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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Home is Where You're Happy (or so I've been told)

It's been very interesting returning to Ecuador after spending a bit of time in "the old country", as it were. Many of our friends asked how it felt to get back "home" to Canada and still more asked us how it felt to get back "home" in Cuenca. (Trust me, after traveling for 24 hours, you're glad to get anywhere that includes a cold glass of water, a bed and something resembling comfort.)

Sunset over the potato fields
All these questions got me to thinking about how I define home. As a child, I often referred to Nova Scotia as "back home", because that's what my mother and sisters called it, but in truth, I'd spent only the tiniest fraction of my life there. For years Vancouver was home, but as you know, Ron and I move a lot. Quickly Vancouver Island became home and then Vancouver again and when we made the leap back across the country to Prince Edward Island, it was home.
We were lucky to have sunshine when we arrived back in Charlottetown, but there was a cool (dare I say cold, knowing the winter our Island peeps survived?) and we went directly to a hotel, not the warm comforts of home.  While we had lived on the Island, we would never be Islanders and despite all of its natural beauty and slow pace of living, we had obligations to fulfill, places to be etc. Yet, it was still home for 3 years.

The back yard of our house in PEI
 And now we're here, in beautiful Cuenca. Can we truly call it home, after so little time? Sure our belongings are happily bobbing their way towards us and we sold our house and car in Canada, but what makes a home? Maybe this is just the place we live for now. But, no, it's more than that. This is a place where we can walk out in shirt sleeves 95% of the time and where I can sit down and write, without having to worry whether I'll miss my ride to work. It's a place where I can milk my morning coffee for as long as I want and our biggest stress is what to eat for any given meal. In short - paradise.

Some of the gardens in Pumapungo Park
I was always searching for peacefulness and I think I've found it here. Don't get me wrong, no one can make mountains out of mole hills or worry about non-events better than me. I hold the ranking title of that on both continents, but yet I'm happy here. Happy to have like minded friends and acquaintances, happy to fritter away time muddling through Spanish verb conjugation and expanding my vocabulary, happy to know that my time with Ron isn't being infringed upon by work or exhaustion.

So, yes, Cuenca does feel like home (despite the sidewalks, culture differences and language barrier). It feels like a place where I can be myself, without reservation or fa├žade and that is satisfying. How long this is home, who knows? But for now it's where we're happy.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Is Ecuador Right for Me?

Okay, I admit, this is a loaded question and for each person the answer is different, even though it seems the only options are "yes" or "no". I've come to this post by way of having to return to Canada for a couple of weeks. We returned to pack up our stuff and have it shipped down here, hopefully duty free. The thought of returning to Canada, while winter still has it's hooks in the part of country we're returning to was terrible and it was just as bad as we thought - snow and cold. While we honestly looked forward to seeing friends, we're happy to get back to our adopted country. We're lucky; we truly like it here.

Don't mistake me, there are quirks and challenges that drive us silly. It's almost impossible to complete travel plans by internet and email is not all that popular, not that it's not possible, but it takes patience and, more often than not, phone calls. But the people, climate and stunning beauty make the irritants just minimal intrusions in an otherwise pleasant life.

We've all heard stories about people investing time and money moving to foreign countries and not seeing out the first six months. (We call them "fire sales" here.) So, what does that mean for you? How will you know if you will like it or hate it?

Balance or movement limitations:
Most of Ecuador is fraught with walking hazards. There are unmarked openings that can drop you down a couple of feet or more. The sidewalks are uneven, missing and slippery when wet. There isn't a whole lot of consistency with curb heights and occasionally stairways. You also have to be adept at dodging traffic in the cities.
Unmarked hole in sidewalk, probably a good foot down.

Food allergies or finicky palate:
Ecuadorian food is not wildly spicy or particularly "gourmand", but if you are hesitant to eat the food you see in the mercados, then you probably shouldn't live here. Almost every restaurant buys their products from the local markets. You can't get all the things you can get at home. Peanut butter seems to be a large sticking point, especially if you're used to sweetened peanut butter. We like all natural, unsweetened, so it's okay for us. If you're a cereal fanatic, but don't like chocolate or sweet're going to have a problem. If you won't eat things you don't recognize, it could really go either way.
Unrefrigerated meats (that's what goes into almuerzos!)
Same with the milk...

Monumental Change:
Okay, you have to be really honest with yourself on this one. It is different here, the language, the food, the environment, the people...yes, pretty well everything. The Ecuadorian approach to life is completely different, things take time here and multiple visits to offices; lines move slowly and the concept of "manana" is definitely in force. Email and internet are not a high priority here and that sense of immediacy is lacking. There are different priorities, different beliefs and different approaches. (Did I mention that things are different?) If you've ever moved from one state or province to another, you've probably also experienced this, to some extent. This is the Ecuadorian world and it is the way it is, it will never be North America, any more than we would expect France to be like the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas.
Traffic jam...roads get blocked by parades, protests and all manner of things.
Fires in the streets, no traffic can pass.
This is a New Years celebration, not rioting!

Seriously, this is a Spanish speaking country and to expect anyone here to speak English is like going to New York and expecting someone to speak French. Nothing irritated me more in Canada than when someone would demand if I could speak (choose the unlikely language). If you aren't prepared to learn Spanish (or have enough money to pay someone to do it for you) then this is probably not the place for you. It can be done, but I can't imagine that you could experience the wide variety of life that exists here.
Know what this means?
Or this? The difference is kind of important!

If you are ready for a whole new life experience, want to learn a new language (or practice old one), can adapt to fairly major changes and want to fall in love with a beautiful and interesting people, then by all means come. Just remember that there's one constant that will stay with you if you make the leap: YOU, and that won't change unless you really want to and are willing to do the work. (I still watch too much TV, don't exercise enough and don't write enough!)

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Big Move - Shipping Containers and Packing Tape

I have to say that it feels like we move A LOT. In the last 14 years, we've moved 7 times. Sure, sometimes we just moved within the same city, but other times we moved fairly substantial distances. This time has been our biggest adventure. We've packed a lot of moving boxes in our time and we've also packed a lot of moving vans, but this was pretty epic. We packed our very first shipping container.

Yeah, one of those things you see on truck commercials and espionage movies. Ours was a fairly diminutive 20 feet, but when it's delivered, they don't take it off the back of the truck bed, which is four feet off the ground, then add the extra 6 inches of so depth of the container and, well it's pretty darned high up. Thank heaven's for the Leon's Furniture guys, who helped get the big stuff up from their delivery truck (& they even helped with some non-Leon's stuff), which was a fantastic thing, as we might have been hooped otherwise.

The container was dropped off at 9 am and by 3 pm, it looked like this. 

There is an art to packing a shipping container, you do not want anything to shift. This means that every box (and other items) needs to have something wodged on all sides. What you see above is a carefully orchestrated "cascade" style pack, where the big things are in the back and the smaller things are packed towards the front, bolstered by the 4x8 and a 2x4. We have said a fairly deep and meaningful prayer over the pack job and have sent our things on their way. We hope that our efforts will pay off and everything will arrive safely at its destination

Ron's been diligent about keeping an eye on the weather, so we wrapped all our furniture on a random sunny Sunday (imagine that!) and on Monday it snowed of all things. Our container packing day was cold, with a bitter wind, but thankfully no snow or rain. (I had to wear two pairs of pants to keep warm!) Once the work was done and the container was on it's way to port, the sun came out (of course!).

So Ron and I are taking five, soaking up some rays and resting our very tired bodies.

Keep your fingers crossed for us! We'll let you know how it all works out in 6-8 weeks!