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.

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, 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"!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

In Cuenca, Ecuador...time goes by quickly!

Wow, we've only blogged three times since the beginning of November and it has been over eight weeks since our last posting!    When they said this was a busy season in Cuenca, they weren't kidding!

We may have to apologize twice today.... once for our inattentiveness to this blog.  And then we'll do so again for the length of today's posting.  I'll be making an awkward attempt at recapping what's been going on in our lives at Casa Yazell during this very hectic season.  As a result this posting may encompass a little bit of lengthy rambling.  Hopefully, we can catch a lot of our stateside friends up on what has been going on in our life here south of the equator and hopefully, it will be of some interest.

Suzanne in the catacombs beneath
Catedral de la Immaculada Concepcion
Here goes:

Traditional  pastry and beverage
for Day of the Dead celebrations
The rush probably began in late October/ early November.  We observed Day of the Dead by visiting the crypts in the Cathedral as well as the old cathedral museum.  Things really kicked into high gear on Tres de Noviembre (3rd of Novemeber).   That marks the city of Cuenca's Independence Day and a week long celebration that includes a major arts and crafts festival featuring artisans from all over Latin America.  (We bought some artwork, a Peruvian sweater for Suzanne, a Bolivian jacket for me and bunches of other stuff!)  There were, of course, the obligatory Cuenca fireworks, music concerts and more activities than you could shake a stick at.

Lots of different activities take place in Cuenca during the week 
We squeezed in a number of personal social activities, including a great sausage making party with a group of our friends:

Roger's ability at feeding the meat grinder draws a crowd of
admirers during a sausage making party!
Suzanne did her usual great job
 with holiday decorations!

During this time period Orquesta Sinfonica Cuenca, the Cuenca Symphony, was finishing their 2nd season of 2012 and we always enjoy their performances.  However, the one celebrating their 40th anniversary was a most enjoyable event.  We also helped some friends celebrate a birthday, went to at least two open houses and a fund raiser for a local animal shelter.   We started decorating our new home for the holidays (we posted about that in November).

We attended two dinners over the the Thanksgiving holiday period, and then we hosted our own holiday open house...our first big gathering in our new home.  We attended several more parties, open houses and even a fund raiser for a local animal shelter.  It was during this period that Suzanne, her friend Toni and friend Monica organized and began the Cuenca Ladies Dominoes Tourney for Charity.  Their first event raised over $500 for a children's orphanage and their second event will be held this coming week.

Immediately after our open house, workmen showed up to start the repair and remodeling project on our front patio.  They began by creating an awning over the walls between our front patio and our neighbors to the north (the Ordonez-Crespo family) to take care of moisture seepage during heavy rains.  Near the completion, we decided to add planter boxes and have some custom wrought iron furniture made. After that, we decided I could paint the exterior and patio walls to give it a whole new look.  All this extended an eight day project into several weeks that straddled Christmas, New Year's and Carnaval...a typical Ecuadorian timetable!

Our front patio as it looked
when we moved in last year.

Work begins on the wall! 
Let's add some planter boxes!
Even a little rain didn't delay work.
Before we continue on with the saga of the hectic season, here's a look at our front patio today and how it looks after nearly all the work is done:

Ok, back to all the activities of the hectic season! By now we're intermingling all this with some physical checkups (doing well, thanks for asking!), some Christmas gift shopping (I got a tiesto, Suzanne got a Peruvian nativity).  We, of course, enjoyed the plethora of activities and decorations that were all over town for the holidays.

A 15 ft lighted modern art nativity
in one of the plazas. This was just one of
the many decorations for the holidays!
A very, very special highlight was the annual Pase de Viaje Nino on Christmas Eve Day in Cuenca. It is Latin America's largest.  The speculation is that there are more participants in the parade (tens of thousands) than there are spectators.  It went on for about 10 hours!  Suzanne and I watched for two hours, ate a long lunch and came back to watch two hours more!  Here's some scenes:

Part of the parade crowd.

Any parade with animals, especially a large one will
leave its mark on city streets!

Slipping a lot of stuff (visits to friends, poker nights, trips to nurseries for plants, etc) let's go right on into New Year's Eve.  Two parties here:  Our friends Bill and Dean hosted a birthday dinner party for a neighbor that included a fun look at everybody's wedding pictures (she discovered it was also our 42nd anniversary).   There were going to be NO cabs after 10pm and we had planned to burn an effigy in our our street at midnight.  (It's an Ecuadorian custom to burn all the regrets and troubles of the previous year and prepare for a new start by doing this).

As a result we left that party and returned home about 10pm.  Fireworks were already begining and we sat on the front patio with a glass of wine (and our dummy) awaiting our appointment with the bonfire.  Our Ecuadorian neighbors summoned us across the street (they already were planning their own fire along with some of their guests).  We mingled with the mixed crowd of guests (Canadians, Ecuadorians, Columbians and us).  We danced, drank wine and then, at midnight, jointly set the viejos ablaze as fireworks from ALL across the city ringed the horizon as far as we could see.
Suzanne and her effigy!
The viejos (old year effigies) going up in flames.
The crowd cheers as we burn away the bad things from
the previous year (By the way, Suzanne was holding my
glass so I could take this shot).
The next day Suzanne and I took an anniversary trip to the Cajas Mountains and stayed at Dos Chorreras Lodge.  It was cold and rainy most of the time we were there.  But we did manage a hike, some horsebacking riding, some terrific trout dinners as well as quality time in front of our cabana's fireplace.  We had a great time!

The Dos Chorreras Lodge

Suzanne during a tour of an old mountain village
There's always some spectacular scenery in the Cajas!

Roger just before a rainy
horseback ride in the mountains!
The fireplace came in real handy, it was rainy and chilly!

Suzanne made a friend while we were there!

So far, you've gotten the highlights:  We've passed over a lot of events and stuff:  i.e., two friends moved in new digs during this time period, we went to a one man show on Ernest Hemmingway at DiBacco's Restaurant...oh and three more restaurants opened in town....two friends remodeled their terraces...a friend had surgery and recovered.  The symphony has even begun another season...there have been at least six new museum exhibits in town to see. We even got to attend a special preview of what's ahead for the city presented especially for expatriates by the Cuenca Alcaldia (Mayor's office).

We've also been skyping more with friends back home.  We've  celebrated carnaval and have had a national election. (If you haven't heard, President Correa was re-elected).   This week we get to pay our Ecuadorian property taxes (we've now passed our first year mark as residents!) We even learned we have two visitations coming from the states to get ready for.  

I've rambled a lot but we just wanted all our readers and friends in the USA to know that our life is full and rewarding here for us in Ecuador.  We feel blessed as we continue our journey "juntos en el camino de la vida".

We'll blog again soon...I promise...meanwhile, I think I need a good nap.  We are, after all, retired and supposed to be taking life easy!