Thursday, July 31, 2014

Moving day

Yesterday was moving day from Crucita to our new beach house in San Alejo. We had the driver Richard scheduled for noon with his truck, we got everything in one load and said good bye to Crucita. Dave the landlord had done quite a lot to get ready for us, made sure we had a double bed to sleep in, borrowed sheets and pillows from his Hostel punta bikini in San Clemente, and bought us some fresh calamari. The two areas we wanted roofing were complete, the internet is top notch, and the new fridge is gorgeous. We went to an early dinner (as we hadn't had any lunch) San jacinto hotel, nice place, good dinner, great view, and a swimming pool you can use for $2. Watched the sunset, enjoyed the sound of the crashing surf, and retired early. Was a great day!

We got settled, a little...we have almost no furniture, when we rented this house we expected our container to be here...we had to buy a fork, knife, spoon set for both of us, cutting knives, cutting board, cups, bowls, plates, skillet, spatula, Tupperware. I hate to purchase too much, because I must have faith that the container will arrive! Dave kept the bunk beds and the twin beds here so we can use the twin beds as couches, and the bunk beds will be shelves. One for clothes, and the other in the "pantry" for food. We have a bunch of shelves in the container, that I'd like to use in the kitchen, but right now there is NO storage.

We bought a coffeemaker back in June, so we had coffee this morning on the porch. Had to go for our exit walk thru at the Crucita house, so after a little snack we headed towards the bus route. We decided after we were done in Crucita we would check out Charapoto, it has a big outdoor market on the weekends, and from what we've seen from the bus, it's pretty bustling during the week. We were on the hunt for plastic chairs and maybe a plastic side table/step stool, we also needed some clothesline and clips, a water bottle (5gal) and tank of gas for the stove. We thought if we found all these items we could taxi home. 

I had forgotten that gas tanks are $65 to start and didn't bring enough cash, but we did get chairs, clothesline and clips. Also bought a huge tarp that we will use for privacy ( there's an open slated corner on the fence, right by the outdoor shower) and caught a taxi for $5. We will have to ask Dave, that may have been high. We dropped the stuff at home, got more cash and walked towards San Clemente to find al muerzo and then water and gas.

This was our view at lunch. The restaurant is called 5 Hermanos (brothers), al muerzo was good, pan fried fish with excellent flavor, light salad, no rice, no soup, but I did get some juice after asking, $3. Probably a little high, since we didn't get any rice or soup, but we are trying it all for the first time. The view was great though! Thirty cent ice cream from the tienda down the street and on into San Clemente for the rest of our quest. Of course as we were walking we saw many shops closed, and realized it was siesta, so we walked home on the beach, and decided we would go out later after it cooled off.

Above is looking North, and the other is looking South. Pretty empty, had the place to ourselves, decided to go home, change into bathing suits and get the pups. By the time we got back down there the waves were a little rough, so no swimming, but the pups had a great time running around on the sand. We took lots of video, will post a short one in the next day or so.

This evening we have to find an ATM, it's time to pay rent, and still need that $65 gas tank, from here on the tanks are $3 to refill. Water will be $7 for the first bottle, then $1 to swap out empty for full. Our electricity will be paid to Dave, it'll probably be around $18 per month. Speaking of rent!! Our Greensboro house rented, and I got a copy of the lease today in email, and noticed it was for TWO years!! Yippee! We can get a letter from the property management and copy of the lease to show Ecuador that we have income, and that will help with getting our residency. 

I think that about covers it, our first day in the beach house. Things are looking up, hiccups are dissipating and hopefully it will all be smooth sailing. Thanks for all your support and prayers, I especially enjoy writing about the good things, but hope I stay positive even when I'm describing bad things. Our worst day here is still better than our best in the States. Fresh beach air, good fresh food, and my sweet little family, life is good in Ecuador. The adventure continues!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Speed demons and spoiled brats

We had to go into PortoViejo on Thursday to pay PacifIcLink, the company whose been holding our container. We successfully got cash withdrawn and deposited into the correct bank account. We did some groceries and took the bus home, we'd been home about 10 minutes when I got an email from Flor. She needed another deposit to be made, this time to the company who owns the container, as insurance that once we get the container emptied we would send it back, this "insurance" costs $1000, and means we are getting back on the bus Friday. We decided to not let this get to us, what else did we have planned for Friday? Nothing, we can take another trip on the bus, adventure!

Banks don't open til 10am, so we didn't have to rush, had a leisurely breakfast and coffee on the porch. Made a smoothie for the road, and made sure we had our hats. While we were on the bus, I noticed something that I'd been wondering about. Every so often (couple of miles or so) the "ticket taker" hops out and punches a "time clock" machine thing. I thought it had something to do with amount of passengers, but on this ride I realized it was to track how fast the bus was driving.

The way I figured it out, was when the guy punched it, he read what it punched, frowned and shook his head at the driver. Normally the driver would roar off, but he sat and tried to wait. He's obviously antsy, because he couldnt sit still for long, but I could tell he was trying to drive slower on the next leg. When we were on the bus from Cuenca to Guayaquil Mike saw a sign that told passengers to report excess speed or letting too many people on the bus, so that helped in my determining what the time clock was for. Another mystery solved.

Even after I had decided taking the bus into the city again wasn't a big deal, the spoiled brat in me still thought it was a lot of effort to do some banking. Which got me thinking as we roared past houses, no shacks! These people are so content with their lot in life! I need to learn from them, ALL spoiled Americans should learn something from them. They don't live above their means, they don't complain about what they don't  have, they love life and have great outlooks. Kids play in the dirt because they want to, not because they have to. Teenagers are happy to have bikes, and getting a car at 16 is unheard of! Heck most families don't have cars. If it takes half a day to do some banking, so be it, and we made the best of it.

We had already done our groceries, so we decided that after our banking, we would wander around and see PortoViejo from the ground. We got off the bus and walked to the Supermaxi shopping center where the bank was, but when we got there the ATM would only give $100 at a time, that wasn't going to work, so we got a taxi for $1.50 to take us to the other bank ATM that would give $600 at a swipe. And wouldn't you know, we found a new one, right on the corner where we got off the bus! Good to know! It wasn't that far, so we walked back, deposited the money and decided we would try to hit downtown and see what we could find. Jumped into another taxi, for another $1.50 and asked for the "el centro mercado" he looked at us like we had four heads, but then said "el centro"? We said "si" and hoped that "el centro" really meant downtown like we thought, and it turned out it did.

There's a couple of streets that are closed to traffic, and the vendors are set up, I was shy to take pictures, but it looked like a flea market. Lots of fruits, vegs, meats, spices, plastics and clothing. We decided we didn't want to pack anything around, so we just wandered. Found this church, check out that tile work on the roof?!  We got our cell phones charged with minutes, and found some great stores to go back to if/when we get settled. 

Found the little place Wolf took us to for breakfast our very first day here, and had a great big glass of juice and a bolon. (Plantain dough with cheese mixed in) Yum!

Anyway, we had a great day wandering around PortoViejo, trying to not be brats anymore, slow down and simplify. If we didn't have to make this deposit it would mean we weren't making progress. I hope to have more news and some kind of time frame this week. We move into the new beach house on Wednesday, wow end of the month already! The adventure continues, slowly at times, and that's ok. 

One last thing, we saw this little guy in the road, I think he's "sleeping", and then the next day we saw this guy outside our bedroom window!

Stay tuned! You never know what we might run across! 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Important to know

Many people said we should make an exploratory trip before we moved, but I knew from my reading of others blogs that we would like it just fine. Weather, food, cost of living, and speed of life I knew we would enjoy, what I could have learned from an exploratory trip would be how day to day life really goes. One of the biggest things to get used to is the banking and business side of living in Ecuador. Even if we weren't having this issue with our container of household goods, there is a lot of "business" to get done, and it's tricky.

Before we moved, I reached out to two different expats and asked the same question, "how do you do your banking?" I got very different answers, one of them had an Ecuadorian bank account and had money from the States direct deposited into it, the other only had US bank accounts and saw no reason to get a local account, so this information led me to believe that either would be fine. We had six bank accounts, with four different banks at one point, surely one of those would be compatible with banks here in Ecuador...right? We recently (last week) opened a savings account with Banco Bolivariano, and now we wanted to get some of our money from the States closer to "home", turns out this is impossible! The best way would be to do bank transfers between banks, but Wells Fargo only allows such a thing if you go into a branch and sign up (I've called 3 times trying to get a sympathetic person on the line, no dice) Bank of America says they "don't have a relationship with Ecuador" and Ally doesn't do anything Internationally.

We've looked into Western Union, on their website it says one can use their US bank account to send money, either to another bank account, or to a Western Union location for pick up- don't believe this! It doesn't really appear to be an option, I actually called a customer service rep and she said we couldn't do it because we were overseas, but my mom tried from the States, and was told it wasn't an option either, so I don't know what the deal is. The only way we can get Western Union is if someone took cash to an agent, who wants to do that? We, on this side don't really want to be walking around with cash either, but we are not going to have a choice.

Bottom line if you plan to move to Ecuador (or anywhere) go into a branch of your bank and tell them, ask what forms you may need to fill out before you go, wire transfers is a biggee, not to mention upping your debit card limit, so that when you need to pay your rent of $450 you don't spend two days at the ATM getting $100 out at a time, with $200 per day limit!  (or heaven forbid you need $1000 for customs)

We owe a company called PacificLink $672 before they will release our container to Customs, we've been trying for over a week to pay them. They do not take credit cards, only cash at office (in Guayaquil), or deposit into their bank account. Finally what we have to do tomorrow, is go into PortoViejo, go to the ATM (with highest withdrawal limit) withdraw enough cash, then go to their bank and deposit it. The bank account we just opened, is with the same bank, but because we can't get our US banks to link with the new bank, this is our only option. People said it was a "cash society" but this was NOT what I expected. You have been warned!

The other "important to know", goes back to the container issue, I don't know how to tell you to pick a reputable company, I can tell you who NOT to use, from personal experience, but that's it. Someone recently reached out on Facebook, and of course I chimed in to give a word of caution, and give my suggestion of Catalina at She has been working some miracles for us. Catalina and Flor are Ecuadorian and all speak perfect English.  

What the consensus was on the Facebook thread and also in our personal experience is to  work with a company that is in your destination country. They are the only ones who will know the ins and outs of their particular customs regulations.

No matter where you decide to go, there will be things that go smoothly, and things that don't. I don't think one can be 100% researched on moving, the nature of moving suggests ups and downs, twists and turns, maybe even upside downs, but does that mean you never do it? I've tried to not live by "what ifs" for some time now, I'm trying not to think "woulda, coulda, shoulda" because that doesn't really help either, this is a learning experience (an expensive one), but an adventure all it's own. Probably at the end of this (and I hope there's an end to this) no one will have died, it will be an interesting story to tell, and make our quiet time all the more sweet.

We like this map, Mike has visited and lived on three continents and I've visited four, lived on two...for now. We are still hoping that living in Ecuador is in our future, but for now we are taking it one day at a time. It's a big world, we aren't afraid, and with everything new we try, we learn something; we probably won't be shipping any more containers, and we most certainly will do more banking research.  Stay tuned, our amazing adventure continues!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Cuenca, making the best of it

Thursday morning we headed to the bank first, still trying to get that savings account opened. This is the account we tried to open in Manta with Fernando on Monday, let's make it happen! We were waiting on an email from Dave the landlord, but hadn't had time to check, so we went without it. Within about an hour we were almost done, still needed that current utility bill from Dave, but it looked good. We left the bank, and got dropped off at the office, where we checked email and tried to sort out our container inventory sheets with one of Catalina's associates Flor. We snuck across the street for a break, coffee and sandwiches and while in the cafe it started to rain, great, guess I'm not warming up today. During the course of the late morning, (Long story short) it became apparent that this was not to be a one day process, we were expecting to be back on the bus this afternoon, and since this is Ecuador, everything takes more time. Mike and I had to make a decision, go home because we'd left the pups alone, or stay one more night and finish this, the only thing that may help us get this mess cleaned up?! We decided to stay, the pups would be fine, we could always call Wolf to go check on them.

We did what we could to decipher the inventory sheets, found multiple things not listed, and other things listed we had no idea what they were...great! Another thing the shipper really screwed us on! But first things first, back to the bank for account #, and then try to do a wire transfer for the $1000 bond for customs. Flor had emailed the utility bill, so we were all set, got the account #, made our initial deposit and we were legit! Got all the info needed to do the wire transfer from Wells Fargo, just needed internet, Catalina and Flor had another appointment so they dropped us off downtown, told us there were plenty of Internet caf├ęs and free wifi. We picked a restaurant that said free wifi, ordered a club sandwich and a hamburger (first "American" food since leaving) and tried to do the wire transfer. Ended up having to call Wells Fargo, luckily Mike had magic jack installed on our old cell phone (don't ask, he's a magician) so we could call the States free. What I learned, was NOT good news, Wells Fargo said I could not do wire transfers because one has to initiate this process from a branch, pretty impossible at this point. I wasn't getting anywhere with this guy on the phone, so plan B? Plan B was get cash from the ATMs, but they have limits to how much you can get in a day...good thing we're spending the night, geeez! 

We talked to Catalina, she told us which bank had the best ATM, then we asked the waiter, who offered us a map, perfecto! Lunch was good, now we were on our way. We put on our "sightseeing hats" and tried to change our attitudes, this was how it was to happen, let's make the best of it. The rain had stopped, we had each other, and it was another new adventure!

We hit the bank, got what we could, and wandered. Found this flower market, didn't ask, but have read that a dozen roses is like $2. Not only were there cut flowers but plants too, wish we could have bought some. 

Somewhat modern building smack dab in the middle of really old ones, it was very interesting to see the mix. Can't label any of these, but they sure are pretty.

This one with the flags is some sort of Government building. It had a dozen armed police outside at one point. There were many police, we'd heard that pickpockets were rampant in the bigger cities, and maybe the police presence was to make the expats feel safe, and we did. Mike had the money and passports stashed in his shoulder sling backpack, and the zippers were padlocked, so we were doing all we could to be safe. Gotta be smart, just like any big city, anywhere! 

This was one of the greatest things we saw, the mercado. I've read about it in the blogs, it's three levels! Prepared food on top, fruits and vegs on second (which is street level) and meats on the first.

It was getting near dusk, Catalina was still with other clients, so we found a restaurant had a couple drinks, split a dinner and people watched. We decided to try and find a hotel, that way Catalina wouldn't be rushed, and we just wanted some quiet. We walked back to the mercado, and found a cheap room across the street. Quatro rios (4 rivers) $35, wifi, hot shower, tv in English, and free breakfast, perfect! I had bought some socks, and couldn't wait to get warm, hot shower first! We slept great, and had a nice view of the mercado getting started in the am. 

Nice little breakfast downstairs, were introduced to cafe con leche, instant coffee is on the table, and they bring you a cup of hot milk, a little sugar and it was really yummy! Scrambled eggs, fresh bread and juice, lovely. Back to the ATM, then did a little more wandering til it was time to meet at the bank. Asked Flor, she told us where to go, so we Jumped in a taxi for $2, but I think we could have walked. After a little while waiting at the bank, we had our bank bond, handed over our cash, and had one more stop to make. Had to get a print out from the migratory police, it seems to be a measure of your movements, every time your passport is "scanned" by customs it goes into the computer, it's how they track visa days etc. and for us determined we were not a flight risk. By 11am we were done! Yippee, now we could head home, only 8-9 hours on the bus....

Another $2 taxi to the bus terminal, a quick walk around to find the right bus line, and in about 10 minutes we were on the road. In Guayaquil bus terminal we saw an interesting sight, chickens traveling. I'm sure they're in bags because it's less bulky than boxes, and since only the head is free, they can't escape. Things are different in Ecuador, and I'm glad they weren't on our bus.

The trip was uneventful, long, but not unpleasant. We finally got home about 9pm, lots of kisses from the pups and ready for bed! We had sore throats, and I was hoping it was from the fumes in Cuenca (the bus fumes were terrible) but it turns out we have full blown colds! Stuffy nose, heavy chests, and not much energy, hammocks and fresh air for us. 

Thanks to all who have donated, every little bit will help. If you'd like to donate to the "release the container" fund, go to the goFundme button at the top right of the page, it'll take you where you need to go, and thank you so much! This adventure has turned into a big learning experience, and hopfully can help others not make the same mistakes, or trust the wrong people. 

Catalina thinks we can get our customs inspection late this week, so we may be taking the bus to Guayaquil again, at least now we are pros! Today, there is hope! Thanks for tuning in to our adventure, it WILL continue!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Bus to Cuenca

The past couple of days have been rather full, I think I'll devide this into two posts. This is the bus adventure, from PortoViejo thru Guayaquil and into Cuenca. 

Catalina Bermudez, who I thought was a lawyer, is really the president of Ecuador Shipping, really what she is is a "shipping and customs expert ", and the one you want to talk to FIRST if you plan on coming down with a container.

So, Catalina said to make the trip up to Cuenca and Wednesday morning we hopped on the bus. I had researched (asked Fernando, Dave the landlord and Facebook) how to take the bus, the answer I got was PortoViejo Reina del Camino bus to Guayaquil then transfer, "look for the signs " Fern said. 

We started northeast  of Manta, but this map shows you where we traveled. The Reina del Camino was $4 per person, took 4 hours, we left at 10am. We had some snacks, and water, and after we'd been on awhile, they would stop to let vendors on, so we had plenty to eat on the trip. It was great fun.

Nice chairs, air conditioned, trash bags attached to every seat, and a bathroom for women (it was locked, probably had to ask to use it, but I never did.) This vendor with the apples isn't my photo, but the orange shirt ones were outside the terminal at Jipijapa (about an hour in). There were at least 10 orange shirts running around with various food and drink stuff. We bought a hunk of banana bread for $1, and later a pineapple filled bread for .30cents each. One of the last vendors before Guayaquil was big slices of pineapple, .50 cents in plastic sleeves so you didn't get your hands sticky, and the plastic held all the juice, so when you were done you could drink it. The vendors would get on, ride for a couple blocks, make the rounds, then get off, tipping the driver as they exited. One expat blogger complained that they made the trip longer, I thought it was a great distraction. All in how you look at it.

We saw so many different landscapes, we left from dry deserty landscape, came upon some farmland, fruit groves, wetlands, hot tropical and to the coast again.

Into Guayaquil, very pretty landscaping on the freeway, this is BIG city, we saw our first McDonalds, it was in the bus terminal. (We didn't eat there) the bus terminal was crazy, three levels, and shopping mall inside. The first level is arrivals, and all the ticket counters. Departures are on the second level with more shopping and restaurants on the Third level as well.

After four hours we both desperately needed the banos, we found one, ooohed and awwwed over the inside, then looked for "signs to Cuenca", as Fernando said to do. We walked all around the ticket counters, but realized the "signs" were the names of the bus line, not where they were going, so we started over, this time looking inside the ticket office at the schedules. Someone talked to us, we answered Cuenca, and they pointed us in the right direction. Bought our tickets, $16.50 for both, they circled the departure time, and pointed upstairs, "yep, departures 2nd level, gotcha." We had about 6 minutes, perfect. Found our area, took a picture and boom, time to board.

This was the view from 2nd level, another bus terminal, probably city buses, not long distance, and the airport is off to the left. This bus has assigned seats, and we had to move, but now we know. The bus left at 2:35, and was going to be another 4 hour leg, getting us in Cuenca right about dark. We had been asked by Catalina to stay at her house, and since I hadn't researched any lodging, and the cost factor we decided to take her up on that. 

This bus didn't have air conditioning, but in about an hour we weren't going to need it, and eventually closed all the windows it was so cold. The landscape again, was amazing. This time we left the inland waterway and headed into the mountains...the Andes mountains.

At the bottom of the mountains is lush, and tropical. Lots of bananas, Australian tree ferns, things we in the States know as house plants.

Then as we get higher, the clouds settle in and everything is covered in mist, the pictures from the moving bus don't do it justice. Mike took some video, maybe it'll show better. The temperature drops at least 20 degrees, then more as we continue to climb.

Now it's so cold that little is growing, but scrub and some pine trees. We notice that the houses have tile roofs now instead of metal (rust) and thatch (moist) glad we noticed that. No sunset, because of the clouds, and our last half hour was in the dark. We arrived at the Cuenca bus terminal, called Catalina and wandered around until she got there.

This is the front of the bus terminal, parking for pick up is on the other side of the building, and the buses are all in the back.

And this sign was on the door, wow! We're not in Kansas anymore!

What do they have against German Shepards? Ha Ha! Catalina got us a little after 7:30  and took us to her house, which was on the other side of the city, so we got to see Cuenca all lit up and it was pretty. We were to be sleeping in her 7 year old daughters room, and had a light dinner made by her boyfriend Johan, who was leaving the next day to visit his family in Holland. Great hosts, and accommodations were appreciated. Glad to be off the bus, but since we really only have beach clothes, I was freezing! Temp was probably mid to high 50's F, and no heat in the houses, time for bed, so I can get under the covers! Brrrr!

The next morning, Thursday we were heading to the bank first thing. Keep your fingers crossed! The adventure continues! In Cuenca, Ecuador.