Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Cedula Instructions for a Visa 9-1. Foreign Pension

1.  Written request signed by the applicant, addressed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

2.  Visa Application Form: with an Original color passport size photo with white background, the same as is posted on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Integration. 

3.  Notarized (in Cuenca) color copy of the passport, which needs to be valid for at least six months, notarized copy of your current regular visa at the time the person starts the process and a notarized copy of the registry of the visa.

4.  Updated criminal record, certificate issued in the foreign country or the country where the person has lived for the last five years, duly apostilled (s) in the case of the countries that belong to the Hague Convention or legalized (s) at the Consulate of Ecuador in the country where this document was issued (in the case of those countries that do not belong to the Hague Convention). 

5.  Updated Migratory Movement Certificate issued by the immigration police.  (Valid through 30 days) 

6.  Document issued by the institution that pays or provides retirement pension or permanent income that comes from a foreign country, duly apostilled (in the case of those countries that belong to the Hague Convention) at the country of origin or authenticated by the Ecuadorian Consul (in the case of those countries that did not sign this international treaty), in the country where this document was issued.  The amount should not be less than $800 (eight hundred dollars) of the United States of America as a monthly rent to the recipient, and will increase by $100 (one hundred dollars) extra per month for each family member that depends on the immigrant. 

7.  Certificate issued and legalized by the Ecuadorian Foreign Service Officer, in the country of origin, determining the perception of such pension or permanent income. 

8.  Any document in a foreign language must be translated into Spanish and must have the recognition of the translator's signature before a notary public.  When the translation has been done in a foreign country, it must be apostilled or legalized by the Ecuadorian consulate in the country of origin.  The translation may also come to the Ecuadorian consulate in the country of origin in Ecuador. 

Important: Article 22 of the "Ley de Extranjeria" - the officials that are part of the Ecuadorian Foreign Service and the Department of the General Direction of Immigration, will have full powers to require any verification of the statements set out in applications for visas and other immigration documents to ensure and investigate the occurrence of any of the causes of exclusion provided the Migration Act. 

Note: When you submit the documents, they should be submitted according to the established sequence as it is in the requirements page. 

Visa Validity: Indefinite

Entries: Multiple

Taxes: Visa application: $30 Visa: $320

The process is personal

(The preceding information was obtained from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs office in Cuenca, and is reproduced laboriously and faithfully to the letter, down to the spelling and grammar errors.  Obtained on April 29, 2014.) 

Monday, April 28, 2014


While on this journey to Cuenca, Ecuador and a new life here, my bride and I have had to learn many new things.  We've had to make some changes, reduce expectations, and - adjust to the new language of Spanish and the new Latin American culture surrounding us.  The biggest thing to remember is that we are guests in Ecuador - this is not our country, or what we are used to in the USA.  Here's a helpful rundown of our experiences adjusting for the benefit of future expat, friend, and retrospection alike.

  • Let the TSA screeners do their job.  Don't interfere with their policies or instructions!  'Nuff said already on this previously. 
  • Catnaps while waiting overnight in the airport are a good thing.  On the plane, too when you can.  Sleep is the traveler's "brain food" for getting the traveling done.  A sharp, rested mind makes less mistakes when it comes to making decisions.
  • Airlines have rules about luggage ID tags.  They didn't like our custom made tags we bought from Corporate Travel Solutions - they said in bright red with yellow background "Not Yours" - and United apparently agreed!  So our plans to easily find our bags on the baggage claim carousel were thwarted.  We had to read the standard United tags to find 'em. . . more work, but rules are rules, I guess. 
  • Quito is a mix of First, Second, and maybe Third World living.  Couldn't see for sure in the middle of the night as it was dark on our way to our lodging.  Several smaller residential type buildings appeared to be in repair or construction, with gray concrete walls.  Not sure about the roofs on them.  Quito also can have an unexpected power outage, as they did on the Monday before we traveled south to Cuenca.  Where did we put that pocket flashlight again?  Oh. . . we left it at home.  Drat!
  • Just because there's a bus station nearby doesn't mean they sell bus tickets there.  Bus lines also sell out of seats, so buy your tickets ahead of time a day ahead.  Trick is, you have to go to the right ticket office in person. 
  • They have restroom stops on the way from Quito to Cuenca.  Several of them.  You will reboard the bus if you are not wasting time with extraneous things.  No problem. . . no one stranded. 
  • The toilet paper you use (you did remember to bring a roll just in case?) does *NOT* go down the toilet.  It goes in the waste can beside the toilet.  Yes, it does get emptied.  Remembering this was perhaps the hardest habit to break for us.  I know I put the paper down the toilet several times in the last week or so but retrieved it before flushing.  Airports, some newer hotels, and malls excluded from this rule.
  • Did you remember to bring hand sanitizer for washing your hands in the restroom?  We did!  Not all restrooms have soap, much less paper towels.  Thanks to Leanne Crawley for this tip. 
  • Every residence and business in Ecuador has locked gates and doors.  To enter your lodging, kindly press the buzzer and identify yourself. . . in Spanish, of course. 
  • Ecuadorian lodgings typically serve *one* scrambled egg for your breakfast.  No wonder the people look so healthy!  We are losing weight that way. 
  • Everything is smaller in Ecuador: the doors, the cabinets, the rooms, the cars, the food portions, the stores, and the people.  Carolyn Anne loves the fact she is average size here, and "fits in" that way.  Me?  I stand out like a sore thumb!
  • Restaurants, stores, offices etc. open later in the morning than in the US, and close for almuerzo - lunch - in the early afternoon.  Office signs don't say what their office hours are. . . you have to be flexible. 
  • You have to pick up your feet when walking on the cobblestone sidewalks in El Centro in Cuenca.  I haven't yet fallen, but once when I was on the way back to the hotel  from our favorite breakfast spot, Panesa, I tripped upon attempting to enter the Hotel Tomebamba.  Thanks to Carlos the front desk clerk for mopping up the spilled cafĂ© con leche I dropped on the entryway.  The hotel, like many other buildings, has a half inch clearance or so above the sidewalk. . . must make that adjustment to prevent another fall!
  • One taxi driver in Cuenca used a curse word - in English - twice during one trip.  I reproved him - in Spanish - twice.  Wasn't expecting that of the generally good chofers here.  Got the "hey, you mean I have to respect you?" look from him.  Praise God for communicative abilities no matter what the language. 
  • When you buy anything requiring travel - not city bus or taxi - or the use of a debit/credit card, you have to display your US Passport to the clerk.  Then you write your passport number down on the receipt. 
  • Cash outlays from your US financial institution is done at Banco del Pacifico in Cuenca.  Dunno if there are any other banks that will do this for you as yet.  What would happen if that bank would stop doing this service?  I shudder to even think. . .
  • The streets are well signed generally in the El Centro - downtown - of Cuenca, but the street signs - even for major ones - are largely not posted for streets in Cuenca.  That goes for major travel routes in Ecuador.  You really need to have a map and stick to the main roads.  Pity the traveler that drives at night. . .
  • The street addresses start with the street name, then the number.  The first number before the dash is the block number, and the number after that is the residence or business number.  For example, our vacation condo is at Honorato Vasquez 6-28 y Hermano Miguel.  The US way of saying the same thing is 628 Honorato Vasquez, closest cross street is Hermano Miguel. 
  • Dollars are in bronze coins in Ecuador.  The first dollar bill I saw here in Cuenca was at an original Mexican food restaurant just across from our vacation condo.  I told the owner to keep it for "bueno suerte" - good luck. 
  • Home Bible studies at Iglesia Verbo in Cuenca - a church that reminds us a lot of Grace Chapel in Lancaster - starts at 8:00 PM.  Everything starts later and ends later here in the Land of Manana.  Yes, they have an English speaking small group.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Cena en Resturante Fabiano's con Nuestros Amigos Nuevos (Supper at Fabiano's Restaurant with Our New Friends)

Last evening, after much emailing over the intervening weeks before leaving and after arriving here in Cuenca, Ecuador, we finally got to meet a great and wonderful US expat couple, Ken and Leanne Crawley.  They have been here four years now, and have much wisdom and good advice about Cuenca and Ecuador vis a vis expat living here in Cuenca. 

Ken is a retired pastor with the Seventh Day Adventist Church in the US (last based in South Carolina), and Leanne is a retired Respiratory Therapist.  They live - with yet another moment of Serendipity involved - next to the Rio Tomebamba, Cuenca's most notable river, with scenic green walkways for walking or jogging (it's safe here for that) accented with trees and flowers throughout.  I say Serendipitously because we moved Tuesday into a lovely vacation studio loft condo just two blocks away from the Crawley's. . . neat how all these little life details God puts together for us better than we could ever do ourselves!  Our God is like that, though. . . no surprise.  Now Carolyn Anne has a nearby friend to go on outings to while walking. . . still losing some pounds here day by day. 

Their living situation is at a multistory condo with two balconies for flowers and plants to enjoy - not all condos in their building enjoy that feature - and is secure with security gate and guard at the front desk.  Nice view of the Rio Tomebamba, and in walking distance to Parque Calderon, the central park square of Cuenca's El Centro, as well as new Cuenca southwards and more shops, including a Supermaxi supermarket (we're not at their walking distance level just yet, though).  Walking is the thing here in Cuenca, if one wants to be healthy.  Great walking city.  Three bedroom, two baths, 1200 square feet (Ecuador actually uses square meters, though) for around $375USD rent per month.  This does not include utilities (and wifi Internet and DirectTV are considered utilities here) or furniture (Ecuadorians don't even supply a stove or refrigerator in with a rental).  When you consider the Ecuadorian "Rule of 3's and 4's" this translates to a rent of about $1200 to $1600 per month in the States. . . so comparing apples to apples this way, you can see it's not overpriced, but dollar for dollar costs so much less in Ecuador. . . a main draw for folks Stateside wanting to stretch their dollars, as we seek to do.  We could rent a smaller place similar to the Crawley's and probably pay less, keeping in mind that they signed their lease a few years ago when rents were lower than they are now.      

Transportation costs are way down for the Crawley's compared to things Stateside.  $90 a month includes all the taxis they use to get around when not walking - for places farther away like Mall del Rio, one of the two regional malls here, and foe Leanne's volunteering at a hospital in town. . . more about that later.  When Leanne volunteers, she has the chofer - driver - pick up a friend out of the way along the way to the hospital, so that kind of expense is included in the monthly expense.  I can see significant savings for us here walking and taking the taxi on an as needed basis.  Great!  Cars are more expensive in Ecuador btw when you consider the Rule of three's and four's.  Doubtful we'll buy a car here.  If anything, maybe rent a car to get out of town and see the country once in a while.

Medical and Dental costs are much less than in the States.  Leanne had a kidney stone procedure done here, and the staff speaks English - trained in the US, UK or Canada - and has all the modern equipment and procedures you need in a large city like Cuenca.  Her imaging costs (x-rays, cat scans and the like that were done to find the kidney stone) were considerably less than what one would find in the States as well.  The whole procedure and hospital stay and doctor's visits all ended up a bit north of $1000USD.  Just the tests alone would cost tens of thousands of dollars in the States if  I recall correctly.   Carolyn Anne was quoted a dental "deep cleaning" cost of $378 by her hygienist in Palmdale.  Here the cost should be a quarter or a fifth of that, and the Dentista - Dentist - does the work instead of the hygienist.  Keeping a good reputation among one's clients that way.  We'll check out a couple of Dentistas today and see what they say.  Ecuador does have several health pland to choose from that are available to expats, and the costs of a plan - which allows you to get very good private care - is very low by US standards, especially considering the effects of Obamacare now being felt in the US.  We need to check it out further, of course.

Leanne and Ken left everything in the States behind by either selling it or giving it away to their four grown children.  They sold their house, too. . . cutting off any reason (save for family visits) they might have for ever coming back to the US.  They are Cuencanos now, and enjoy their life here very much.  Ken is fluent in Spanish, and Leanne is very capable, though not completely fluent.  My Spanish is good enough to have friendly conversation with taxi drivers, hotel clerks, and restaurant waiters and staff, and even get a Claro phone rental in country.  Good to very good say the Ecuadorians that volunteer that feedback to me.  Neat to hear. . . Praise God for the ability to communicate in a foreign land!  Carolyn Anne likewise is learning Spanish at a rapid pace and needs more practice, though she is well on our way.  She needs to remember the word for question - pregunta - and stop calling this country El Salvador (it's Ecuador, of course).  Slips of the tongue that take practice and patient love, which God has graciously given us first, so we may love one another. 

We have diligently avoided the street vendors with their little carts of food (often unsafe for extranjeros like us) and Montezuma has had no Revenge on us to date.  Healthwise we are good and good with the high altitude, too.  We *LOVE* Cuenca, and are seriously thinking of moving here.  The only thing we see as a downside is the dog doo doo that is on the sidewalks in the mornings occasionally.  Sidewalks are swept daily and clean - it's the law here.  Ken relates a downside may be what the US government may be doing after July 1, 2014 regarding financial and tangible assets which could throw a monkey wrench into moving here.  Need to study up more on all this. . . not the first time I've heard this, though.

Ken also asked me if we would hire a lawyer, hire a personal assistant, or do it yourself regarding getting a Cedula, or resident visa.  I think a personal assistant is the way to go.  The abogados - lawyers - have been known to rip gringos off for $2000 or more all the while holding back papers for the Ecuadorian government, and not doing the job as agreed to, and going the do it yourself route means a learning curve in legal and governmental Spanish usage I'm not sure I want to tackle just yet.  So personal assistant it is, then.  Ken advises going to the Ecuadorian Consulate in Ecuador (the office you start with is the office you must finish with, btw) and getting in writing the requirements for our Cedulas, and keeping these important papers in a safe place.  The Ecuadotian government changes the requirements all the time, even daily and depending on whom you speak with, so getting it in writing is key.                

All in all, I'd have to agree with novelty song singer Joe Dolce, to wit: "It's a not so bad, it's a nice a place, aw Shaddup a you face!" 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

I Once Was Lost. . . But Now Am Found!

Wednesday, our first full day here in Cuenca, we walked to El Centro's Parque Calderon for a time of seeing the sights, hearing some excellent Latin music, and doing some shopping.  I had to get some more money out of our account, and I also obtained a Claro - the largest and best cell phone provider in Ecuador - cell phone and no contract account.  Please don't ask me for my cell number just yet, but it starts with 099 and ends in a 1.  I have to memorize it or at the very least keep the number on a piece of paper until I know it. 

After the shopping, Carolyn Anne and I ate some almuerzo - lunch - at a Mexican restaurant in El Centro on the way back to the Hostel Pichincha Internacional.  We had the burrito especial of the day, which was bland like a lot of Ecuadorian food here and sorely missing hot sauce, though the small chips did come with a medium and a rather hot choice of dips.   That was Carolyn Anne's birthday gift to me that day. 

Upon leaving the restaurant, we found ourselves in the beginnings of what later proved to be a very powerful thunderstorm.  We had no coat or umbrella as the day was partly cloudy when we left to go out, but by staying under the roofs that covered the sidewalks, we could make it back to our room relatively dry.  So rather than calling a cab out in the street - the local custom here - us wanting more of that great Cuenca walking exercise, we hoofed it together. 

Some of the intersections in the Antigua, or old section of Cuenca don't have signs stating their street names, and the one that names our street, Calle Juan Montalvo, is one of them at its intersection with Calle Simon Bolivar.   In the rain and thunder we missed our street to turn left onto, and went west two more blocks to where a hair salon was operating. 

 At this point I asked Rose the salon attendant, where our street was, having no map on me.  Before I knew it, Carolyn Anne had continued walking - nay running - in the downpour in the middle of the street, she later told me.  I looked in the middle of the street all directions of the intersection, called out her name, but no suerte.  She was gone. 

I figured that in due time she would come back to where she last saw me at the salon, so I waited there.  Nope!  Where or where had my Sweet Polly Purebred gone?  Did she hurt herself, break an ankle, hit her head on the sidewalk and in a coma, resting on some couch at a furniture store, or what?  Dark was coming in two hours, and that would make it harder to find her.  I asked Rosa the hairdresser if she would be so kind to use my new phone to call the police.  We waited a half hour for them, and they had not come by.

So I returned to our room and gathered coats for the both of us, and spoke wirh Irma, along with her sister Gladys, our hostesses, and told them that Carolyn Anne was lost.  Irma immediately gave me an umbrella to use for the two of - Carolyn Anne and I - and we hatched a plan to find her before dark set in.  I went on one street parallel south of Simon Bolivar to search for her, and would meet up with Irma at the salon on the corner.  Irma took Simon Bolivar to the salon, calling out her name as she went.  "!Carolina!  ?Donde esta usted, Carolina?, cried Irma. 

Likewise I searched out Calle Madrigal Sucre for my beloved.  "Carolyn Anne!  Where are you?" I shouted out in my loud voice.  I was very concerned.  "God, this is too big to handle. . . You'll have to do it.  I'm not able to do this by myself," I prayed.  One more shout again as I continued my search.  "Carolyn Anne!" 

"!Mi esposo! Carolyn Anne replied in great relief.  There she was, in a car with two Christian (evangelical) sisters, and she bolted out of the car with great joy and relief in finding me again.  The sisters attend Unidos church in Cuenca, and helped Carolyn Anne stay dry after getting soaking wet earlier in her solo adventure in the rain.  She had become disoriented upon separating from me, and didn't realize until five minutes before I found her that she had in her bag a Gideons bilingual New Testament with the name and address of the Hostel Pichincha Internacional stamped on the back cover.  Thank God for the Gideons, eh?  (smile)   I found her before she could have gone to the Hostel.  Praise God for his wondrous abilities in reuniting us!

Lessons learned: never leave your partner (from the film "Fireproof," of course).  carry a map and a business card of your lodging with you.  Carry a Spanish-English dictionary to assist in communication.  And always carry your passport or copy thereof with you, along with some cash for a taxi ride home.  Carolyn Anne gave me her neck wallet just a half hour before we got separated, which she now realizes is a most foolhardy thing to do in new and strange environs like Cuenca.  We learned from this episode how comforting and truly kind Cuencanos are, and we are so thankful to God for each one of them that assisted us in our travails.  Selah. 

Blogger's note: I'm now aware that there is a problem in having people using the "Reply" function on this blog for reasons I don't quite understand.  I'll try to fix it if I can while here.  Meanwhile, please continue to pray for us in our searchings together for what Cuenca has to offer us in terms of living here permanently, and for our safety as well as our interactions with the locals.  We've met some more expats here while out and about, and have gone window shopping at the Supermaxi grocery store (high prices like Vons back home) and Corel, a hypermarket that is at Mall del Rio in new Cuenca south of  El Centro.   We're very impressed with both Corel - which is sort of a combo of Costco, WalMart, and  EasyLife furniture, with an extensive line of tools like Sears was always noted for.  Absolutely huge store, clean, well stocked, with incredible prices and very helpful personnel.  Ten per cent discount to either expats or over 65 years of age folks . . . I didn't get the reason why from the kindly front end manager's Spanglish.  The mall is two story, huge, and probably has 200 stores besides Corel.  A multiplex cinema too, and a large food court, including. . . California Burrito, which has good prices and a strange take on SoCal culture.  We didn;t eat there, preferring something more Ecuadorian in Deli Internacional two tiendas - stores to its left.   

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Our Two New Ecuadorian Friends

We met Barbara, who was previously from Maricopa  County, Arizona at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport waiting for her flight, as we were, to Quito, Ecuador.  A very engaging married woman that - Serendipitous moment - lives in Cuenca, she is about our age and retired from contract administration with a major Defense Company.  Her adult children rent out the house in the Phoenix area, and that leaves her free to be with her husband, who has a love of Ecuador and its  people. 

Barbara now has her Cedula, or resident visa, and has been back in the States for family visits, especially to visit and help her Mother in Law who lives in Corpus Christi, Texas.  One can't go back for too many days in a year's  period or you lose your Cedula and you have to wait, then start the whole process over again.  She had just a few days left to stay in the US, and was glad to get back to Ecuador and her beloved, Cuenca, which she now states is where her home is.  "Soy una Cuencana!,"  she exuded to us as she explained her situation vis a vis Cuenca. 

Cuenca has been her home for the last three years, and she and her husband rent a penthouse condo overlooking the scenic Rio Tomebamba  in downtown Cuenca - El Centro - for $680 USD per month.  She walks everywhere, and has lost weight since coming to Cuenca.  She intends to live here 'til death, and has no plans of ever again returning to the United States to live permanently, although she will no doubt visit family and friends that remain in the USA. 

A word about that condo price of $680 per month:  most gringos don't rent at that price and/or can't afford it, renting at a more realistic price range of $250 to $350 USD per month.  FYI. 

On board our United flight from IAH to Quito, Ecuador we met seatside of us an Ecuadorian national returning to his native Ecuador (for a family visit) named Luis.  Luis was short in stature like many Ecuadorians, and very polite and soft spoken, too.  Carolyn Anne engaged him in all manner of conversation on the five hour long flight, and started to pick up on Spanish right away (kudos to Luis for doing that, too. . .  just what the linguist in me knew she needed, and I was able to come into the conversation as needed to translate). 

Luis is a technical manager for one of Silicon Valley's best known and well respected IT companies, and is married to an American woman for several years now.  (We saw photos of his wife and kids on his cell phone.)  He himself is now a US citizen, while remaining a citizen of his beloved Ecuador.  When I explained the reason for our visit - to explore the possibility of living in Ecuador permanently - he understood, but brightened up considerably when I further explained we were not coming in to his country to drive up prices for apartments, condos and the like by throwing money to the landlords greedy enough to go along with that line of thinking.  Luis smiled broadly at that last part.  We prayed for the passengers and crew as we landed about a half hour behind schedule in Quito, and left him on wonderful terms.  A good family oriented guy with two new gringo friends! 

We got through Ecuadorian immigration, then got our bags less the "Not Yours" luggage ID tags in baggage claim, then proceeded out to Ecuadorian customs (nothing to declare), restrooms (clean and  well stocked( and soon found Ernesto, our taxi driver, with his white sign stating our last name in black capital letters.  Bags now packed in his newer model Toyota taxi, we took off from Mariscal Sucre airport - just 13 months old - and went downgrade towards the large capital city of Quito.  Soothing Chinese music was played on the taxi radio while Ernesto engaged us in some friendly conversation, in English (conversational level) and Spanish.  We soon met Hernan, our Ecuatreasures  bed & breakfast host, after a 45 minute drive through much of the surrounding metro area.  We had made it to Quito for our first night's rest at last!     

(Blogger's note: this post took place on Sunday/Monday.  It is now Thursday as I type this.  We are now safely in Cuenca, and in our second lodging in el centro (downtown) with a working wifi connection again after traveling  about 300 miles south via Sucre Express intercity bus lines. However, the wifi connection is only as good as the weather, and increasing clouds and/or rain cuts off the wifi connection.  Patience, please, everyone!)  We'll try to post in the mornings when the clouds are not so prevalent.  Please keep up your prayers for us too, especially for safety in a stange and new location we have never been to before.  Thanks, and I'll keep posting in hopefully a more regular fashion as time and conditions permit.)   

Monday, April 14, 2014

Flying the Friendly Skies

Cutting to the chase, we made it just fine to Ecuador, landing in Quito pretty much on time and no problems in flight.  I'm typing this post at our Bed & Breakfast,  Ecuatreasures under a new wifi connection and a new password. 

Many thanks to Joe and Susan Pahle (and Claire) for the ground transportation to LAX.  Turns out that SkyWest Terminal 8 is reached via Terminal 7.  Joe also went to the United check in kiosk with us and offered his kind assistance with the computerized touch screen check in screen system.  I had never used one before, and would have figured it out in due time, but the extra eyes and ears were reassuring as we began our journey to Ecuador.

After Carolyn Anne had taken care of herself at the restroom, we continued on to the PreCheck TSA screening.  I'm sure the staff there saw us as the comedy act of the week as I forgot to place my metal items in the bowl, and had to go through the process again due to the beep going off.  I did just fine the second time.  Carolyn Anne didn't exactly say "I've had total knee replacement surgery" in the clearest terms, and this resulted in much discussion between the TSA female wand screener and her.  Then Carolyn Anne gave me her ticket before being allowed to pass screening, a big no no!  That resulted in me getting screened via wand thoroughly.  Live and learn. .  . we did better with the TSA screeners in Houston with no problems.

All three United flights were safe and uneventful. The seats were large enough for me, and comfortable as far as airline seating goes.  We got to our gates on time, and United Airlines runs a very credible operation overall, running on time, professional, and helpful too. 

Once we got to Phoenix and Sky Harbor International Airport, we slept (as best we could) in the airport seating in the terminal.  Nice airport, and clean, as all the airports we saw are.  Loved the warm brown carpeting in Terminal 6.  After takeoff we got to see a sunrise from altitude. . . pretty sight.  God is at work each day giving us His handiwork and desert scenery from up above.  After landing in Houston, we took a hotel shuttle to the Wingate by Wyndham hotel in Houston, and got about four hours of deep sleep.  That was a Godsend, as we were tired from being up all day Saturday and the catnap sleeping in PHX. 
Houston's IAH  George Bush Intercontinental Airport is large, with long concourses.  There's electric carts and drivers to shuttle you around this Texas sized airport.  Livin' life large as airports go. . . and there's an abundance of shops and restaurant food, too incuding some Panda Express for Carolyn Anne and some Italian calzone offerings for me.  Bottled water, too.  You need it on the flights to stay hydrated.  We also had our granola bars from Costco with us for food while in flight. The flight attendants commended fliers who did so. . . smart move, indeed. 

More on a couple of folks we met enroute in flight, Barbara and Luis, in our next post. We're getting ready for our first desayuno, or breakfast right about now at 9:00 AM. 

Postscript: it was a typical Ecuadorian breakfast, with one scrambled egg, ham, and toast with a jam from fruit you can't get in the States. . . tastes like plum quite a bit.  The big thing different though,  was the orange juice.  It wasn't really orange juice at all!  Hernan, our host, came by after we started breakfast to tell us the drink, very orange in color and very fresh, was in fact a tomato tree fruit.  Could have fooled me. . . and I'm a lover of fresh orange juice.  The fruit looks like a kiwi on the outside.  Learning new things every day, which keeps one humble.

Monday, April 7, 2014

We're off. . . to Ecuador!

My bride and I have reached the place in our lives where we have to figure out how we are to live the rest of our lives on largely Social Security monthly payments.

                                *   *   *
She woke up one morning in 2012 with incredible pain in her knee, and literally unable to get out of bed.  That resulted in a doctor's visit, and a long road of State Disability payments, and a Social Security Disability Income application, now twice denied by Social Security (we will appeal to the Administrative Law Judge, though).  A journey to Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center in Downey, California for total knee replacement surgery, too. . . all provided at no cost due to our impoverished financial state and her not working.  Thank the County of Los Angeles (prior to ObamaCare kicking in) for that, and great caring doctors and staff at Rancho. . . and Jesus the Great Physician healing my lovely wife. 

In the process of planning for our end of life affairs and a revocable Living Trust getting set up, I came across some info I had never known before: the Social Security Administration won't give the surviving spouse both Social Security checks after one dies.  They only give the greater amount check.  That caused me, the husband and one who does his best to provide for the both of us, some real soul searching.  The house thank God is paid for free and clear, and other expenses were pretty much current with few time payments.  But our income was and is on the low side of things, especially with her not being able to work any longer.  What to do when that time would come?  How would the survivor of the two of us then live?  Was the picture of what we could afford on one check one we could live with budgetwise? 

It would be pretty difficult to do so at that point, we came to understand.  Both alive, we could manage.  But one of us alone. . . not so easy.  A pretty bare bones existence.  Must be something else we could do. . .

So I started praying and typing out on my favorite Internet search engine the term "least expensive places to retire."  A number of possibilities came up, and some from outside the United States.  A site called International Living was a first page result, as well as other sites, including Kiplinger and their 8 Great Places to Retire Abroad.  It mentioned Salinas, Ecuador.  Never heard of it, though I had heard of Salinas, California!

Once I figured out that a less costly existence was out there overseas, I quickly turned to the possibilities of living in Baja California.  Advantages: south of the US/California border, easy access to medical facilities in the States for Medicare purposes, nice climate, lower costs in general while with a large expat population.  However, on further research and talking/emailing with a few real estate agents down there in the Cabo San Lucas area, it became obvious that the climate was blazingly hot part of the year, land and rental prices for real estate had become higher than what we could reasonably afford, and purchasing a residence, however humble and native style was not financially doable.  Looking at other parts of Mexico, including Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, and Lake Chapala, was a mixed bag.  One of the problems was that Mexico has an income requirement that - depending on my wife's eventual Social Security payment (SSDI or regular Social Security) we might not meet.  Afuera la puerta went Mexico, and any hopes of a literal  Zihuatenejo

Where to look? Panama is a welcoming country to US expats, and offers many advantages.  The tropical heat is not what my wife wants, however.  Belize speaks English, but it too is tropical, and getting there is expensive versus a place like Panama.  Poor medical facilities, too (although I subsequently learned that many expats go across the border to Mexico for their medical needs).  Malaysia in the Pacific is English speaking, and has a good expat incentive program called Malaysia My Second Home, but it is a Muslim country. . . my wife doesn't want that.  Where to go that is cooler and with a culture we could adapt to and be able to volunteer our time and expertise in retirement?

                                 *   *   *

Ecuador came back up on the list.  I started looking in depth and found the Andes highland areas, or Sierra region, is amenable to our climatic desires.   "Land of Eternal Spring" I read on an online US News & World Report site.  Highs in the 60's and 70's F. and lows in the 50's F. with sun and some rain, too. . . no California drought here!  Rainfall of around 30 to 40 inches a year in this part of Ecuador.  Starts to sound appealing. 

One consideration was the altitude.  We both had been in Colorado for extended periods living there, and recently at that, so I checked with the cardiologist, who said I'd do just fine.  If there's a problem with living at high altitude, we could go to a lower altitude smaller town in the banana plantation and sugar cane growing foothill area, or head to the Pacific coast and perhaps even Salinas, as well as Manta and other areas too.  Having these options to look at made Ecuador more appealing right away.

I liken the search for our place to retire to a jigsaw puzzle.  A long list of must haves and want to have, and a short list of "it would be really neat to have. . . ".  After many weeks and several months of searching about, praying, emailing those we know in the mission field in Ecuador from our church, praying, surfing the 'Net, praying, and long discussions between my wife and I, we finally, after more praying, took the plunge and bought airline tickets to Ecuador.  We think we will find a great fit in Cuenca, but are open to other possibilities depending on how we acclimate to the altitude, and where God leads us.  Especially where God leads us.  We need to hear His voice clearly, and see those open doors, and go through them in faith.   

We hope - especially now that this blog is up and running again - to use this site to communicate to our ever growing list of friends we know both near and far what we are up to.  Let's talk Ecuador, shall we?  We're off!