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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Irony of Being an Expat

It isn't my personal irony, but it is an irony that exists here. We've met a lot of types of people during out stint in Ecuador and most of them are pretty amazing. There's the adventure seekers, looking for new experiences and cultures; the financial refugees, that mostly hate that they aren't home; the wing nuts, never satisfied and always paranoid, and the families, looking to give their children a different outlook on life. There's also the combination of some of those things and it can make life here quite interesting.

Have I been teasing you? Here's the irony: we've come across people who are anti-immigration in their home countries, but live here...as immigrants. 
Representation of my mind being blown
Say what, now?

Yup. I don't care for the word expat, as it seems to differentiate between "immigrants" and "white people who relocate", and that's just ridiculous. For all intents and purposes, I'm an immigrant. I left my home country to try living somewhere else for a while. Yet, for those that live in this state of irony, they aren't "immigrants", they're "expats" and that's (somehow!) different. (Magic thinking, perhaps?) I can't say for certain, but this double-think (or cognitive dissonance) might contribute to the whole "Ugly American" phenomenon. Of course, that particular moniker doesn't simply apply to those from the United States, but many different countries.

I haven't met a lot of people that perform this sort of mental gymnastics, but they do exist and I often wonder if they ever realise the incredible irony of their stance? They're of the same ilk that fled liberal governments, for fear of the incipient reach of "communism" and wound up in a socialist country. As I said before, most people here are good, kind contributing members of society, no matter where they live. But, I'm reminded by a good friend that "this is the life we chose".

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

With Enough Red Tape, You Can Make a Bow

Are you tired of listening to me whine about the idiosyncrasies of Ecuadorian bureaucracy? Sometimes, I am, too. I realise that it's completely unfair to complain about something as complicated as governmental process. We are privileged that they allow us to be here, make no mistake, no matter how nonsensical things seem to us. It's all about perception. 

Let's be honest, Canada isn't all that different, depending on what you want to achieve. Sure, the technology seems a bit more advanced, but aside from that, you'll experience a full range of different answers depending on the agent with whom you talk. We've experienced this a couple of times in Canada and I'm quite certain that they weren't isolated incidents.
Yup, Canadian red tape

So, what's new in Ecuador?

The process for becoming a resident has definitely changed. When we arrived, you could immediately apply for permanent residency, but now you have to wait two years. You start as a temporary resident for one year, renew for a second and then can apply for permanent residency after that. There are, of course, rules about how long you can be out of the country during your temporary status. Once a permanent resident, the new law states you can be out of country for 5 years. YAY! Oh, wait that may not apply to people who were approved under the old system. BOO! Or maybe it does. Boo-yay?

Another change is the requirement of medical coverage for residents, and visitors that are staying more than 90 days. The government is requiring all residents to provide proof of coverage within 90 days of the new legislation, which was passed in early August. This requires an appointment with our favourite ministry out in Azogues. But wait, people have been showing up to adhere to the new legislation and are being turned away, because there is no process for the verification. Most "fixer" and/or legal advice: just wait and see what happens.

This sentiment also applies to the transfer of our visas: wait and see. To be clear, our visas do not expire and yet they require us to (re)provide most of the documentation that we gave them for the application, minus the criminal record checks and birth certificates. This is under the "easier" legislation aimed at stream lining everything.



A local immigration lawyer held a meeting to explain all the changes and give people up to date information. Good on him/her, wouldn't you say? Having been here for a while, I could see the writing on the wall for this particular exercise and didn't attend. (We spoke with 3 different lawyers about our visa transfer and received 3 different answers.) Sadly, my premonition was proven right and chaos and confusion ensued at the meeting.



What's our strategy? Do what we want until someone tells us differently. Better to ask forgiveness than permission, right?


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Happy Birthday to Me

Hard to believe that I started this little blog just over seven years ago. Time truly does fly. 
I'm cruising up to 80,000 hits, have been seen in 113 countries and posted 310 instalments, including this one. (I often think to myself, aren't these people tired of me yet? Probably, and yet I post this little vanity piece!)


My (animal hating) inspiration of how to live life.
Photo by Linda Sorrento
This morning, I awoke to sunshine and, despite being one step closer to 50, I realised, yet again, that life is pretty darned good. I'm retired (yup, already...yay me!), live life on my own schedule, (that means I can take as long as I want to drink my coffee in the morning and that is undeniably priceless) and am getting ready to head off to another new adventure in a few weeks.
Pink is starting to be a theme...don't know why
So, I say to Life: bring it on. Sure I'm a bit more wrinkly, have a few more gray hairs, am a bit thicker through the middle, but I'm determined to slide into the grave with a smile on my face and a body that shows all the marks of a life well lived. (I do live with someone very inspiring, so that makes it easier!)
Standard confused look - "sometimers" is hard!
Photo by Linda Sorrento
(I'm talking to a dog, btw, note puppies at my feet.)
Did I mention that Ron swears he doesn't like animals?



Monday, August 14, 2017

Ecuadorian Specialties

For a lot of people, Ecuador is a bit of a mystery. Some are hard placed to know where it is, let alone anything about the country itself. Ecuador has lots to offer and not just culturally. So what are some of my favourite Ecuadorian things? Here's a list!


Chocolate: 
Ecuador is one of the premier chocolate producers in the world It boasts one of the most expensive chocolate products that money can buy. (See this Forbes article.) Fortunately, we have an "in" and can get 70% cacao, organic chocolate for $10 (USD) per kilogram...that's right per kilo! Heaven!
Cacao pod...the seeds are what make the magic!
The thing I don't understand is the prevalence of "chocolate coating" for candy etc. Why not just use the real thing?


Pajas Toquillas (aka Panama hats!):
Yeah, they aren't from Panama, at all. They're traditional Andean hats that work particularly well for the weather they experienced while building the Panama Canal. Women are the traditional artisans of these creations  and the process is completely manual. They harvest the special palm leaves, remove the cores, refine the  strips to a uniform size, boil, smoke or dye and finally weave. The true crime is that many makers are paid less than $5 per hat, despite all their labour. A high end paja toquilla can sell for $1,000's in foreign markets. The amazing thing is that an NGO wanted to help the hat makers increase their profit share by removing the middle men who take the hats to the shops, but the artisans (for the most part) felt that that would be irresponsible, as the middle men also needed to make a living. (Crazy, right?)


Coffee:
What's not to love (not talking to you, sisters) about a gorgeous, rich cup of coffee? You can get locally grown (meaning on the coast) organic coffee here for $4 a pound (or 454g, if you prefer metric...actually they usually give you 500g..the whole 1kg=2.2lbs seems to be lost here.) Strangely, instant coffee is very popular here, as it's more affordable and needs less stuff. We like the real stuff, made old-school in an Italian stove top coffee maker. Ron spoils me by warming milk and frothing it for me. Lattes all the way baby!


Roses:
You might be surprised to find out that Ecuador is one of the world's largest rose growers. Almost every rose that you see in North America comes from little Ecuador. You can buy a florist's bunch (25 long stemmed roses, not stripped or de-thorned) for as little as $4. (That's not completely usual, but sometimes it can be done.) 


Jewellery:

You can find intricately beaded necklaces and bracelets in most markets, but the silver stuff is a little harder to find. It's a quiet product, at least for me. It snuck into my conscience slowly and I started noticing stores scattered throughout Cuenca that offered a very specific type of silver jewellery. In many ways, it reminds me of Moorish or Middle Eastern styles, but it has a style all its own. Not being flashy in my accessory choices, I've not indulged, but for those of you that like a statement piece either is an excellent choice. If you prefer something more organic, there is a lot of jewellery made from a certain palm tree seed. Stained with natural dyes, the finished product is a smooth, vibrant piece of wearable art.



Traditional earrings

Very simple versions of beading
Textiles:

This is the land of llama and alpaca wool, not to mention the terribly expensive vicuña wool, as well. While it's hard to actually purchase the skeins here in Cuenca (I have no idea why), you can get your hands on beautifully crafted items around town. Choose from shawls, scarves, hats, gloves and chompas (sweaters). It doesn't stop there you can also purchase blankets. Keep in mind the less expensive the item, the more likely that it's a blend of animal wool and acrylic. That doesn't mean you don't get a good product, you can still benefit from the fluffy comfort of an alpaca blend blanket without forking over your whole travel budget.
Woven scarves
There are tours that you can go on to visit the centres for these crafts or you can wander the city looking for your own treasures. You might even come across something amazing that isn't on this list. The pictures don't do the range of products justice, in all fairness. So, why not come visit and experience what Ecuador has to offer.




Saturday, August 5, 2017

Building a Holiday - Perfection Not Guaranteed

I used to do the trip planning...no, really, I did. I was the one comfortable with technology and had more time to burn, but now things have changed. (Perhaps it was the "incident" where I'd transposed Ron's first and middle name on a plane ticket...a costly mistake, as we had to buy a whole new ticket.) So, now Ron has lifted the mantle of planning vacations.

He's good at it, if a little obsessive. His weakness, of course, is the temptation of things nearby. (This is a loose definition of nearness - "But, it's only an 8 hour flight!") We tend to have slightly different ideas about what to do and where to go, but that's pretty normal, I would think. The biggest challenge is deciding where. Let's be honest, the world is HUGE and there are so many places to see and so many things to do! How does a person narrow it down. Participating in home exchange helps. We get offers from all over the world. (Terribly exciting, I know!) 

Our newest adventure involves friends who've invited us to trek with them. Now we like this idea. Hiking is our new thing. In the first place, it's a challenge and tests our bodies, minds and souls. Secondly, it's a lot cheaper than going to luxury hotels. (Yes, we've arrived at the economizing phase of our lives! What else can we do, when neither of us is working?) On a personal note, choose your travel buddies wisely. They can make or break your experience. Make sure they like what you like or are okay with going separate ways sometimes. Just because they're awesome co-workers/cousins doesn't mean you should travel with them.
So, step one: choose a destination. Sure, I know, that sounds easy, but you have to base it on many things like: funds available (pre-budgeting...don't hate me), time available, time of year etc.
          I do have a (loose) rule of thumb: flights up to 10 hours require me to stay at least the equivalent number of days. Once you get into the big numbers I double the day requirement. (Our flight to Australia was supposed to take 35 hours, so we planned to stay at least 70 days, then stretched it out a bit more.) I know we can't all do this, but think about travel time versus actual holiday time, taking in jet lag, time to and from airports etc. Those folks who fly to Paris (from North America) for the weekend are admirably mad, if you ask me.

Step two: research research research! (Ron probably wants me to add in four or five more of those! The man is very thorough.) There are tons of sites/aps that offer comparison prices, price projections and other services We price shop, but try and book through the actual company website if we can find near equivalent pricing. (Makes trouble shooting so much easier!)
          This includes talking to friends who've been to your destination, surfing the web and (maybe) chatting with a travel agent. You may want to check with your country's travel advisories on your destination as well. (Keep in mind, they are erring (heavily) on the side.of caution and the disclaimers can sound scary.)

Step three: create a wish list of places to go, things to do and (in my opinion) a realistic budget. (As standard wisdom dictates, double the budget you set and half the stuff you plan to take.) Then edit to fit into your budget.. Don't forget travel insurance...you'll likely not need it, but what if you did? Customize to your tastes. Don't plan to go to museums if history bores you, even though everyone tells you to!
           Here's a thing to keep in mind: will you go back? Is the thing you just cut off the "must do list" something that you'll regret in the future, if you don't go (never make it) back? Example: we went to Australia and I wanted to see Uluru (Ayer's Rock) and Ron thought I was mad. We're not likely getting back there (it's a long, long, long way) and I insisted. He loved it and it was worth every extra penny.

Step four: start booking. (How and when you do this will depend on your destination, you're personality and how long you've procrastinated about planning your trip. Try not to leave it until the last minute.)
          You'll likely hear all sorts of advice about when is best to book plane tickets, how to score a cheap price on a hotel or book through a home vacation rental (AirBnB, VRBO) etc. Our advice is to book when you see a price that you're willing to pay. This means that you've had a look around (we get an idea about how airfares fluctuate through the week, do a bit of "what if" scenarios - meaning if we left 6 weeks from today, what are the airfares? If we leave next week? etc) Keep a file off all your arrangements (I also keep an old school version, on paper, with booking codes, times, dates etc, just in case my computer has a melt down. We load up our itineraries onto the cloud for the same reason.)

Step four and a half: I also plan out my packing. City travel and trekking require different stuff, so you have to figure how to manage that without exceeding baggage limits.
What I packed for 3 months of travel
Step five: enjoy your trip. There are things to keep in mind. Many things won't go right. Flights are delayed/cancelled/over booked, there are holidays in countries that you don't know about where everything shuts down. Things you've waited your whole life to see aren't as impressive in real life. (I'm talking to you Mona Lisa!) Your bags could get lost, you could be pick pocketed/robbed, contract food poisoning, break nails, trip on something...well, you get my drift. 
Sunset after a 12 hour delay (we saw the sunrise here, too)
That shouldn't deter you, because (besides being half the point...surviving the challenges): something you never imagined, will blow your mind. You'll taste things you never knew existed. You'll meet amazing people and be introduced to ideas and cultures that delight, confuse and amaze you. You'll get lost in a city and likely have the best experience in your life. You'll see history come to life, feel the ghosts of the past as you walk on sites that you've only read about before. You'll have a smug satisfaction of seeing a picture of [fill in the blank] and knowing that that [thing/place] is just around the corner. You'll learn that it sucks to haul around a 22kg bag and determine that next time you'll pack light, that travellers cheques really are a thing of the past and not worth the hassle, no matter what your parents/grandparents tell you. Most of all, you'll get a whole new perspective on the world. That's worth almost any price.


Thursday, July 27, 2017

Smouldering Coals of Inspiration

Since I've been on the road to recovery from my stupid torn tendon, I've had a lot of people ask me if I'm still writing. For me, it's a pretty loaded question. In my head, I'm almost always thinking about an aspect or idea of/for a book, but writing is a discipline and when I was in enough pain that I couldn't concentrate on TV, let alone the creative process, I disconnected from that particular skill and it's really hard to get back. Add to that a middling review and my creative flame is out.(Yeah, I thought I was made of stronger stuff, too.)

That's the bad news, but the good news is that somewhere deep down in where ever the words come from are the embers that have burned since I knew what a story was. So, somewhere in me is another book, maybe more, if I can just get back to the discipline of it. I've got three on the go, but that can't continue, I've got to focus on one  and get down to business.

I wish is was as easy as stating that, but we've got trips to plan, an apartment to organize for visitors and the daily grind of chores, exercise and, of course, socializing. (Not to mention training for our Camino de Santiago walk.) Sometimes, getting coals to reignite, takes more effort than others, but I'm willing to put in the work, just to satisfy my soul.

Here's to a brisk wind, coming from the right direction, to aid me along. I must remember:
"You may not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can't edit a blank page." Jodi Picoult

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here...

...at least at the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Movilidad Humana (MREMH) in the Azogues offices.

I believe that in my previous post I mentioned that that particular office has a horrible reputation amongst immigrants to this lovely country. The issue that we came across can be fairly easily remedied, if you have friends at your financial institution. I'm pretty sure we could get Ron's visa transferred with fairly little fuss now. 

What can't be overcome is the necessity for yet another marriage certificate, duly notarized, stamped as official by the Canadian government (the DFAIT, to be specific), and translated either here, or authenticated by the Ecuadorian consulate in Canada...for a fee, of course. It must also be no older than 6 months. This is according to an immigration lawyer here in Ecuador. As I'm an "amparo" or dependent, we have to prove that we are still related through marriage.

Actually, he suggested that there might be a solution, but doubted that it would work in the Azogues office. You can obtain a certificado biometrico (a biometric certificate) that lists everything that's happened in your life since you became a resident of Ecuador. This should highlight the fact that no divorce has been registered between myself and Ron. This solution has a very small percentage of working. The good news is that we can enter the country using the visa in our old passport. The lawyer says we can do this indefinitely, but we've heard otherwise. I'm sticking with the legal opinion, at least for now.

There is a solution to all this ridiculousness! But it's only for those who can meet the marriage certificate criteria...I'm talking to you, people in the process of applying for residency visas with a (spousal) dependent.

We did learn a way to avoid this horrible red tape. Register your "foreign" marriage in Ecuador. This also requires the marriage certificate and all that goes with it, but if you were to do it right away, while in the process of getting your residency, you'd have a permanent record of your nuptials that would show up on the biometrico. Of course, no one even hinted at this when we got our original visas.

So, what did we learn? It's better to go to Quito or Manta or any other office other than the one serving Cuenca. My base instinct tells me to fight the injustice, but perhaps I need to choose my battles wisely.