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.

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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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".