Introduction:

A former high school classmate and cherished old friend when reconnecting with Roger through Facebook quoted the old saying: "When God closes a door, he opens a window." The years have seen a number of life changes for us that make that adage ring true. After being blessed with good fortune, a wonderful son and great experiences, we decided to look out that window and prepare for more of what this wonderful life has to offer. We hope through our blog to share our journey from this point forward with family, with friends and with many others. Hopefully we'll make some new friends along the way. We hope you find our tales of some interest, even amusement and perhaps an inspiration for you to treat each and every day as an opportunity and an adventure to share with those who are an important part of your life.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Aprender Espanol, poco a poco! (Learning Spanish, little by little)

When we first decided to become ex-patriates in a Latin country, we had all the good intentions of knuckling down and at least learning some basic Spanish.  But with getting ready to move out of the country, with traveling to Mexico, Ecuador and Thailand, plus crossing the US three times in a ten month period, it just didn't happen. Fortunately, our many visits to Mexico over the years provided us with some rudimentary Espanol, enough to navigate airports, taxis , restaurants and ask a few basic "I need help" questions.

We finally arrived in Cuenca to live. Our first priority became securing permanent housing. We bought a house, a bed and some appliances and moved in to await the arrival of our container.  It, of course, got delayed.  Did we use that down time to brush up on our Spanish?  Nah, we just procrastinated again!  Once the container arrived, we got busy building our new lifestyle and settling in as residents.  We were the only gringos in our neighborhood.  We began to pick a little vocabulary here and there just from immersion into the neighborhood and osmosis as we traveled around the city.   It is a fact that Cuenca's openness to the gringo community and the significant number of locals who know some English make it easy to "get by" with a few basic phrases.  Ecuadorians are also very patient and gracious if you attempt to use the language and are very willing to help you learn.  We started picking up more vocabulary "poco a poco" (little by little) but, oh boy, what terrible grammar we had (and still do)!

Despite being strong advocates of learning the language (we advise every one of the newcomers who seek us out for advice "Learn Spanish!"), here we are a year and a half later,  still picking up our Spanish in bits and pieces.  However, we are now up to stopping on the street and chatting with friends and neighbors in THEIR language for sometimes as long as 3 to 4 minutes! We are making some progress, albeit, very slow and agonizing progress. We have since started some computer language learning programs.  That is helping and we plan to hire a home tutor in the near future.  Vocabulary is one thing, but we really need to improve our grammar and pronunciation.

Ecuadorians who have been in the US tell us the hardest thing about learning English was its heavy usage of idiomatic phrases with meanings different than the literal translation.   Actually, that can occur in Spanish, as well, and learning some of those subtleties can make a difference.

Roger during a recent stay in an Ecuadorian hospital.
I recently acquired knowledge of one such phrase during my first hospital stay in Ecuador.  We are fortunate that our primary doctor is fairly bilingual.   In the hospital itself, you will sometimes find a resident or intern on duty who is somewhat bilingual. Basic knowledge of at least one other language (although not always English) is somewhat common in the medical community here.  An occasional nurse will know a little English and if you are lucky, you may encounter a smattering of English at admissions or at the cashier upon checkout.   By and large, however, the hospital staff almost exclusively speaks Spanish.  That can present some challenges even if you have become fairly conversant in Spanish.  This is simply because you are talking about things not commonly referred to in everyday activity. If you go to the hospital, take your Spanish-English dictionary with you!    During my stay, I was actually pleasantly surprised at how well I was able to understand what the nurses were telling me and what they were asking of me. During one of my periodic checks by a shift nurse, I was able to tell her I had no pain, no nausea. I got her to tell me my blood pressure reading was and we even conversed about where in Cuenca each of us lived.   However the conversation suddenly reached a pregnant pause when she inquired:  "Señor, hizo un despositivo hoy?"   Huh???  I knew how the words translated:  "Did you make a deposit today?" However I was thoroughly confused as to the intent of her question.  Was it possible we were supposed to prepay part of our hospital bill and the nurse was calling attention to fact we hadn't done so?  I asked the nurse in my broken Spanish if my wife needed to visit the cashier downstairs when she came back to the room to see me.  My nurse giggled.... "No Señor...depositivo aqui (pointing to the bathroom)... en el bano!"

Oh my gosh, she was asking if I had had a bowel movement today!  (It was my turn to laugh!)

"Si, Senora, yo hecho un grande depositivo...un grande boom-boom!"  This time, we both giggled!

And so it goes.....until the tutor arrives, we will probably continue to pick up some more Spanish, poco a poco, as we continue our journey juntos en el camino de la vida.


Monday, July 22, 2013

A Nice B&B Getaway in Punta Carnero, Ecuador!

The Schmidt's home
 in Punta Carnero, Ecuador
John and Heather Schmidt didn't set set out to pursue a dream of owning their own Bed & Breakfast in Ecuador.  However, sometimes life has a way of having a dream come and find you!

This couple from Arizona's Valley of the Sun, like so many ex-patriates, came to Ecuador hoping to be able to salvage some their hopes for their retirement after the economic woes in the US.  As many readers now know, Arizona was one of the hardest hit markets in the U.S. when the real estate housing bubble burst.

Heather collected shells
as they remodeled!
Suzanne and I had been introduced to Heather and John through a mutual friend in Arizona who referred them to us for help and advice in their preparation to explore the possibilities of moving to Ecuador.

When they finally arrived and began to explore the coastal area near Salinas, they almost abandoned hope of finding what they were looking for.   However, almost at the last minute they found a four bedroom spacious home with large front and back yards and a casita directly across from the beach in Punta Carnero.  Punta Carnero Beach is a nice stretch of smooth sand just south and around the peninsula from Salinas.  It is a beach popular with surfers because of regularly occurring large waves.  That creates riptides that are sometimes rough for swimming but it is always great for walking and shelling.

They made an offer on the property and even hired a caretaker.  Shortly before they left, they were talking about all the amazing space they had (each bedroom already had its own bath and the downstairs floor plan was open and spacious).  Slowly the previously unborn idea of creating a Bed and Breakfast began to germinate.

First things first;  they had to return to the US to begin prep for moving to Ecuador.  There were challenges but fortunately things worked out very well.  By spring they were back in Ecuador, in the full throes of remodeling and even traveling to Cuenca to pay a visit their lawyer who were helping them establish permanent residency.  We were glad to finally meet this gracious couple in person and give them a friendly welcome to our adopted land.

The view from our room!
Naturally, when all was complete and they announced their opening, Suzanne and I looked for an opportunity to come over and take their new facility for a test drive.   We booked their front beach bungalow room with a hammock on the balcony overlooking the surf.  The first morning Suzanne hit the beach in search of shells to add to her collection.  I wasted no time in becoming enamored with the two beautiful dogs they had adopted: Annabel and Josie.  

A great place to relax.
Our comfortable room!
Despite being totally new at this kind of venture, Heather and John are superb attentive hosts and they have a done a wonderful job of creating a relaxing casual, comfortable facility.  Nearby Salinas and La Libertad offer opportunities for shopping, fishing, whale watching , restaurant hopping or you can do  long leisurely strolls on the beach.   If you enjoy a nice breakfast, be sure to request the delicious torte de fideo.  By all means prepare to recharge your batteries when you visit.   The name of the facility is Las Palmas del Mar and you can find them on Facebook or at www.laspalmasdelmar.com.

Head to the coast and put your feet up for a spell.  Say hi to John and Heather and give Annabel and Josie a pat for Roger!




Use the pool when the waves are high!
Roger's girlfriends:  Annabel & Josie!

Las Palmas del Mar......we look forward to returning there again in the future as we continue our own Ecuadorian journey "juntos en el camino dela vida".

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Ecuadorian economics and its impact on prospective new residents! (Part II)


In our last blog, we discussed the turbulent economic history of Ecuador and the fact that, despite a growing and booming economy today, this period still has an impact on everyday living in Ecuador and these residual concerns should be considered by potential newcomers wanting to reside here.

The Alcaldia (City Hall) in Cuenca.  It was formerly the main branch of
Cuenca's oldest and largest bank which failed in the 90's.
Now on to a look at the country's financial institutions.  It, of course, can be helpful as an expatriate to have an account here.  When we arrived the second time to become permanent residents, we were able to open a savings account at a bank utilizing just our passports as identification, but it wasn't easy.   It required references from established Ecuadorian citizens (in our case, our attorneys), a translator and it took almost four hours to accomplish.   Once we obtained our residency cedula, we were able to add a checking account but it took the better part of the afternoon to convince our bank to do that without having us endure a six month waiting period!  To say they can be more bureaucratic than government agencies is not an exaggeration.    On the advice of our attorneys we basically utilize our accounts here just for monthly living expenses and a small cash reserve.  We write a monthly check to ourselves from our account in the US and deposit in our account.  It avoids the hassle of  constant international ATM withdrawals (which sometimes presents some special hazards).  The accounts also help provide for automatic payments (insurance, etc) and deposits (required for IVA refunds if you are tercera edad).    We do, however, maintain the majority of our investment funds and savings in accounts in the US.   Two major reasons:  1. if we would ever decide to return to the US (or to another country) there is a 5% tax levied on funds transferred out of Ecuador.  2.  the potential risk due to the instability of local financial institutions, particularly in the case of large deposits.

During all three of the financial shut downs this past year, there were articles in which depositors were quoted as saying they were told their accounts were insured, but that didn't seem to be the case.  They weren't lied to, but financial institution insurance on deposits here is a far, far different animal here than what you are accustomed to in the US.  It is NOT the equivalent of FDIC and FSLIC.   In the case of the recently shut down Coopera, the insurance took the form of a self insured trust account managed by the Coopera itself.  

Prospective account holder question: "Will my account be insured?"
Coopera truthful answer:  "Yes"
Reality:   In the case of mismanagement,  self insurance is of questionable value and offers extremely limited protection!

Ecuador does now have an institution called COSEDE (Corporation del Seguro de Depositos or Deposits Insurance Corporation).  By law, all financial institutions controlled by the Superintendent of Banking and Insurance without any pre-existing comparable deposit insurance coverage are required to join COSEDE and make annual contributions to it.  It is a federally established private corporation but it is NOT, however, backed with federal funding, only the contributions of the member institutions.  The board sets an account account limit on an annual basis (for 2013, the amount was $30,000.  It is somewhat vague as to whether larger accounts are covered up to a $30,000 limit or at all.  In any case, the insurance kicks in only if there is a total failure and closure of the financial institution. If, however, the accounts in the institutions are sold and transferred to other institutions (which the majority of smaller accounts usually are), the insurance is not applicable.


We know of a good number of ex-patriates who have sizable deposits down here.  Many did so because they were attracted by the very high interest rates paid down here.  Rates above 10% on CD's are very common, particularly in the credit unions.    My question has always been:  If these institutions are paying interest rates up to three and four times what is being paid by over 80% of world's financial institutions, what is the risk factor that causes them to have to do that?  Invariably, my friends respond, there may be more risk, but I 'm OK because I'm insured.  I fear most have failed to fully investigate what safety that insurance really offers.  Many may be finding out with these recent closures.

As of the date of posting this blog, it appears that the Coopera depositors of $10,000 or less will be OK because their accounts are being transferred to other institutions.  Depositors of larger accounts will likely not see all of their funds and those they do will be returned over a extended period of time and without interest.

Ecuador has many, many financial advantages for the ex-patriate seeking a retirement haven.  It also has many potential financial pitfalls.  Do your homework, do your due diligence, be cautious and you can enjoy a great life here but understand that you have some homework cut out for you.


An important note of caution to readers:

 Most of the information cited in this blog was presented as I was able to discern it at the time of this posting.  Being marginally conversant with the language and with the difficulty in reading Ecuadorian legal and technical reports, this may have resulted in inaccuracies in some select specific details. Knowing that blogs such as this tend to have very long term readership, I also caution readers that all things DO change with time in Ecuador and many things may have changed by the time you read this.  What was important to me was to give you, the reader,  a reasonable representative overview of the subject as it exists today. This should will allow you to gain some perspective and then be prepared to go forth and do your own due diligence and research if this perspective causes you to have reason to do so!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Ecuadorian economics and its impact on prospective new residents! (Part I)



The recent closure of the financial offices of the Coopera Ltda, the third financial institution to be forcibly closed within the past year (two credit unions and one bank), caused a number of inquiries and questions from readers and friends in the states.  I thought it might be appropriate to give some economic background on this country many of you are interested in.  It may help put the closure of this popular financial institution into a better understood perspective.  It will also help many newcomers to understand that, even though the official Ecuador currency is the U.S. dollar, the economy and financial realities of life are much different here than in the US.

You do need to understand the Ecuadorian economy because it impacts almost everything you'll be examining in considering a move here:  Why is medical care so affordable and the cost of fine wine and electronics so high?   A used car costs what???   Why is there there so much petty crime?  Why is long term rent cheap in comparison to the cost of purchasing a house.  Why are my credit cards almost worthless?  We all looked at Ecuador because of its affordability and the opportunity to enjoy a retirement lifestyle much more accommodating than we could have in the US.  It should not be surprising to us that there are some economic trade offs for that kind of reward.  Many come as a surprise to newcomers but mostly because they haven't done enough background checking and homework on the economic realities of life here.

Anyway, here we go.  Please do recognize that if what I  write generates a lot of questions, that's a strong indication you need to be prepared to do some of your own due diligence and research!

When you arrive at one of its international airports, visit its resorts and its three largest cities and focus on the vibrancy, the amenities,  and the colonial beauty at such affordable prices, it is sometimes difficult to equate Ecuador with a lot of the rest of Latin American.   You certainly don't get the impression of a country struggling to climb out of a third world economic abyss. But not so long ago, that was very much the case.   Consider this:  Just about 12 years ago, the minimum wage in this country was $53 per month and 69% of the entire population lived below the poverty line. The two biggest sources of foreign income was Ecuadorians living in North America sending money home and Ecuadorians living in Europe sending money home.  Just a year prior, every financial institutional in the country except one FAILED (that's correct, only one survived, just barely) .

Financial institution closures still occur on an average of about two a year and financial institutions here probably would love to have the public confidence rating numbers of the US Congress!  Government hasn't fared much better in its stability.   During the past two decades, the majority of men elected to the presidency of this country failed to complete their first term, only one (the current President) won his first term outright without a run-off, and only one (yep, same guy) successfully ran for reelection. We don't have the rate of kidnappings and murders and outright civil war that exists in Mexico, but be aware, random burglary, robbery, extortion and fraud do occur in higher frequency here than what you are accustomed to in the US and the reasons are largely economic.

That's the reality but there are also some silver linings amongst these clouds:  Ecuador does have one of the fastest improving economies in Latin America:  Effective this year, the minimum wage for Ecuadorians has increased six fold over what it was twelve years ago.  At the end of last year, the percentage of the population living below the poverty level was down substantially to 27.3%.  There is an average of 10,000 new residents a year due to Ecuadorians returning home to live!  While our government still has pockets of bureaucratic problems and corruption, they are being addressed.  While the government does still seems to behave strangely to outsiders, it has become more stabilized and institutionalized.  For the first time in modern Ecuadorian history, it has the confidence of a majority of the population.  For the first time there has been major reform in police and bureaucratic corruption, there's even a new community police force in major cities.  The country's improvement in infrastructure is slowly bringing some of the benefits of prosperity formerly enjoyed almost exclusively by major urban areas to the rest of the country.  There has, truly, been remarkable progress in recent years!

Is this a country on the move?...yes, yes, yes!  Has it solved all its former problems?...no, no, no!

While the middle class is growing at a great rate, there is still a huge level of poverty and a large disparity between have and have-nots.  In some respects, the rapidly growing economy and the appearance of a large prosperous middle class along with an influx of affluent ex-patriates from abroad has accentuated the disparity.  Ecuador still has many of the social and civil issues that that disparity fosters and festers.  Distrust, deflection and deception became, in Ecuador's darkest economic hours,  essential skills of survival for most residents.  Despite their being in conflict with traditional Ecuadorian social and family values, those skills are still all too commonly in use today.   In fact, many of the challenges and frustrations of living everyday life in Ecuador today can be traced to this turbulent economic history.  It will impact you and will be a factor you will have to deal with if you become an expatriate resident.

This subject will be continued in our next blog to be labeled: " Ecuadorian economics and its impact on prospective new residents!  (Part II)"   It will deal specifically with financial institutions today and will touch more specifically on concerns to have in utilizing those entities.


An important note of caution to readers:

 Most of the information cited in this blog was presented as I was able to discern it at the time of this posting.  Being marginally conversant with the language and with the difficulty in reading Ecuadorian legal and technical reports, this may have resulted in inaccuracies in some select specific details.  Knowing that blogs such as this tend to have a very long term readership, I also caution readers that all things DO change with time in Ecuador and many things may have changed by the time you read this.  What was important to me was to give you, the reader,  a reasonable representative overview of the subject as it exists today. This should will allow you to gain some perspective and then be prepared to go forth and do your own due diligence and research if this perspective causes you to have reason to do so!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Get on the bus and see Cuenca!

Roger on the bus during our first ride!
One of the first things many visitors do when arriving in Cuenca for the first time is head to Parque Calderon, the heart of the city and its historico centro. It is a beautiful spot to begin learning about our wonderful city.  On the south edge of the park, next to the Museo de Catredal Viejo (Museum of the Old Cathedral), is the parking spot for the double decker open top bus tours that can take yon on about an one hour motor tour of part of our wonderful city.

It's usually among the earliest things most people do while in town and a great way to learn about the city.  This is especially true if you can get a local friend to go along and explain most of the sights (there is a narration, but it is in Espanol).  The link below will show you a very condensed video of the bus route.

<iframe src="https://www.facebook.com/video/embed?video_id=599350930105528" width="640" height="480"

Come to Cuenca and get on the bus!

Friday, June 21, 2013

It's about time!

It's overdue but it will be a short blog today...I've been recovering from a bug bite plus working on a painting project and Suzanne has got a really cool cross stitch thing going.  It's not that keeping you folks up to date on life here south of the equator isn't important...it's just that we are really getting a kick out of retirement life down here and have been keeping ourselves really really busy doing some serious fun stuff!

This is Roger in Quito at the Guyasamin Museo
Nothing to do with today's blog..just a cool photo!
Anyway, it's about time:

Our friends up north celebrated their longest day of sunlight today while we here in the southern hemisphere endured our shortest day.  Here in Cuenca, we were cut back to a brief 11 hours, 57 minutes and 22 seconds between our local sunrise and local sunset.  Back in December when you guys were whining about your shortest day, we had our longest...on that day the time between sunrise and sunset mushroomed into a startling 12 hours, 10 minutes and 55 seconds.  Needless to say we don't mess around with that nonsense called "daylight savings time".  The only time we reset clocks down here is when have a power outage or power surge.

As my friend and fellow blogger Clarke Greene would say:  "Life is sweet"

 (This is true even though Jif Peanut Butter has become more expensive down here...SuperMaxi figured out we really like the stuff better than the other U.S. brands so they priced it $1.58 higher than the others...it's volume really slowed down but it still outsells that stinky old Peter Pan!)

Anyway, we are are still alive and kicking and still glad to be "juntos en el camino de la vida!"

Monday, May 6, 2013

El Condor Pasa! (The Condor Passes)


The Andean Condor is a magnificent bird.  It is slightly smaller than the also nearly extinct Californian Condor but has a longer wingspan and greater bulk.  Both are members of the vulture family and are principally carrion feeders.

The Andean Condor can have a wingspan of up to ten and a half feet, can weigh from 25 to 35 pounds, can soar up to an hour without flapping its wings and has been known to travel up to 150 miles a day in search of food.  Its average age is believed to be in the 50's although there have been three documented cases of males living into their late 70's.  They reach sexual maturity at about six years of age, and they mate monogamously for life.  Successful breeding will result in a single egg being produced once every two years.   The Andean Condor has been found from Venezuela down to Patagonia in the southern tip of Argentina. It was once very common but now is considered endangered.

Coat of Arms of Ecuador
Four South American countries honor the Andean Condor as their national bird (Bolivia, Chile, Columbia and Ecuador), five symbolically include the bird on their national coats of arms (Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador) and it is also considered a national symbol in Argentina.

The Condor also figures prominently in the religions and mythology of the indigenous people of South America.  Incas and others believed that man is born from the stars and, after death, his spirit returns there on the wings of the condor.   Many ancient religions associate the condor with the sun diety and often see the condor as a messenger carrying prayers to the gods and returning with omens.  There were also some religions that believed that the condor was inhabited by the souls of men who had angered the gods and thus were doomed to spend eternity subsisting of the flesh of decaying animals.  At one point Incan legends told that the condor was responsible for carrying the sun up into the sky each day and returning it to its nighttime resting place at the bottom of a large lake.   An indigenous belief from Amazonia holds that the condor serves as the guardian spirit of mankind and that mankind would perish without the condor. With all the biological diversity that exists here, the condor is a unique and treasured symbol of nature's patrimony and of national pride.

Here in our adopted home of Ecuador,  there were, until recently, only an estimated 68 of these creatures left; an estimated 50 in the wild and 18 in captivity.    It had been speculated that there were  condors in Azuay province but no public reported sightings had been issued since the early 90's.   It was therefore obviously exciting to residents when an article in a local newspaper in March told of a family of three that had been under observation by a biologist and photographer in the Cajas mountain region just outside of Cuenca.  We were told the birds had been named Soraya (the adult female), Manuel (her adult mate) and Arturo (their male juvenile offspring).




Soraya and Arturo at nesting site.

Taking flight. 

The location of the family's nesting ground was, of course, left undisclosed for the birds' protection.



Excitement turned to horror and even anger a scant few weeks later.  Social media (Twitter and Facebook) went viral with images of locals holding up a carcass of an Andean condor.  The photo was reportedly taken just outside of Cuenca!  Initially,  it was reported that the condor had been identified as a female.  The outrage that appeared online was almost indescribable.  In less than forty-eight hours the photo swept across a multitude of public media.   The stories invoked responses from officials as well as pledges of investigation at the local, provincial and ministerial level.




Because of initial reports that the bird was female, there was speculation that it might have been Soraya.  However, later reports identified it as a juvenile so it could not be Soraya.  Either there was another condor in the area or perhaps Arturo was misnamed.  Upon further examination of more photos, it turned out that the carcass was that of a juvenile male.  It was recently reported that there is believed to be at least an 80% chance that the bird in question, is indeed, Arturo, the male juvenile offspring of Manuel and Soraya and the subject of the March article.




Some of those pictured in the photographs within a brief time contacted authorities. They were interviewed and within a week presented testimony at the Azuay courthouse in Cuenca.  Media reports related that they were performing cleaning on irrigation channels in the area in question when an individual came by on horseback.  An examination of his game occurred and was followed by a session that produced the photos later published online.   Media reports stated that the bird was killed by a gunshot wound to the head.





The area near the condor's nesting site and near the area in which the photos were taken is a protected area and the taking of game there carries a one to two year jail term.  Because the game taken was an endangered species the term is increased to two to four years imprisonment.  As of the posting of this blog, the identity of the man purported to be the killer of the condor is known to authorities but neither the condor carcass nor the suspect himself has been recovered by the authorities.

Two other condors were reportedly found dead in other areas of Ecuador in the past four months.  In those cases, there was no evidence of human involvement but the birds were examined later and discovered to have been poisoned.  We, in Ecuador, mourn these terrible losses and hope for the preservation of a valued national symbol.


Viva El Condor!

Monday, April 22, 2013

The New Quito Airport: A Little Bit of Trouble In Tababela

In a previous blog, I promised readers a story about the new Quito airport.  Let's cover some background and basics first....then I'll tell the story of our first experience at the new facility:

The new airport located in the Tababela Valley east of Quito
The new airport is situated about 25km east of Quito in an area called the Tababela Valley.  The valley is much broader than the one in which Quito proper is located and much lower in elevation  (about 400 meters).   That already makes it more appealing to pilots.   It also has much longer runways which were  critically needed.  Planes have been known to regularly reach the end of the old airport runway and some have crashed into mountains and buildings while on descent and approach.  The old airport first opened in 1960 and over a dozen fatal crashes occurred between then and its closing this year. A significant number of non fatal crashes have occurred as well.  As recently as November of last year, a plane overran the runway at the old site.

I tell you this to establish the fact that the new airport was very sorely needed from an aviation safety standpoint. (Not to mention that it was an old and tired facility)  The new airport offers runways that are long and wide with no obstruction and great visibility (except when the infamous Andes mountain fog rolls down into the valley).    There are great drop off and pick up points and you'll discover broad boulevards leading from a relatively new highway that runs through the valley northward.  It will be closer for many sources of export cargo shipments. It is also within driving distance of Yachay,  Ecuador's proposed new "City of Knowledge".

Yes, it is further out from the center of the city, but that's where adequate space was available to build the type of facility needed.  Normally that would be just a mild inconvenience.    There are, however, a couple of contributing problems:   Right after you pass through nearby Chayamba, the main road narrows rapidly from  six lanes to two (from 3 to 1 each way), descends into a gorge and crosses a bridge that is sometimes reduced to one way traffic.  Just past the bridge is a construction area and just beyond that is a tunnel that bores through one of the mountains surrounding the city proper.  That tunnel is undergoing renovation and traffic is often restricted and the tunnel is even half closed on occasion.   There is, of course, a new express bus shuttle service at the new airport that costs less than $10.  Despite special lanes for part of transit route, it is still subject to the some of the above mentioned traffic delays and it has only one stop in town which happens to be the taxi stand at the old abandoned airport!  Let me explain it this way:  in order to save the $30-$35 cab fare  and long ride into town,  you can take the $8 express bus ride that might take up to an hour and a half in order to catch a $15 to $25  twenty to twenty five minute cab ride from the site of the old airport!

(The ever adaptable cabbies of Quito have, of course, developed some alternate routes.  The one we took from town back to the airport on our return trip  because the above mentioned tunnel was closed could best be described as the"white-knuckled-scenic route".  We will remember it for some time to come!)

 All these issues can add significant time and expense if your plans call for a stay in Quito.  If you only require a single overnight stay while awaiting a connecting flight, it is hardly worth the transit into town.   Do your homework and work well in advance.  You may not be as lucky as my son was because hotel space near the new airport is still very limited and demand will probably be exceeding supply for the near future.

Not to worry long term, because construction is underway on a new highway and a new bridge to access the airport that holds the promise that airport commute time will be well under an hour.   If all goes as well as expected (that actually does happen sometimes in Ecuador!)  we should be buzzing back and forth from the city proper to the new airport with ease in about 2 years!

OK....OK...that's enough basics...what about our story?  What was the Yazell experience in going through the new airport for the first time?   Well, the transition into town from the airport was actually among the lesser of our trials that day.  Let me explain:

Our son recently came to visit us.  Despite our urgings to route through Guayaquil, he arranged to travel via Quito (he's at a high medallion level with Delta, had a direct flight from Atlanta, could pay for it with his flyer miles and still be entitled to a class upgrade).  His flight got into Quito late,  at 10:30pm.  He had no room reservations and all the airport kiosks and restaurants were closing (not that he would have wanted a $12 hamburger from Johnny Rockets, anyway!)  He did manage to beg the purchase of a bottled water from an employee cleaning at one of the stands.  His plan to snooze at the airport until his morning flight to Cuenca was kiboshed by the fact there was simply no comfortable lounge seating in the main terminal area.  He managed to find a bi-lingual driver at the cab stand (remember this is well after the last arrival of the day) The driver also happened to know of an available hostal vacancy a mere ten minutes from the airport.  Steve has always been one of the luckiest world travelers I have ever seen!

His return was also booked through Quito.  Suzanne and I both love Quito, so we decided to fly up with our son a couple of days early to share the sights of the city.    We flew through some rain clouds coming in but had a good view of the facility as we landed.  We noted lots of space, bright, shiny new equipment everywhere, plus a modern new terminal building with articulated jetways to disembark through.   As we exited the jetway, we were greeted by flashing red beacons and strobe lights, a buzzing alarm and an announcement in Spanish that I think was reassuring us that the problem was being dealt with, but we were to exit the airport.........huh, we just entered???    Anyway, the buzzing and the announcement shut off very quickly and was not repeated.  Lacking any other direction, we continued to follow the parade of passengers ahead of us down the corridor where all the signs basically said "this way to baggage claim".   There were regular intervals of red beacons and flashing strobes as we advanced, but no announcements, no police or first responders, etc.   No escalators were working so we descended a staircase into the baggage claim area.

The milling throng at the two domestic baggage carousels seemed as puzzled as we were.  The scene though the glass windows to the international arrival area was similar, except that their few milling people were all behind the check through lanes that lead into international baggage claim.   Shortly after our arrival, someone found and cornered an airport employee who explained that lighting had struck the terminal building just before we landed as a storm passed through.  This had triggered all the fire alarms, as well as shutting down all the computers in the terminal   The airport was in the process of rebooting all their systems.  

As veteran Ecuadorian residents, we knew that this meant a wait and some patience would be in order.  More than forty minutes later, that patience was getting harder to maintain....no baggage, no word, zip, nada......   Concerned about losing our booked transportation and wanting an update, I headed for the baggage area exit on a recon mission.   There I was informed by the security guard in attendance that if I left the area, I could not return.   A big smile, my broken Espanol, not to mention a friendly handshake. (or maybe it was just my pleading look!) convinced him to allow me to find our driver,   update him and get his assistance in going to the airline counter to get someone to come to the baggage area to explain what's happening.

I returned to baggage claim to find at least four more flights had arrived and our milling throng had become quite a crowd.  A rep from a different airline showed up and had all their passengers form a line on the far wall.  As soon as they did that, airline employees began carrying in baggage from the curbside through a side door. (It was pouring down rain outside and the baggage was very, very wet). A spokesman from our airline showed up and explained that our bags were still on the trucks at the upstairs receiving doors. It seems these were automatic firedoors that were computer controlled.  Although most of the terminal's computers were rebooted, no one seemed to be able to get those doors unlocked!  Our airline had decided not to distribute bags by hand but to wait until the doors were unlocked so the bags could be dispensed through the carousel.

Do I really need to describe how well this announcement was received?....just image the metaphor about noxious bodily fumes during religious services and you'll get the general idea.   At least, we all remained orderly enough that police intervention was not required..  Anyway, after two more flights followed suit and hand delivered luggage to their customers,  our airline finally relented (we were getting close to needing troops to maintain order by this point)  The passengers from our flight rushed the narrow doorway to the street like moviegoers seeking an exit from a burning theater!  They created such a logjam  that the handlers couldn't get the bags inside so they began to stack them outside on the sidewalk in the rain.  It took major shouting that almost erupted in fisticuffs to clear the doorway and begin the process of bringing the baggage inside,  Partway through that process someone figured out how to unlock the fire doors.  The baggage trucks that were as yet unloaded zoomed away to head back to the unloading area above the carousels.  Those in our flight who hadn't got, or only partially had their luggage,  now proceeded to stampede back to the carousel.  Of course, it was now surrounded by another yet flight that had arrived.  Those people were positively convinced that the bags which were beginning to appear on the conveyor were theirs and not ours because only their flight was listed on the monitor.

Out of deference to language sensitive readers, I should probably not go into too much further descriptive detail.  Let me just conclude by saying that slightly over one and a half hours after we had completed our forty-five minute flight from Cuenca to Quito, we finally had our soaked luggage safely in tow and were following our driver to the parking lot where our van would take us to  our much needed,  warm,  comfortable accommodations and, of course, a much needed dinner!  On the ride to our hotel, my son quietly commented, "Dad, I think your new airport has a few operational kinks to work out, yet!"

We enjoyed our meal that evening.  The wine toast expressed the hope that Stephen's departure back to Atlanta and our return to Cuenca would be much less eventful......but that story, my friends,  may have to wait for yet another blog.

We were, for the moment,  happy to be enjoying our meal and happy to be "juntos en el camino de la vida"!






Friday, March 22, 2013

A Changing of The Guard in Quito

The Presidential Palace in Quito prior
to the ceremonial changing of the guard
Although elections were recently held in Ecuador, this post isn't about a new administration in our capitol city.  It's about a ceremony that occurs on most Monday mornings at 11:30 am.  It is a formal presentation and changing of the guard at the Presidential Palace.   This stately residence and office of the President of the Republic is located on the north side of the beautiful Plaza de la Independencia in the heart of the historico centro in Quito, Ecuador's capital city.

The Yazells being touristas in Quito!
When our son Stephen scheduled travel through Quito on his first visit to our new home, we decided to spend a couple of days showing him our capitol before his flight back to the US. (since we know someone will ask, we will be blogging later about the new international airport in Quito!).  Suzanne and I also stayed over a couple of more days to visit some of the of the areas we hadn't seen yet.  Other than Roger's birthday celebration, one of the highlights of our stay was the aforementioned guard changing ceremony at the Presidential Palace.


  Due to Presidente Correa being enroute to the Pope's coronation, the ceremony was overseen by Ecuador's current Vice President,  Lenin Moreno.   He is from our home city of Cuenca and we Cuencanos are proud of the fact that he was a nominee for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize!

Vice Presidente Moreno is in the center of this photo.  

In any case, we hope you enjoy the photos we took during the ceremony and hope you get a chance to enjoy this simple but elegant ceremony for yourself when you visit:

Here comes the guards!


No patriotic ceremony is complete without a good military band!

Some high step marching was called for as the guards assembled!

Students provided vocal accompaniment for the National Anthem.

The Ecuadorian flag is raised on the center tower of the palace during the National Anthem.

Colorful uniforms on units throughout the plaza made an impressive sight!

Quito was the very first city ever named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's historico centro has beautiful churches, government buildings, museums, wonderful plazas and a mixture of great architecture that includes old European , gothic and even a little art deco in addition to the classic colonial.
This is a must stop for any visitor to Ecuador, especially if you plan to spend a day or two in Quito in transition to the coast, the Amazonia, the Galapagos or even the rest of the Andean Sierra.




We thoroughly enjoy each and every time we visit this city but are always happy to return to Cuenca, our home and first love in Ecuador.  We feel fortunate to live in a country with so much to explore and enjoy as we continue our journey "juntos en el camino de la vida".

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Moving to Ecuador? Odds are you WON'T make it as a resident here!


We get a lot of prospective newcomers that read our blog and contact us for advice and with questions.  We also run into people almost on a weekly basis who come to Ecuador to "check it out" because of all the great things they've heard.   We are always happy to help...after all, many who came here before us were instrumental in our decision to relocate here and we would have had a much more difficult time if they had not been welcoming and helpful to us.  After spending two years in the process and a little more than a year as full-time, permanent residents, we can now tell you, without hesitation, that we made the right choice for us.  We are unabashed fans of this wonderful country and its people.

Now we are going to tell you something you don't really want to hear:

It has been estimated that a majority of those of you who move to Ecuador in the coming year will return to your home country within two years.  For many of those who do so, the return is likely to be at a heavy financial cost!  Others of you may be financially unable to return and could wind up being unhappy and bitter in your new home!

This is not something totally new, it is a trend that came into effect right after Ecuador jumped into the limelight as the number one overseas retirement destination.  It is a trend that has been been steadily accelerating.  In our humble opinion, it occurs because most who are planning to come simply aren't investing enough time and effort in researching what it really means to move overseas.   It is critically important to know what it actually requires of you before you take the plunge! That means qualifying AND quantifying the costs of relocation....emotional, social, cultural and psychological costs as well as the financial ones.  So many of you do a minimum amount of research, often depending upon newspaper or magazine articles and internet sites or relocation seminars that view overseas relocation through rose-colored glasses.   Some of you are simply naive enough to fully believe whatever you have read.  Others simply fail to recognize that it is their own responsibility to do due diligence and fact-checking in assessing this information.  Others are just in a rush to find a quick, easy fix to the difficult position they are currently in.   Whatever the case, not adequately doing your homework can make you very susceptible to an unrealistic sense of euphoria and wonderment at the opportunities presented by living abroad and can leave you uninformed about the potential pitfalls.  This makes you very unprepared to deal with the inevitable challenges you will face in relocating overseas.

Moving to another country CAN be a wonderful and rewarding opportunity, BUT, without a doubt, it IS ALSO a very life-altering event.   Even for those of us who are now happily ensconced here as residents of Ecuador, there were times when the process of moving here tried our patience, stressed us out, exhausted us and challenged our entire life and value systems in ways we never thought possible.   Dear readers, moving permanently to a foreign country is definitely NOT for the timid, nor is it for the faint of heart.  It is NOT for those who cannot face challenge and adversity.  It is NOT for those unsure of their own place in the world.  It is NOT for those who have trouble dealing with others whose perspectives and values are much different than their own.  It is NOT for those who are afraid to learn new things and enjoy new adventures.  The truth is that it might NOT be the right thing for you!

Having said all that, we can tell you we are joyously glad we made the decision to relocate here!  For us, it was well worth all the effort, stress and heartache to make it happen.  What we can't tell you is if it would be worth all that for YOU.  You have to decide that for yourselves.  And making that decision properly will require you  to invest a lot of time, effort and due diligence.  Putting it simply, to make sure you are making the right decision, you are going to have to do a lot of homework.

What does that involve?

1.  Lots, and I mean lots, of research:

  Be a sceptic of everything you read online (including in blogs!) or in newspapers and magazines and verify all the information you get from official or reliable sources.  Correspond with companies, ex-patriates, anybody who might write back, hire some help (definitely a lawyer!).  Make a list of 100 questions you need answered.  After those are answered, do it again and then do it again...realize that after a half dozen times of doing it, you might possibly arrive at half of what you will need to know!  Make an appointment and visit an Ecuadorian consulate if you can.  (This will be a necessity once you make the decision to start the process, anyway.)  If possible, make a visit to Ecuador before you make the final decision.   Make a list of everything you haven't yet gotten answers for, (healthcare facilities, can I find a computer, rechargeable batteries, ironing boards, what's it like walking the neighborhoods, etc, can I shop open air markets, etc??).  Revisit your question list often because as you find answers, they will generate more questions. Whenever you ask a question that someone whose help you seek can't answer, be sure to ask them where they go to find the answer if it was their question.  It will be a real scavenger hunt getting all your answers but well worth the time and effort.




2.  Self-examination:

 How many times have you relocated before now?  How did you handle that?  Do you only associate and/or socialize with people who have the same interests and values as you?  Can you live without many of your favorite American brands?  Can you make the effort to learn some Spanish? (Yes, folks, that WILL be a necessity...you don't have to be fully fluent but you DO need at least a rudimentary knowledge of the language in order to fit in here!)  Are you capable of the many new things you will need to do and learn?  Do you understand you will need to adopt a lot of new ways of going about everyday life?  How difficult will it be for you to be separated from family and old friends for extended periods of time? Can you adjust to a lifestyle that is very, very different than what you are accustomed to "back home"?   Many people, after reading the highly positive, benefit-laden articles on the wonders of moving abroad,  will mistakenly assume that moving to Ecuador will allow them to enjoy the lifestyle they were used to "on the cheap".  Sorry to burst your bubble, but it simply ain't going to be like that!  It IS a different country, different culture and different lifestyle.....like anywhere else you might choose to live, there may be many highly wonderful, positive things about it but there will also be some challenges, difficulties and some absolute negatives.  The real question is...are YOU prepared to handle a major change in YOUR life?  In order to take advantage of and appreciate the many positives there are, and in order to minimize the impact of the unavoidable negatives you will have to adjust how you lead your daily life.  Are you prepared to do that?  If your answer is NO...I would advise that you don't come to Ecuador!


This self-examination and assessment of your ability to adjust is truly as important as all the research you will do on learning about Ecuador and what it offers and requires as a potential new home.   Don't fail to do it before you make your final decision!



3.  Know what you want, understand what you will minimally need and make your expectations realistic:

Sometime back, a veteran ex-patriate resident here posted an ad on a popular English internet classified website seeking an apartment located in the historico centro of Cuenca with all the amenities, fully furnished appliances and utilities, including internet service,  for a fairly ridiculous amount (but one often quoted in magazine articles as a rent that could be readily obtained in the city).  He meant the post to be a humorous essay directed to knowledgeable veterans of relocation, but it caused a firestorm of reaction directed at the arrogance (and/or ignorance) of the poster.  What was even more astounding, however, was the number of emails sent from prospective newcomers who stated THEY were looking for exactly the same kind of facility and would the poster please share the list of received responses with them, as well.   It really underscored the fact that more and more newcomers are NOT doing all the research they need to and are coming and/or seeking to come to Ecuador with expectations that are simply not very realistic!   We've overheard local suggestions of deliberate falsehoods in one of the most popular relocation magazines read by people exploring the possibilities of moving to Ecuador.   That criticism may be a little harsh and over reaching.  However, there is little doubt that that the magazine in question does tend to present a rather distorted viewpoint.

 (Let's face it folks... these people earn their living selling ads to the companies who want to sell YOU what you need to relocate here...they have a vested financial interest in painting the rosiest possible picture as to the benefits of relocation and in keeping the mention of any possible pitfalls or problems to an absolute minimum! They are not, nor will they ever be, concerned about being 100% accountable for telling you everything you probably should know.   That's  NOT the reason they are publishing their magazine!   Keep in mind, accountability in fact-finding is YOUR responsibility, not a magazine's.  It's also not the responsibility of a government agency, nor is it really the full responsibility of a relocation service....you are are going to have to take this bull by the horns and meet the challenge face on.  If you want your relocation to work, it's up to YOU to make it happen!)

It isn't lying to say you can rent a 3 bedroom house in a major city in Ecuador for under $350 per month.  It can be done!  However, it could be considered a type of distortion to assume that people immigrating here from the USA would actually want to live in that house!  It certainly won't have any appliances in it, utilities will NOT be included,  plumbing may or may not be fully functional. There certainly will be no alarms nor security and no internet.  The curtains and light fixtures, if any at all, will likely have been removed by the previous tenant as he vacated.   Any cleaning, repairs or remodeling prior to moving in will be totally your responsibility, not the landlord's (oh, and after you do them, you might expect a rent increase because the value of the property just increased and your landlord could get more from a new tenant!). 

  Know what you would like to have in a home here. Know, too, what you want in terms of lifestyle, in events, social activities, transportation, etc.,  and know what your minimum requirements are in each of the categories you measure.  Know, as well, what your budget will allow for each of those.  Then (and ONLY then)  begin to research how well those needs can be met here and what the cost will be.  You will have to do a lot of looking...some things may come well under your budget, some may not.  Generally everyday cost of thing and healthcare is much more affordable here than in the US.  Owning a car, buying fine wine,  and owning a fully furnished ranch home with full blown security  plus all the amenities such as a gym or swimming pool may very well cost you much more than it would back home!  It will cost you big time, both financially and stress wise to ship a container of personal belongings.   On all these matters, you have to your homework and do it well.  Trust me, it will be harder to do this accurately for Ecuador than it would be for you to do locally back home.  However, in order to make a good decision, you need to invest the time and effort it will take to do it well.


4. The overwhelming majority of the work needs to be done BEFORE you ever leave your current home:

The famous Chinese philosopher and author of "The Art of War, Sun Tzu once wrote "Great Generals seek victory first, then enter into battle!"  It is an axiom that has been applied to business management.  It is also an extremely applicable  philosophy to follow in in your relocation process.  Get your act together BEFORE you leave home, not AFTER you arrive in Ecuador.   There are a thousand and one "i's" to be dotted and "t's" to be crossed and many, many of them become extremely difficult to do and/or coordinate once you've left home.    Getting the required police reports is a very illustrative example....in some states, these reports, by law,  cannot be picked up by a third party nor can they be mailed to you.   They are a necessity and it can add much burden and expense or even derail your residency process if you didn't have that document taken care of in the right format before you left. And folks, that's just one example of the many problems you could encounter.    Find out what you need to do and DO it BEFORE you come.  Have a plan, execute it, and then book your travel to Ecuador, because getting yourself here is one of the last things you will need to accomplish on a very long "to do" list.

Will it be cumbersome gathering all the information you need stateside?  Yes, and because of that,  some people actually schedule a trip to Ecuador just for research purposes.  If you do so, plan that trip well and make it much more than just a "touristy" "look-see" adventure.  It will pay big dividends and solve many of your problems in advance.  It's simply a matter of doing your homework and that will take time and effort.

5. Do your homework and make an informed decision:

Ecuador is a truly amazing, beautiful country, one of the most unique on Earth and it has a lot to offer as a potential new home.   We give thanks virtually every day that we decided to come here and we feel
amazingly blessed to have had the opportunity to "restart" our lives here in Cuenca.   We don't have all the answers for you but by doing this blog we hope to put you on the path to finding the answers for yourself.


 We'll leave you with the following pieces of advice:

It is impossible to ask "too" many questions,,,,,keep asking, keep researching, keep doing your homework.  (We're still learning and we started our process over two years ago!)

Always remember, you're moving to a totally different country.  While the overall cost of living is less, some things you are used to will cost much more.  You are NOT going to find your former lifestyle at a discount here...be prepared to make some changes and adjustments.  Some will be modest, a few even fun, but some may be hard.

People are different here.    It's not just the Ecuadorians that are different, it is also your fellow "gringos".   If you adjust to a new life here, you will become different, too.   The very process of relocation and adjustment will make you a different person than what you were before you came....be prepared for that.


Hopefully, you haven't been discouraged by our admonitions in this blog, just awakened to look at this whole process a little more realistically than before.  If so, it's time to roll up those shirt sleeves and get to work!     Take your time, do it right, do it thoroughly, and, most of all, find a way to enjoy yourselves along the way.  If it all works out, it may well become the most rewarding thing you've ever done.  If not, and your decision is that it's best for you not to come, you will have learned and grown as a result of your efforts in ways you can't yet imagine. That experience, in itself, may help lead you to your heart's desire.

Best wishes from us in your quest as we continue ours:  "juntos en el camino de la vida."






Friday, March 1, 2013

Being Tercera Edad in Ecuador:

As a 65+ year old resident of Ecuador, Roger is "tercera edad" 
The recent posting about paying our first property taxes in Ecuador has led to a couple of inquiries from readers and Facebook friends wanting to learn more about "tercera edad".    Tercera edad in Spanish translates as third age and generically refers to those who are sixty-five years or older.  Basically, it means senior citizen.   Three ages.....childhood, adulthood, and seniors ("tercera edad").

Seniors are revered and respected here in Ecuador (and in most of Latin America) much more openly and publicly than in the US.  It is not at all an uncommon experience to have an Ecuadorian (even a teenager!) offer a senior their seat when they board a fully loaded bus.  Seniors, even though they are strangers, are warmly and respectfully greeted when encountered in public places.  In a country where you wait in line for nearly everything, many facilities have special service lines for the handicapped, pregnant women and "tercera edad".  Some facilities that use a "take a number for your turn" (government offices, airline offices, pharmacies, etc) will offer a special number for "tercera edad" customrs that advances your turn in the order of customers being called.  Many businesses will offer special discounts for "tercera edad".  (Example: The Futbol Club Deportiva Cuenca offers half price tickets if you are tercera edad)


Tercera edad is also an official status recognized by the government with benefits proscribed by law.  Most forms of public transportation (except taxis) are required to discount fares by 50% for tercera edad.  In the case of airlines, it only applies to tickets purchased in person and issued in Ecuador (online purchases...no) with flights originating from an Ecuadorian airport.  The discount only applies to the base cost of the ticket and and applicable taxes or special access fees must be paid in full and be based on the full fare so the discount often is on 30 to 40% of the full cost but it's still a nice perk anyway!  My municipal bus rides, however, a full 50% discount meaning I only pay 12.5 cents to ride!  Admission fees to parks and government funded facilities and events are discounted 50% for "tercera edad"

Public utility bills are discounted, as are property taxes (we discussed that in the previous blog which led to the inquiries).   The I.V.A. (Ecuadorian value added tax) of 12% is refunded up to $140 per month for tercera edad 65 to 70 and after age 70 is fully refunded in any amount.   Of course, getting these benefits requires some legwork, and dealing with a copious amount of bureaucracy, but that's to be expected here in Ecuador.   

The monetary savings are nice but the real and most important benefit of being "tercera edad" in this country is the warm feeling that comes from being a respected, revered member of society. As you walk the streets, you see young people walking arm in arm with their elderly parents or grandparents. You also see extra courtesy paid publicly on a regular basis to seniors.  The warm glow that comes in the "sunset of life" here doesn't just come from that bright orb on the horizon.   For Roger, it's  good to be "tercera edad" as we continue our journey "juntos en el camino de la vida".

Monday, February 25, 2013

Paying Property Taxes In Ecuador....what fun!

It was recently just over a year since we Yazells had returned to Ecuador and took up permanent residency.   Guess what that meant?   It was time for us to become bona fide, official taxpayers.  I had heard that among the benefits of being "tercera edad" was that I would be entitled to a discount on property taxes.    Being here a year and having become more experienced at dealing with bureaucracy and things Ecuadorian, I was fairly certain I would not receive such a benefit by simply asking for it.  Surely, there had to be a  bureaucratic process complete with forms to fill out, copies to be made (any government process in Ecuador requires you kill at least a couple of trees with the paperwork that's needed) and, most certainly lines to wait in and some "problemas" to overcome.

 When you know you're to be going through this kind of these process,  you eventually learn to do at least two things:

1) You gather together every bit of documentation and paperwork that might in any way conceivably relate to the whole process and then add a few others that just simply have to do with being a gringo in Ecuador and organize a traveling file to take with you!

 2)  You recruit a good guide and interpreter to help you through the process!

In our case, the help we recruited was Priscilla Idrovo, sister and sister-in-law to our two Ecuadorian attorneys.  Patricia is fully bilingual and in addition to helping at the law firm, she works as a "facilitator" for gringos needing special assistance and translation.  We had utilized her before in such tasks as opening bank accounts, in getting registered as "tercera edad" with SRI (the Ecuadorian equivalent of the Internal Revenue Service) and in handling some special needs with our Ecuadorian insurance company.   In these matters and a couple of others she has proven to be a very valuable asset.

Property taxes are paid in municipality offices located near the new cathedral across from Parque Calderon.  So, armed with all our gathered documentation, we met Priscilla downtown at 9:00am and marched the few short blocks to the office and got a waiting number, in our case: #89.  Several windows were in operation so the wait wasn't really exorbitant,...only about 20 minutes.  At first, our clerk couldn't find our property in the computer system (good thing, we bought the entire deed and our receipt showing that the property transfer had been registered with the city last year!)  With the paperwork we showed her she found our property in the system.  She was preparing to print out a tax bill when we inquired about the "descuento para tercera edad".   Examining my cedula (Ecuadorian resident ID), she said that while I certainly was eligible for tercera edad, it had to be approved and entered into the system prior to the tax bill being paid.  That process, of course, took place in an entirely different city department.   We were politely directed to an office two doors down the street and told to return when we were approved and appropriately entered.

Down the street we went, Suzanne and I lugging our file of goodies.  With Priscilla as guide, into the directed office we went.  No numbers here, just three different lines...one, however, was for an information desk....perhaps a good place to start.  The info desk directed us to the second line (I probably would have just entered the first one had I been there on my own!)   After being in line for a length of time, we were informed there was, of course,  an application form to be filled out.  (You will always stand in line to speak to somebody to learn you have to fill out an application form in Ecuador.  Sometimes you will even have to get into another line line to actually get that form...Don't ever expect to just find a kiosk that explains what forms you need and then find a supply of those forms readily available)  Copies of both our cedulas had to be attached to the application as well as a copy of the previous year's paid tax (even though paid by the previous owner), a copy of the registration of transfer with the city and a complete copy of our deed.

(Now you see why we brought the fat file of documents, don't you?)

 For those of you inexperienced with these type of situations, everything you apply for or do in Ecudador requires some sort of copying, usually in copious amounts, but there is NEVER a copying machine available at the office that requires said copies.  There is, however, always, a commercial copying facility somewhere nearby.

After a second trip up to our clerk to clarify what was being asked for on the form, off down the street trudges our entourage to procure the required copies.  This, of course, necessitates another wait in line. (Said copy center is within two blocks of the aforementioned municipal offices, three banks, the provincial offices for Azuay, the courthouse, and at least ten lawyer, real estate and notary offices.  Needless to say, there's a WHOLE LOT of copying going on here everyday!)  The one upside is that B&W copies are a mere 3 cents each...we were in and out for less than a buck!

Back to our helpful clerk who carefully examines all the stuff we had copied and our application. He proclaims we have everything in order (as close as you get to receiving a bureaucratic Atta Boy!).  Going back into the computer to register our application, he pauses and announces to us that we, however still have one "problema" (you knew this was coming...didn't you?).  You see, we purchased our house shortly after our return to Ecuador and our identity as the buyers was confirmed and entered on all our paperwork with copies of our passports and all our property identification was tied to our passport numbers. (Apparently, this was why our first clerk could not initially find our property.  She was utilizing the cedula number which we had obtained a few weeks AFTER we had bought our house. She finally utilized the deed registration number to find us in the computer.)

What to do?   Why, of course, we had to make an application to change our property identification from our passport numbers to our cedula numbers.   But, of course, that can't be done at this department. "Por favor", it is necessary to go down the street to yet another municipal office and speak with the appropriate official in charge of handling the process of changing those numbers. Off we go, yet again!  There was an information desk on the first floor.  That's a good place to start (especially when you have a fluent speaker of Spanish with you to explain EXACTLY what you need to accomplish!)  Up to the second floor and Huzzah!, within 15 minutes, we were actually headed back to office number two, confident our numbers were now changed.

At office number two, our clerk (we've almost become well acquainted by now!) confirms , yes id numbers have changed. He goes about doing his initialing, stamping and entering and announces we have now been approved for our senior citizen discount.  We can now return to office number one and proceed with the process of actually paying our taxes.

It's been a while so the turn numbers were now in the triple digits but our former clerk recognizes us and waves us back to her window.  A couple minutes of computer searching and then a big smile on her face tells me it is now time to dig deep and start pulling out my wallet.  I was finally about to pay my first property taxes in Ecuador!

Suzanne remarked later, that as our lady announced what we owed in taxes, my jaw dropped so low she thought I was going to fracture my jaw on the marble counter at the cashier's window.  "Are you kidding me?" I asked in perfect English...I was assured through Priscilla's translation, that the amount I heard, was, indeed,  my correct, fully due and payable property tax bill for the year.

As I handed across a twenty dollar bill and waited for my printed receipt (as well as my change!!!), I marveled at the morning's process we had gone through.  A year ago, the entire affair would have been quite stressful for the two of us. This year, we were better prepared and knew to expect the unexpected. We had resourceful help and we were certainly more "tranquillo" and patient about the entire process.  As she handed me my receipt (and my change...did you get that, folks? - I gave her a twenty to pay my property taxes and I GOT change!!!)  The wonderful lady at window number 8 assured me it would be easier next year... just bring this year's receipt and my cedula...leave all the document files at home.   Have a nice day and she hoped to see me again next year.

So there you have it... the fun story of paying our first property taxes in Ecuador.  We're now Ecuadorian taxpayers and we're happy to be continuing our marvelous journey: "juntos en el camino de la vida"!