in .tiff format and he needed them in .pdf format or faxed. We phoned the Marina office to see if we could use their fax machine but were advised that it had a special code and no one was around who had authorization. After much searching through help programs, Shelley figured out how to send the documents .pdf.

"We're not going to finish packing the luggage today, are we?" asked Brian of Shelley with hope in his voice.

Shelley refused to answer, secretly irked as she'd just weighed herself for the first time since quitting smoking. Instead she sat down at the computer to play "Flood It" for awhile. Brian took that as a No.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Roller Coaster Ride

First there's anticipation. Then there's: "It's never going to happen". After that, when you do know it's going to happen there's "Yippee! The time is coming soon". Some time between "it" actually happening and the "you knowing it's going to happen" there's stress and panic - "What the heck were we thinking?!"

We've sold the only security either one of us has managed to attain and we're planning on moving to a country where THEY DON'T EVEN SPEAK ENGLISH!

We went to the Doctor the other day and left with prescriptions for $500 worth of drugs. Brian gets cluster headaches from time to time and we got drugs for the altitude and drugs for diarrhea and it just went on and on. Just before we left the office the Doctor said, "Well this is it then!", and gave Brian a friendly bat on the head with his file. Standing at the elevator Brian commented that it was anticlimactic.

"I've been seeing the Doctor for 10 years now and you've been seeing him for what, 30 years?!", he said.

"What'd you expect? A big hug from the Doctor. It wouldn't be appropriate."

"Ya I guess".

Shelley's been having nightmmares and Brian's been sighing a lot. We have to be off the boat by July 21st and our criminal record checks just came in the mail on July 10th. Jaci has graciously offered us her apartment (rent free) and she'll stay with her boyfriend. So, we've got somewhere to go, but staying in a tiny studio apartment with the bathroom down the hall pales when compared to flying off to an exotic destination. We're grateful but not enthusiastic.

The day the criminal record checks arrived was slapstick chaos. We lost our heads and went flying off into a thousand different directions trying to put together what needs to be done. As luck would have it, internet at the Marina was poopy that day and we wandered around trying to get a decent signal so we could send the documents off to the lawyer in Cuenca. There we were, standing at the head of D dock in the summer sun, praying to the Google gods that here the signal would be good enough to push the e-mail through.

It was.

The next day (Friday) we spent hovering around the computer waiting for a reply from the lawyer. We had phoned her in the morning to see if she had received our e-mail. She said she hadn't checked her e-mail yet but would get to it for sure that afternoon and would reply by e-mail. Her reply finally came at 5:30 in the evening assuring us the documents were in order to take to the translator.

A call to the translator went to voice mail but we e-mailed off the documents any ways hoping they'd look at their in-box before Monday. The translator's wife had told us that if they got the documents by Friday evening, they would probably be translated over the weekend. The problem is, her husband the translator, is taking a course which is taking up his weekdays.

"It's the complete lack of control" Brian said. "That's what gives you the stress."

Shelley gave him stone face. Brian calls it her Buster Keaton look.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Quiet Before the Storm

Our chores and checklists have diminished to just a few items. We're awaiting the arrival in the mail of our criminal records and then we have to take them to the translator, the lawyer and the Ecuador Consulate. After that, we buy our plane ticket and fly off to Never Never Land.

The boat's water line is up over an inch what with all the stuff we've taken off her. We finally made a telephone call to the Airlines and checked on the luggage requirements. After 2 visits each to the website we still couldn't determine exactly what they were saying. The very nice young man on the phone advised there was an "embargo" on luggage. We're allowed one piece under 50 pounds. For $25 more we can take an additional piece of luggage under 50 pounds. We can also take one piece of carry on, under 40 pounds.

So, we have to reduce our stuff to under 140 pounds each. Sammy's bringing a scale so we can weigh our luggage and make the hard decisions. Brian has some boat books he cannot part with. Shelley wants her stapler, her paintings of Bossy & Selfish and the music CDs. The horn Brian's friend Jan gave to him has gone to Sammy to be shipped down at some later date. If we're overweight, we'll also have her ship the books later.

After 2 days of mild grinding panic, we have adjusted to the thought of Dowager going into the hands of someone else. We find ourselves after months and weeks of planning and implementing plans with very little to do except wait.

Waiting stinks.

We've flown off to Never Never Land before of course. We both quit our jobs, moved onto the boat and sailed off into the sunset to find our destiny. Our destiny was to get so poor we actually ran out of fuel on the boat. When money finally did come trickling in again, we had to pull the boat by hand up to the shore to get fuel.

You'd think we would have learned our lessons by now and hopefully we have. This time we have income (that's nice). This time we have a small nest egg (that's nice too!).

Between the 2 of us, we've probably given away all our possessions 4 to 8 times. Brian often expresses an envy of people who led stable lives; where possessions were accumulated to retirement and beyond. Shelley shrugs. She likes getting rid of stuff! It's unlikely either one of us would have been willing to part with so much stuff over the years if it wasn't somewhat easy. It's encouraging to know that we're not caught up in materialism after all. If the crunch comes and a book or the stapler can't come to Ecuador with us I think we'll survive.

There's a small possibility that something could go wrong with the immigration. If that happens, we'll be wanderers. Forever doomed to spend 3 months here, 6 months there. We've discussed that small possibility and have determined that wouldn't be so bad either. It'd stop us from accumulating that's for sure.

One potatoe, two potatoe, we wait, ticking off the last of our lists.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


The throwing away is in earnest these days. The garbage bags are hauled to the top of the dock on Brian's shoulders. Old clothes, rain boots, books galore, copies of bills paid, documents kept just in case but now no longer needed, extra supplies of shaving cream & oatmeal & the ear syringe & cotton balls.

We went through agony when we asked the guy down the dock if he'd take care of FloCat and he was forced to refuse.

"I'm getting too old. My son's making me stay with him most of the time now. I can't do it."

Catching a group of the dock's residents together, Brian told them our dilemma and was assured that FloCat would be fed & de-flea'd & find shelter from the cold.

"She's such a little slut" one of the Fishermen commented. "She'll be OK. We'll watch out for her."

We phoned the TV people and the telephone people and argued with them about termination of service.

"You don't understand! We're leaving the country! No! We do not want a different package."

We have to decide what is important enough to get into the one large suitcase and the one small suitcase each of us are planning on taking.

"Check the website!" Brian instructed Shelley. "Find out how many pieces of luggage we can take, the maximum size and weight."

"What do you mean it has to be under 70 pounds?"

Shelley resists simply repeating the same thing over again. Instead she takes him by the hand and leads him to the computer and sits him down to read the information himself.

"What do they mean it has to be under 70 pounds?"

Shelley moans, "I'm crabby! We need to go for a walk!"

Going through the mounds of paper that need to be thrown out, we come up with an old e-mail address of a friend we haven't heard from for awhile. Shelley drops him a line and 2 days later, 9 o'clock in the morning, unannounced, there here is.

"Why Ecuador?!"
"Well hello to you too, stranger!"

We spend a pleasant couple of hours drinking coffee, catching up and telling each other our tales.

There's waking up at 3:00 AM in a panic about the kids. We can't possibly be contemplating leaving them. How will they cope?

There's looking out the wheelhouse window in the evening at the lights on the Burrard Street bridge and knowing you'll never see that site again and mourning it before it's even gone.

And there's the blind, all consuming panic when we think that in Ecuador, no where in the entire country, perhaps no where in the entire Continent do they sell Nicorettes.