A New Kind of Blog

There is a world of information about Ecuador. It is one of the most popular countries for people who want to retire to a place where the dollar goes much farther than in the US, a place for adventuresome families who want to experience a new language and exciting culture. However, much of what you read or hear does not touch on the practical, the problematic, or the local information necessary to make things work. There are many blogs which are basically daily diary’s from people who live here. But this blog will be different. We know how hard it is to get accurate and timely information. We have been through it. All of us who live here have learned step by step and we question whether it is necessary to have every newcomer reinvent the wheel. We hope this blog will help shorten the learning curve. There are many hurdles but all are surmountable. What is required is patience, an understanding of local ways, and a realization that you are going to live in a country which is not the same as the US, Canada, or Britain. Our choice was to live in the wonderful city of Cuenca in the Southern Sierra but this may not be your decision and you will therefore have to look further to find the answers you need for different areas like the coast or the Amazon. Please realize that all the suggestions and ideas are based on our experiences. Ecuadorian regulations change rapidly and must be checked before you make any investments or major decisions. Please email us at Sailorburr@gmail.com and let us know if you have any questions or comments.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Reading abroad

 Living in Ecuador is off the beaten track but fortunately it allows both of us to write, publish, and communicate with the world of authors and readers in a number of ways.
Over the last two years, this blog has enabled us to visit with readers from 111 countries more than 36,000 times.  For us, it has been a huge success because we have interacted with countless families throughout the world. Some, who have moved here, have become good friends. Others have had a steady discourse with us over long periods of time. But, coming up with new postings has become more difficult because many subjects of interest to possible expats have already been covered by our blog or by other blogs. We would appreciate your comments on subjects that you might be interested in. We will research them and give you our take on the problem or question.
            Meanwhile, we continue to write. Loretta is in the process of finishing a memoir called Jonny First which will be sent to her agent in New York by the end of July.
Loretta has also just published her first ebook novel on Amazon.com called, Soulmates, a Story of Love, Passion, and Obsession That Transcends Life. Bill too has published an Amazon.com ebook, a Caribbean adventure novel called Chinchorro Reef, Kidnapped at Sea.
Electronic books like these are the new publishing trend. Already Amazon.com sells more ebooks than conventional hardbacks and paperbacks. What is interesting for those of us who are expats is that an ebook can be downloaded to a PC in less than a minute and can then be transferred and read on your PC, Kindle, iphone, iPad, Blackberry, or Android device at your leisure. Often an ebook at Amazon costs between 0.99 cents per book all the way up to $10.00 which is considerably less than a print book. Some are even free. Sample chapters can be downloaded at no cost before you purchase a book.
The other great advantage for expats is that very few English title books are sold in Cuenca. Purchasing a print book from the US and having it shipped via USPS almost doubles the cost of the book and it takes weeks to get here instead of a minute with an ebook.
Reading an ebook on a hand held electronic reader like a Kindle is a change from the familiar and comfortable feeling of holding a bound paper book in your two hands but it is remarkable how quickly it begins to feel completely natural.  It appears to us that ebooks are the way to go for voracious readers located in places where English language books are not readably available.  Ebooks are a change in how we read but, when you think of it, the reason we read is for the content inside not the device we hold.  

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cuenca lifestyle

When you are thinking about a move to a foreign country there are a thousand questions that must be answered. Some are easy to find the answers to but others are less obvious. Here are a few observations about where Cuenca differs from other towns and cities in Ecuador.

Unlike the coast and the Amazon, there are almost no bugs in Cuenca, at least, none of the pesky mosquitoes and noseeums which can make life miserable.  But, because there are few bugs, there are also very few birds.

A great advantage is that the tap water in Cuenca is drinkable and we have been drinking it for the last two years without problem. This is not true in most of the other communities in Ecuador where you should purchase bottled water.

There is a constant spring like climate with no real hot or cold weather. We do have changes of season from wet to dry but even that is erratic. Mornings are cool. Midday is warm. Afternoons often have a rain storm and evenings are cool enough to wear a light jacket.

Because of the abundance of rain, there are flowering trees, shrubs, and gardens year round.

The electric system is 110 like the US and we use the same plugs as in the States.  All of our appliances from the States just plugged in without any converter or problem. The only difference is the regional code that prevents DVD players from the US from being used here. BluRay players have the same region as the US and work just fine. DVD players are inexpensive in Ecuador so there is no point in bringing them. Cell phones should be bought here or, as an alternative, have your US cell phone unlocked for about $10.

Ecuador uses the US dollar so there are no currency fluctuations like you will find in other countries. This provides for a more stable budget than with a fluctuating currency.

Gasoline costs $1.48 per gallon and, because it is subsidized by the government, has been constant at that price for the last two years.

There are many other subjects like what is available in the supermarket, electronics availability, vitamin and pharmaceutical product accessibility, office supplies, etc. but we have found that with few exceptions most items we need are available either as imports or as local substitutes.  There are exceptions but, if the item is small, it can easily though slowly, be mailed from the US.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Lawyers in Cuenca

We would like to make a recommendation, our personal recommendation, for a lawyer here in Cuenca. It is our opinion, though not shared by everybody, that it is always a good practice to hire a lawyer when you are involved in a major transaction in a society that is not familiar to you and where the laws are often not the same that you are used to. While Ecuador is not the litigious society that the US is, it is still, like almost everywhere else, filled with legal pitfalls. Here there are few of the citizen protective laws governing real estate transactions, car sales, and other major purchases. Also there are the difficulties of dealing with your application for residency, driver’s license, and car registration to name a few tedious projects that are full of complications which take a long time and much energy to complete.  Wills and trusts are totally different than in the US and should always involve an attorney.  Because there are few regulatory laws to govern transactions like real estate, it is easy for ineffective lawyers to cut corners, avoid due diligence, and just move on leaving their client with little recourse if there are problems.

It is hard to find a lawyer who fills the requirement of honesty, reliability, and expertise at a cost you are willing to pay. We have friends who bought a home on the coast only to find out later that the seller did not own it even though they had a lawyer draw up the sales agreement (honesty).  We sold our house six months ago and the buyer’s lawyer still has not delivered the deed to the new owner (reliability). We have other friends who, in the finalization of their residency and after delays that ran into months, fired their lawyer, hired another and had their residency within weeks (Expertise).  Almost everyone we know could tell a story.

Most of our friends here fall into one of the three following categories, those who do not use a lawyer for anything and wing it on their own, those who are most interested in finding the least expensive lawyer for their needs, and those who want the best and most reliable lawyer they can get to avoid any future problems.
It is our opinion that the third choice, a good lawyer who speaks English and Spanish, is honest, reliable and has the expertise, will  open the doors to the complex bureaucracy in Ecuador that requires a great deal of leg work and too much risk to try on your own.

There are hundreds of lawyers or Abogados in Cuenca and you will find them tucked away in little store fronts throughout the city.  Inside there will be a table or two and a few chairs. But almost none of these lawyers speak both English and Spanish which is quite important to a newcomer and we would not suggest using them.

Probably, and only through word of mouth, will you be able to find the right fit for you. That said, we wholeheartedly recommend that you interview Grace Velastegui and her husband, Nelson, our lawyers for the last two years. They have taken us through the residency process, the purchase and sale of our home, the complex re-registration of our car when our registration was lost, Ecuadorian wills, and the complexities of Ecuadorian custody law for our grandson, Jonny.  Every cent we have spent with them has been worth it. They are honest, have a high level of expertise, speak English, and can be counted on to be prompt and efficient.

It is easy to correspond with them at gracevelastegui@yahoo.com.  We think it will be well worth the effort. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Little acts of kindness

It is so easy to complain about those things in Ecuador that are more difficult, more complicated, or that take an inordinate amount of time to accomplish. Life goes at a different pace. A simple task takes longer and is always more frustrating than just going to a store and picking from endless choices, checking out in mere minutes, and moving on.  Here, shopping and dealing with the bureaucracy almost always has either built in complications or some undefined obstacle to hinder progress.

It is also easy to complain about all the unusual and problematic issues that confront us every day.  Nowhere have we seen ruder drivers who have a seeming road rage that belies the Ecuadorian’s otherwise quiet nature. Then there is the attitude that what is yours can be mine which can only be solved by not carrying expensive looking cameras, telephones, or loose purses. For a seemingly docile people, there is a need to get there first, to move up to the head of the line, to get to the stoplight before you, or to push a little too hard.

But, almost everywhere you turn, if you keep your eyes open, you will see little acts of kindness and love. Today, as we were leaving our favorite little fruit market, we saw an old woman who had been sitting outside her market on a stool  endlessly prepping vegetables, get up and give a couple of tangerines to a street cleaner in front of her store. The street cleaner, in her bright orange work suit, was hot and tired and with a great smile welcomed the cool pieces of fruit.  A day doesn’t pass when you don’t see a young person with her arm locked in an older persons arm, lovingly helping her navigate the rickety sidewalks.  People feed stray dogs with their precious food. It is a country where three and four generations live in the same house.  While this is not terribly unusual in these days of turmoil, what is unusual is the attitude of the young towards the older family members. There is much touching, hugging, and kissing that works up from the young to the old. Rarely will you see a young teenaged child argue or be rude to an older adult. More often, you will see a teenager with his or her arm around the parents shoulder or playing softly with their hair. Public affection is not an embarrassment. It is so common that you tend not to pay any attention to a couple locked in a close embrace on a busy sidewalk totally oblivious to the passers by.  Affection is the norm not the estrangement or distancing so prevalent among teenagers in the US.  It goes without saying that young children are protected, coddled, and overtly loved to the extent that most Ecuadorian families seem to have dedicated their lives to their children.

If you will open your eyes a little wider, you will see that these little acts of kindness far overshadow the complexities and difficulties of living in a foreign country. 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Bill's new book, "Chinchorro Reef"

Here is something new for our blog. We have always said there would be nothing commercial on the blog but it seems there is always an exception. Bill has published a new book, an action adventure story called Chinchorro Reef, Kidnapped at Sea. He started writing Chinchorro Reef in 1989, played with it for years, finished it recently, and has published it in paperback and as an e-book. Previously, he has published three non-fiction books on sailing and boating. Chinchorro Reef is his first book of fiction.  It is available on Amazon.com, Barnesand Noble.com, and Xlibris.com for shipment anywhere in the world.

Short description:
“Chinchorro Reef is an action thriller that touches on almost every human emotion, a page turner that you will find hard to put down. Murphy Fontaine, recently divorced from U.S. Senator Michael Fontaine, cruises the Caribbean in the family sailboat with Benji, her ten-year-old son. She has lost Benji in a custody battle with the Senator and has begun this cruise hoping to find a solution to regain custody. It is night and Benji sleeps below. She rescues two young Americans, Cotton and Mark, from a disabled fishing boat. During an argument, Murphy is knocked out and drug addled Mark sets her adrift in their stolen fishing boat. Murphy spends days drifting at sea, is rescued, hospitalized and released in Puerto Lempira, Honduras. She hears of a stranded helicopter pilot, Aram Tanner, whom she hires to pursue the kidnappers of her son. Mark and Cotton, after setting unconscious Murphy adrift in the disabled fishing boat, struggle to guide the sailboat North toward the U.S. Mark has the single minded purpose of getting a stolen cache of cocaine home to Texas. One life threatening adventure after another follows both the kidnappers and the rescuers. Murphy, with the undying devotion of a mother, faces every possible adversity to rescue her son.”

If you are a fan of high adventure with a taste for a little spice, give Chinchorro Reef a read.  It is a wild ride via sailboat and helicopter through the tropical Caribbean. If you are in the States, just push the “Buy Now” button for an easy way to purchase the book via Pay Pal. If you are somewhere abroad, try Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Xlibris. 

Thursday, January 13, 2011

How do I deal with retirement?

For almost two years we have been writing this blog about our move to Cuenca, Ecuador and the ups and downs of living here. It has been our good fortune to have had thousands of readers who were looking for on-site information about a possible move to Ecuador. No blog can answer all the questions though each of us who write a blog try. Some of the questions are quite personal. Others venture on the impossible task of trying to help people with different concerns via the impersonal internet and email. A lot about life in Ecuador has been covered here and on other blogs. But there seems to be one nagging question that hides below all the others.
Among retirees abroad and here in Cuenca there is almost a universal concern about what life will be like once they retire. Although some are not yet retired, many have recently entered the last quarter of their lives and don’t know what to expect after a lifetime of working and raising children.
Some of the recurring questions have been “What can I do when I retire to Ecuador?” or “What job opportunities are there?”  or, an even more telling question, “What is it like to be retired and no longer working? What will I do with myself?”
A couple of years ago I wrote a book for real estate community developers to distribute to their potential customers.  Though the book is not in print any longer, we thought it might be of interest to look at some of the issues the book dealt with relating to the process of planning and the actuality of retirement.  How to deal with this life changing event is an almost universal question. So, in this posting, we will print an exerpt from the book and, if there is interest, we will print others later that seem most relevant to approach this question of a new life and the changes it brings.  

Change Versus Being Stuck

Countless books have been written about having a positive attitude and how it effects a successful life. Unfortunately, few have been written about how people’s attitudes relate to prospering in retirement.
Study after study has found that our perceptions about work and retirement are rapidly changing. No longer is retirement considered the end of a fruitful life. Questions are being asked and answers sought. Growing older is no longer the main issue, but how we live our later years and the vitality of our lives, have become the subject.
One of the changes we are seeing is that, in the past, many people spent their lives in retirement doing the same things with the same friends each and every day. Very little changed from the time when they worked and raised their children. They were stuck in a life-long rut and the inevitable result was a downward spiral in health and happiness.
But, this is not the way it has to be. An adjustment in attitude involving using more free time to develop new activities and new friends would bring vitality and interest to those people whose lives have reached a dead end. What do you think would happen if you struck off on a new path in retirement and tried something new and different that would surprise even you by its audacity?
Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, gave the commencement address at Stanford University on June 12, 2005. The following excerpt from his speech to the graduating students is just as relevant to retiring people as it is to graduating seniors.
“…Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960's, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and Polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.
Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.”

How Did Successful Retiree Do It?

If you take a look at affluent American retirees in their 70’s you’ll find some interesting tips. Some are no brainers. Others may be ideas you haven’t given much thought to.
Most of today’s “successful” retirees are active and independent people who recognized, early on, that personal freedom is a major source of satisfaction. A large percentage have traveled widely. Many have made significant charitable contributions and have done volunteer work.  Countless numbers have helped out other family members financially.
It is interesting to note that most of today’s retirees have planned for a lengthy retirement by understanding that they may live long, productive lives. These fortunate people have factored in almost a third of their lives for retirement. Conversely, there are many younger people who haven’t given a thought to the length of time they will probably spend in retirement. Those who have, often underestimate by guessing at around twenty-two years. Research shows that most people actually need to plan for twenty-five to thirty-five years in retirement.
Many of those retiring today seek professional advice when they need it which results in the fact that a much larger percentage of retirees hire professional financial planners than they did during their working years.
Most relied on themselves to supply the money needed for their retirement. The expectation of gaining an inheritance was seldom a factor they considered in their planning phase.  In addition, most of these independent-minded successful retirees expected their children to achieve financial success on their own.
One thing that almost everyone agrees with is that older people should find ways to spread their knowledge and experience to younger generations. To mentor a willing student is a rewarding and empowering activity that is done by many of today’s retirees.
If you take notice of the issues that successful retirees before you have discovered, getting yourself on the right track will be easier and the chance for doing well in retirement will be higher.

Get Excited About the Future

Being excited about the possibilities the future might bring will make the whole planning process a lot more fun and stress-free. When you realize that you could be facing a number of years in retirement nearly equivalent to all those years you spent at work, you begin to understand the importance of putting the coming phase of your life into a wholesome and positive perspective. Attitude seems to be the key.