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Saturday, March 9, 2013

MOVING TO ECUADOR - PACKING FOR CUENCA!

We arrived on Dec 5th, 2012 with two carry-ons each and two check-ins each.  We use our backpacks daily for shopping trips to the Mercados and tiendas, and also to carry my photo gear when out on a city shoot.  The two blue "High Sierra" backpack roller bags were my prize find at our local Good Will for $7 each!

When I think about the process we went through of "Repacking Our Bags" before finally boarding that first flight leg of our long-planned-for trip and heading for Cuenca,  we now know a few things we might have packed differently.  We came to Cuenca on December 5th 2012 with 4 check-on bags (2 each) and 4 carry-ons (2 each).  For several months prior, I had researched in-depth specifically what to bring and what to leave behind reading different blogs and other ex-pats' opinions and experiences.  I finally narrowed it down to what I thought would be critical for Bo and me to bring.  Well, everyone's needs and wants are different!!  Having never visited Ecuador or Cuenca, we both wanted to bring only what was absolutely necessary to begin our living experience here.  Today I can say that we brought things we could have left behind that caused us unnecessary and wasted weight, and we left things we wish we had brought.

After three months here of daily shopping and discovery, and also visiting a well-equipped CORAL stores at Mall Del Rio (one of several in Cuenca and our Ecuadorian Walmart), I know we can find most anything we would need right here in Cuenca.  Yes, maybe we can't find the name-brands we want.  For example, I want to buy an original "Crock Pot" slow cooker (in my experience, others leak), and at CORAL I saw every other name brand except "Crock Pot."  However, there are two stores in El Centro where they do sell the original CROCK POT brand!  It costs a bit more here, but not enough to warrant bringing the one I have in the USA all the way to Cuenca.  I KNOW I can find shampoo, makeup, clothes, cookware, and anything else I might need right here in Cuenca.

All this to say what?  I would not recommend packing with the mindset, "I have to bring this or that because I won't find it in Cuenca."  Maybe you won't find that specific name brand, and maybe you won't find EXACTLY what you are use to cooking with, bathing and primping with, seasoning and cooking with, etc.  - but, I can say for sure that you will find enough of what you need to save yourself the luggage space and the headache of packing weighty things that you too may wish you had left behind.  So, you're probably wanting to know, "What would you have packed differently and brought with you or left behind?"  Well, here are some examples of a few things after living here over three months that we would have personally packed differently:

Things we SHOULD HAVE brought:
1 - Bose Speakers - At the airport, because our luggage was 50 lbs over weight, I pulled my awesome compact Bose speakers to reduce the weight.  To this day, I am so sorry I didn't pull some other unnecessary weight (I was rushed, on overwhelm, and could not think since there was a line behind us and I had to eliminate weighty things fast!).  Electronics here are spendy.  I haven't found speakers here I want to spend that much money on, so my music is lacking that awesome sound.  I'm a music audiophile, and every day I miss listening to my music in Bose stereo sound.

2 - Salad Spinner - I am yet to find a place that sells one.  Any suggestions??  We eat a lot of salad greens, and I love dry-spinning my washed greens.  That would have weighed nothing, but I had no clue that I would miss that simple kitchen gadget.  Unless I find one here, it is one thing I will bring back with me when we return this summer to Oregon for a few things.

3 - Jewelry - In my research, I kept reading how much of a target I would be if I wore jewelry here.  Well duh!  Yeah, if you wear and flash real gold and diamonds and dress like a rich Gringa!  My attire resembles nothing close to a rich Gringa.  Makeup is minimal, and I dress like I'm on my way to the health club or ready to go hiking.  I could have packed more of my beautiful fun costume jewelry to enjoy wearing here.  My fun bling is something I miss when I want to dress up a bit.  I can testify that Cuenca is a safe place if you are not flaunting that you have money!

4 - Skinny Clothes - My pants are falling off me (brag, brag)!  Bo's too!!   I had read about how much weight one loses here from the altitude and all the daily walking, plus eating more wholesomely.  Well, this is all TRUE!  Bo has lost about 25 lbs in three months.  I don't have a clue what I've lost in weight (I'm not big!), but I need new pants that fit!  Back home, there are clothes in storage that would be perfect now, and the few clothes I did pack need to be replaced.  I'm looking forward to our trip back to the states so I can bring back some favorite clothes that will now fit.  Bo, will need to buy some skinny clothes this summer (he's still losing weight - woohoo!!! 

5 - Kindle and/or Compact Tablet - I had researched and looked at Kindles before coming here.  I also drooled over an iPad.  But, because I didn't know what was best to buy or bring, we came here with our laptops.  It would be so much more convenient to be able to download books on a kindle or to carry a compact lightweight tablet around.  Again, electronics are more costly here, so coming in with these items would have been a good choice.  Now we know what we will return with next trip back to the USA.

6 - Phones - Some of the things I read caused us to shy away from bringing better cell phones in.  We are now the not-so-proud users of cheapy crappy phones we purchased here.  A woman sitting on a park bench at Parque Calderon was intensely focused on her reading, and she laid her iPhone next to her.  Our neighbors were sitting across from her, saw a teenage boy who was pretending to play in the bushes behind her leap over the fence, grab the phone, and run!  These are the people who get robbed here!   Bo is going to revert back to his more useful expensive smart phone, and I will buy and bring back an iPhone.  We also would have brought in a regular phone for our MagicJack.  I did not like having to go to Coral today to buy a phone when we have about 4 phones back home.    

7 - Selective Kitchen Utensils (Sharp Potato Peeler, Wine Bottle Corkscrew Opener, Sharp Knives, Vegetable Steamer, Favorite Fry Pan and Stainless Steel Pot(s), Trader Joe's Pop-Up Sponges, etc) - Because we love to cook in a well-equipped kitchen, we had/have missed some things that we are spoiled about.  However, once again, we should be able to eventually find these things here.  Today we bought a great wine bottle opener at CORAL, finally!!  However, when we first arrived here and rented several not-so-well-equipped apartments, we were struggling with dull knives, dull potato peelers, and crappy aluminum cookware and utensils.  That's not all, but to keep this short and sweet, we would have brought some items that take no room in the suitcase so we could have had these from the beginning.  With time and having moved into a nicely equipped apartment, we finally have a super sharp potato peeler and other things that make our kitchen times happy times.  We love to cook most of our meals, so for us this is important.  If you don't like to cook and instead plan to eat out most of the time, this is probably no big deal for you.  But, for those who love to cook and eat in more often than out - having certain kitchen gadgets right away after arriving here makes a big difference.  Having the right tools is important to us!

8 - Comfortable Shoes - I am a shoeaholic!  There, I confessed it.....  One of the most difficult things I had to let go of was my shoe collection.  I remember loading up several large garbage bags of my beautiful shoes collection and driving them to the St. Vinny's prior to coming here.  Well, I'm over it - really!!  I would never even consider wearing those shoes on these uneven cobblestone and unpredictable streets of Cuenca.  I did bring about 3 pairs of shoes that I will never wear here, and now I wish I had a few more of my earthy comfy shoes in their place.  Bo and I walk everywhere.  We walk for miles and miles.  Bringing more practical and useful shoes is a must for me in the future.  I LOVE walking around the city and outside the city - and I now LOVE dressing casually and comfortably.  Bo too!  He used to wear a Corporate costume every day.  Now he wears his Cuenca casuals, and our dress life has become so much more simple.  We like it that way!

Things I'm glad we DID bring:
1 - Laptops, Compact Color Photo Printer, Magic Jack Plus, Cameras, Lenses, Battery charger and Rechargeable Batteries, External Hard Drives, Video Camera, Tripod, Mono-pod, Docking Stations, Surge Protectors, CHARGERS, and other miscellaneous electronic gear - All of these things we packed in our carry-ons.  We brought as much of our electronics as we could because we knew they would be way too costly here to replace, and they also didn't take much room to bring.  Photography is my passion.  I'm a photography gear junkie!  Because I had read that it was not safe here (there you go again!!!) to bring in expensive gear, I wrote to an avid photographer who has been living in Cuenca for a couple years, and he encouraged me to bring everything or I'd regret it.  I'm so glad I contacted him and heeded his advice!  When I go out on my photo shoots, I wear my camera securely around my neck, carry my lenses in my sturdy backpack, and I pay attention to my surroundings (with Bo spotting me, of course).  Last year, our USA home was robbed in the mid-afternoon, and I lost thousands of dollars of camera equipment and all of my jewelry (I'm finally over that too!!).  I feel safer here in Cuenca than I did back home after that robbery.  Again, using caution and wisdom anywhere helps - but we know that we can be violated and robbed no matter where we live in spite of this.

2 - VitaMix and Omega 8006 Juicer - HEAVY, Yes!!!  Worth carrying on and bringing - Absolutely Yes!!!  Our carry-on luggage was so HEAVY with all our electronics and mostly because of these two gems.  Yet, these were things we were not going to check in because they were expensive, fragile, and we wanted to make sure they arrived with us securely and intact.  We do have an Oster blender in our current apartment, but it ain't no VitaMix!!! I'm yet to see these two fabulous machines for sale here in Cuenca, and if they did or do have them they would cost.  If you have these and truly use them, BRING THEM!  You won't be sorry.  Of course, those following our story know that the main part for my wonderful juicer cracked a month after being here (my fault - I assembled it incorrectly after washing it), and to this day, I can't juice.  I then ordered the wrong part, and it took two months to arrive here via USA Casillero, a shipping service I was not happy with.  Now I have a wrong part and have to start all over again.  But, my Omega Juicer looks really nice on my kitchen counter (LOL).

3 - BackPacks and Sturdy Shopping Bags - We go to the mercados and tienditas daily.  We pack lots of fresh meats, fruits and vegetables home and buy fresh eggs by the cubeta (tray of 30) which can get pretty heavy.  So wearing our sturdy backpacks filled with large foldable lightweight compact heavy-duty canvas bags at all times makes lugging our groceries or anything else we purchase on our spur-of-the-moment regular shopping sprees easy for our short or longer walks home.   

4 - Rain gear - Yes, it rains here!  One of the reasons we left Eugene-Springfield, Oregon was because of the long eight months of continual rain (and I mean "slit-your-wrists" continual).  We brought our raincoats and umbrellas here because we read that it can get quite cold in Cuenca and that it rains often here.  Well, yes it rains, but not every day.  When it does rain, it lasts a few minutes or hours depending on the season and then the warm beautiful sun shines again (Oh, we love the sun and blue skies here).  Daily, when we go out, we pack our rain gear, plus we layer our clothes for the daily weather change that will creep up unexpectedly on us.  We leave our apartment early with sweatshirts on, and by late morning or early afternoon it is t-shirt warm weather.  Then it may get cloudy and rain by afternoon for a few, so out comes the rain gear and umbrella, and by early evening we have our sweatshirts back on.  I LOVE the daily change of weather here and so does Bo.  It's never humid, and certainly not too hot or cold or rainy for us (coming from rainy damp cold Oregon).  The rain leaves the air clean and fresh and the landscape and flowers green and lush.  Rain gear is a must here and we're glad we brought ours with us.

Things we should have LEFT BEHIND:
1 - Lotions, cosmetics, sunscreens, and most liquid products - These weigh!  Weight is important to consider when packing.  So many of the products I thought we couldn't find here that we brought we absolutely can find!  I meticulously packed baggie after baggie filled with products that I now would never bring!  How does one know though?  Well, we didn't and so we packed so many unnecessary liquid products.  Since Bo and I had never visited Ecuador or Cuenca, we had no idea  what to expect except for what we read from others living here.  Again, every person's wants and needs will be different when packing.  What's important to one may not be important to another.

When I look back now, I can see that we could have come here for our first round of living with so much less, and we could have found those items in this well-stocked city.  Some things are a bit more expensive, yes.  However, traveling with less and more simply is a better choice for us.  Now we know this. 

If we are cautious, aware, and discerning while living here,  we can use the cell phones we like, wear the jewelry (bling, not expensive GOLD) we enjoy, and walk around this lovely city without the paranoid hype we often read about from people who have been violated because of their lack of wisdom and awareness.  if we forgot to bring something, it is probably available for purchase here.  This city is abundant with beautiful things. 

Yes, there are items that we currently own that are irreplaceable or way too expensive to purchase here.  Those things may be a must to pack.  Our desire to simplify our lives continues to be a letting-go-of process and on-going learning experience.  Living here with so much less than we had in the states proves to be very liberating.  We are yet to accumulate and clutter up our lives here in Cuenca with STUFF.  Everything we need (not want) we have.  We are certainly not lacking.  If we had come with just two carry-ons each and one large suitcase, we would probably still have been just fine knowing that we would eventually be returning to the states with a better idea of what we would need to bring back.

Packing is not the easiest task when one is moving out of country to an unknown city, having never been there before.  It's an individual journey!  This is our personal packing journey, and we share it to hopefully give those reading our BLOG some more food for thought.

HAPPY PACKING!
FINALLY, AT THE AIRPORT!!  December 4th, 2012 - The day we left our hometown of 39 years - Eugene, Oregon!  It seems like so long ago, and for now,  Cuenca is our home.



8 comments:

  1. Thanks for another great post. For quite a while now we have been "carry on" travelers (even for 3 week trips to Ecuador) so we are very prepared to come with next to nothing when we move to Cuenca. I really appreciate your lists. We're not photographers so that part is easy! I only wear a couple of pairs of comfortable shoes and I'm a scarf person rather than jewelry. We will bring the electronics for sure. We are pretty short people so if we lose weight, we can probably find stop gap clothing in Ecuador. Thanks again for such thoughtful posts. I look forward to your next post. Still praying for you! Mara Gano

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    1. Wow, Mara,
      You're my "Packing" hero! Glad you found my list helpful - but it sounds to me like you know how to travel. I always have to get Bo to go through everything and help me purge from the suitcases again. He, like you, can travel with just a carry on. You will surely lose weight here from all the walking and healthy eating. I'm so thankful for your continued prayers too. One day we will meet!
      Linda

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  2. Thanks so much, Linda. I really hope we both lose weight. I have some "skinnier" clothes/jeans that I may pack a couple of. Hubby will have to buy new when we visit the states (or get something made).

    The toiletries & kitchen items - thanks so much! That helps already, even though we plan to visit in April-May.

    I think I may pick up another pair of walking shoes before we come. I've recently started using the custom Dr. Scholl's inserts and love them but when I add thicker Smart Wool socks, my current shoes get a bit tight. LOL!

    We will be up there on the electronics side with three laptops, two tablets, two Kindles and two iPods. Not sure about the phones other than hubby's iPhone which should be usable. My HTC Incredible won't work as far as I know so I'll probably get a cheapie phone just for local calls.

    So much great info in this post...thanks for taking the time to document it all!

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    1. Hi Donna,
      Glad you found reading our packing experience helpful!
      For sure you will lose weight here. Bo and I both love that part of living in Cuenca. I imagine those who continue to live to eat and not eat to live nor exercise will remain the same or gain here. For us, the food is delicious but most of our eating is done at home. We like to cook and eat healthy. We walk daily and a lot! So, bring those skinny pants. The only thing I'm comfortable in now is my jogging tights and my overalls (they don't fall off me). When you come visit you will have an even better idea of what to bring and leave behind should you return to live. We came with no clue except what we read. By the way, Bo has an amazing HTC cell phone and the phone guy at the place we frequent to buy our minutes said he can get Bo's phone to work here. We'll know more about that at a later date.
      Happy Packing! Soon you'll be here!
      Linda

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  3. Our Bose stuff is the only electronics we are bringing other than our computers and phones. We have a smaller Bose system (one piece) that you set your iPhone or iPod into and it fills up the room with music... We like that one. And we bought what was once called a 3-2-1 Bose Entertainment system... It has a woofer and just two little speakers and it hooks up to the TV. We love watching movies... Thanks for the heads up on the other stuff to bring and not to bring... See you guys in a few months... George

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  4. Hi George,
    Oh, how I love Bose!!!! I'll be over to hear your Bose sound and drool (LOL). I think we'll check out that smaller system you mention - sounds perfect for us since we didn't bring any of our CD's, only our iPod and iTune library. I'm actually looking forward to going back to the states just to retrieve some things via suitcases (we won't be shipping stuff back here) and to recover a few of those items we do miss. Again, forget the liquid weighty stuff and anything you know you can get here. Everything one needs truly is here (as you probably saw from your last visit). Looking forward to seeing you again when you return. I'm sorry I didn't get to visit with you - but I'm sure you saw me in the height of overwhelm that dreary day at that "unhappy place" trying to get visa approval. Victory finally did come!!!
    Bo and I look forward to a visit with you and Chad. Maybe I'll cook you two my best Puerto Rican meal and we can trip over our tongues and talk Spanish (my family heritage).
    Linda

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  5. Hi, I'm Jimmie (girl Jimmie..on the birth certificate..Mom did it!)My husband, Will, and I have been reading your blog for a couple of months now and I'm loving it! This was my favorite blog so far although all your writings are wonderful. I don't believe you have ever mentioned that you just moved to a country you'd never been too before. Amazing! We've been considering it but that's just about as far as we've gotten and your blog is so helpful. I'd love to hear about the thought process you had in making the decision, who and what is left behind in the USA, and do you ever intend on moving back....or just going forward. My best to both of you. Jimmie

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    1. Welcome to our Blog, Jimmie and Will!
      Glad you're loving reading our story and we hope you will continue on our journey as we continue to post about our adventure. If you read the beginning of my blog postings, you will read the story of how we ended up coming to Cuenca, a place we'd never visited before (it's that adventurous spirit in both of us!). We still have our home in Oregon which is rented to a wonderful couple, and we did get rid of half our belongings but have the rest in storage on our land. For now, we are planning on staying in Cuenca, but one never knows what tomorrow may bring. My precious 87 year old mom is still back in Oregon, but she has wonderful care and because of her advanced dementia we could not bring her with us. So, read the first few posts to have many of your questions answered. We are firm believers in doing our adventures today while we can. Sometimes dreams remain dreams for some who never take the plunge. If you can, go for it! if it doesn't work out, you can always leave. We're glad we came and are still here. Hope you continue to enjoy reading our blog, and do leave us your comments. Stay in touch.
      Linda

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Leave us your comments and I will respond with any questions you may have. Enjoy our Blog! Linda (y Bo)