Wednesday, February 27, 2013


This past weekend we visited with friends at their uniquely built and one-of-a-kind peaceful rustic country home in the beautiful valley of nearby Challuabamba, a small community about 15 minutes via taxi from the heart of El Centro. The elevation there is about 2,000 feet less than that of Cuenca's 8,500 feet, so their weather can be 5 to 10 degrees warmer and supposedly has less rain.  We have been in our rainy season here in Cuenca, which is nothing compared to what Bo and I left in the Willamette Valley of Eugene-Springfield, Oregon. So less rain, to us, would be a dry area!  We also met another couple there who have lived in Panama for the past couple years and were here to explore the possibility of relocating to Cuenca.  Our time together with these two couples was enjoyable, informative, and deliciously relaxing.

The six of us shared a wonderful organic feast that evening.

For Bo and me, it was wonderful to see another breathtaking area outside the city proper and to also fellowship with more fun, easy-going and interesting ex-pats.
View from the bathroom window!
View from the beautiful outside deck.  The magical skies and cloud formations here change by the minute!
A fragrant and lush Hibiscus hedge-row borders this unique property.
There are flowers in Ecuador year-round. 
Another fabulous view from the rustic deck.
Living in Cuenca has given us the opportunity to meet ex-pats from the United States, Canada, Europe, and other remarkable areas of the world.  It is one of the many things we love about being here.

Of course, we continue to especially enjoy the friendships we establish with the local Ecuadorians, which happens daily!  I cannot stress enough how important it is to learn Spanish because it opens up many more doors and opportunities to truly get to intimately know the Ecuadorian culture and personal lifestyle of the locals.  It was close to 10:30 pm when we finally rose to leave our friends' comfy home.  They called their private taxi friend to drive us back to Cuenca.  My ability to communicate in Spanish (and believe me, I have much to improve on) had me chatting with our driver Fernando who lives in Challuabamba. As we headed down the hill, he asked us if we liked the "postre" that our friends had served.  He proudly told me he had made them.  Bo and I raved about how delicious they were, and he asked me if we'd like to see his "Panaderia."  Of course!  So, at 10:30 pm he was driving towards his bakery and phoning his wife to open the shop.  (I thought it was going to be a drive-by.)  I said, "Fernando, you don't have to wake up your wife!  We can come back another time."  Oh, no!  He wasn't going to have it.  He said it was "No problema".

On the way to the Panaderia, Fernando gave us a drive-by-mini-tour of some of the area of Challuabamba where he has lived all his life.  He showed us their church on top of a hill, and across the street teenagers from the school nearby were playing soccer in a lighted field.  We got out of the taxi and inhaled the beautiful evening air and basked in the hill-top scenery.  Ecuadorians are night owls.  They work, attend school, or play sports at the oddest hours of the evening.  It's their daily weekly lifestyle. 
We got back in the cab and drove down the hill to his bakery.  His wife was obviously awakened from a deep sleep, but she graciously smiled and welcomed us in.  YUM, YUM, YUM!  The sweet smell of dessert hit us.  The beautiful display was so tempting, I found myself saying, "Give me one of each!"

Fernando proudly handed me a basket and some tongs, and Bo and I began to honor him by raving and picking several of his artistically assembled and delicious pastries.  By now, Nuvea was awake and busy totaling up our selection.  I decided to take out my camera and photograph this delicious and special moment. 
Fernando lit up!  He willingly posed for me by his dessert display 
   and then took out his phone and began to photograph Bo and me.  
Now, Nuvea was wide awake and smiling (isn't she beautiful?).  We had some wonderful laughs with Bo's continued jokes in his broken Spanish (the Ecuadorians love my hunky people-loving husband).  It continues to be my passion to capture EVERY moment, event and person we meet, and this was one of those beautiful moments.

finally, it was time to go.  By now, it was well after 11 pm.  Nuvea closed up the bakery and decided to ride into the city with us.  So, the four of us headed out in their car, and by the time we were in front of our apartment we had shared bits and pieces of our uniquely different lives and culture.  They asked curious questions about our life in the USA and why we left,  and we asked questions about their lives as life-long young Ecuadorians.  For me, one of the most interesting and rewarding aspects of living here is being able to speak the language and getting to know the people from Ecuador by intimately sharing in their lives. The young Ecuadorians are loving and respectful, and they sincerely enjoy sharing and talking to us.

At last, Fernando pulled up to our apartment, and as we gathered our backpacks Nuvea smiled and said, "Come and visit us anytime!"  Fernando nodded in agreement.  I reached over the seat, took Nuvea's hand and said "We'd love to!  Thank you!!"  We knew that their invitation was sincere, and hopefully we will see them again.  For now, we have made and captured more memories of another relaxing time, sweet treats, and an evening of meeting very special, genuine and loving people.  Yes, we continue to make many heart-warming memories here!

 Bet you can't eat just one!!!!

Majestic mountains surround Cuenca and have a dramatic effect on the weather. It was interesting to find that more rain falls and the weather is noticeably cooler at homes we inspected at higher elevations. The difference of a few thousand feet was dramatic. Fortunately, we found the weather warmer by about five to 10 degrees and with considerably less rain in Challuabamba, a spectacular valley 2,000 feet below Cuenca and only a 15-minute drive from the city.
One of the reasons we chose the Sierra Mountains in Ecuador is that the temperature every day of the year is a constant 60 to 70 degrees and only goes down to 50 degrees at night. Rather than the four seasons we left in the U.S., there are only two seasons in the Sierra-the wet season, which runs from January through March, and the rest of the year, which is the dry season. A typical day in Cuenca is bright sun until afternoon, when rain showers come from the clouds racing over the mountains. It is a climate to be envied anywhere, and quite a surprise since it lies on the equator, where you’d expect sultry heat night and day.
Again, the equatorial sun is not what you would expect. Because the sun is directly overhead at the equator and there is almost no pollution at Cuenca’s altitude, the clouds and sky are intensely bright. The stark contrasts created by the intense sun are a photographer’s dream come true.
- See more at: http://www.ideal-living.com/?p=1177#sthash.Qb84bptl.dpuf
Majestic mountains surround Cuenca and have a dramatic effect on the weather. It was interesting to find that more rain falls and the weather is noticeably cooler at homes we inspected at higher elevations. The difference of a few thousand feet was dramatic. Fortunately, we found the weather warmer by about five to 10 degrees and with considerably less rain in Challuabamba, a spectacular valley 2,000 feet below Cuenca and only a 15-minute drive from the city.
One of the reasons we chose the Sierra Mountains in Ecuador is that the temperature every day of the year is a constant 60 to 70 degrees and only goes down to 50 degrees at night. Rather than the four seasons we left in the U.S., there are only two seasons in the Sierra-the wet season, which runs from January through March, and the rest of the year, which is the dry season. A typical day in Cuenca is bright sun until afternoon, when rain showers come from the clouds racing over the mountains. It is a climate to be envied anywhere, and quite a surprise since it lies on the equator, where you’d expect sultry heat night and day.
Again, the equatorial sun is not what you would expect. Because the sun is directly overhead at the equator and there is almost no pollution at Cuenca’s altitude, the clouds and sky are intensely bright. The stark contrasts created by the intense sun are a photographer’s dream come true.
- See more at: http://www.ideal-living.com/?p=1177#sthash.Qb84bptl.dpuf

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


Okay, get some coffee or tea - this is going to be a LONG post:

The Ministerio de Relaciones (Immigration) office was recently closed for over a week due to computer upgrades and changes, and they finally reopened yesterday (Monday).  During that time, we had all of our documents re-translated and notarized because we decided to take on the process ourselves and start over fresh - hoping for more competent translation help and knowing we would do a better job with our visa process than what we were getting from our hired not-so-helpful helper - and we were right!

We had our finalized documents by Thursday afternoon, and this weekend we began to question, "Should we go down to immigration on Monday, the day they reopen?  It's going to be crazy crowded!"  We finally decided to get this over with and just go for try #2.  So, yesterday we rolled out of bed at 4:30 am, showered, had breakfast (last time we didn't eat and almost fainted standing at the counter for over two hours!), grabbed our document folder, and headed out the door by 5:30 am to hail a taxi.  We were dropped off and sitting on the cold steps of the locked door to immigration by 5:45 am - ready to be first in line.  Goal accomplished!  We were in the dark indoor lobby by 6:30 am, took a seat and began our tiresome wait.  By 7:30 am, the lobby was packed and buzzing with others who braved coming in on re-opening day.

To make a long story short (I'm trying!), we were denied acceptance AGAIN for the second time due to three small translation errors and the missing Certificado de Movemiento Migratorio form that they had run out of two weeks ago, which they were now bogus producing and handing out (for free - it's usually $5 each) at the Policia Nacional office two blocks away.  It took from 9 am to 10:45 am for the non-smiling winky-blinky behind the counter to fine-tooth comb letter-by- letter, word-for-word our efficiently translated documents and yet so cleverly find those minor non-essential errors.  Before getting ready to walk away an hour 45 minutes later, we both asked her (Bo in English and me in Spanish so she'd get it!) if we could be an "only check their corrections return" the next day so we wouldn't have to go through this long and grueling process again.  She looked right at us winky-blinked a couple of times, and said in broken English, "It's fine.  It will be okay."  WRONG ANSWER!  So, we both repeated again hoping she would understand us, "Can we JUST have our corrections checked when we return tomorrow......"  She wasn't getting it.  I finally began to gather our papers and said to Bo so she could hear us, "Come on Bo, she's done with us."  SUDDENLY, she points to our folder and says, "Give me, please."  I hand her the folder and she begins to enter our names and passport information in the computer, and then she begins to go through the documents one by one and entering information.  It now looks to me like she's making notes of our visit and the specific errors to be corrected.  She finally finishes, hands me the folder and says, "Okay."  Nothing else!  Not, "I just entered your information so that when you return tomorrow we can keep this simple and just review your corrections."  So now I quietly ask her, "Did you just make note of our needed corrections in the computer?"  She winky-blinks, smiles (barely) and replies, "Yes."  I return the smile, we both say thank you to her, and Bo and I turn around and leave.  Could she not have explained to me what she just did?  There was absolutely no clear communication or practical responses from this blinking somber robot.

It was now Bo and Linda "make-it-happen quickly" time.  We hurried over to the police station.  Immediately upon entering, we were motioned by an intensely rude Sr. Policia to have a seat in the crowded TV blaring waiting area.  No way.  I wanted him to know why we were here.  So, I walk over to him and ask, "Are the Movemiento forms in, because we are here for this reason."  He scowls at me (and I mean scowls) and nods as if to say yes then says (again, every word is in Spanish), "The system is down."  Now, to me, that means there is no way we are getting anything today because the system is down.  Right?  Apparently NOT!  So I ask, "Can we get our forms today?"  He repeats, "Yes, the system is down."  I'm not hearing what I need to hear so I'm not backing off until I am clear.  I now glare back at him and repeat, "Will you be giving us the forms if we wait?"  He double-dare-glares at me and says, "Yes."  Now I can sit down.  The big 54" HD TV in the sitting area is LOUD and blaring an intense army action movie, and several Ecuadorians who are seated and waiting seem motionless and hypnotized.  I begin to quietly laugh at this entire scene before me, but Bo doesn't think this is funny.  He's not happy!  Finally, Sr. "Rude" Policia calls us over to his desk and impatiently asks for our passports.  He then says, "How many do you want?"  How the heck should I know?  Do I need one for both of us or one for each of us?  So, I ask him.  He repeats "How many?"  I just stare at him for about 10 seconds, and he gets overly-impatient and repeats again, "How many?"  Still staring I respond slowly, "I'm thinking!  I'm also here so that you can help us.  How many DO we need?"  Now he senses my frustration with his rudeness, and he backs off (a smidgen) and asks, "What's it for?"  I tell him it's for our Investment Visas.  He says, "Two," and quickly begins to enter the info and finally prints two forms out, hands them to us and waves us out.  We slowly leave, and now I'm not happy!! Uniformed rudeness pisses me off!  I worked hard to let this upset go by the time we boarded our bus to El Centro.

I had called our translator earlier, and she was waiting and ready for us when we arrived to her office.  She fixed the three errors in less than 15 minutes, and then we met at the notary to finalize the corrections.  There was no charge (she took financial responsibility for her mistakes and gained more credibility with us for her efficiency and fairness).  We thanked her, left, and walked back to our apartment, where I ended up sleeping the rest of the afternoon until 5 pm (waking up at 4:30 am is not in my retired living schedule).  We were now prepared with our corrected documents and required forms to tackle a third exhausting visit to immigration, of course with no expectation that we would be accepted.  Would it be Strike 3?

It's Tuesday today!  We were up again at 4:30 am.  We showered, made breakfast, grabbed our documents and backpacks and were outside by 5:30 am hailing a cab for immigration visit #3.  Once again, we  were sitting in the dark on the cold steps outside the closed immigration office doors - it seemed like another Groundhog Day!  We would again be #1 in line.  Who else in their right mind would get up this early and wait this long just to be #1?  No one, obviously since we seemed to be the only ones there both days at this ridiculous hour - but it was well-worth it to us not to have to sit and wait all morning with all the other late stragglers.  Bad enough having to be there two hours once they called us forward.  By the time they opened the doors and we waited another hour inside, the lines once again became crazy long.  We both were in good spirits this morning and we were beginning to feel like real pros at this.  You can tell the Cuenca visa newbies because they walk in late and gasp when they first see the lines, then look confused and usually stand in the wrong line (there are lines for passports and one for visas).  I would think that the line with the tall, fair light-skinned retirement-aged people would be quite revealing of which was the residency visa lines instead of the other lines with the Ecuadorian dressed and panama hat attired short dark-skinned people wanting passports, wouldn't you?  Hey, but that's just me figuring it out.  Or, I would ask someone instead of standing there with the "now what do I/we do" look on their faces, wouldn't you?  But, I digress.....

They finally herd the people in by 8:45 am, after taking each individual's passport, one by one, writing the name and passport number on their clipboards in the order of arrivals (early birds deserve to be #1).  At 9 am we hear someone call "Longood."  It was "Winky-Blinky" again.  This was a good sign.  We were getting the same person who had entered our information in the computer yesterday and who clearly knew our case.  We walked up there prepared.  Last night, I had also decided to write a letter in Spanish pleading our case.  I asked whoever would be looking at our documents today to please look at the attached translation pages that were circled with errors and to check them against the new translations now being presented with corrections.  I also asked to please consider that this was our third visit and could they kindly help us become approved for our visas today.  I signed it, "With Gratitude..."  This was on top of the pile, and Winky-Blinky begins to read it as she shuffles our papers.

To make another LOOOOONG and boring process short (honest, I'm trying), this woman seemed to have gotten it.  She only checked the documents I had attached with the circled errors she had found, and she went through our folder without redoing the letter-for-letter, word-for-word two-hour recheck system.  Now our victory seemed just around the corner.  She finally looked up, blinked and asked me politely if I would go and buy another folder outside in the lobby (where they have a copier and supply place conveniently accessible).  You have to present your documents in a folder, and this one was showing some wear after so many visits back and forth shoved inside Bo's backpack.  I knew at that moment (Bo too) that we had passed the long-due inspection.  I brought back the 50 cent folder and she began to sort and punch holes in our stack of documents, carefully putting them into the perfect new folder.  She then sent Bo to the back to pay our $60 ($30 each) for the visa processing fees.  When she was done with her folder feat, she explained to us that we would be notified in two months by phone and/or e-mail when we were to return for our visas (and to pay the $320 x2 fee), and that we are not able to leave the country until we have our residency visas.  We gathered our remaining papers, and Winky-Blinky finally cracked a sweet smile,  I gently squeezed her hand and thanked her.  Bo also thanked her, and we walked away smiling - YES!  We immediately headed to the back area to let Mr. Passport Extension Giver (who made me cry last time) know that we did not need to keep the March 4th, 11 am appointment for our 90-day Visa Extension stamp which we had applied for, and I was more than relieved to know I did not have to return to this unhappy office on my birthday, or any time soon! 

So, we don't have to report a Strike #3 to our Cuenca friends, or to our blog readers.  We are victoriously happy, relieved, and a big weight is lifted.  I must say, having gone through this process now, we can look back and see what we would not have done, and we can also say that it could have been a less expensive and a fairly simple process.  Here is why and how:

1 - We hired a very incompetent facilitator.  Because we arrived here exhausted from two long months of moving and purging preparations, we thought it would be best to have a helper who could take care of things for us.  We trusted our facilitator to completely handle our visa process. This was NOT the case.  Inefficiency, and wrong information caused many delays, and had we known what we do now we could have saved ourselves a lot of time, stress and money by doing this ourselves.
2 - We were misinformed as to the best bank to open an account for our investment visa CD.  Today, we have three bank accounts here (not by choice).  Had we known that we could have first gone to JEP Cooperativa, a recognized bank by immigration for our investment CD, and opened an account easily in less than 2 hours (with a much higher interest rate), we wouldn't have wasted time opening an account at Coopera nor a month at Banco Pichincha jumping through their ridiculous hoops, thus delaying our visa process and causing one of our document to expire by ONE DAY (more time, stress and money).
3 - We now know that applying for a residency visa is not a difficult process.  It's only having gone through the misinformation (now we have accurate information), the delays (now we know that we should have opened a bank account first thing upon arrival - and at JEP), the expired document (that was only because of the facilitator's failure to keep us apprised of timing and the bank account fiasco, not because we came with old documents), having had our documents translated inefficiently and not signed properly (again, our facilitator's choice and lack of knowing the change in immigration requirements - all translated pages MUST be signed by the translator, not just the back page), filling out the immigration application in English when it should be in Spanish only (Geesh!  Another facilitator failure), and on and on and on (too many things to list - but you get my drift).
4 - We know that if you want to be first in line (trust me, it's worth it), ya gotta get up EARLY and suffer.  We are glad we got there before 6 am, and being first in line made the process easier for us - quickly in and finally out, while fifty or more faces sitting and waiting to be called stare back at you when you walk away to leave.  Long waits!
5 - We know that eventually the application process will be accepted!  We had to return three times, and the third time was our victory!  I believe it would have been only two times, had we not gone the first time with the not-so-helpful helper, with so many errors occurring all the way around.  As we think back, eliminating that hired help experience would have saved us having to start all over and also over $800 in extra expenses and aggravation. I cannot stress enough that if we could do this all over again, we would not have hired ANYONE, but would have gotten accurate information by someone well-informed, reliable and competent who just went through the process and knows the current requirements (like us!!!).  We would have interviewed them thoroughly asking the right questions, discerning if we were getting the right answers, and we could have sailed through this without the added expenses and disappointments.

Again, everything you are reading is my (our) personal journey and experience.  What worked (or didn't work) for us may not be what works or doesn't work for you.  What I do know is that this is what was real for us, and this is how we had to go through it to learn every lesson we were supposed to - especially patience and a complete trust in God's perfect will for the outcome.  I heard today that a couple who applied for their visa and were accepted had to start all over because immigration LOST ALL THEIR DOCUMENTS!  Should this happen to us, I would take that as a divine sign that the door has closed, and we'd be heading home for the states - really!  All this to say what?

1.  If you're coming here to start the visa process, be accurately informed.  There are a lot of well-meaning people who want to help, but well-meaning is different than well-informed.  Ask the right questions several different ways until you are SURE you have the updated and correct information.  Go to the source!
2.  Be careful who you hire! After experiencing incompetent as well as competent help, know that there is COMPETENT help.  Make sure you check it out thoroughly before leaping. (Don't trust every ex-pat recommendation!)
3.  DO NOT release any of your original documents to ANYONE you hire.  They can work from a copy.  We did not know this, which is why we had to tread lightly until we had all our documents back in hand, before unhooking from incompetency and starting all over and doing things on our own.  We've heard horror stories of ex-pats who had to pay large sums to get their documents back from a hire-gone-wrong facilitator.
4.  If your documents are pretty straight-forward, know that you can accomplish this process yourselves.  We didn't have any complicated name changes, out-of-country birth certificates, etc.  Our application process could have been quite simple.   
 5.  Get your certified apostilled documents very close to the time you are ready to leave for Ecuador.  They are time-sensitive and you never know what will delay your visa process here.  It is expensive and sometimes difficult to get new documents if the ones you bring in expire (trust me!).  Our documents were acquired within weeks before we left Oregon, and one still expired because of hired incompetency - Grrrrrrr!!!
6.  Make sure you know the exact documents you need to bring for your particular situation and the type of visa you are applying for.  Get a current update on what immigration is requiring, not what every "I think" nor "this is what I needed" answer you get says.  Go to the source.  CALL IMMIGRATION.  Be clear on the answers your hearing!!!  (See number 1 above)
 7.   Get your documents translated and notarized here.  Having them translated to Spanish and notarized here is not a difficult process, nor expensive if you find someone trustworthy, fair and competent (we did, finally!).  If there are errors, you then have that person right here to go back to who can make corrections, sign and re-notarize the corrected pages expediently. 

***Again, this is not a difficult process if you do your homework and come prepared!****

This is to thank everyone who supported us when we were struggling and needed friends to make us laugh, when we felt hopeless and needed encouragement, when we were clueless and needed help, when we lost faith and needed prayers (thank you, thank you), and when we were frustrated and venting and just needed someone to listen to us.  In the short time here, we've made friends with a few couples and Ecuadorian friends who have truly been there for us.  This alone has made it all worthwhile.

Here we remain for the next two months waiting for our final visa call, then it's Cedula application time.  To be continued.........

Transportation in Cuenca

Parada de autobus at Calle Large across from the 10 de Augusto market.  Many Ecuadorians rely on bus transportation to and from where they are commuting to.  We're usually the only gringos on the buses we've been riding.  Most gringos take a cab.  I LOVE the bus rides for 25 cents one way and being amidst the Ecuadorians.  We're getting more familiar with our city and bus routes too! 

Even at 5:30 in the morning, it's easy to hail a taxi in Cuenca.  As you can see in this photo, Cuenca is not lacking for cabs.  It costs me $1.50 to $2 for a taxi, depending on the distance in the city.  Talking to other ex-pat friends, they are paying $2.50 to $3.  I like my taxi fares better!!!

Sunday, February 17, 2013


On Friday morning, DHL Express delivered our apostilled marriage license from Oregon.  So, "express" was a one week turn-around, and now we're another $170 out-of-pocket in this visa process.  Not too bad, I think!  We're thankful we had a family member who was able to take care of this for us in one day.  We've also decided to move forward in an expedient manner and have all our documents re-translated by someone more reliable since there were so many errors on the translations farmed out by our not-so-expedient expediter. So by Thursday, we are hoping to have everything notarized and ready for attempt #2 at immigration, which we'll continue on our own.  The immigration office will be closed through Wednesday (updating of computers and who knows what), and we really need a break from this process anyway.

Michelle (isn't she too adorable?) has her first English Lesson and can now proudly say her ABC's.

We had a fun Saturday with our friends who came over, first to have Dora's 10 year old daughter begin English Lessons, and secondly for Dora to teach Bo and me how to make Humitas from scratch - and I mean scratch!  We so enjoyed meeting and hanging out with Michelle who is hungry and excited to speak English, and she is inquisitive and adorable beyond words.  In one hour, she was familiar with the alphabet, and after much repetition she was able to proudly say her ABC's.  All afternoon and evening she would ask Bo or me, "How do you say__________in English?"  She's going to be a quick learner like Danny because she wants it that much.

After our English lesson, Pedro headed for his brother's to borrow a grinder for the fresh choclo.  Bo, Dora, Michelle and I headed for the 9 de Octubre mercado to buy Humita ingredients and to learn new tips on where and how to shop more economically (Dora showed us which tienditas and vendors to hit).  Our Ecuadorian friends are always educating and helping us with all our questions about shopping and cooking.    We shopped, headed back home, and then spend the rest of our afternoon and evening making Humitas from scratch and then savoring them with cafe con leche.  I must say, Dora's humitas were the best I've EVER eaten yet (sorry Sr. Zoila, but you still have the lead on Tamales so far).  Until recently, Dora owned and operated her own restaurant, and humitas was one of her specialties.  Each of her Humitas were incredibly moist, abundantly filled and generously packed with cheese, perfectly seasoned and mouth-watering delicious.  We ended up making about thirty or more so we would have lots of leftovers.  Dora said they're better the second day.  She's absolutely right!!

Today, Sunday, We had a full-house again for another English lesson and a big "Bo's Seafood Chaulafan" feast; Pedro, his sister and family, and Dora and Michelle.  They each repeated their ABC's until their tongues were curling and their eyes were crossing.  How we laughed and then clapped together when progress was made so quickly.  At the end of today's lesson, there was a genuinely expressed desire from those who sincerely want to learn our language.  Without that 100% desire, we'll see who continues to come faithfully.  For now, it's been an enjoyable weekend having even more Ecuadorian friends coming over and being hungry to learn from each other.  Erika who is 18 and in college, and her mom Lola wants to help Bo with his Spanish. Just being around our Spanish- only speaking friends has personally helped me to improve my Spanish tremendously as I carefully listen and continue to learn new words and sentences.

Yes, after our immigration and passport week, this weekend was refreshing, inspiring, and Ecuadorian delicious!  It's days and times like this weekend that remind Bo and me why we are here and continues  to give us the motivation to push on persistently and patiently in the tasks ahead.

Dora takes us to her special vendor friend who helps her cut and prepare the choclo and husks for humitas. (Photos top and bottom)

The choclo is cut and bagged, the husks are bagged, and we next head to the cheese vendor stand. (Photos top and bottom)

Onward to Dora's favorite tiendita to buy the butter, sugar, baking powder, manteca, and anis.  (Now I know where to get my quality butter for so much less - yea!!!)

And an egg vendor!  Here we can buy 36 eggs (Una Cubeta) for $3, or a bag (una funda) of eggs for $1.  We bought una cubeta.

We meet up with Pedro back at our apartment, and while he sets up the grinder for the choclo, and Michelle applauds his success.......

......Dora begins to melt the butter and manteca and prepare the other ingredients.

Team work cracking the eggs!

Preparing the fresh cheese with some Achiote.

Now, this is what I called a generous cheese-filled choclo husk......

.......wrapped and stacked and ready to steam!!!

They were cooked to perfection and delicious beyond words!

Michelle wanted to capture us feasting on Humitas.  It's a bit out of focus, but not bad for a 10 year old, and she surely captured the joy of the moment. 

Does this look like a couple who experienced their first Visa rejection visit at Immigration and then had a meltdown at the Passport extension office (okay, I had the meltdown, not Bo)?  We're just happy because we love our Ecuadorian friendships, and every day in Cuenca is another adventure!  (Photo by Michelle)

Thursday, February 14, 2013


Our friend met us last night in the POURING rain (it was like a typical Willamette Valley, Oregon RAINY day) to give us copies of the application we needed to go and apply the next day for a 90-day Tourist 12-X extension (which costs only $30 each vs. $230 plus $30 for the two of us for a 12-1X) This article states that it is rare to be able to get the 12-X extension.  http://www.gogo-gringo.com/blog/ecuador-12-ix-visa-information-updated-may-2012

Well, today, we woke up fairly early, yet not as early as the day we arrived to immigration at 6:30 a.m. so we would be first to present our documents for our residency visa, and ended up third, and it still took six hours.  We hopped the bus, hoping to get there at a reasonable time to get in and out.  WRONG!  First of all, we hopped the wrong bus, and we ended up on the longest 25 cent ride all the way to the opposite end of town.  We laughed all the way realizing we were going the wrong way, and by the time this bus powered up some deathly narrow winding roads to the end of the line where lots of buses were parked and bus drivers taking their breaks, we were on top of a hill looking down over the city, far far away from the immigration office.  I asked Sr. Bus Driver what bus would get us back to immigration, and he said, "just take one of these buses out and it will get you there!"  of course, we've learned not to believe anything we're told here until it pans out to be true. 

So, we reluctantly boarded one of the same buses ready to leave from the break area, and we white-knuckled it back down the narrow winding streets until we were eventually in familiar territory, and this bus did finally stop in front of the immigration office.  We were now over an hour longer than expected to our destination due to our unplanned and unexpected bus joy ride, which would have been perfectly fine and actually fun any other day, but not this day of dreaded and expected waiting and more waiting.

That's just what we did - WAIT!  From 10:15 am to almost noon, we waited.  There were so many people sitting ahead of us, and it looked like it would take all day.  I was able to make our presence familiar by kindly asking the security guard in Spanish two different times for clarification as to their confusing procedure and for an understanding as to how we would know when our turn would come since there was no number system or rhyme nor reason as to how they were calling names.  He assured me that he would know exactly when our turn was (yea, right!).  Well, he finally did look directly at us and motioned us forward, almost two hours later.  I was actually grateful since I had convinced myself it was going to be late afternoon before they got to us today, or not at all!

We were called into a back office, and a nice gentleman who spoke very little English motioned for us to sit and immediately let us know his English was "limitado."  He lit up when I told him I could communicate in Spanish, so we connected, somewhat.  He asked to see our passports, and as he acted interested in them, I spoke in Spanish saying, "Can I please share with you some history?"  He invited me to continue.  I began to tell him that we had arrived the week prior to submit our documents for our residency visa but without the absolutely required Movemiento Migratorio form since the entire country was out (not our fault), and that because of translation errors (not our fault) and not having that required form, they had denied us and now required a new marriage certificate which they claimed was expired by ONE DAY!  He appeared surprised and questioned me, "By one day they denied your document?"  I continued to describe to him the ordeal we had to go through to obtain another apostilled license from Oregon and the unexpected expense of another $170.  I also told him that now we had limited time because our passports would expired here on March 4th.

He suddenly picks up the phone, calls over one of his associates, and when she appears he begins to relay my documents story and questions her.  He asks her why our marriage certificate was denied because of one day.  She ignores his question (of course) and proceeds to tell him that we still have time to get our translations corrected and get back to the office the following week and that we do not need to apply for the passport extension because they are now accepting visa applications WITHOUT the Movemiento Migratorio form.  Gee, another new change since we were last in only a week ago!!!  Well, he tries to convince us that we have time just like his sidekick said, and he now appears to be done with us.  Well, Bo's not buying it!! (Bo understand some Spanish and is now concerned that while Sr. Passport Extension Giver may say this now, someone else may say something contrary in the future.)  So, I begin to share Bo's concerns, and suddenly, the senior tells me okay, he can proceed and give us an extension but we cannot apply for the 12-X for $30 each, we have to apply for the 12-1X $230 plus $30 visa extensions because of how our passports are stamped.

Immediately, I begin to sink.  I'm suddenly feeling very shaky and NOT HAPPY!  When I'm not happy, I sometimes cry.  Well, I suddenly feel the floodgate of tears begin to open.  I'm thinking, "Don't!  Not here!  Not a good thing, Linda... Get a grip!"  but, I'm toast.  I'm done.  I decide I cannot speak another Spanish begging sentence.  No more trying.  I'm suddenly defeated!  We don't have $230 with us (we don't walk around with large amounts of cash, and everything here is cash!).  We don't have the application letter we just presented filled out for a 12-1X.  We don't want to dish out another $260 dollars that is so unnecessary because it wasn't our fault they ran out of their bloody forms, and it wasn't our fault that our marriage license expired (another "relocation not-so-helper" story), and it wasn't our fault that all of our documents were denied because they changed the rules again and now required that every page had to be signed by the translator, not just the last page, amongst other errors that our "relocation not-so-helper" should have proofed and caught and been updated on - and on and on.  We're both willing to take responsibility when we're the cause of things going south or even part of the cause, but now I'm ready to explode in every emotion I've been holding in, AND I DO! - tears are welling up and begin to trickle ... GOD HELP ME...... I'M GETTING OUT OF CONTROL.  Sr. Passport Extension Giver is looking right at me and is suddenly leaning forward as if to want to help me calm down.  I try to talk, but I have to stop.  He patiently waits.  I finally get out, "Senior, I'm frustrated and struggling here with this process......"

I begin to slowly speak between my blurry eyes and quivering lip, "Senior, Please! My husband has concerns.  We cannot be sure that our marriage certificate will even arrive with the mail the way it is here.  We cannot be sure we will have our translations done and ready and even approved again.  We cannot be sure we will be accepted the second time in, nor if we can even make it in before two weeks.  We are cutting it close.  And we don't have $230 with us."  Now, Sr. Passport Extension Giver looks truly concerned and calmly tells me, "It's okay.  Don't worry."  He repeats a Spanish saying, "There is no problem in life we cannot solve unless we are dead."  I smile between blurred eyes.  He immediately says, "I am going to help you.  I am going to give you the 12-X and charge you only $60.  Come in with your corrected documents as soon as you can and apply for your visa.  If you are accepted before March 3rd, come and see me and I will go ahead and cancel your passport extension stamp appointment which I've scheduled for March 4th at 11 a.m." (Wait!  That's my birthday - like I want to go to the immigration office on MY BIRTHDAY - NOT!) Even though he didn't say he'd return our $60 but only that he'd cancel the extension process, we knew we had suddenly received FAVOR!  We were both grateful for the sudden turn of events and to be given more time should anything cause more visa approval delays.  A big "time" weight off our shoulders.

Within 30 minutes we had completed the forms to have our passport 12-X extension application processed, had our passport photos taken, had paid our $60, and I had gained control of my teary emotions.  Men get angry and women cry (yeah, yeah, I know some women wouldn't shed a tear - well I ain't one of 'em).  Bo and I walked out of there, his inner anger calmed and my outer tears dried, and we hugged and let out sighs of gratitude.  What a draining process this has been.  We both felt relieved that we now have until end of May to continue the visa process, of course we're hoping we will have our documents accepted a lot sooner than that.

We returned home and received notice that our marriage certificates have arrived at the DHL Cuenca office, and they will be delivering them tomorrow.  We hope to have our document translations corrected in the next week, and onward we march to our next immigration visa attempt, a bit more informed and a bit more seasoned.

I share this story of our visa journey not to discourage anyone, but to share our personal experience so that those who go through the application process swimmingly will be grateful and glory in their successful experience.  For those who encounter some roadblocks, don't be discouraged.  Many others have also, but in the end they too have prevailed.  This is what gives us the determination to continue.  It will be the end victory that will make it all worth it.

Thank you prayer warriors for continuing to remember us.  May you continue to see His perfect answers as you read the updates.

Historic Downtown Cuenca


Wednesday, February 13, 2013


I've been waiting to see the figures of how much we've been spending since December 5th when we first stepped foot on Ecuador soil.  It seems like so long ago, yet it's been exactly 10 weeks today!  Truly, I feel we've been living here so much longer, perhaps because we have moved so much (four times in 8 weeks) and have met and shared meaningful times with so many different people, some we now call friends.

We looked at two different apartments for rent in the last 3 days.  Why?  Hey, why not?  We're always looking for a better deal and also for the place we can call home, and maybe we're in it already and just don't know it.  Honestly, after the last two apartments we just looked at, this place is a palace!  Our $500 a month all-inclusive 2 bedroom, 2 bath, room with a view "departamento" right in the heart of El Centro is beginning to look pretty fancy and quite reasonably priced.  The last two apartments both had "suicide showers."   Suicide showers are a home-installed water heating system where the hot water for the shower is heated directly inside the actual shower head.  Stray wires, a lot of insulation tape and a combination of water and high voltages of electricity creates the warm (if you're lucky hot) water.  If the installation is faulty, sparks and shocking will occur.  Fun, huh??

The first "available now" rental we looked at Sunday morning was only about 6 blocks up from Simon Bolivar where we now live, so it was a perfect location and only $400 a month completely furnished.  However, it was Oh So Small and had too many pink, yellow, limey green, and blue walls for me.  The couple renting it proudly showed us around and were absolutely unaware they had a suicide shower!  It looked deadly!!  They thought that's how the bathrooms here were. They're going back to Washington anyway, so I didn't put the "you could die" fear in them.  Hopefully, they won't touch it before they exit or they're in for a real shock!!  The second apartment we looked at today was very rough or rustic funky - but, gee, it was only $195 a month for a 3 bedroom, 2 bath unfurnished place and right across the street from the mercado, a great location!  Well, you definitely will get what you pay for here unless you happen to find the deal of the year.  So, again, we are feeling quite blessed and happy right where we are at. 

I got to thinking about our continued quest for the next best rental.  Before we came here, we had researched many blogs and articles on-line, since we wanted to have a realistic idea of the housing and cost of living (as well as the weather, medical care, foods, and people).  Housing and cost of living varied depending on what article or blog we read.  So, we decided, from day one, to keep a daily running total of every penny (yes, penny!) we spent so that in two or three months we would have a realistic idea of what our own personal budget would be.  Of course, with the four apartment rentals in two months and the added expenses for being on a vacation the first month here and eating out a lot, then the relocation services, etc., we knew we would be spending less once those expenses died out of our list.

Now that we're more settled in and know where to shop and are riding the bus more than taking taxis, we are able to get a more realistic monthly expense list that we will try out for the next two months to see if it works for us.  I wanted to share our personal budget because I believe that there are many opinions from varying lifestyles living in Cuenca - some more extravagant than others, and some more frugal.  There are many expatriates here who have enough money to go out every night to eat and not blink an eye, and there are those who are on a fixed pension income which will be the ceiling for what they can spend, hopefully with some left over to save.

When Bo and I left Oregon and the USA, we repacked our bags!  By that, I mean we both wanted to truly simplify our lifestyle and live modestly and frugally, focusing on the things that are truly important to us - the people we meet and the way we spend our time.  We are still both on the same page (that's a good thing when you're married), and the longer we are away from our USA rut, the more we are enjoying our new focus and way of life.  Like today - we shopped frugally and wisely.  We bought only what we needed, and we do not have extras of anything at home.  When we run out of something, we go to the store.  We have one of everything.  I have 3 cleaning products and a bottle of vinegar.  We buy fresh food daily, and there is little or no waste.  We're getting even better about this.  We cook 90% of our meals and eat out only at the delicious Ecuadorian restaurants, where we can buy a full course meal for two for $5 to $6 (Really!!!).  We continue to learn more ways to be frugal and save the longer we live here.

Okay, I'm letting you all behind the curtain!  Why not?  We have nothing to hide and we hope to be an inspiration to many who want to learn to live simply, become self-disciplined, and live frugally and modestly.  Does it mean we are sacrificing?  Not really!  Life is full of choices.  We choose to live this way.  We want to continue to save while living here, and we want to live unencumbered and free.  So, this is our choice for the next few months to see just how much we can still enjoy life on a frugal and wise budget.  Okay, here goes:

RENT - $500 (We live in one of the best and perfect locations of El Centro.  Our apartment is large, completely and comfortably furnished, and we pay month-to-month with no added fees or charges.  It works for us!)
FOOD - $289 (This figure includes produce, protein - lots of seafood, groceries, household, and limited alcohol.  We love to cook and EAT fine food, and this amount will allow us to do so.  We used to spend $700 a month on food in the states - Yikes!!!!)
PHONES - $10 (We each buy $5 worth of minutes each a month, so far with leftover minutes).
DINING OUT - $52 (We actually believe this could be high for how many times we now plan to eat out monthly. We'll see.....)
ENTERTAINMENT - $65 (This would be for any concerts, live plays, etc. we might attend.  However, most of the arts and entertainment here is FREE!!  Also, if we go on an out-of-area bus trip exploring the country.....)
GIFTS - $65 (We believe in giving - whether it's a gift to a friend or giving to an unfortunate we encounter in our day.)
TRANSPORTATION - $27 (I love not having a car nor the expenses of insurance, maintenance, etc.  Every time we ride a bus for 25 cents, I smile!  I don't even like taking taxis anymore even if they're only $1.50 to $2.00 a ride inner city.  Man, I'm becoming a penny-pincher and a true city chica.....)
MEDICAL - $130 (We just picked a figure to cover any out-patient expenses we might incur.  Still learning this area of our budget, although several doctor visits later and we think this is going to work for us - and way on the high side for what medical costs here.  In the future, we will look into medical insurance which could run $100 a month for the two of us - gee!!!)
FURNISHINGS and/or CLOTHING - $130 (Though we're not buying ANYTHING extra, sometimes something may come up that we need for our apartment or in clothing.  I recently had one of my photography prints matted and framed - a whooping $30 which would have cost about $150 or more in the States.  So, we did allow a frugal furnishings budget - yea!!!!  As for clothing, we're set for now, but one never knows!!!)
GRAND MONTHLY EXPENSE TOTAL FOR THIS FAMILY OF TWO = $1,268!!! (This is our high figure, so it could be closer to  $1,200.)

For us, this is a very realistic budget right now.  We are not interested in dining at fancy expensive restaurants, paying high rents, or living out of walking distance to El Centro.  We like being close to all our needs, and we are excited at the possibility of having this budget work for us long-term.  Of course, this could change, but for now it's feasible and what we personally hope to live on.

I'm glad we had the determination and self-discipline to keep a record of our daily spending from the day we arrived.  It took a bit of time and thought, but we knew it would pay off and be helpful in the end.  I'm a visual person.  I have to see it before I believe it.  As much as we go shopping, I was under the false illusion that we were spending a lot of money on produce and groceries.  Afterall, we also buy a lot of seafood each week.  In the states, that was a big big chunk of our grocery bill.  So, now I know and I'm thrilled!  I'm also thankful I have a husband who is money-frugal and conscientious.  He is not a tight-wad and would lay the world at my feet if he could (and he has!!).  Like I said, we're both on the same page at this season of our lives, and that's a good thing!!

Again, this is our story and our personal journey and choice. I hope this visual helps those planning to move here and those already here.  HAPPY BUDGETING!

            I LOVE CUENCA                   

Our beautiful City, CUENCA!
We live one-half block from Cuenca's fabulous Parque Calderon.  We love walking over here at night when the city is lit up and sitting on a bench and people-watching.  It's an active and wonderful area of El-Centro.
One of four rivers that surround the City of Cuenca - El Rio Tomebamba.  Bo and I can walk here in less than 10 minutes and then walk for miles along the wonderful walking/jogging paths.
Cuenca is a city of majestic and old churches - Historic church buildings that I never tire looking at. I hope to photograph them in the evening all lit up and sparkling.
One of my favorite things about living in Cuenca is the amazing flower market one block from where we live.  Every weekend Sra. Anna (my beautiful and loving flower vendor (pictured here on the right) makes me a $3 to $5 bouquet of the most beautiful and freshest variety of flowers.  She thoughtfully picks them and arranges them especially for me, and I carry my huge (and I mean huge) bouquet home - feeling very special and happy.  The beautiful vendors I know personally and the colorful flower market and amazing prices for a bouquet are only a few of the things I love about living in Cuenca.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


WARNING:  This post is not for the fainthearted, nor is it for Vegans or Vegetarians or animal-rights enthusiasts!  So, if you are any of these, DO NOT read, and especially DO NOT look at the graphic photos.  Hey, don't say I didn't warn you!!
CARNAVAL KIDS!  Powder and water-attacked and having fun!!


We're in our rainy season, I think!!  I keep asking different people, including Ecuadorians, if we're in our summer or winter season, and I get a different answer from everyone.  So, I've concluded that there is the rainy season and the dry season, the warmer season and the colder season.  I'm still not sure how long the rainy season is because, again, I get different answers (someone must know!!!!).  Today, it rained on and off (not like Eugene-Springfield, Oregon where it is mostly on for 8-9 months a year - really!!).  Bo and I love the weather here, even the rain.  There is always blue sky, and the rains freshen up the city and keep the landscape lush and green.

Also, it's CARNAVAL IN CUENCA!! The city is quiet and ghost town-like today compared to a typical bustling Monday in El Centro.  All the stores, mercados and vendor services, bus transporation, and restaurants are closed today and tomorrow, and Ecuadorians are doing balcony water-dousing and walk-by and drive-by water balloon or water gun attacks on pedestrians who are available targets.  Or, perhaps one might get squirted with fruity-smelling liquid from a spray can.  Yes, I got water-bombed by a passing vehicle attacker on my legs today while out walking with our friends (and so did they, only with the spray-can goop).
"Good Sport Gringos" attacked on Carnaval!!!!
 I'm glad I had on my microfiber quick-drying tights!  If you read about Carnaval, you'll know more about this wild and wet religious fiesta that has been celebrated for hundreds of years and actually used to be a way for people to satisfy their relational enmities with violent bloody fighting on the streets.  Apparently, it's calmed down some over the years but still continues, hopefully in a less violent manner.  Recently, a new law was passed that strangers cannot be attacked in any manner or there will be a $7 fine and a few hours in jail as a consequence.  Yeah, right!  Like anyone's paying attention to that.  There were police officers everywhere today, and kids and families were still running around attacking each other with spray cans, boxes of powder and water ballons.  Personally, I don't enjoy this particular fiesta after what I've read, but it's the Ecuadorians' tradition, and they seem to love it - or at least those who are participating in it seem to. 

In spite of the possibility of being water-doused from a balcony above or water-bombed by a passing vehicle, we walked around the city anyway this afternoon (brave souls that we are), and ended up around the 9 De Octubre Mercado, where a few vendors were set up cooking CUY.  It smelled so delicious as we approached the vendor stands, our friends decided to go for it (brave souls that they are!) and try Cuy for their first time since arriving in Cuenca.  Soon, they were indulging and feasting on this freshly smoked Equadorian delicacy.  For me, it was an opportunity to photograph the vendors' open fire cooking method.

A strong and delicious barbecue smell suddenly wafted through the air right to our nostrils as  we were walking along the city streets.  So, we crossed the street and came upon several vendors cooking and selling their delicacies outside the 9 De Octubre Mercado area.  Yes, it was CUY on an open fire......

So, how exactly do they prep and prepare these little Ecuadorian delicacies?

Well, first the vendor places the cuy over the cooking pole and threads it through (top & bottom photos)
Then she ties the head....
.......and ties the entrails.
The Cuy is continually basted and hand-turned over the open fire.
This vendor team had two poles each, continually turning and basting four Cuy at a time.  They told me it takes approximately ten minutes to cook a Cuy this way. (They were cooking and selling their Cuy like hot Cuys, I mean Cakes!!)
At the request of our friends, the Cuy was cut and served with a side of Ecuadorian-style Papitas Y Choclo......Oh, and a Coca-Cola - the Ecuadorian drink of choice!!!!
.....and our friends had a captive Ecuadorian audience as they tasted CUY for their first time!!  Cuy is a delicacy and delight for Ecuadorians.  They are cooked and served as a way of showing honor at weddings, birthdays, and other fiestas and celebrations.  I think Ecuadorians will find any excuse to serve Cuy!!!  It costs from $6 to $8 for an entire Cuy which is one serving for an Ecuadorian.  Our friends shared one CUY and didn't quite clean up the tiny bones like their audience did - but, hey, it was their first time learning the art of eating this little critter!

It was another delightful day walking through the Carnaval-wet and Cuy-cooking streets of our beautiful city, Cuenca!!  What's not to love about Cuenca and Fun Friends????