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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.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Back to the Drawing Board

Well, we went to Azogues to attempt to transfer our visa to our new passports and, as all things go, it was pretty standard Ecuador. The transfer did not happen. (Okay, probably not a big surprise.) What did take us by surprise was the reason. 

Ron's pension statement comes in his day-to-day name, meaning "Ron", not Ronald. What's that commercial for men's hair colour? Reee-JECTed. When we actually received the visa, the pension letter was addressed to Ron (not Ronald, nor any mention of that). They have the letter in their files, verified by the Canadian government, notarized and duly translated. Said file made no appearance on the desk of our agent, almost like it doesn't exist or they don't know where to find it.
How I felt about it all
We didn't even get to my paperwork...what's the point? It really felt like the agent was just looking for a reason to reject us. Another couple who had been in the foyer had issues, too. Their agent said they wanted an original letter from their health insurance company stating coverage in PERPETUITY. (What private insurer is going to issue THAT?) I'm starting to wonder if we're facing a bit of racism. The one person who actually managed to get their visa transferred had a Latino name and really solid Spanish. Paranoia on my part, perhaps. It might be coming from the bad taste in my mouth.

There's nothing like having someone make you feel like you're stupid or treating you like a criminal. We can't quite decide what to do next. Perhaps we'll worry about it once we're back from our trip. Hey at least we saved ourselves $300USD.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Red Tape and Trauma

Call me jaded, but dealing with Ecuadorian government process can be stressful. We received our new passports and are ready to try to get our visa transferred over to our shiny new travel documents. We've heard that it's quite straight forward. (Cue the sigh.)

I'm probably borrowing trouble, but I can see all sorts of challenges. There are two places on the Ecuadorian immigration site that outline what you need to bring with you to get the transfer completed, but of course the lists are (slightly) different. (Sigh...oh did I do that already?)

We do have a lot of what we need and the other things are fairly simple to get...depending on which list you go by. Well, we'll just have to see, won't we? We have our appointments and (hopefully) the required paper, once we make a few stops over the next week.

I'll drop an update once we find out how it all turns out.  Keep your fingers crossed for us.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Oh Canada!

It's a big birthday, for our big sized, little populated country. We've made it to 150 years of confederation. That's pretty young, as countries go and, while our history has terrible stains, as does any country with an empirical past, we've been trying to make amends, which, I feel, says a lot about us as a people.



I'm a proud Canadian, even knowing our history of subjugation of our aboriginal founders, the treatment of Chinese-Canadians who helped build the country, the rejection of immigrants off the west coast and internment of both Japanese-Canadians and aboriginal children. We have many kilometres to go to make our indigenous communities equal, we are still struggling to make peace and reconcile these groups, but, like I said, at least we're trying. We still have to address issues of racism, sexism and general prejudice.  but people who spew that, from my point of view, are in the minority and unlikely to fade completely, sadly. Human nature won't allow complete peace, I'm afraid, but we can try to get as close as possible.

I lift my head a little higher, as we have one of the best immigration programs in the world, that we were the final stop on the Underground Railway and that multiculturalism is the bedrock and defining character of how most Canadians see themselves - more so than even hockey! We invented zippers, basketball, peanut butter, Nanaimo bars and butter tarts. We're the home of poutine, the largest producer of maple syrup in the world, and some of the best wild salmon ever caught and produce an ice wine that would make angels weep with joy.  We're the birthplace of amazing comedians, actors and musicians, not to mention hockey players. There's a long list of things to be proud of, impressed by and jealous of, to be sure.

For me, this idea of being Canadian is not just about the maple leaf on my passport or it being home, it's about freedom from hate, intolerance and bigotry. It's about being welcomed warmly in almost every country I've entered that makes me feel so strongly about where I come from. It's about not being afraid to accept, help and give to others without fearing that we will lose something ourselves. Do we still have work to do? Yes, and the sooner the better, but that doesn't mean we haven't come a long way already.

Happy Canada Day!


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Out on the Ledge - More Hiking Adventures

Our hosting duties finally ran their course and we were free to get back out into the wilds of rural Cuenca. Our friend, Ric, planned an outing to a town called Baguanchi and from there to the parroquia of Paccha. There is a "mirador" there at the top of a mountain ridge that was worth checking out.

After days of unsatisfying weather, we had a gorgeous day, so spirits were high. As usual, the bus driver was completely insane, but we reached our destination with white knuckles and mild nausea. 


It was an easy climb, for the most part, with only one ridge that seemed more dangerous than it actually was. Though our leader has never done the full loop, we decided to follow a small path that lead down another ridge to the farms below. It wasn't until we'd gotten to the bottom and consulted one of the locals that we were told we shouldn't have taken the "dangerous"  route down the hill. We traversed a small corn field and made it back to the road.





We finished off our day by heading to a new brewery, specializing in Czech beer. This was, of course, accompanied by meat, potatoes and hearty bread.






Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Deliciousness of the Festival of Corpus Christi

There are a lot of festivals here and, mostly, I don't understand the why of most of them. That doesn't stop me from enjoying the celebration, of course! I actually had to look up Corpus Christi (Cristi, here). Of course, I knew it's a Catholic celebration and by the name, it should be obvious that it celebrates the body of Christ. So I went online. (Whatever did we do without the internet?) It's actually a celebration of the Eucharist - the transformation of the blood and body of Christ to the holy wine and communion wafer. This is also know as transubstantiation.
2nd best macaroons so far




What I didn't get is why Corpus Christi is celebrated here with a wealth of sweets, so I did a bit more digging. It wasn't just a matter of taking the communion wafer to a whole new level, no. Corpus Christi happens to coincide with the return of the Pleiades constellation to the sky over the Andes and many indigenous groups use this time of year to celebrate the harvest and consider it the "new year". Sweets and harvest time go hand in hand. So, I feel I've solved the mystery. I've always loved how traditional festivals and Christian ones seem to line up so nicely. Of course, we all know that it helped ease the disparity between the old and new religions.Catholicism had a pretty amazing marketing team, back in the day.


Vendors as far as the eye can see



So, despite my status as a non-believer, I still get to browse the sweets, enjoy the odd treat and enjoy the fireworks displays that are set up in the main square of parque Calderon for the five day event. What fireworks have to do with transubstantiation, I have no idea. Nor, do I know why they're built into bamboo towers, so close to the crowd that you can get singed hair. What I do know is that if there aren't fireworks in Ecuador, it isn't a real party.




At least this year, they've cordoned off an area around the towers, before you could get as close as you liked! Safety first! (So not an Ecuadorian motto!)

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Renewing Our Passport Whilst Abroad

First of all...yes, yes I did use the word "whilst". Call me old fashioned, but it has a certain panache and is actually the correct usage, as opposed to "while". Sure, "while" is widely accepted now, but this is just how I roll.

We have been invited on an adventure with friends, which has waylaid certain plans and made it necessary to renew our passports early. (I think our 5 year passports have never truly been more than 4 and half year passports in reality.) But we're here and Canada is...well...there! Enter the Canadian Consulate in Guayaquil. "Of course you can renew your passports here!" "Yay", says I! We don't have to make the 7 hour journey to Canadian Embassy in Quito. Happy day.
We dutifully filled out the paperwork, got our photos and hopped on a ridiculously early bus to Guayaquil (a 5 am one, to be precise) so that we could arrive bright and early for the 9am office opening. Most of you know that morning is not my time to shine, much less the 3:30 wake up call, but I persevered. Because of the time of day, the 4 hour trip only took 3 hours and we found ourselves outside the consulate with 40 minutes to spare. A quick coffee and "continental" breakfast filled up the time and we were whisked up to the 6th floor of the Blue Tower to submit our paperwork. We were met by the very helpful Paola. We managed to catch the 9:55am bus back to Cuenca and found ourselves back at home a little before 2pm.

We'll ignore the fact that as Paola looked over our paperwork and asked us a few questions, she very happily told us that we could have couriered in the paperwork, we needn't have come ourselves. (!!!) Considering the hour at which we started our day, we took the news fairly well, but it was something that we really would have been happy to know through one of our email conversations with her. She softened the blow by saying they would courier our passports to us FOR FREE. No need for a second trip.

So, lesson learned and you're welcome, other Canadians, who might be put in the same position! 

As one of our friends signs off on his email "this is the life we chose".

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Flip Side of the Immigration Coin

Growing up in Vancouver, Canada, it was easy to get caught up in the "Asian Invasion" blame game. Even now, housing prices are sky rocketing, making it unaffordable for the actual residents of the city. For several decades, we've experienced an influx of emigrants coming from various Asian countries. (Not to mention countries all over the world.)
Vancouver city skyline
To be fair, the first Chinese immigrants to Canada built our railway system and the cost to them was dear. Thousands died trying to link our two distant coast lines. At one point, Vancouver had the largest Chinese population outside of the actual country. That was back in the day, when Asians were menial labourers, struggling to establish a life in their new country. Once they moved out of that role and became business people, real estate magnates and community builders the "real" Canadians started getting nervous and pointing fingers about housing prices, alterations to our "true" culture etc. I believe that there is some truth in this: I know there's money laundering going on, that real estate investment is an easy way to clean your ill gotten gains. I also know that we have problems with Triads and the drug trade, but can we blame the whole thing on one people? Hardly.

View from the North Van Squamish train run
So, here I am now, in Cuenca, Ecuador and I'm the evil foreigner that's ruining the country through increased costs, strain on the social support system and because I stand out like a sore thumb, it's easiest to point the finger at me. It's an uncomfortable position to be in, to say the least and it's really hard not to argue the point. I know full well that there are some people here who can't stand the "slowness" of service, the informality of contracts, the inability of the residents to speak English etc. The whole ugly "expat" thing. They don't realize that Ecuador operates under Napoleonic law, making litigation challenging. (I actually find that refreshing. If you're stupid enough to fall in a hole, you deal with it.)
Cuenca city skyline
There are, of course, mitigating factors. As soon as oil tanked, the former President increased import taxes by up to 43%. This affected building costs, food costs and other sundry things that all Ecuadorians use, but no one mentions that. Then there's the crisis in Venezuela that has thousands of people fleeing the country so they can eat regularly, or even semi-regularly. After the 2008 financial crash that affected the US and Europe, many Ecuadorians that had left the country returned, bringing European and North America expectations (as well as Euros and US$) with them. That is also rarely mentioned. Nor is the fact that the burgeoning middle class has an improved standard of living. This has happened over the last decade and would surely affect costs around the country.

Celebrating (and praying for more) plenty.
But, really, who am I to say whether my being here has impacted the country? I have no meter to measure it by. For now, I have to suck it up and be the scape goat (possibly the very real cause) for/of the cultural and financial changes that seem to be hurting the local populace. This is the price of being where we are and I'm either willing to pay it, or I'm not.

Friday, June 2, 2017

To Roam at Will

You know that fantasy, where you win the lottery and you pull up stakes and roam the world?
Machu Picchu

Uluru (Ayer's Rock)

Sydney
Would you actually do it? That endless treadmill of planes, hotels and way stations? I often wonder how long people would last?
Somewhere in Montana
Canadian Rockies

Thailand

For the most part, humans are creatures of comfort. We like our stuff, we like easy, we like familiar. What does it take to yank someone out of their comfort zone and roam the globe, unhindered by the need for home? (My personal thought is that the earlier you're exposed to travel the more likely you are to have a passion for it.)

Quebec

Paris
Newfoundland


New York City
We've traveled quite a bit, not like some people who are almost literally vagabonds, but lately, we've been getting around. 


Vancouver Island

Washington State

Cabo San Lucas
I find there's a magic moment when the tedium of hauling around suitcases, clearing security and triple checking travel plans becomes second nature. It's usually around the one month mark in my travels. I stop caring about wearing the same clothes over and over again, because the experience of new places appeases my need for diversity.
Mount Rushmore

Chicago
Barcelona
The problem is that the world is so big and fascinating. (And what about interplanetary travel???) How do we get to see all that we want without impoverishing ourselves in the process? Perhaps we need to divest ourselves of most of our worldly possessions and just go - calling no place  or all places home. Ron is particularly good at this. If you've ever seen his wardrobe you know that simple is his mantra. To be honest, you can't usually tell if he's changed clothes or not, but assume he has because he almost always smells nice.
Prince Edward Island
Boston

Quito. Ecuador
I'm not quite sure that I'm ready to do that (despite the wanderlust that drives me), so we're trying to leverage the home exchange thing as much as we can. Perhaps, we'll try and do the granddaddy of exchanges - a full year (or more) of back to back trades that will take us all the places we want to go without having to pay for many hotels. 
Tofino

Victoria

Vancouver
For now, we'll do the best we can with what we have. What are you willing to do to see the world? Does anyone out there have a brilliant plan they're willing to share?

Saturday, May 27, 2017

This Crazy Health Insurance Requirement

When we first came to Ecuador we were told that we might need to prove ourselves healthy. So we went to our doctor and got a letter stating that we were in good health and unlikely to strain the health care system here.

Unlike the US, (yes, that is a dig) they have a socialized health care system here that one could participate in. We never got around to applying and opted to put cash aside every month to pay for medical incidentals. (Dentist, doctor etc.) Until I hurt my leg/hip, we'd spent maybe $200 on such things. 
I guess that when...

Then the ugly head of mismanagement raised its head. This is strictly my opinion, the Ecuadorian government puts the onus on extranjeros that are straining the system as they aren't paying into it.  I guess that's possible, there are a lot of immigrants coming from Argentina, Venezuela, Columbia and  other Latin American countries to try and improve their lot in life. (Aren't we all?) Here, they take care of your medical needs and worry about payment after. Because of that and some North Americans who have also taken advantage of the system, it has left the Ecuadorians to foot the bill. I can see how that might put a strain on a countries budget, especially when the rug has been pulled our from under them in the form of devalued oil. That doesn't mean that bribery, embezzlement, fraud and plain old mismanagement haven't contributed to the situation. The health system is going broke.

...you do stuff like this...
Anyhow, in classic reactive style, they have decided to make health coverage manditory. For the social program (for the two of us) they want 21% of our stated income that we used to apply for the pension visa. (Yes, more than a fifth of our gross income.) So we started checking out other options and the cost of health insurance is SHAMEFUL. (We belong to the tribe of "Insurance-is-mostly-a-money-grab" (Yet, we always buy travel insurance...go figure!) Granted, compared to what is paid in the US (or so we've heard) the rates are low here, but to an innocent Canadian with universal health care benefits back home, it was all rather shocking.
...insurance is a good thing.
We finally found something that was acceptable to us (private coverage), but it's still costing us $115 USD (yay us for being under 65) that we weren't really putting out before.I'm trying not to resent the fact that we are required to pay for something that we'll likely never need. In truth, it's a small price to pay for my freedom here. So, be prepared, the rules are changing (not a surprise) and you might be turned back at the border if you don't have health insurance. You can't say we didn't warn you.