My New “Old” Cactus Garden

“We can do no great things – only small things with great love.”
— Mother Teresa —

While living in Playas I started a few pots of cactus that have taken off and really needed to be re-potted. Then I purchased a small cactus arrangement at Super Maxi that outgrew its tray so that went into a bigger pot. Then Deborah, a friend from Bahia, brought me cuttings from about 10 different cactus plants from her garden. So it became a cactus garden looking for a home instead of 20 different pots in different shapes and sizes. Finally this week I planted that last tray and below is my beautiful cactus garden.

San Clemente 8.18.2013 017Now what I need to do is get someone to build a planter on part of the walkway between the driveway and the grass area of our garden. Then I can take all these other pots and put them in the ground along with being able to plant more herbs and making it much less work…

Blog Hits 100,000 Views, Thank You

Well today is a pretty special day for us and the blog. My readers have now viewed the blog 100,000 times as of today. Thank you, thank you, thank you for following our adventure, our little bitty lives in Ecuador. I started the blog July 6, 2010 as a way to archive our stories as well as safekeeping of our photos. When we first arrived in Ecuador to start our new lives was the perfect time to start writing.

That adventure took us to Quito to get our visa applications started, Puerto Lopez just for the fun of it, Salinas, Playas and now to our home in San Clemente.

It has been a wonderful experience none of which we would change.

Thank you again for being a part of our lives. We now consider you our extended family wherever you may be.

The Coconut Man

The weather has been absolutely beautiful for the past several weeks but both Saturday and Sunday were overcast and I even put on a light sweater in the early evening because the breeze off the ocean was darn cool for me.  We have spent several afternoons a week at the beach just watching the waves, enjoying the fresh sea air and letting our minds clear.  Today I did my running in the morning with laundry pick up, a stop at two different pharmacies, a trip into the bank and then on to Tia for some bottled water, wine, coffee and a very small food order. Then I told Joe I was going to cook up some fresh crab cakes and we were heading for the beach.

Most days we see one of several vendors that sell the fresh coconuts. We gulp down the coco water and then he will cut out the fresh sweet coconut meat for Joe and I to share.

This gentlemen told me he was 89 years old, still walking the beach each day. He is mentally 100% I wish I was as spry as he is. He introduced me to his son who also sells the fresh coconuts along with Dad every day on the Playas beach.  I hope I am able to walk the beach each day when I am 70 God willing, can’t even imagine being 89.

Dog Patrol

One day last week Joe and I took the chairs and our lunch and headed to the beach. Here in Playas even though we are only one block from the malecon the walk takes us almost 10 minutes. This is the widest beach I have seen since living in South Florida and having to walk from the street side parking in Fort Lauderdale down to the water.

I am standing on the crest of the sand to take this picture facing back to the malecon. To get to the water at low tide you walk probably the length of a football field or two to have your toes in the water.  Really wide beach.

While enjoying our quiet time on the sand a group of men walking dogs on leads passed by several times. Not sure what this was but it was organized and could have been police with their K9 dogs for all I know.

I have never seen police in Playas with dogs, while in Salinas we saw a demonstration of the dog handlers from the Police department. That is the photo below.

Having a Document Notarized in Playas

Like most things we  take for granted having a document notarized here is completely different from back in the states. At my last job I was the designated Notary, it was a small favor we did for the people in our parish. I worked for a pretty big Catholic Church back in Georgia and over the course of several years I notarized many documents and we never charged for the service.

A few weeks ago we had to have a document notarized. Not having done this before I asked my friend Roger, who has lived in Playas for over 12 years,”Is there a notary in Playas?” And yes there is a notary here.  Abogado (lawyer) Alfredo Yagual Preciado, Notario Unico de este Canton is located directly across the park from the Catholic Church in Playas almost next door to the municipal building. Our attorney had drawn up a power of attorney for us that required us to come before the notary to sign this document. First we arranged with our friend and translator Miguel Angel to read us the document. So we printed a copy and put the original on a pen drive to take with us to the notary’s office. Miguel Angel called ahead and spoke with a friend who works in that office so we were expected.

When we arrived the place was packed with people, most of them huddled around the two desks where women were trying to work while folks continued to interrupt asking questions. There were people behind the women’s desk reading papers on her desk as well as the work she was doing in the computer. I guess some would call it organized chaos and I really do not know how these women get any work done at all.  Of course like everything in Ecuador copies of our cedulas and censos as well as our translator’s documents were a requirement. We were told to come back to the office later in the day to sign the documents. We returned late in the afternoon to sign the paperwork, affix our thumb prints  and pay the $88.50 fee ($80 for the original and $8.50 for the notaries signature and stamps on a copy) for this service. We were told that the notary would not be in the office until the next day and to come back with the receipt late afternoon on Saturday.

When I arrived at the office it was much more peaceful than on my two earlier visits. I guess the office was preparing to close for the weekend and the stream of people had dwindled to a trickle. I picked up the documents, quickly scanned them to make sure that they had the notaries signature, and left.

We have learned that many things are handled differently here. We expect to wait, expect to return several times – and we were not disappointed. Service in this office was very efficient and professional considering the number of people and documents that must pass these desks on a daily basis.

Thank you Miguel Angel for helping us with this.

A Moving Decision

Since our move to Ecuador a few years ago, we’ve seen lots of new faces and met many folks that moved here from their hometowns in the states and Canada. We have then seen some of those folks leave because they were unprepared for the differences between back home and Ecuador. This past week I heard of two more couples heading back to the states. Some of us had little choice in our move due to financial considerations versus quality of life and came with eyes and minds open to embrace the differences and make them work. Others came simply because they felt that they would find more happiness somewhere else… Everyone’s illusions of a place are different, some are unrealistic, some based in fact and reasonable. And a lot depends on your money situation and if you go city or country. But expectations play a big part.

I have no interest either way as to whether folks move to Ecuador or not except to maybe have them as friends.  I do not sell real estate, am not developing a condo project nor will I ever try to sell you Avon. Joe and I have lived outside of the USA for over six years. The reason we moved was totally based on need. If we had the money, a home that was paid off or near being paid off, in an area that we considered safe and health insurance we would never have left the US.  We left because we could not live there on Joe’s social security alone. To be able to maintain a simple lifestyle there I had to work a big full-time job, that job required that I be away from Joe for somewhere between 10 and 12 hours per day. This was not acceptable and that was a job that actually was paying for our insurances: medical, life, home, cars and leaving little for savings or our eventual retirement.  It was a difficult decision because back then there was little written up about moving out of the country and actually I don’t remember one blog about anyone’s adventures in a foreign country. It was a leap of faith, based on many factors but mostly it all came down to money. How much did we need to live comfortably outside the US?

There are many compelling reasons to make a move to Ecuador. All the hoopla you have heard or read about being able to live here on $500 a month, have a full-time maid and gardener and go out on the town almost every night spending pennies to eat like kings and queens, Yeah right!!! If that is the reason you are moving DON’T DO IT ! Because the above statements are false and misleading. Yes, some things in Ecuador are less expensive that is if you don’t need Jiffy Peanut Butter or Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, these items are made in the US and shipped great distances to be stocked at your local Super Maxi.  If instead, you can live out of a tienda or the public mercado you can eat well for much less than what you would pay in the US. A friend living in Northern Florida just told me a few days ago that Sea Bass is $39.99 per pound at Publix supermarkets.

In our little town (can’t speak for city living here – that would be someone else’s blog)  this is what we find. A big city – Quito, Cuenca etc. will have greater availability and different prices. As we have no interest in city living at this point in our lives, we will tell you what we know from our little town life.

Here you can buy fresh (right out of the sea fresh) corvina (sea bass) for $3 per pound. Are you going to find every fish variety you are used to? No. Will the mercado carry all the vegetables you love? No. Can you live here without white asparagus, morel mushrooms, A&W Root Beer or fresh turkey legs? If you answered Yes, you will probably be happy in small town Ecuador. If you require that your supermarket carry all your favorites everyday you will be sadly disappointed. The other big item that everyone needs to be aware of is that most tiendas have very little processed food items, there is no freezer section with TV type dinners the exception may be a small freezer for ice cream, there are very few canned or boxed goods available and what is available is high-priced. This is an area of the country that cooks from scratch. The bigger supermarket chains like Super Maxi carry many US products but the price may shock you compared to what you paid in the states and again their canned, boxed and frozen sections are very limited yet hold much more than a local tienda would, could or ever will.

It was culture shock going back to cooking from scratch. It is time-consuming, hard work and if you are not interested in cooking you will find it very difficult to survive here. Yes, for a time you will eat at the local restaurants and probably completely enjoy that freedom. In time eating fish prepared the same way at all the restaurants may bore you and your memory foods will call to you. Not a bad thing mind you,  but they will need to be made from scratch. You may not be able to find the spices or condiments that you once used. In our experience it is very difficult and expensive to ship from the US to the small towns so that was not an option for us. Making several trips a week to Guayaquil to the big supermarkets was not particularly appealing to us – 5 hours in buses plus another  half hour or so in taxis each time.  Making my own pickled jalapenos, hot pepper salads, bread & butter pickles came naturally from a desire to make our house feel like home. Preparing broths, sauces and spice blends from scratch also became a given! Today I spend much less time than I did in the beginning because I have learned how to buy, freeze, cook, pickle, more efficiently.  If you like to can things, don’t be surprised when you cannot find canning jars, lids or rings.  Need parchment paper, not in Playas! Looking for a silicone cookie sheet liner, not even found in my travels around Guayaquil.  Need an oven temperature gauge, I had my friend Joe bring it from the US on his last visit because I checked out several of the bigger stores in Guayaquil and found nothing. These things were not deal breakers for us, but to some it could dramatically effect how you handle everyday life in Ecuador or any other country that is not your native country. THIS is not the USA, what you expect to find on the store shelves is almost never the reality.

Do you need a great deal of outside stimulation?  If you answered Yes, your city choices shrink considerably because you are not going to find opera or the symphony on the beach in Salinas or Playas, nor will you find Lord & Taylor or Macy’s around the corner.  Yes, if you live in Cuenca or Quito you will find many of the activities that you have enjoyed back in the states as well as bigger stores for your shopping but most areas of this country are poor and have little of the things you take for granted in the states. No Wendy’s all night drive thru or Starbucks or Denny’s. Of course most of the time we think that’s a GOOD thing!

When we were first looking into moving out of the US we did a great deal of soul-searching, individually and collectively. First we thought about what we were looking for individually. I had this idea in my head like in the movies you see of the woman in France or maybe Italy, carrying her groceries home from the market — a fresh bread tucked under her arm and a small tote with just enough food for today’s meal. Joe saw financial peace of mind, not needing to worry about the money, having enough to enjoy a quiet, tranquil life…When we came together to discuss our collective thoughts, they boiled down to a small town, a little life, quiet walks, good food and nice weather. Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”  We were not looking for a big life, just a little quiet life and we worked hard to invent that life for ourselves. God has truly blessed us, first with the insight to see what we wanted which meant getting past all the “stuff”  and then blessing us again with that little life.

I have dear friends, well we actually have never met, but they still are dear to me. We have emailed back and forth for some time now. This couple has thought about making the move to retire in Ecuador. They made an exploratory trip back several months ago. Looked at many areas with an Ecuadorian driver who gave them a pretty good tour of the countryside. After they returned to the US they thought long and hard looking at what they had, what they would need to give up and how they would adjust to moving away from everything and everyone they knew.  I still do not think they have come to the final decision but their questions lead me to believe they may visit again but not move here permanently.  If you can live comfortably in the US, why would you move to Ecuador? That was one of my questions to them, can you afford where you are living currently, do you have a calm and peaceful existence, have you surrounded yourself with the people and things that you need to make your life fruitful, what do you require of the area where you live???  These are the deep question that take time and considerable contemplation to answer truthfully. At this point in all our lives we have a comfort level that we all require. It was a very difficult decision to give up everything material we had accumulated in our 32 year marriage. To move everything to Panama was unrealistic. The cost of transporting it was out of our budget, the time, effort and just sheer aggravation that I have witnessed from others seemed like torture and personally Joe and I could never had the patience six years ago to undergo that amount of suffering just for some stuff…

These are the things every person contemplating a big move out of their comfort zone needs to think about. These questions cannot be answered in one conversation, it requires a great deal of self-analysis to find what deep down feelings each of us may be holding back — this is not the time to hold back, this is the time to open up and dig deep to find out what will make YOU happy. It does not matter what anyone else thinks, feels or does, it is about the individual. How much change can you handle? Even though I know better my mind reverts back to “How things are done back in the states” it is unrealistic to think that you will get the same treatment/service outside of the US. Especially if your Spanish skills are not reasonably good. Most things here cannot be handled with a telephone call, in person visits to the telephone company, cable company are expected and most often anything you do requires that you have a color copy of your cedula attached to whatever you want to do. The rules are different here and just because they are foreign to you does not mean that they will change anytime soon or maybe ever! I had one acquaintance say, “they need to get their act together” he was speaking of the telephone company not getting his bill to him before they cut off his service, sorry but it is not going to happen here. The individual is responsible for knowing when his bills are due and paying them before the deadline, the phone company, cable company, electric company and the water company may or may not get you a bill on time or ever. We need to be flexible and work within THEIR system they are not going to make changes just because we are Expats…this is how things work here, get over it and learn the system, you will be much happier if you work within the system instead of trying to buck it!

This article is to help with the analysis part of your thought process. It is not to scare you out of moving, or push you to move, only to help open your mind to the entire experience. We love our little life, we would not change it for the world, if we won the lottery today we would give the money away at this point, because we have come to learn that our happiness has nothing to do with money or possessions.

Our little life is enough!

Banking in Playas

There are two banks and one cooperative located in Playas: Banco de Pichincha, Banco de Guayaquil and one cooperative plus an ATM machine for Banco Bolivariano. We have accounts with Banco de Guayaquil and for the past several weeks I have had some real issues with our on-line banking services. Because of this I have spent a great deal of time sitting with one of the Customer Service representatives at the Playas branch.  Maria Teresa has been so patient with me and my issues and is one of a very few staff members that speaks English. Between my basic Spanish and Maria Teresa’s English we have found a way to communicate effectively. She is now working with the technical department in Guayaquil to try to get my problems solved. Seems that it is not just my problem but a system issue so we wait to see how the technical department will solve this problem.

This is the smiling face I get to see each time I walk into the bank, it is genuine and sincere. I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to work with folks that have such a good attitude towards their jobs and how they treat their customers. Maria Teresa is a very special young woman, she truly cares about how she presents herself, how she represents Banco de Guayaquil and handles herself in every situation, in a very competent manner. Kudos to her on her professionalism!

I just walked back in from my latest visit to the bank, today all the issues I had the past few weeks have been resolved. Thanks to the Technical Department in Guayaquil for their hard work and again to Maria Teresa for her wonderful customer service.

El Secreto de la Abuelita

I have told you of our issues with the bugs since we have gotten all the rain. Well after we returned from our trip up the coast we discovered our home had been invaded by two different type of ants. First the tiniest itty bitty erratic ants you could hardly see them took over our kitchen counter and the kitchen table. We found them walking on the walls in the bathroom and even on the porch.  The second was a much larger much faster light brown to red colored ant. It has been spotted again on the kitchen counter and running across the floors.  Folks here have told me to follow them to their nest outside of the house. This is not working, I cannot find where they are coming into the house so to follow them to their nest has been impossible. There seems to be several different groups going in several different directions. I went to the Agripac store and purchased some heavy-duty insecticide Clorpilaq 480 ec, this requires a mask, gloves and long sleeve shirt and long pants to spray it. It is sitting securely enclosed in two plastic bags as I treat it like it is radioactive materials right now. I am totally afraid of it!

This brings me to something I found at Super Tia several months ago and just put it under my sink. It is called El Secreto de la Abuelita.

It is a paste made of boric acid that according to its label will get rid of cockroaches in the home. Well at this point I was desperate so I put this paste, similar in consistency to tooth paste, around the counter in some of the strategic areas that I have seen the ants. I took lids from plastic containers and added a good glob plus a spoonful of white sugar just to be sure they would go for it. I did this last week. This morning I made my coffee free of ants…that does not mean that later on this morning I will not spot them but if in some small way El Secreto de la Abuelita has taken care of some my ant issues I will be forever grateful to this product.

Just needed to share!

Mi Amiga Gloria

On my walk into town I pass several businesses that I stop and talk to the owners and feel like they are my friends now. The first is a store where you can buy welding supplies; they also sell paint and equipment. Almost every morning that I walk by the owner is outside sweeping crickets away or washing down the sidewalk in front of his store. I normally stop and we have a brief yet warm conversation. He and his wife are just the sweetest folks. They speak no English but with my basic Spanish and some smiles and kindness we seem to communicate very well. One day last week I was passing and asked if they could weld a charm back on a silver bracelet.  I have never seen a jewelry store here that looks to be able to do repairs. This bracelet has coins from several countries in the Caribbean and was given to me by Joe many years ago while still living in South Florida. I wear very little jewelry here not wanting to attract unnecessary attention. But this bracelet is not to sparkly and I really like to wear it once in a while.

This morning Gloria was working instead of her husband and of course I stopped to chat. I showed her my bracelet and the loose coin. First, like a real mommy, she got out the brass polish and spent 20 to 30 minutes cleaning my oxidized coins. After it was property shined up she found a way to affix the coin to the bracelet and handed it back to me just like new. I asked how much she wanted for her time and effort in repairing it. She would not take a penny, I offered to tip the young man who helped work on it and she again refused. I just love these people.  She does not know me, except as a woman walking past her store several times a week. I again cannot get over the feeling of being blessed to be in this country. Each new person, each new experience, makes me feel such closeness to the Ecuadorian people.

Here is my friend Gloria. What a lovely woman!  So if you need welding supplies drop by to visit Gloria. Her store is located on Paquisha between the new Drivers School and the Chevy Showroom.

Triple Layer Cookie Bars

I have a list of favorite cookie recipes that I’ve made for years.  This one is really nice because it does not require a huge amount of work or time making individual cookies. Made in a baking pan and cut into individual bars,  it’s a very rich cookie. Don’t cut the pieces big – a two to three bite cookie is the best size.

Triple Layer Cookie Bar

  • 1/2 C butter
  • 1  1/2 C Chocolate Animal Cookies
  • 1  –  7 oz. package of flaked coconut – Coco Rallado
  • 1  –  14 oz. can of condensed milk
  • 1  –  12 oz. bar of Superior Chocolate
  • 1/2 C creamy peanut butter – mani

Grease a 9 x 13 pan and dust with coco powder.  Melt butter and mix with the crumbled cookies and press into bottom – if the crumbs are not coated with butter add a few more spoonfuls to make them stick together.  Sprinkle the coconut evenly over the crumbs and press into cookie base. Pour the condensed milk over all to cover evenly.

Bake in a 325 f or 170 c –  (I make it a bit higher) for about 25 minutes or until the edges are a golden brown.  Let stand to cool 5 minutes.

While crust is cooling, in a sauce pan melt the chocolate and peanut butter together and pour over the cookie base to cover.  Let cool completely.

From top left – Fresh Peanut Butter (Mani), Chocolate Animal Cookies (Galletas), Superior Chocolate Bar, Coconut (Coco Rallado) and Condensed Milk.

Everyone who love chocolate loves this cookie bar, it will go fast so hide a few for yourself!