Our life in Ecuador is nothing like our life was in the United States. Here, we don’t own a car or the house we live in. Because we are retired, we don’t go to work everyday. We spend our days milling around our beautiful house or gardens, or visiting the downtown area. We still do some work, especially Bonnie, to bring in some extra income, but we work online now. I am building a website and doing some stock trading. We get around by walking, or taking a bus or taxi. Public transportation is excellent in the Cuenca, where we live. We spend a lot of our time socializing and shopping, mostly for fresh and fruits found at the many mercados in the city.
With the decision finalized, the project of moving internationally took on a different flavor. The number of details to be arranged was overwhelming. Everything must be done at once, in this phase.
We realized that impeccable organization would be the only way to survive. We set up file folders for different aspects of the planning process, and put to- do lists within the folders. Gary made lists on his computer. I had stacks of legal pads, each with notes on a different topic.
The main work of the moment was to begin application for temporary residence visas. After having read about how expensive visa lawyers are, we decided to do all the work ourselves. That silly decision didn’t stand long!
What did it take for us to begin making this a reality?
In the evening of April 6, 2019, we arrived at our new home in Cuenca, Ecuador. Traveling for 9 solid days had sapped all our strength and enthusiasm. Relief flooded our beings as we stepped onto the grass of our Ecuadorian house’s lawn. Home at last! This house had been posted on Facebook, so we had never seen it in person. it was far bigger and prettier than it seemed online. It had a big yard with flowers, fruit trees and veggie garden. The whole lot was perched on a steep hillside, overlooking the city and a range of mountains. The animals sniffed and explored every inch of the place. It felt like an oasis we could replenish within.
The view of the sunrise from our hilltop house was stunning! It was the first time of many many many future times that we photographed the sunrise over the landscape. Mountains filled our living room’s wall of windows. El Cajas is the wilderness park covering the mountains. Morning mists gave way to dramatic cloud sculptures that gradually thinned, leaving us with a sky of deep blue.
The owners were away for a vacation. They had invited us to stay in the house when we arrived, and we would all share the house for a week when they returned from their trip. It was good to have a couple days to rest and unwind from the arduous journey. When they returned, it went beautifully. We’d never met before, yet a nice friendship quickly developed. We discovered much in common. They took us to their Buddhist meditation gathering, and showed us hiking spots and the best mercados. Apparently we had slid right into the place where we were meant to be.
Our first week was spent largely resting, with the animals always at our sides. At an altitude of 8,500 feet, our bodies required a lot of adjusting. The dog and cat too. At first we napped twice every day. Any exertion required an immediate nap. We knew to drink a lot more water than usual. Still, it was a few weeks before we could get by on just one nap per day.
Our wondrous, helpful facilitator, Tina, helped us complete the process of getting our cédulas. This required three more days of cab rides and visits to multiple offices. First we took the papers we got in Quito to an office in Cuenca. They told us we had to go to another office in the town of Azogues, which was a 45 minute drive away. We hired a recommended local driver, Nestor, and were so glad we did. He was knowledgeable, familiar with both cities and was a safe driver. He spoke English very well, so he was a big help with translating. In Azogues, we waited and waited and met with people who told us to walk to their bank and deposit $10 into their account and return with the receipt. There were a few hitches in the process, so we had to return the next day with Nestor. Thankfully, he was available to drive us again. When that was complete, he drove us back to Cuenca to another office. After much waiting, we had our photos taken at last received our cédulas! By that time Gary and I, Tina and Nestor were all starving and drained.
In the course of doing all of this, we caught the usual stomach bugs. Our digestive systems are not accustomed to the microorganisms that live in the water here. It’s best to avoid local food and water for a little while, while our systems adjust. Gary and I spent the next two weeks struggling with digestive distress off and on. We brought with us a powerful herbal tincture for digestion, which helped. We explored the city and explored the countryside near our rural house during the next weeks. But our digestive troubles necessitated short excursions.
Thus passed our first month: in a whirlwind of activity and illness, punctuated by naps and long hours spent wandering in the heavenly beautiful garden to ground ourselves into our new locale.
The moment we’d been aiming towards for a year finally arrived. Clusters of city lights emerged from the darkness as our plane sank lower, skimming over the nighttime Andes mountains towards our new home in Ecuador. Our airline changed our flight from a daytime one to a much later flight. We had to accept a midnight arrival. As the plane touched down, I could hear Star, our Australian Shepherd dog, begin howling in the baggage compartment, right beneath our feet. Our cat Maya was surely huddling wide-eyed in her kennel next to Star’s, letting the howling speak for her.
We’re Moving To Ecuador!
The decision was made by both of us to move to Cuenca, Ecuador for a year or two as soon as we can get everything done that needs to be done before we can leave. And that is the problem.
It is no easy task to move to another country. We have an established life with a house, a dog, a cat, and lots of stuff accumulated over the years. Moving to another house or across country is hard enough, but it’s a heck of lot easier than moving to Ecuador. In country, you just take your stuff, put it in a truck, and move it to the next location. Not so much with an international move. Not only is it too expensive to ship our possessions to Ecuador, but we don’t want to have all of them there. The whole idea is to lighten our load and be nearly possessions-free. The free feeling that alone will give us may be worth all the effort.
We decided to rent out our house and sell most of its contents…furniture, tools, cookware, cars, kayaks, and a whole lot of other sh%*. This takes, as we are finding out, a lot of time and energy, not to mention the emotional toll of getting rid of personal treasures accumulated over a lifetime. The timing has to be right for renting the house, selling the cars, and making plane reservations; otherwise we may be stuck in limbo with no home or vehicles for a period of time.
We’ll also be taking the dog and cat. They are much-loved family members. The logistics for getting them there is challenging. They need a full series of vaccines and shots from a USDA certified vet. They need special kennels to travel in. Arrangements have to be made with the airlines to accommodate pets. The cat will probably go on board, under the seat, the dog with check-in luggage. I can’t wait to see our smart dog’s reaction when she’s stuck in a kennel, gliding on a conveyor belt into a hole in the wall as we slowly disappear from her sight. I can hear her yelps of protest already!
And then there’s the required visa paperwork which includes: FBI reports, state police reports, marriage license, birth certificates, and more all needing to be apostilled by different agencies in different states. Then, they all have to be translated into Spanish, perfectly. Ecuador is a Hague convention country, and has lots of hoops to jump through for a temporary residence visa. My understanding is that getting a US visa is a lot harder. Glad I’m not going that direction!
It’s December and we have been at this for about 3 months now. So far, even though we’ve sold a lot of stuff, bought a kennel for the dog to travel in, and received our apostilled FBI reports back, there is still tons to do.
One of the hardest things about this is keeping our heads in the game and keeping the momentum going. We live in a beautiful place, great town, super friends, and lots of amenities. Still, we want to have this adventure in our senior years. It’s hard to leave what we have. But when we look at what is ahead of us – freedom, simplicity, learning new things, trying new foods, and visiting new places – we get motivated. Ecuador is beautiful and friendly to foreigners. We have friends there too. Life will be simpler, less expensive, more challenging in some ways, less in others.
We have decided to hire a facilitator to help us with this whole process. It’s an expense but since talking with her we already feel so much better. She will handle translating all our documents into Spanish, and getting them notarized in Ecuador. She will help us with the pets, booking the tickets, arranging for transport and arrival in Quito. What a relief!
We figure we have about three more months before we get on the plane. We’re preparing the animals by sending them mental pictures of what’s going to happen. I hope it works and makes their trip easier. We are making sure to book a direct, nonstop flight to Quito to ease the pain. From there we will take one more short flight to Cuenca. We’ll spend a couple of days in Quito and get our cedula (identification card) before heading to Cuenca.
Moving to Ecuador is not easy, especially with pets, but we are really looking forward to the adventure and the change. Good times are ahead in South America. We can feel it!
My 3 weeks spent scouting Cuenca, Ecuador was enough to give me a feel for the city and enough information was gathered to make some major decisions about living there. In 3 weeks time, I walked close to 200 miles within a 2-mile radius of where we were staying in our AirBnB.
We spent part of the 4th of July taking a car tour of Cuenca neighborhoods with Jeff. Jeff is an expat married to an Ecuadorian woman. He has been in Cuenca for about 4.5 years, speaks decent Spanish, and unlike many gringos, has a van, and drives.
We were joined by Stephen, from Atlanta, who was also down here on an exploratory tour to determine if he and his wife want to live here.
We started the tour by driving to the top of a mountain to a lookout point with an overview of the neighborhoods. From there we had a spectacular view of all of Cuenca. Jeff pointed out the different areas and the good and bad points of each one. We drove back down and started our neighborhood tour.
There are eight main neighborhoods that we toured in Cuenca and here’s what I remember.
We walked out the door to our quaint little basement AirBnB apartment to a sunny day and gorgeous blue skies, to one of the main streets of Cuenca, Ecuador, Remigio Crespo. From the crisp, clean air of the apartment, we waded into a cloud of fumes, from diesel buses, two-cycle motorcycles, and cars. We were enveloped in the smoke, fumes, and the noise of traffic.
My dental work is DONE!! So is Gary’s. Our Spanish lessons are DONE!! Finito! The dental work seems to be totally successful. Our teeth are now in relatively great shape, and our responsibilities are completed. We are free to spend our last few days doing whatever we like. This is our Ecuador journey so far.
We exercised our new dental work on some freshly baked cinnamon rolls and chocolate bread. Eating bread from the local bakers (panaderías) doesn’t seem to bother my digestion, here. Something is apparently different in the way the wheat is processed, or grown, or something along those lines.
Small towns in Ecuador each have their own unique specialties. Meaning, they focus on one craft and become a destination for that particular craft. We are staying in a town famous for it leather work, but there are other towns nearby and elsewhere in Ecuador that specialize in woodworking, weaving, pottery, guitar making, and more.
Cotacachi – Leathergoods
The most popular street in Cotacachi is Leather Street. That’s not the official name, it’s what it generally referred to because of all the leather shops lining the street. These shops are filled with leather jackets, vests, purses, pants, and assorted accessories, all, to my knowledge, made in Ecuador. The quality of these products is outstanding. You can buy a leather jacket in just about any color you can imagine. You can find leather shoes that are locally made. You can even watch them being made. It’s refreshing to see shoes made this way, and not imported from China.