She Said: Risking It All

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Excerpt taken from Effective Leadership in Adventure Programming (Priest and Gass 2005)
Photo Source: content.time.com

The cover of Time magazine for August 29, 1983, displayed a picture of “Daredevil Ben Colli” with the caption, “Wheeeeeeee! Chasing Thrills and Adventure.” The subject of the photograph was known for his high-speed rappelling descents from atop skyscrapers.

The cover story, titled “Risking It All,” contained stories of bungee jumpers, mountain climbers, swimmers, runners, paddlers, parachutists, pilots, and sailors.

The author (Skow, 1983) wrote: “There have always been adventurers, footloose and sometimes screwloose, and their ‘Why not’ has always stirred alarming and delicious fears in settled souls whose timid question is ‘Why?’ “.

She said:

In Thursday’s class, we are learning how participants react during adventure experiences, how they transfer what they learn during the experience to everyday life and how we as outdoor leaders can facilitate that process. There is a certain correlation between our adventure of living in Ecuador and the adventure learning process I am now discovering in class.

It is not the first adventure my husband and I have undertaken.

We had just gotten married when he left the comforts of a big corporate job to become the President of a small under-funded technology company. Although they were making progress, eventually the money ran dry. He was lying awake one night when he asked how I felt about using our savings to support the company until he could find a buyer.

We did just that….until our savings account ran dry. We made the last payroll and he sent everyone home. The company would be shut down. He had a deal in the works but as he says, it’s a long way from the cup to the lips and the deal was taking too long. He didn’t give up and closed the deal that same afternoon. We had survived.

The next venture came along a few years later. We sold our beautiful condo, moved to a small fishing cottage on the outskirts of town and took the proceeds from the sale of the condo to start another company. This time I quit my corporate job to help. We had loads of fun and we learned so much. Our first customer bought our little company and again, we survived.  Our adventures had been rewarding.

So when my husband asked me if I would move to Ecuador, I told him I would follow him anywhere.

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The new cathedral de la Immaculada Concepcion built in 1885 in Parque Calderon, the main plaza  in the colonial centre of Cuenca
The new cathedral de la Immaculada Concepcion built in 1885 in Parque Calderon, the main plaza in the colonial centre of Cuenca

Back in the States early that March morning that we arrived home from Ecuador, my husband was not required to pass through customs so he took Dakota and headed off to baggage claim while I worked my way through the customs queue. When we met up again, I took over the bags and dogs and he left for the Hertz counter. I put a handsome tip in the hand of a porter and we rolled the bags and dogs to the doggie park just outside the terminal.

Fortunately, a van was available and we loaded up the dogs, went directly to Starbucks and then to the Jeep dealer where we used some of that cash to buy a Jeep Wrangler.

While he bought the Jeep, I drove the dogs to our home in North Carolina. The events from the night before didn’t come up, as if the life we had been attached to 12 hours earlier was somehow gone already.

The money in my purse was still there. I had felt a twinge of guilt that I assumed the man had taken it. At the time, I truly believed the whole episode was created so they could take the money. In the end, this wasn’t true. They were just doing their jobs.

A shopkeeper on the road into town creating brass housewares by hand, as his father had done before him.
A shopkeeper on the road into town creating brass housewares by hand, as his father had done before him.

Later that afternoon, our neighbors stopped by to say hello and it was only then that we told our stories. And, it was the last time we talked about it to each other. The bell had rung, we went to our respective corners and began attending to our wounds. This lasted awhile.

The wounds have healed. We realize had we done things differently, the experience may have been more positive for me. That is the point of adventure learning….to understand your choices and learn from them.

I don’t know that I believe in destiny, but I absolutely believe everything we do contributes to the person we become and that person can be all the better if you use every learning experience wisely – if you transfer the knowledge gained to every day life.

Next month we will have been back home for two years. In all that time no one has ever asked me how I feel about Ecuador now. It seems important to answer the question.

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A view of Cuenca from our house.

Ecuador is a beautiful, raw country. Not pretentious. It is simple, rustic, historical. There is great beauty in those words. The people of Ecuador live in the moment. That is both maddening and comforting.

Sweet memories remain – the dear friends we have left there. We think of them so often. The children were precious. They ran and played with such innocence. They rode in the back of pick-up trucks and laughed. Ecuador looks for occasions to celebrate. There were fireworks, parties, laughter….parades and festivals constantly. They are genuinely happy.  These are the things I miss.

The lesson I have learned is that an expat should never enter a host country with the notion they will change that country to suit their needs. Therein lies the challenge: to find home in a country that meets your needs or, adjust your needs to match your new home.

The chapter on Ecuador is closed.

Cathedral de Ecuador, Cuenca
Cathedral de Ecuador, Cuenca

He Said/She Said: the red-eye from hell.

She said:

We didn’t have a checking account in Ecuador. We had a safe. We went to the ATM and systematically withdrew money from our U.S. account until there was enough in the safe to pay for whatever was needed at the time: woodshed, landscaping, barbecue grill. Now I can admit to you, there were times that safe had a good bit of money stuffed inside.

The money dwindled as the house got finished and began to fill back up again as we sold off the car and furniture. We were allowed to carry cash on the plane back home… and, that we did.

My husband took about half in his pockets somewhere. I carried the rest inside the zippered section of my purse.

I had waited in the gate area for as long as possible…until they told me I absolutely had to board the plane. I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving this country with my husband still in it. At the same time, I couldn’t think how I would get the dogs off the plane or find somewhere to go with all four of them in the middle of the night. There seemed to be two options and I didn’t like either one.

The flight was booked and, of course, I had a middle seat. Dakota was quiet inside her bag under the seat in front of me and I had stuffed my purse down beside her bag. I sat there with the phone in my lap hoping to hear something from my husband; anything. Nothing came. The situation felt hopeless. I put my head in my hands.

Our departure time had come and gone and I realized they could be holding the flight for my husband. That gave me hope but, as the minutes ticked on, I knew they wouldn’t hold it forever and I became discouraged again.

My mind was beginning to rush forward to landing in Atlanta. The rental agencies weren’t able to locate a van big enough for the kennels so we had no car reserved. I wouldn’t have a cell phone or internet. Then I heard my name being called at the front of the plane.

“Mrs. Boyle? Where is Mrs. Boyle?” It was a man moving very quickly down the center aisle of the plane. I almost didn’t raise my hand –

He stopped at my aisle and told me to get up and leave the plane. I asked why. He said he didn’t know, the police wanted to talk to me.

A million thoughts flashed through my head in a matter of seconds…the most frightening of which that I was about to be thrown in jail along with my husband. I told him no, I would not get off the plane.

The flight attendant heard the anxiety I suppose and came back. While she talked to this man in Spanish, I shot a text message off to my husband. Just as I hit Send, the man told me again I must leave the plane. This time he said, “It’s something about your luggage.”

Amid the sudden terror I was feeling, I didn’t think of reaching for my passport or my purse. The phone was in my hand, the only lifeline to my husband. I held onto that phone tightly and left Dakota and my purse under the seat on the plane.

As soon as my feet touched the Tarmac the man was 30 feet in front of me yelling for me to hurry, run! I did not run.

My eyes landed on a man standing in the distance with my bag on a table in front of him and I realized they were looking for drugs. I think I mumbled under my breath, “They have put drugs in my luggage.”

It was more acceptance than fear. I kept a steady pace to give myself time to think…..deciding what I would do when they arrested me.

The man behind the table explained to me that he needed my permission to open the bag. I just stood there. He asked me to identify myself. “Where is your passport?” The man that took me off the plane was standing just behind my right shoulder. I said, “It’s on the plane.” I didn’t notice the man leave from behind me but they asked me to please state my name. They proceeded to search my bag.

He turned that bag inside out. Clothes and shoes were tumbling out onto the table. He found the little bag with my iPod and running watch and his eyes lit up. He dumped everything out of it and, when it produced nothing, he just looked at me. Finally, in perfect English he said, “All you have are shoes?” I didn’t answer him. This had been ridiculous.

Suddenly, there was a tap on my right shoulder and as I turned, the man that took me off the plane was holding my passport. The realization overwhelmed me. I said to him, “You went into my purse?” He smiled.

We were stuffing things back into the bag when they told me they needed to inspect the dog. Good lord.

They had brought Dudley onto the Tarmac. Planes were taking off over our head, a plane taxied beside us. Dudley was shaking with fear. I realized they were afraid to put their hands inside his kennel and I had to reach inside and move him so they could see around him. I told Dudley I was so sorry.

Finally, they told me to go back to the plane. This time he said, “You have to run. RUN!

Just as I was passing the walkway back to the terminal, a lady stepped outside and said my name, “Mrs. Boyle!” Then my husband came through the door. He ran toward me and we hugged. I cried.

He said:

Things went ok at the ticket counter. The drive to the airport had left us running later than I liked, but we were checked in and on our way to immigration. One of the dogs had been associated with my ticket and the other two on Marci’s.

The customs agent looked at my passport, found my residency Visa and asked to see my national identity card. I didn’t have one.

Ecuador began revising the immigration rules after I had been issued a Visa and there were no identity cards available (sounds crazy, I know).  The government had run out of Censo paper, unbelievably, and that had delayed the process for me. A Censo was required before a Sedula could be issued, which was the national identity card.

I had brought a letter with me from immigration but this agent was having no part of it. The rule was, unless you have the national ID you don’t leave the country.

I explained the situation and told them I was leaving for good. He didn’t care.  “No ID, you can’t leave.” I asked for a supervisor.

I explained everything again. She apologized but said no.

By this time, it’s getting close to midnight. Reluctantly, I called our attorney back in Cuenca. She answered and I quickly told her the situation and handed the phone to the agent. She explained to him that immigration had approved everything – the delays were not my fault. They didn’t care – I would not be allowed to leave the country. I was aggravated and a little irate. They threatened to arrest me.

An airline representative had been paging me with a final boarding call. She came looking for me at immigration because the flight was in jeopardy. They pleaded with the immigration agent. I pleaded. The answer was no.

They moved me into a conference room inside the airport. Our attorney had called her contact from immigration and explained the dilemma. She had told me she would make the call but I held no hope that a beurocrat from the immigration department would intervene at midnight on a Tuesday night. I begged the airline agent to delay the flight. Amazingly, they did.

Airline reps, security people and an immigration executive who I recognized suddenly ran toward us. Joseph, the immigration official, was waving letters, speaking in very rapid Spanish to the immigration agent and his supervisor. Ten minutes later, they told me I could leave.

Still, they took their time clearing me through security but then I ran to the gate, escorted by airline personnel and security guards. Out the door to the Tarmac – there’s Marcia. Tears exposed, she told me how they pulled her off the plane.

The plane had been held for more than 30 minutes. Marci took her seat and I was led to an empty seat in the back. The attendant said to me, “This must be a hell of a story. After we take off, the pilot and I want to hear it.”

A lady in front of Marcia’s seat told her Dakota had cried every second she was off the plane. They had tried to console her to no avail. Everyone seemed curious what had happened to us – we were as well.

Marcia had fallen asleep when I walked up to speak to her. In the quiet darkness of the flight, I asked if she was ok. It would be another 18 hours before we heard each other’s side of these events.

He Said/She Said: “I can’t stay here for one more minute.”

She said:

How do you know without a doubt that you have made a mistake? Sometimes mistakes are obvious. This was not one of those times. I wanted to be happy in Ecuador. I just wasn’t.

We had long discussions about it. My husband desperately wanted to understand what I didn’t like. I couldn’t tell him. I didn’t know – couldn’t put my finger on it. He must have felt that if I could just tell him what I didn’t like, he would fix it. And, I believe he would have if he could.

I wrote down the pros and cons. I vacillated constantly. “I can stay – things will get better.” The very next minute I was crying in the bathroom, “I can’t stay here for one more minute.” This went on countless times a day, every day for months.

The robbery made me mad more than anything. Alfredo and Sandra drove us to the police station. The office manager seemed to be scolding Sandra but I knew she was really scolding us. While I grew closer to Sandra and Alfredo, I found myself at odds with the rest of the country. I didn’t trust anyone.

We were quite certain who had robbed us but nobody believed it. Everyone said the man that we suspected as the ring leader was highly respected in the community – everyone trusted him. Eventually, the same group robbed our neighbors as well and then they all fled the country.

The things that were most valuable to us were locked up in the safe but for some reason I had left my sweet little wedding band on the tray by the bathroom sink. They took it and I’ve never forgiven them.

We had to make a decision. It was torturous making the decision. To speak the words was so final and I feared it would split us forever. Then I overheard my husband on the phone accepting more responsibility with his company in Atlanta. I couldn’t bear the thought of being there alone one more time.

He said:

I could tell everyday life was stressed for Marcia. The robbery was a huge violation and worse yet, in spite of knowing who did it, nothing would be done.

Then I was asked to play a bigger role in the company I worked for. Traveling back to the States every other week, leaving Marci to deal with a new country, a new culture. I realized that although we loved our house, it was too remote from the other expats and it was wearing on her. She felt isolated.

The weeks I was home we tried to make up for the time away, but the isolation only got worse. She was alone and overwhelmed. We had many late night discussions over a glass of wine about how much she regretted this leap of faith and how the expected adventure it might have been had not materialized. At first I thought it would self correct but I had no idea how deeply homesick she had become.

The night we made the decision, there were tears for both of us. It was time to move back home.

Certainly I felt badly that we were leaving this new life, but a huge weight was lifted from both of us. The stress would have eventually torn us apart. This was the right answer. For Marci there was finally light at the end of the tunnel. Something to look forward to.

She Said:

For the second time in 18 months, I began selling everything I could bear to part with…..this time in a language I didn’t speak and without the aid of Craig’s List.

Our attorney bought the car. The real estate agent’s cousin owned an interior design shop and the two of them spent hours walking through the house begging me to part with this or that. They wanted the drapes, the dishes, furniture, linens…everything.

I sold my bicycle to Alfredo’s sister. Sandra wanted the appliances. Our attorney brought one of her friends from law school and the two of them bought rooms of furniture. They took the houseplants, gym equipment and the pots and pans.

Finally, we had sold enough things to squeeze what was left into one container instead of two. It had been another two months since the decision had been made but we were finally going home.

The last night there, Sandra and Alfredo came to say goodbye. Alfredo put his arms around me and Sandra interpreted. The three of us cried. I wanted to bring them home with me.

A driver was hired once again to drive us and the four dogs over the mountain to the Quito airport. This time we left around lunchtime for the midnight flight back home.

The driver flew around the hairpin, single lane turns – lord only knows why. The dogs got car sick. The second or third time, he threw me a roll of paper towels and told me he couldn’t stop again to clean up or we wouldn’t make it to the airport on time. I cleaned up tossed cookies at 60 mph, throwing the towels right out the window. It was horrible.

At the airport, we gave the dogs a nice walk and got them checked in with no problems and then headed to immigration.

Dakota was in the carry-on bag and after clearing immigration, I motioned to my husband that I would see him on the other side of security. Dakota and I went through security and she had settled back down inside of her bag.

Several minutes passed but there was no sign of my husband. A funny thought crossed my mind and I sent him a quick text, “They won’t let you leave?”

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He Said/She Said: Meeting the People of Ecuador

He said:

The holidays arrived in Cuenca quickly it seemed. We hadn’t figured out the problem with our ovens by Thanksgiving so we bought a countertop oven to cook the turkey. It filled the entire oven but cooked it perfectly and we had a fairly traditional Thanksgiving after all.

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We had been there long enough to find our way around and to begin to meet people. Being an expat means suddenly you are the outsider. It puts you in a different role altogether. Whatever network of friends you may have had back home are a long way away.

Making friends with the people who live nearby happens naturally. Our nearest neighbor was a couple that had lived all over the world and both spoke English fairly well. They had only moved to Cuenca a few weeks before us and we figured a lot of things out together.

He was a TV producer and would order things online and have them sent to my office in Atlanta. He’d call me up on Skype and say, “Do you mind bringing something back for me?” One time it was a camera, once it was a helicopter that would fly around by remote control with the camera attached. Sometimes I had to buy extra luggage to bring his toys back home. Of course, I didn’t mind. It was fun to see what he was up to.

Christmas brought with it lots of Ecuadorian traditions. There were parades and fireworks and for weeks leading up to New Year’s Eve, effigies were sold all over town. The point was to burn these dolls who would carry the bad spirits from the past year along with them.

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Marcia had left on Christmas Day for the States to visit her Mom and I stayed at home with the dogs, the fireworks and our effigy.

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I was already asleep when Ben and Maluchi (our neighbors) called to see if I would drive them to a party – there were no cabs to be found and they didn’t have a car. Half the roads were closed and there was traffic everywhere, but I got them to their party. They were just getting home again the next day around 10am. Holidays in Ecuador were quite the event.

It was easy to meet other expats. Local restaurants hosted “Gringo Nights” where we’d all get together and share our experiences of living in Cuenca over dinner. These nights were fun, almost essential at first. It gave you a chance to hear English, ask questions and talk to people that were going through the same sort of things. A year and a half earlier we had met our friends Edd and Cynthia at the 4th of July gringo outing. Most gringos would say the friends you meet as expats are as long lasting as any of your life. We would agree with this.

Nat, his wife and kids were expats from Maine that lived further down the road from our house. He was about 6’3” with gray hair in a ponytail, and a braided beard and mustache that went halfway down his chest. To say Nat looked intimidating was an understatement.

Unlike us, they moved to Cuenca with only their suitcases. They started from scratch furnishing their home and getting their girls into the local schools. He was mean as grit on the outside and simple and warm on the inside. He’s the kind of friend that comes about for the strangest reason, but a friend that makes your life bigger and better by being there.

We were all there for different reasons yet being there gave us all something in common. In some cases, that alone was enough to forge a lifelong friendship.

She said:

For weeks we muddled through the chore of buying things: firewood, groceries, lunch, water. The price almost never stayed the same. We went to the market and bought fresh flowers once a week. We were amazed and delighted to buy a large bouquet for only $3. Two bunches gave us flowers for every room of the house.

I began to realize our price was different from everybody else – it was more of a suspicion than proof but I suspected we paid double, sometimes triple the regular price. One day the nice lady handed me the flowers and I handed her one gold dollar coin. She said gracias and so did I. This changed my approach forever.

The neighbor that walked his Great Dane by our house when we first moved there didn’t speak a word of English but his wife was fluent. Sandra was a beautiful, proper lady….quiet spoken, respected. Don Alfredo was fun loving, his eyes sparkled when he talked.

It was Sandra that helped us coördinate work around the house. When we needed a wood shed, she sent the guys over to build it and she scolded us when we paid them on Friday and they didn’t show up again for a whole week.

Sometimes they stopped by at night to check on me. I’d pour wine and we would talk – me in English, Alfredo in Spanish and Sandra both.

We enjoyed trying out new restaurants. The chef of one of the more popular restaurants agreed to a pilot TV show our neighbor wanted to produce. He and his girlfriend installed an outdoor kitchen at their house. She set up a long table with a white tablecloth and fresh flowers. We were invited to be the audience and eat the food he prepared. It was the day of my 52nd birthday.

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It was one of those rare, sunny days. If it rained, it was cold. If it didn’t rain, the sun was so hot you couldn’t bear it. We waited for hours for them to get the scene just right, to cook the food, for the chef to take a break. He was a nice guy actually.

The problem was I was still homesick. I was very homesick.

The next day the dogs had an appointment with the groomer. We were running late and literally ran out the door, shoved the dogs in the car, slammed the door to the house and rushed out the drive. It wasn’t that long before we were home again. My husband went to the back of the house and I headed toward our bedroom. The dogs were anxious and I remember saying to them, “Come on guys, give me some space.” I hadn’t remembered closing the bedroom door.

Clothes were all over the bedroom – like they had been thrown. The drawers from the nightstand were on the floor – some were half empty, others upside down. My husband’s briefcase was emptied onto the bed, papers littered the floor. His wallet was on the ottoman at the end of the bed.

Not long ago, I heard on the military channel that it takes 5 seconds for a person to realize they are being attacked. It must have taken at least twice that long for my brain to comprehend what my eyes were seeing. We had been robbed.

He Said/She Said: This is life in Ecuador.

He said:

Once the furniture arrived, life settled down in Ecuador. With our “American” appliances installed in the kitchen, we could finally cook at home. Well, the double ovens didn’t work and we couldn’t find an adapter for the dishwasher connection but we had a refrigerator, stove and a coffee maker.

Repairmen from a local appliance store identified the circuit board needed to repair the ovens. I ordered it online and had it shipped to my office in Atlanta. On my next trip, I brought it back and the guys installed it. There didn’t seem to be anything we couldn’t get done in spite of the language barrier.

The routine was that I would work from Ecuador one week and in Atlanta the next. A red-eye flight out of Quito on Sunday got me to Atlanta at 5am. The return trip wasn’t as convenient since the Friday evening flight arrived in Quito at 11:45pm and there was no connecting flight to Cuenca until Saturday morning. I found a great little hotel in Quito, the Eugenia, that catered to my late arrival and the trip wasn’t bad at all.

We bought a barbecue grill and I found a way to modify it to fit the propane tanks that we used for the house. There was a supermarket that was very similar to any grocery store in the U.S. Indigenous markets (the Mercado) and a cooperative market had everything you could imagine.

Farmers brought fruit, vegetables, beef and poultry to the Mercado every day. You could buy a live chicken for $1. There was shrimp, tuna and tilapia, fresh flowers, clothes, pots, pans and baskets. There were fruits and vegetables we had never seen before and, everything was negotiable.

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They’d state the price, I’d counter. After a few visits you became accustomed to the process. I looked forward to the game, I enjoyed it.

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The sights and smells were a cornucopia to the senses. Almost anything you could buy in the States, you could find in these various markets. You might have to look for a local version or understand local packaging (milk in a box) but the variety was there.

The lunch stands were the real treat of the Mercado with fresh roasted pork simmering on a spit. It was usually served with roasted potatoes and fresh maze…for $1.50. Fifty cents more and you could also have a fresh fruit smoothie. This traditional meal was served like fast food is in the States.

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Pigs roasted along the side of the road all day, or in small restaurants around town, on the side of the highway. Everywhere.

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The things we couldn’t find at the Mercardo, the supermarket (Super Maxi) or the hardware stores would be sold in “shops” along the roads to our house. There were garden centers, paint stores, appliances were sold out of the back of a truck parked on the side of the road.

The Eucalyptus tree was introduced to Ecuador – it is not an indigenous tree. It grew rampant and literally took over the country.The best way to control it was to cut it for firewood.

I found a place near our house where we paid $0.50/bundle. Eventually we had a wood shed built behind the house and filled the shed with firewood for less than $20 bucks.

Every day was an adventure. Everything we did took a little research, a little exploring. Life was an adventure.

She said:

A routine of sorts was developing around life in Ecuador.

Running at altitude was a frustrating adjustment. I read everything I could get my hands on. It did nothing to prepare me. Pace is significantly slower. I had just run a marathon yet, six miles at altitude was exhausting and nothing you think will help actually does. I became winded running downhill. Uphill was torturous. Runs ended with nausea, sometimes a headache or both.

Every other Sunday afternoon I drove my husband to the airport. The first few times were terribly stressful. I was afraid of getting lost trying to find home again. I didn’t fully know how to describe where we lived…not that I could have asked for help in Spanish or understood a reply.

Coming home in the dark, alone in a foreign country was unnerving. Everything seemed spookier and for a long time I wasn’t sure if maybe the bad guys would target my house when they saw that I came and went alone all week. I slept with my knife under the pillow.

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Most days were spent unpacking the gazillion boxes we had lugged over. Some dishes were broken but there was less damage than we expected. The second container was miraculously spared an inspection. The antler chandelier survived and eventually found its place high up above the family room. It looked like it had always been meant to be there.

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The walls of our home were concrete block – no Sheetrock. This made for very hard work of hanging pictures and drapes. Drilling through the concrete was slow going and a workout. The muscles in my shoulders and arms ached for weeks.

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The architect didn’t send the workers around quite as often even though there were lots of things left to do. Part of our routine was to stop by his office every other day to beg him to please finish the driveway, deliver the bathtub, or repair one of many leaks in the roof.

Our attorney got involved and convinced him to send a crew to landscape. Instead of sod, they showed up with bags of individual grass sprigs. It looked like our yard was transplanted with hair plugs. It didn’t grow very well and the yard was always muddy.

It was common knowledge that if you got robbed, it was likely by someone who worked for you. Labor was so cheap. It was attractive to gringos that you could hire a housekeeper on the smallest of budgets. Many of the locals had live-in maids or caretakers. We had built a caretaker’s house with visions of a lovely older couple that would stay at home with the dogs while we traveled.

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The architect suggested we hire Jose, one of the young men that worked on the house. It was a logical suggestion. He had just gotten married and his wife was pregnant. This brought with it complications, but we finally agreed. Neither of them spoke a word of English.

Jose worked all week and went partying Friday night, pockets flush with money. We wouldn’t see him again until Sunday. She didn’t seem to have much energy for anything but TV. When we asked her to keep the porch swept, she obliged with this chore at 6:30am, even if we were still in bed. The dogs would bark, startle us awake, and there she would be – staring into the uncovered French doors of our bedroom.

We decided we would sweep our own porch and the caretaker and his pregnant wife were let go.

Our house was so beautiful, but it was always cold. We had brought over a wood burning stove and there were two fireplaces. Firewood was cheap but it was eucalyptus and while I love fresh eucalyptus, burnt eucalyptus has a distinctly sour smell. Our house was always cold and it always smelled odd.

I was homesick.… and then back at home, my mother got sick.

She Said: “They have won.”

It was an unspoken acknowledgement that as soon as my husband’s passport was released, he would travel back to the States to visit the office. I understood. It had been such a long time for him to be away. It was shocking he hadn’t gone off the deep end already.

At times he couldn’t get the internet to work and he’d sit in the car by a wi-fi coffee shop to check email or carry on a conference call by Skype. He had never been such a patient person as to tolerate these kinds of interruptions to his work.

So, when the call came that his passport was released, it was with mixed emotions that we drove to the office in town to complete the paperwork. Of course this took hours.

He put his hands on my shoulders and said the words anyway, “You know I have to go back to Atlanta.”

The containers were scheduled to be delivered. I would meet Gloria. For the life of me I didn’t know how I would not explode from the anger that had festered deep inside for weeks. My husband believes Gloria had nothing to do with the delays. Maybe I needed someone to blame.

Words fail to define the roads leading up to our house. One approach was not such a severe climb but the potholes and ruts were extreme and there was a sharp turn that would be difficult for a truck of any size. The drivers agreed; the steeper approach was the only alternative.

The  back tires hovered off the side of the road while the first container was unloaded.
The back tires hovered off the side of the road while the first container was unloaded.

The containers would sit on the side of the highway and my furniture, art, piano, appliances, china….would be taken out of the container, loaded onto the shuttle truck, which turned out to be a big pick-up truck, driven up the two dirt roads, backed down our drive, unloaded and brought into the house.

It wasn’t possible to oversee the unloading of the container on the side of the highway and at the house simultaneously, so I asked our friend Edd to help me. We had met him and his wife, Cynthia, on our first trip and had read every post about their move to Ecuador on his blog (EddSaid.blogspot.com) during the year we waited for the house to be built. He was a lifesaver to me that day.

He asked me, “What do you want me to do?” I thought about the artwork and things that would come off the container and how easily they could be walked down the street. I said, “Just be sure nothing walks away, I guess.”

I went down to watch them open the doors. The last time I had seen the containers was tumultuous as well and the memories of that night swarmed in my head. They struggled with the lock. I was anxious.

The doors opened….. it looked like a bomb had exploded. Boxes seemed to have been thrown back in – it was a wreck. I couldn’t imagine what damage lurked within.

It was what it was. I drove back to the house defeated. They had won.

Boxes had been opened by the inspectors and their contents were spilling out by the time they reached the house.
Boxes had been opened by the inspectors and their contents were spilling out by the time they reached the house.

Edd spent most of the day on the side of the road watching the containers being unloaded while I was at the house directing where things should go.

He taught me a new Spanish word that I suppose I will never forget: arriba (up), which in this case meant “upstairs”. I heard the workers saying aqui, which meant “here”, and my vocabulary for the day became arriba and aqui. It was an exhausting day for both of us.

The workers had blue jumpsuits they pulled over their everyday clothes. The jumpsuits had no pockets. They were professional and earnestly wanted to do a good job. Clearly, Gloria ran a tight ship. I appreciated that.

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Gloria came to the house at the end of the day. She wasn’t 5′ tall, a scruffy, grandmotherly kind of person. We drove down to see that the containers were empty and sign the paperwork. To the end, I was suspicious of her motives. In such a short time I had lost trust in all of them.

When everything was in the house without incident, Edd and I sat down on the couch amid what seemed like thousands of boxes.

I think he said it first. “I don’t know how all of this stuff is going to fit in this house.”

He Said/She Said: The Container(s)

He said….

Everyone we met that had moved to Ecuador advised us to spend the first trip just looking around. They would say, “Don’t make any major decisions on your first trip.” It was good advice, we just didn’t listen.

It took us one day to determine we couldn’t live in a condo with four dogs. There was another day to rule out the houses we were shown close to town and on the third day we saw the perfect property, negotiated the price and signed the contract for land and house to be built. We got to the airport that same night, looked at each other and said, “What have we done?

For two hours we frantically called our bank to cancel the check we had left as a deposit. It was Sunday night and it wasn’t happening. We decided we could wait until Monday morning, see if we felt the same and then there would still be time to back out. By Monday we had talked ourselves off the ledge.

The Architect's rendering of our new home in Ecuador.
The Architect’s rendering of our new home in Ecuador.

The next year was spent designing the perfect home – by email. The architect would send the plans in Spanish, we used translation software to translate, write our reply in English, use the translation software to turn it back into Spanish, and this went on for months. We finalized the floor plans, the electrical plan and even the paint colors with only random person-to-person contact. Finally, we were told we should ship the furniture and schedule our move.

imageMoving household goods to a foreign country requires that you lease containers to ship everything in, hire packers to pack all of your things and load them into the containers (securely hopefully), a U.S. based freight forwarder, a shipper for the ocean transport, a freight expeditor in the entry country for customs, a land shipper to drive the containers from the entry port to your home and a service company to unload.

Alternatively, you can hire a full service company for turn-key service. Wanting to take as much pain out of the process as possible, we hired the turn-key service, an Agent based out of New York. They claimed they would handle everything “door to door”.

We checked several of their references and felt comfortable they could do what they claimed. The next step was to make a list of everything being moved.

We went through the house, item by item. The Agent contracted with a local company to do the packing and load the container. He came to the house to take a look – he took pictures of everything that was being shipped and then announced it wouldn’t fit in one container.

The cost of the second container was ridiculous – I had already been down that road. So, the Agent and I negotiated the second container price but decided it would be a back-up. We would get rid of some more things and try to fit into just one container.

I’m always accused of never being around for any of our moves. Maybe I was there for one, but it does seem like something always comes up. I left to take care of things in Ecuador the week the movers came. Marcia stayed back at the house with the dogs to oversee the packing and loading of the container.

She said…..

It was the perfect home. I looked at the pictures online several times a day before we met with the agent who showed it to us in person. It was even better in person. I loved this house. I thought we would live there forever. Maybe we would leave when we were old and feeble….not a minute sooner.

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We were having coffee one morning when my husband suggested we consider moving to Ecuador. The cost of living would be so much better. We could live our lifestyle for the rest of our lives, never downsize. We could find another dream house. And we did, except…..

We had too much furniture. Quietly, I started selling this and that. A nice lady bought the dining room furniture and left with all of the living room furniture too. A college girl came to pick up the floral chair and her mom bought a whole set of china. For weeks I priced everything I could bring myself to part with and justified why I would absolutely not consider selling other things. Then I would capitulate and sell more.

What was left got evaluated, estimated and eventually packed for a trip across the ocean.

My husband had coördinated the move – all I had to do was supervise. There were things to be taken care of in Ecuador and although it does not seem like a very good decision now, he went on the trip while I supervised.

The first couple of days were not without incident, but came and went. The rules were that every box had to be inventoried, contents written on the outside of the box and registered on a spreadsheet which I carried around on my iPad. Boxes sat everywhere with their contents defined for everyone to see. Twenty-eight bras, ten sweaters, twelve pair of socks.

The workers started falling behind schedule. The foreman of the group got irritable. By the second night he was yelling at the New York agent. By the third night he was yelling at me. He said we needed another container. I yelled back at him, “I have sold more than half of my furniture and you tell me it still wasn’t enough?” He walked out and took the workers with him. I wasn’t sure he’d come back. I spent hours prioritizing what else I was willing to give up. It was horrible.

imageMy husband got involved and negotiated another container. The first container was to be at the port in Charleston, S.C. by Thursday night but it was sitting in the yard, backed up to the front door Thursday morning. I don’t know what the HOA thought about this. At the time I didn’t care.

The second container had to be at port by Saturday morning or it wouldn’t ship with the first container. The New York agent assured me this would cost us dearly.

The first container had finally left and the driver was back to retrieve the second container. At 5pm Friday, we were one-third finished packing the second container….and the foreman got irritable again. He was on the phone yelling at the New York agent. I couldn’t tell what it was about. He gathered the crew and the packing materials, said he was finished…they drove away. I stood there paralyzed in the moment.

As it turns out, the New York agent stupidly paid him 100% in advance. It was Friday night and he wanted to go home. There was nothing the agent could do to help. I had to figure this out on my own, except I had no clue what I was going to do on my own. I started making phone calls but every mover in town seemed to be done for the weekend or was already on another job.

The man who was to drive the container to Charleston that night never hesitated when he told me he would wait with the container. “All night if that’s what it takes,” he said.

My neighbor had been checking on me all week and arrived around 6:00pm with the idea that we could ask the workers that were roofing a house down the street for help. I walked down the street and for the first of many, many times to come I asked, “Do you speak English?”