Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Creative currency - the gum replaces the nickel

Today, I bought two waters at the mini market in Oloncito and received back creative change.  I gave her $1.00 for the $.70 purchase.  The cashier was out of nickels so she gave me one stick of gum and one quarter (pennies are not used very often so she also did not have those).  I am pretty sure that this only works one way - I can't pay for my groceries using gum.

My $.30 in change

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Six months in Ecuador

Today marks six months since we moved to Ecuador. It has been a wonderful, trying, fabulous, frustrating time.  We are legal residents of the country, which means that we have our cedulas (Ecuadorian ID card) and the permanent resident stamp in our passports.

Here are some of highlights:
  • Moved from Guayaquil to the Olon area after we obtained residency.  We are renting a casita from a couple of expats while we look for our own property.
  • Bought a car (some people choose to rely solely on the great public transportation system - we did not want to be without our own car)  Scott detailed the process on his blog.
  • Opened a savings account.  This sounds like a simple task but it was not!  It took us three months to accomplish this task. The items required included: 
    • Color copy of passport picture page
    • Color copy of cedula
    • Letter of recommendation no more than one month old from an Ecuadorian who has an account at that bank (our Guayaquil landlady wrote this for us)
    • A cell phone number (or two - we gave two but I am not sure if they were both required)
    • Two land line phone numbers (we gave the number of our landlady and a lady who did translations for us)
    • Proof of employment, retirement income, or bank balance from overseas bank
    • Proof that we either voted in the last election or were not eligible to vote
    • Copy of the most recent month's electric bill showing where we live
    • Made a trip a week after opening it to pick up the ATM card, which took several hours since the system was down when we first arrived
  • Visited a hotel in northern Manabi province that is raising a baby monkey!  Something happened to his mother so they stepped in to raise him.  The monkey walked around on my head.  It was funny - just like kittens like to sit on shoulders, behind someone's head, he climbed right up to sit on my head.  He liked my hair and played with it quite a bit.

  • Scott heard a car accident one day at 5am, ran down the road and helped two people out of an upside down pickup.  Somehow, they were not harmed.  Others showed up and they all up-righted the pickup, changed a flat tire, and the couple drove off.  They saw us about two weeks later and could not be more thankful to Scott.  They told me that he was their hero.  It was a pretty cool moment. 

    Side note about this:  A Peace Corps worker was staying in our landlords' house the night of the accident.  The crash woke her up and she looked out the window to see Scott running down the road in his bathrobe.  She later commented that she wondered what superhero was going to help the crash victims (he looked like he had on a cape instead of a robe to her).
  • We have driven almost the entire Ecuadorian coast and stayed at a lot of hotels while narrowing down our list of potential towns where we might want to live.  Every trip has been very useful and we take a lot of notes and ask locals questions that are important to us.  One of the ways that you know which property is for sale is to find the for sale sign on the house.  There are some websites that sellers list on but most just put a sign on their house and wait for phone calls. 

    Just think about that for a minute - it is like knowing that you want to live somewhere in Minnesota on the Mississippi River but not sure which town.  To find your new home, you need to drive to each town and look for a property you like with a for sale sign on it. 
  • Taken two trips back to the US for family weddings.  Both weddings were awesome and both were outdoors, one in a backyard and one on a beach.  Luckily it did not rain either day. We got to spend time with our daughter's family each time, too - a great bonus.  Each time we return home, we come with more of our old stuff in our footlockers so now we've got everything here that we had planned to bring.  On future trips, we will pick up other things that we discover we can not get here or are prohibitively expensive (like electronics).
  • Walk the beach - we've walked up and down our beach several times, but not often enough.  Instead of driving to nearby towns, sometimes we walk there along the beach - much more pleasant way to get there. 
  • Learned just how quickly everything molds when days are overcast every day near the ocean.  The weather has turned now and summer is arriving but October and November were overcast every day.  Clothing, suitcases, shoes, belts and most other things were moldy within two weeks so I spent a lot of time cleaning with a water and alcohol solution.  We brought a dehumidifier from the US on our last trip. We haven't needed it since we returned as the sun is now out and things are not molding.  Fans seem to help so we have them on 24x7.  
  • Learning just how hard it is to learn a new language.  DuoLingo claims that I can now read 95.3% of all Spanish articles. I admit that reading is certainly easier than hearing but I sure don't understand anywhere close to 95.3% of what people say.  However, we are able to communicate so much easier now than when we first arrived.  We often know how much we owe when buying things and know what food we are ordering and what the waiter/waitress is asking us.  Progress!
 We are enjoying life and learning a lot!

This house is for sale but you will only know that if you see the sign on the front door.
The view looking north from where we are renting.

The view looking south from where we are renting.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

First month in Ecuador

Scott and I are one month into our new life in Ecuador.  It has been a month of learning, exploring and settling into a rental apartment.  Our facilitator, Dana, has assisted immensely every step of the way.

Apartment living
Many folks who are moving to the Pacific Coast move straight to their final destination and take buses and taxis back to Guayaquil for each visa step (minimum of 5 trips).  We knew that we would not enjoy making the trip at least five times in a two+ month period.  Instead, we decided to find a 2-3 month rental in Guayaquil, figuring that we could explore this huge city and improve our Spanish while living here. Dana's daughter, Sierra (bilingual), and her recommended taxi driver, Daniel (knows every neighborhood), drove us around looking for a short term apartment rental in Guayaquil.  We had some pretty specific requirements that are not relatively common in apartment hunting.  We required fully furnished, a very safe area, and short term.  Sierra found an available apartment complex which worked out perfectly.  We are in a one bedroom apartment with a full kitchen, real hot water in the shower (no suicide shower) and very secure.  We signed a two month lease but already know that we will be extending for a third month.

The kitchen/living room in our apartment.
The rent includes everything except electricity - wifi, water, garbage, etc.  When we were moving in, the housekeeper showed us where our electric meter is located so we can monitor our use.  She also gave us a copy of the June electric bill so we would have an idea what our bill will be in July.  After hearing about people who keep their AC on day and night then are surprised by their high electric bill, I was thankful for her forward thinking.  We did use our AC a bit much the first week but cut back a LOT after watching the meter count up too quickly.  Now we generally use it for just about 30 minutes in the late afternoon to cool the apartment off enough to be comfortable.  Once the sun goes down, we open the windows and let the cool evening air in, which is perfect for sleeping.
Investment CD
It took the better part of the month to obtain the investment CD that we need to establish residency.  We kept going to banks asking to open one but there was always a different reason why it would not be possible.  Finally, we asked Dana to recommend a translator since we were clearly asking the wrong questions.  Gaby, fluent in English & Spanish, came with us to Banco Pichincha and we were able to sign up for the CD within 2 hours.  We wrote a check to ourselves and five business days later (for the check to clear our US bank) completed the paperwork and walked out with the CD.  It finally felt like we were moving forward instead of in circles.

Savings account
The rules for opening a savings account are more strict than in the US.  We are required to obtain a letter of reference from an Ecuadorian who has an account at the bank.  Now that we have the investment CD, the bank representative told us that it is very important that we open a savings account.  We are having difficulty finding an Ecuadorian who will write us the letter.  We asked our landlady.  After she understood what we were asking for, she asked if she could do it "later."  I am hopeful that she did not mean "no" but since Ecuadorians are too polite to say no outright, later may have been her way of saying that.  We may ask at a restaurant that we frequent.  Perhaps one of them has an account at Pichincha.  Funny how the bank already has a bunch of our money but will not open a savings account for $100 without a reference.

We have spent a lot of days walking around our neighborhood and the surrounding areas.  There are a lot of cool little shops that we stumble upon.  Check out the bells at one shop:

We are walking distance to two malls, the World Trade Center, the visa office, and our bank.  The first week we were here, we took taxis to those places but now that seems like a waste since they are all 1.5 to 3 miles away.  Walking allows us to get to know the area and get some exercise at the same time.

One of the cool places that we went was to the Historical Park, which contains not only historical buildings but also a wildlife area containing plants, birds and animals from all over Ecuador.  And the whole park is free!  What an incredible place.
Yellow and Blue Parrots

The signs are in Spanish & English

Green Parrots - they were so cute together.

Actual living, moving Pink Flamingos.  Not lawn ornaments!

Collared Peccary "These peccaries go around the wet and dry forests of the province of Guayas.  It feeds on fruits, herbs and tubers.  These animals are gregarious and live in groups."

Scott with a large-leafed plant.  The elevated walkways were a nice way to preserve the plants and keep us away from the animals.

Some of the historical buildings in the park.  The middle one was the original headquarters for Banco Territorial.
Inside the church
That was about when my camera battery died.  I missed out on pictures of the urban / rural area, which was pretty cool.  They have a "typical" historical home of a farm owner and one of a typical "worker" on the farm.  There were folks dressed in costume and ready to answer any questions about the plants, animals or anything else about their farm or life.

Guayaquil Anniversary Celebration 
Guayaquil was founded on July 25, 1538 and the anniversary celebration began on July 20 around the city.  We went to the Malecon 2000 and found this cool exhibit of photos taken around the city.
Art on the Malecon 2000

The Santa Ana neighborhood

Kennedy Avenue Bridge

Music Plaza
 Random things
If you own a home and build a garage but have no driveway, create your own!

There are improvements going on all over.  The day we walked under this overpass, the workers were just finishing installing these wood laminate panels.

In our apartment complex, visitors ring the door bell when they arrive.
The door bell
We spend between a few minutes and many hours each day working on our Spanish using a variety of tools - Duolingo, Spanish for Dummies, daily interactions, electronic translators, etc.  Through a recommendation by Gaby, we have found a Spanish instructor who will be working with us but she is out of town for the next 8 or so days.  Little by little, we are improving.  It is so exciting when I pick up a newspaper and understand the main points in an article.  If only speaking and understanding spoken Spanish were as quick to pick up on as reading...  Maybe it will be once we have our instructor working with us.

I look forward to sharing more of our life and times in Ecuador with you as Scott and I navigate our way together through this wonderful country.

Until next time,

Friday, June 21, 2013

We moved to Ecuador!

What's been happening?
Sorry for the long delay between posts.  The quickest way to get you up to speed is with a summary (next couple of paragraphs).  We are now in Ecuador.  If you would like details, my husband Scott provided them on his blog, sbphasethree.blogspot.com.  My summary version is:

We closed on the San Mateo, CA, house on schedule on April 12, drove toward Minnesota the long way (I-40) due to other interstate closures, spent wonderful (but too short) time with family members, obtained all necessary documents and apostilles, became South Dakota residents by staying one night in a Super 8 motel (really), took side trips to Toronto, Canada, Cooperstown, NY, Washington DC, and spent some fabulous time with our daughter’s family in Florida.  

The biggest delay in the process was finding out that the FBI background check cannot be obtained in person, contradicting what we read on their web site.  The FBI security guard even laughed at us for believing something we read on a government web site.  It ended up being a six week wait instead of the day or two we expected.  The US Sec of State turnaround to apostille the documents was 1-3 days, just as THEIR government web site said.  As soon as we sent off the documents to the US SOS, we booked our flight for June 19, giving them an extra day in case something went wrong.  We booked it exactly right – Scott’s apostilled documents arrived the day before we left.  

Departing Miami
A couple of days prior to our departure, we heard that there was an embargo on footlockers on flights to Ecuador.  Our luggage included four footlockers so Scott got on the phone with American Airlines and the person he spoke with said that there was no such embargo into Guayaquil.  Walking up to check in, I was still a bit nervous because you never know if that person had the information correct.  Thank goodness, they did and all of our luggage was accepted.  I suspect that the embargo was for Quito, which is at a much higher elevation than Guayaquil.

The flight was on time and smooth.  We flew business class to guarantee that we could each check three bags and increase the weight limit from 50 to 70 lbs.  It also made the flight much more enjoyable.  

Ecuador Arrival
AA flight 933 arrived on time in GYE.  Customs was so easy, it was hard to believe.  No questions at all.  Just had to send our luggage through xray.  The hotel sent a driver, Pablo (I had asked them to send two cars knowing that all luggage would not fit in one car but alas only one was there).  Pablo realized the obvious lack of space and called his brother (in the same profession) to bring his car too.  While waiting for his brother to arrive, airport security assisted Pablo with loading all of our checked bags into Pablo’s car.  It was stuffed and almost overflowing.  That left just Scott and I and our carry-ons for the brother’s car.  He followed Pablo to the hotel and sometimes it seemed as if he were being towed because he “tailed” him that closely.  In the end, we made it safely to the hotel with everything we’d packed.  The two taxis to the hotel cost a total of $20.  We tipped them each a dollar and gave a tip to the two airport security guards – they stayed with us and our luggage from the moment we left the airport doors until we were driving away.
Pablo while waiting for his brother & writing his own contact info for us "just in case"

We are staying at Manso Botique Hostal, right on the Malecon 2000.  The plan is to stay here for about a week then head on to the Olon / San Jose / Montanita area.  We will be meeting with a highly recommended visa facilitator on Saturday to ensure that we want to work together.  If that works out, she will assist us with obtaining our permanent visas and later our cedulas.

While here, we have walked the Malecon 2000 one direction and enjoyed statues, shops, a free concert and people watching.  This weekend, we plan to walk the other direction to enjoy the gardens.  The area is well maintained, beautiful and clean.
The area directly across the street from Manso Boutique Hostel
Free concert last night!

We also walked many streets in this area checking it out.  We are clearly in a financial district - many banks and government buildings around the hotel.  The police building is on the next block.  Very safe.

Many people have talked about an Iguana park so we had to check that out.  The iguana's are up to four feet long and hang out on the ground and in the trees.  Watch out where you stand or one might just take natures call on your head!  After several close calls, we were sure to stand somewhere without a tree limb above us!
Iguana's on the walkway

Iguana's in the trees above

 Just beyond the park is a beautiful church.  Here is a picture of it with the Iguana park in the foreground:

The big news of the day today is that we now have a cell phone with an Ecuadorian cell number!  Yippee!!  Not only do we have a cell phone, but we remembered to also buy minutes for the phone, which means we can call people!  I have read about folks who buy the phone, thinking they've signed up for a plan only to find they can't make any calls.  We purchase the phone at one store, load $$ for calls at a different one.  Both locations are plentiful; you just have to remember to do both.  We are also keeping our home phone number from California thanks to Magic Jack's technology.  

I will leave you with a few pictures from our trip across North America as we prepared to leave.
The Uhaul trailer was stuffed - some went to relatives; some into a storage locker for future trips to EC

Kayla, Olivia, Lisa, Amanda after Olivia's amazing dance routine!

After Kaitlyn's great synchronized swimming show!

After Alyssa's cool history of rock play!

Jordan, Olivia and Sophia after a fun day in the backyard!

Mothers day! Aunt Barb, Mom, Lisa, me, Heidi

Aunts, uncles, cousin Laurie, Mom & Dave with us - more were there but not in photo.  Thanks for impromptu hosting Mom and Dave!

Dave, me, Mom - windy day!

Niagara Falls

Baseball Hall of Fame - Cooperstown, NY



Justin & Grandpa Scott

Until next time,
Emily in Ecuador

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Selling everything (including updating and selling the house!)

There is so much to do when you are downsizing your life from a three bedroom house to a few suitcases.  We have spent the last few months working full time on this!

We held our last garage sale, craigslisted, freecycled, donated, got the house ready for sale, put it on the market and are now into escrow.  The garage sale was great.  Like the last one, we priced everything to sell, not to make money.  I want our former stuff in a home where the people want it.  Here's a shot before the garage sale of some of the stuff that we sold during it:

Even the shelves that we had everything on sold.  The day before the garage sale, Scott's former director came and bought ALL of his power tools.  Really remarkable if you know how many he had! 

In 2009, we updated our kitchen to a gourmet one and needed to bring the rest of the house up to the standard we'd set in order to make the most money on the house sale.  We spent about a month working with Joe Ryan, an excellent general contractor, on doing just that.  He allowed Scott and I to assist instead of paying for his crew whenever possible.  He did bring his guys in for painting and some other detail work that we are not professionals at doing.  His nickname during this project became "Incredible Joe" due to his versatility and knowledge in all areas of construction.

Here are some of the changes:

Entry door with little curb appeal
Much better curb appeal!
Joe also put in a gas fireplace insert where our wood burning one had been.  Our agent had suggested removing the wood burning insert and reestablishing as it as just a normal fireplace as well as replacing the green tile (dated) with granite.  Well once we had the wood burning one removed, this is what we had left:
That would not do!  Scott and I drove around to fireplace shops looking for a quick gas insert solution.  Everyone had a 6-8 week timeline to have one installed.  Joe told us that if we could buy an insert, he could install it.  Yippee!  Incredible Joe came to the rescue several times and this was the biggest one!  We showed up at the Energy House in San Carlos and presented our "sob" story to Frank.  He had an attractive insert available and we could have it within a week.  Sold!
Finished gas insert in use!

The granite around the fireplace is a story unto itself.  We bought it at Terico's in San Jose and Joe picked it up on a Monday and drove to our house.  We had to choose to either have it fabricated for us by someone or fabricating it in front of our house with Joe's experience and expertise.  We chose the latter (sounded like more fun and we'd get to help!). 
Fabricating granite in front of our house

There were some hairy times and one broken piece of granite (no issue though as we had enough to make up for it) but it all turned out great.  The broken piece did give us all a huge scare though as we were inside eating lunch when a wind gust occurred.  We heard a crash and all had a look of terror on our faces - "did the big piece just fall off of the truck?" kind of a look.  Thank goodness it was just a small replaceable piece that had fallen over.  Back to lunch and a good (nervous) laugh. 

Joe also remodeled our bathroom that was original to the 1961 home.  It had gotten so bad that we quit using it about 4 years ago.  With just the two of us, we had no problem living with just one bathroom.  However, the house could not go on the market the way it was.  Here's the new bathroom for those of you who knew our old one:
What a difference!
To illustrate just how tight our timeline was, our house was being staged on the same day that we were installing the mirror in the bathroom.  Incredible Joe came by to assist. 

The house went on the market on March 15 and sold in seven days for over asking!  We are excitedly awaiting the April 12 closing date.  Almost everything is packed or sold.  The house is very empty but it is thrilling that we are so close to moving to Ecuador!  Extremely exiting times in our lives!

Finally, an update on our previous list:

  1. Sell or donate all furniture in our house.  Update:  Done
  2. Complete the few portions of our house that still need remodeling:  Master bath & entry way being the two biggest. Update:  Done
  3. Hire realtor & sell house.  Update:  Done
  4. Find a new home for our cat, Cleo.  Update:  Done 
  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.  Update:  We still don't have a firm date so still putting off.  However, we do need to drive to LA to obtain a copy of our marriage license.  The wait times for mailed requests are ridiculous and wait times for in person are hours.  One of the disadvantages of living in a state that is almost bankrupt!
  6. Sell my car.  Update:  Daughter & son-in-law now own the car :)
  7. Go through the paperwork filling the office & shred or scan into electronic form. Update: Done

Until next time,