Friday, November 30, 2012

Preparations are moving forward

About a month ago, I ended my Facebook contract and have been working full time on preparations for moving.  Scott will be joining me in this effort as he recently gave notice to bebe - his last day is December 7.  His coworkers are mostly very excited for him, which is nice.  You never know how people will react when they hear of the Ecuador plans for the first time.  His manager is already asking when he and his wife can visit!

Several things need to happen before we make our first move to South Dakota, then our second move to Ecuador:
  1. Sell or donate all furniture in our house.  I visited a consignment store with pictures of a bunch of furniture and they will take a lot of it to resell.  They also gave me tips on which charities will come to our house and pick up the other stuff.
  2. Complete the few portions of our house that still need remodeling:  Master bath & entry way being the two biggest. I spent days going to granite/marble places & discussing wall colors with designer.  We selected and ordered a new entry door.  Waiting for quotes from contractor.  Lots of other smaller things...
  3. Hire realtor (already selected the one we want) & sell house.
  4. Find a new home for our cat, Cleo.
  5. Obtain and have apostilled our birth certificates, marriage certificate, police records, etc.  Also need them all translated into Spanish but we can do that in Ecuador if necessary.  They all need to be within 90 days of applying for permanent residency (cedula) so until we have a date, I'm putting this off.
  6. Sell my car.
  7. Go through the paperwork filling the office & shred or scan into electronic form.
One of the things that we knew we needed to do was get less "blingy" wedding bands.  Today, I wear this beautiful wedding ring:
 When we are in Ecuador, Scott and I will be wearing matching simple wedding bands:
We picked them up yesterday from the jeweler and I have been wearing it since.  It feels like I am not wearing a ring at all it is so light and comfortable.  Our current wedding rings will go into a safe deposit box and we may wear them on trips back to the US.  I wear a sapphire ring on my right hand that will go into the safe deposit box.  We will not bring anything screaming "rich folks - rob us!" to wear since simply being gringos already screams that to enough people.  As much as blue eyed, blonde, white people can blend in, we will try to blend in with locals.

Now that I am no longer at Facebook, I have joined the Ecuador groups and am getting so much awesome information!  I love meeting all of these folks who have either already done what we are doing, are in the middle of doing it, or planning on doing it down the road someday.

Scott and I have really appreciated all of the people before us who have blogged about their experiences.  We learn something new with each blog that we read.  My hope for this blog is that someday someone stumbles upon it and finds a useful piece of information.  As we continue down our path, I plan to update this blog with any issues or successes that we encounter. 

Until next time,

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Ecuador Visa 9-II requirements

We are planning to establish residency when we arrive in Ecuador next year.  I contacted a lawyer couple who are recommended by several bloggers in Cuenca to determine what the current requirements are (they change frequently so we will check again early next year).  Here are the current requirements:

I am changing this post to just links since the requirements can change at any time. 
One important caveat: Visa requirements can change without any warning. And those changes may not be reflected right away on the government websites. So it's always best to check with your nearest consulate for the latest requirements.

Non-immigrant visas:

Immigrant visas:

Main visa application form:

Garage Sale Success!

It has been too long since I posted.  Someone asked me for my blog URL this week and I am a bit embarrassed with how few posts I have made.  Time to talk about our preparation for the big move instead of just our times in Ecuador.  Keep in mind that if you move overseas from the US, whichever state you last had residency in is the one that you will pay income taxes in while you are overseas.  We live in California and do not want to pay state income taxes here while we are residents of Ecuador.  Instead, we will be moving to South Dakota early in 2013 to establish residency in a state with no state income taxes.  Why South Dakota?  Because we are both crazy and thought South Dakota in January sounded like paradise!  Actually, we are both originally from Minnesota so it will be a short drive to visit our relatives & friends while spending time living in South Dakota.

In preparation for the move, we are slowly downsizing.  Last weekend, we had a hugely successful garage sale.  One of our neighbors also had one on the same day so all of the signs that Scott made said "Garage Sales" which seemed to draw a lot more people than if it had been singular.  Having been avid campers when our daughter was growing up, we had a ton of camping equipment to sell.  Also sold a bunch of Christmas decorations and kitchen items that we no longer need and would certainly not have made the cut for our move.  Tuesday night, we even had a guy stop by and ask if the 10 man tent was still available (it was!) and bought it.  Our neighbor used to sell golf clubs for a living and had tons of unused clubs.  That explains why our used, mismatched clubs did not sell :)

Beginning of the day:
 End of the day:

One of the keys to success was pricing everything to sell.  We had very few people even try to negotiate.  A couple of times, we were asked things like "are these (very used) golf shoes really only $1?"  In the end, we made more than $900 and the most expensive thing we sold was $30.  It was an incredibly busy day and well worth it.

We plan to sell my Infiniti G35x and keep Scott's Toyota Tundra.  It will make a lot more sense to have a pickup in the snow and ice than a luxury car.  We are planning to come back out to California in the spring to sell the house since that is a better time to sell than over the holidays.

I am most likely going to leave work sometime before the end of this year and Scott just before we leave for South Dakota.  After I leave, I will be working on getting rid of more of our stuff & going through the mountain of paperwork in our home office.  We both spent more than 7 years working from home years ago and have more paper than should be allowed in a home.

Scott and I are getting so excited about this major life change that we will be embarking on soon!  We faithfully read South of Zero every day and discuss the blog topics as we learn from them.  I highly recommend that anyone considering a similar move do the same.  I would also recommend joining the Facebook group Ecuador Expats even though I am unable to since I still work at FB and do not want my managers to know of my plans just yet (unless they find this blog...).  Scott has joined the group and finds it useful.

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area and would like to buy a 2006 Infiniti G35x, let me know :)

Until next time,

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Road Construction in Coastal Ecuador

The Pacific Coast in Ecuador is undergoing massive road construction.  All of the roads and bridges are being paved and rebuilt, or have just been completed.  One of the really awesome things that the Ecuadorian government does is posts billboards along the roads telling people how much each section costs.  Now might be a good time to direct you to a map of the coast.

Here is the sign for the road between Montecristi and Jipijapa (pronounced hippy-happa) telling us that the 46.89 Km stretch costs $32.5 million US dollars.  This road is just about complete; almost nothing left to do so it's an easy drive.

Between Pedernales and San Vicente (just across the bridge from Bahia), 111.08 Km costs $99.5 million.  This one is underway now.  Some bridges are out, some are being prepared to be taken out, and I don't think there were any that were complete yet in July, 2012.
Between Santa Elena and Bahia, 278.7 Km costs $90.4 million.  There is just the one bridge left to rebuild that I told you about last post.  Otherwise, it is just about completed.
When we drove from Bahia to Canoa, we crossed the bridge beyond this pile of dirt (click on the picture to get a better view).  This picture is taken the very next day - glad we went there when we could take the bridge :) 
When roads are under construction, they let you drive on whichever section they are not currently working on.  Basically, all traffic going both directions are driving in one lane making the drive most interesting and perilous.  Not to mention that rebar is sticking straight up about 2 inches in the area where a curb is going to eventually be installed.  We thought for sure we were going to get a flat tire or two but managed to make it with four intact tires.

Is this bridge really being held up with wood?  I would not like to be one of the workers under it.
How do you make sure no one drives on the completed section?  Rocks of course!
Hopefully you know which way to go at the unmarked Y's :)  We took the left first, only to find a bridge out with no bypass.  The right took us to the new highway under construction.
We were not sure if we were supposed to be driving on this road but the workers waved us on after we stopped.
Even the speed bumps in towns are being moved, improved and painted.  I am so happy to see the paint because a lot of times, a speed bump was not visible until we were already going over it (at full speed).
 When complete, the roads are very nice.
We are really looking forward to living there and seeing all of the improvements full time!

Until next time,

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Second trip confirms Ecuador is for us!

A month ago, Scott and I returned to coastal Ecuador for the second time to confirm that we want to live there and see some additional areas.  We are definitely in love with the area and are really looking forward to moving there!  It is going to take several posts to fill you in on the trip.

When we booked our flights back in January, there was to be a two hour layover in Miami.  It figures that American Airlines had changed both flight times.  Our flight from SFO was leaving later than originally scheduled and our flight from MIA to GYE was leaving earlier.  The two hour layover turned into 50 minutes (less given the amount of time it takes to deplane)!  At least both flights were in the same terminal but far enough apart that we barely made it to the gate in time.  There is light rail that would have taken us to the gate but we didn't notice it until we were almost there.  No time to grab anything to eat or drink - just get on the plane!  On the flight to GYE, someone had brought their dog and it barked much of the flight.  Poor thing was not happy, nor were those of us riding with it.

We landed after dark so we spent the first night at Murali Hostal Guayaquil near the airport.  I subscribe to the owner, Domenick's weekly email about Ecuador, which is how we learned about this hotel.  Fortunately the taxi driver knew where it was (per Domenick's recommendation, I had written the address on a sheet of paper) and delivered us to the front door and waited until someone answered it to buzz us in.  It's three stories and from the outside, I may have thought it was a private residence except for the small sign on an upper floor.  It is right in the middle of a quiet residential neighborhood.  Here's the view from our room:

We paid $49 for a matrimonial (double) room.  Very kind staff (some spoke English and others were patient with our limited Spanish) and they have a nice shared patio area with a table & chairs that we spent the evening at reading and planning the next day.  Clean rooms and they have hot water at designated times:

In the morning, we walked 15 minutes to the airport to pick up our rental car & GPS.  Just like last time, there were no 4x4s so we ended up with a 4x2 SUV again.  The guy at Budget said that they did have a 4x4 available but the permit expired in 1 day.  Last thing we need is to drive around Ecuador in a car with an expired permit.  Budget was out of GPS devices so we rented one from Enterprise.  Then, drove back to hotel to check out & pick up our luggage.

That's when the exciting hour+ driving around Guayaquil began.  I got the GPS all set up in English and pointed to Bahia.  Unfortunately, the road she wanted us to take no longer existed and the area was under construction.  We tried to guess our way to a freeway and ended up going in a lot of circles.  Just kept passing the same things over and over.  GPS kept trying to get us to go back to the non-existent road...  I put it on mute.  Finally at 11:00, we saw signs for a town we needed to pass through and we were driving out of town on the right road!  Yippee!

During the drive, we went through a couple of towns that had a celebration of some kind going on.  Pretty cool but with our lateness getting out of Guayaquil, we didn't stop to enjoy any of them.  Lots of people milling around and selling things.

Bahia is in Manabi province.  Welcome to Manabi!  (it says it in English on the right side)  How cool!

You can see from that picture that it was cloudy for much of the day and sprinkled now and then.

Just before we arrived in Bahia, there was a new bridge being built.  This sign warned us that there was danger ahead (working machines) but did not specify that the bridge was out and we'd be bypassing it using a 15 foot ravine next to the new bridge.  It was the beginning of a theme we'd see many times during construction of new bridges.

 About 20 minutes later, we made it to Bahia!
We drove along the Malecon until we reached our hotel, La Piedra Hotel at about 2:00.  The room wasn't ready so we hung out poolside until it was.  We had an awesome room with a balcony overlooking the ocean.  The view from the room:
 Scott on the balcony:
Check out the elephant made out of our towels - cute!
By 7:00 pm it was pitch black out.  We went to dinner at an outdoor restaurant across the street from the hotel named D'Camerones.  I had grilled shrimp and Scott had breaded shrimp.  Mine was awesome and Scott's so-so.  The sliced fried plantain appetizer was absolutely delicious!  We spent the rest of the evening on the balcony.  People were still swimming in the ocean until about 10:00 pm - we could see them by the moonlight.

What an exciting beginning to our trip!  More later!


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Roaming wild in Ecuador

First, I want to mention that Scott and I both started new jobs about a month ago and are very happy with them so we may postpone our move by a few years.  Scott is now a full time employee at Bebe Stores headquarters and I am contracting at Facebook headquarters.

Now, on to the topic of the day - roaming wild in Ecuador.  We saw a lot of animals while there and most roamed wherever they wanted.  There were pigs, cows, cats, dogs, and horses hanging out in various places without leashes or fences.  They did not seem to have any fear of vehicles and barely moved as we drove past them.  Here was a horse hanging out in a front yard.
 Here is a dog hanging out at a food "bike."
 Pig crossing!
 They were together but crossed so slowly that I could not get them in the same picture.
 This dog hung out with us one afternoon at the beach.  Very nice guy.
 Scott put out dog food across from our hotel one night and this dog found some of it the next morning.  I know he is wearing a harness but we never saw him with a leash and saw him day and night running free.  Not sure why he has a harness on.
 Turkeys running around a front yard.
At our second hotel, the owner had a cute little dog that she did not let roam free and kept a very close eye on her.  Here is Scott giving her some love.
I already introduced this sweet cat that shared breakfast with us.  Here is Scott saying hi before we all ate.
 These cows were just walking along slowly on the edge of the road.  There were about 20 of them in all.
 Want to buy a wooden souvenir?  This dog is "manning" the shop.

If you read a lot of other blogs about Ecuador, you know that there are also a lot of more exotic animals but we did not go to the locations where we would have seen them.  Maybe next time, which will be a week this summer :)

Friday, January 20, 2012

Prices in Coastal Ecuador

We were curious about the cost of various items in coastal Ecuador so we spent about an hour in a supermarket looking at prices.  It certainly helped that Ecuador uses the US dollar as it's currency.  Here's a sampling of what we found:

In Puerto Lopez:
Hand mixer $12.99 (quality of all kitchen appliances would equal the cheapest ones that we could find at Walmart in the US)
Slow cooker  $20.00
Small saucepan $8.00
Large saucepan $13.00
Window cleaner $1.99
Sugar per pound $.45
12 tortillas $1.99
18 eggs $2.09 (interesting that they were sold at room temperature)
100 grams Doritos $.99
Whole 5 lb 10 oz chicken $7.62
Pantene shampoo (13.5 oz) $5.59
Speed Stick deodorant $3.49
4 rolls of toilet paper $2.39
DVD player $35.00
5.5 oz WD40 $3.99
Gasoline $2.19 / gallon

In Guayaquil:
55" LCD TV $2890
Home security system $1000
Lee jeans $36 - $46
Hi top Converse sneakers $78

I did not bring a watch and did not want to spend all week asking Scott what time it was so I bought this watch for $5.00.  I think I overpaid by about $3.00.

We stopped by a small store in a small town run by a boy about 10 years old.  I bought a bottle of cold water for $1.00 and did not negotiate with him.  As we were walking away, he ran out of the store and high fived all of his friends sitting at a table in front of the store.  No idea what I should have paid but clearly, I paid the gringo price.

In a market where they sell fruit, vegetables, meat, and pretty much anything else available, I watched a local man negotiate and purchase two large crabs.  He paid $1.00 for both!  Wow!  I was curious about whether the two men were friends or if that is how low an average local can get the price down.  Unfortunately, I do not have any way to ask that question.

We bought a $10 Claro card - a prepaid telephone card that can be used at Claro phone booths around towns.  We thought it would be nice to be able to call some local folks that we were meeting with while there.  Also, the balance could have been used to call our families in the US.  The only problem was that we were unable to read the activation instructions and eventually gave up.  Instead, we went to the internet cafes and used their payphones to call the local folks.  Scott spoke to Barb for about 3-5 minutes and we paid $.78.  We completely skipped any international calls.  If you need a $10 Claro card, let me know :) 

For most of our trip, we relied on free wifi at restaurants or hotels to use the internet on our phones.  A couple of times, we wanted to print something out so we went to internet cafes for those times.  We paid $.10 to $.25 depending on which city we were in for up to 15 minutes.  What should have always taken about 5 minutes typically took around 8 because of our slow typing on the Spanish keyboard.  Printing in black and white was $.10 per page and $.25 for color.  We accidentally printed in color the first time and printed a web page where there was one line on the second page - the copyright info.  Oops.

We spoke to a gringo who has been living in Ecuador for 5 months and is getting ready to begin building a house on a lot that he purchased.  He said that he bought 8 6'x2' granite slabs for a total of $700!  Incredible!!

We bought ice from this girl's store a few times.  A bag of ice was $2.00.  She worked all day every day and was also there at night.  I do not know what time the store closes.

Here were some of the prices of meals that we purchased at restaurants:
Garlic shrimp with rice $5.00

Fried fish with rice and fries $4.50

6 inch Empanadas $1.00 - One empanada was plenty filling for a meal.  Scott had ham & cheese and I had chicken, which also contained some vegetables.
Bottle of water $.35
Breakfast of two eggs, bacon, cheese, tea, juice and toast $4.00 at our hotel in Playas

Breakfast of 2 eggs, 2 croissant, hot milk, juice $2.50 across the street from the hotel in Playas (we did not really like the hot milk - I think was whole milk but there was a stray cat who was more than happy to drink both of ours)

One night in Playas, we went to a fancy looking Italian restaurant.  Scott ordered the garlic shrimp (at $7.50 a lot more expensive than it was at the first restaurant where he ordered it) and I ordered risotto shrimp which was also $7.50.  I received exactly what I ordered but Scott ended up with a poor tasting filet of fish instead.  Since my dish was much more than I could ever eat, he ate his rice and shared my meal with me.  We did not say anything to the waitress because it was most likely our lack of Spanish that caused this mix up.  All restaurant employees came to our table at the end of our meal to find out why Scott did not eat his food.  The chef speaks great English and we explained that Scott did not order the food on his plate but that we were both full and wanted to pay.  They removed Scott's meal from the bill so we only paid for mine.  Very nice of them!

While we were in Puerto Lopez, we frequented the same restaurant several times because they had wifi that we could use while there.  They had some amazingly great food.  I had a huge crepe filled with chicken and covered in a wonderful sauce for $6.50.  The waiter spoke pretty good English, too, so we were able to ask him questions that we had about local customs and where to find particular items in town.

Until next time,

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Transportation on Ecuador's Pacific Coast Part II

I realized just how many things I skipped in my last post so I'm adding some additional transportation details in this post.

When we arrived in Guayaquil, it was around 5:30 AM but Budget Rental Cars does not open until 7:00 so we ordered some fresh orange juice and patiently waited until the workers arrived at around 7:20.  They found our reservation with no problem and presented the bill to us.  We handed over our American Express card and stood at the counter for about an hour while they tried to get the card authorized.  The guy called everyone and their brother to try to figure out why the phone number he was calling did not work.  I am pretty sure that he was just waiting for us to pull out a Visa or Master Card instead but we were content to wait until our AmEx got authorized.  Finally, the authorization went through and we were able to drive away.  The closed doors behind Scott are the rental car counters at the airport.
Good thing we did have some wait time because while we were waiting, we decided to rent a Garmin GPS unit also.  Originally, we planned to use just the map we purchased in the US.  The Garmin spoke to us in Spanish the entire first day.  On the second day, I figured out how to change it to English.  When driving from Puerto Lopez to Crucita, the Garmin lost GPS signal right before we entered a round about and we took the exit that seemed right.  About 1/2 hour later, I figured out that we were no longer on the coastal road but had cut across the mountains to the inland road.  Good thing they met up later so we did not have to backtrack and we saw some areas that we had not intended to see.  On the way back, we figured out exactly where we had gone wrong and made it back with no problems.  Here were our navigational tools while we drove around:
 During our week there, we figured out a few horn messages that really had us confused on the first few days.  There is quite a bit of honking on the roads but it is not the long horns that you hear in cities like New York.  The honking usually is sending a message to other drivers.  Here is what I think they mean:
3 short beeps - The vehicle in front is saying that it is clear for you to pass them.  This happened when you approached a vehicle driving slower than you and they had a better view of the road ahead.  Seemed most common with the large trucks and buses.
2 short beeps - "Thank you for your courtesy in letting me pass."  This is typically for after you pass someone who either gave you the three beeps or moved over as far right as they could in their lane for you to pass.  (Remember that a lot of people pass in no passing zones and on blind curves so if the person being passed moves over as far as they can, it usually leaves enough room for the oncoming traffic also, assuming they also move to their right.)
1 short beep - As you are approaching a pedestrian, bike, or slow moving vehicle on the road, one short beep lets them know that you are about to drive past them.
Any long honk - Same as in the US (you just cut me off!).

It was also interesting to see quite a few cars and motorcycles driving around Puerto Lopez at night with no headlights.  I mean both with their headlights turned off and ones that physically did not have headlights on the vehicle.  I did not see any of that in Playas so it must be much more common in smaller cities.

There were a lot of people on bicycles but I did not take many pictures of them.  Here is one in the market in Puerto Lopez:
 When driving on the "Ruta Del Sol" (Sun Road), which is like the Pacific Coast Highway in California, there are a ton of speed bumps.  In every community, there is at least one when entering a town and one when exiting.  In town, they seem to randomly appear.  I am sure that there is a good reason for their placement, just like in the US.  Scott had to shift down to first gear for some of them because they were really big.  I only took a picture of one of them and here it is:
Until next time,