He Said/She Said: “Gloria, how much more money will it take?!”

She said…

I stood in the street peering into the cavernous darkness of the second container. One of the roofers from down the street spoke English and had agreed to help finish loading the container.

There were no packing materials so I rushed to Lowe’s and bought every variety on the shelf: boxes, bubble wrap, shrink-wrap, tape. There were bags of rope and although I couldn’t imagine why it might be needed, I bought it.

The guys came over around 8pm. I had been throwing things into boxes, scribbling something on the outside to serve as inventory and taping them as fast as I could move.

We had paid extra for a crate to be built for the antler chandelier that would go in our new family room, but this had not been done before the calamity started. It was the last thing to be packed.

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We all debated it for a minute – the roofers in Spanish, my neighbor, the driver and I in English. One of the roofers jumped in and wrapped it in bubble wrap and then shrink wrapped it a gazillion times. We all nodded approval. It took four of them to walk it to the container. We situated it on a big bed of bubble wrap and tied it to the sides of the container with the rope.

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It was a little after midnight. I was holding what was left of the rope. The driver standing beside me, waiting. He was such a good man. I threw the rope into the blackness of the container as far as I could. He handed me an extra roll of bubble wrap and I threw it in too. We laughed and he closed the doors. He set the seal and told me to check the doors in Ecuador. They should still be sealed shut when it reached my house.

By the time I arrived in Ecuador with the dogs, the containers had already been in customs for weeks. My husband was quite sure they would be delivered to the house just one week later.

imageI had sent a suitcase with him months ago with enough clothes to get me through a few days until we could get unpacked. He found outdoor furniture and had moved it into the family room so we had somewhere to sit. Then he bought an air mattress, pillows and sheets for sleeping, towels and a bath mat. Staying at a hotel wasn’t an option with the four dogs and I wouldn’t consider boarding them.

We brought our own appliances but they were in the containers, of course, so we went out to eat for every meal.

Every three or four days we dropped our clothes off at the laundromat on the way in to town. My clothes were beginning to look like they had been chewed up but they were clean.

We waited for word that the containers had been cleared by customs. There was a penalty fee for every day they sat in customs and this was threatening to overwhelm me. Every day I asked my husband, “Isn’t there something we can do?!”

He called the attorney. She said she would call the broker the next day. She would sue her. She knew somebody that knew somebody…or she had gone to school with somebody… that could help.

He called Gloria, the broker in Quito. One night he was begging her to release the containers. I heard him say, “Gloria, I have already given you more money!” I couldn’t breathe. My heart was racing, my head spinning.

I took the phone out of his hand mid-sentence. “What more do you want from us? All of our belongings, my son’s baby pictures, the music box my parents gave me as a child…our very life is being held hostage in those containers! What more do you want from us?!” I started to cry and handed the phone back to my husband. Still, the containers would not be released.

He said…

The New York Agent contracted with a Broker/Freight Expeditor in Quito to coördinate entry of our containers into Ecuador. We had already applied for our Residency Visa but the containers had arrived so quickly, the Visa had not come through. Without this stamp on my passport, our household belongings would be claimed commercial rather than personal and taxed as much as 60% of their determined value. This was when I jumped on a plane for Ecuador.

Our attorney agreed to fly with me to Quito for a meeting with Gloria, the Broker. We would also visit Immigration and Customs to get my Visa approved and have the containers released duty-free. We met with Gloria on a Sunday.

She was a whirling dervish. Maybe 5 feet tall, looked like a sweet little grandma, talked like a sailor. She had been in this business for 50 years and seemed to know everything there was to know.

She made it very clear she had not been paid by our New York Agent and there was little she could do until she was paid. I knew why she hadn’t been paid. I had refused to make the final payment to the Agent because the packers had walked off the job and left Marcia to finish packing and loading the second container. Obviously, they kept their portion and didn’t pay Gloria. I assured Gloria I would pay her directly and we went to Customs where they demanded I surrender my passport.

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My passport would be the assurance that if the Visa was not approved, I wouldn’t leave the country without paying those 60% taxes. Before I left, Gloria and I agreed on her fee and she committed to getting our containers through customs no matter what. She told us she had insiders that would help.

Gloria’s fee was still less than what I would have paid the New York Agent so everything seemed ok. The attorney wasn’t quite so sure everything was ok.

On the flight back to Cuenca, she told me she had never met anyone quite like Gloria. She said, “I will make sure she lives up to her agreement.” This would prove to be as big a job as she feared.

There were delays. Halfway through the process changes were made to the immigration laws. Months went by. Gloria was getting anxious. She wanted to be paid.

Our attorney’s sister was a friend of the wife of the new Director of Immigration so a meeting was arranged. I had only intended to be in Ecuador for a few weeks and had only packed casual clothes. I bought a pair of slacks, a white shirt and a tie. We put together a list of friends and associates from the states and every person I had met in Ecuador to use as references for this guy. I even called in some favors from a few Ecuadorian officials that I had done business with in the past. We went to the meeting. He showed up in jeans and a t-shirt.

Nice guy but he said there was nothing he could do for us. “You’ve done everything right but the rules have changed and you’re caught in the middle,” he said. “I can’t change the rules for you a week after the new rules have gone into effect.” Gloria took advantage of these changes. She wanted more money.

Meanwhile we were being charged $125/day per container in overage fees for every day the containers sat on the dock past two weeks. We were long past two weeks.

Finally, Gloria called and said the containers had been scheduled for inspection. We were allowed to be present for the inspection but Gloria emphatically insisted we shouldn’t. We were nervous.

The second container inventory wasn’t complete. If things didn’t match up to their satisfaction, they could confiscate – but, it was all about money. There would be more fees.

We had heard they would randomly open boxes, compare that box to the inventory and move on. Worst case was that they would unload the entire container onto the dock, inspect everything and reload. We waited for Gloria’s call.

He Said/She Said: Our Move to Ecuador

My husband reluctantly agreed to write about the events surrounding our move to Ecuador….from his perspective. The plan was that he would tell his version and I would tell mine. He wrote his story in November. I realized I was not yet ready to write my story.

Moving to Ecuador, living in Ecuador and even attempting to leave Ecuador were stories – adventures that read like two different novels depending on which of us tells the tale. Every day was an event, every event cloaked in more events, the sum of which is unbelievable to me… adventurous to him.

Last week I finally wrote my story – the tip of an iceberg of tales. Here is the recount of our arrivals into Ecuador.

He said…..

Becoming an expat is a complicated process. We went all out – found a beautiful piece of property overlooking the colonial city of Cuenca, built a home and brought over all of our belongings. We moved to Ecuador.

The view from our house overlooking Cuenca.
The view from our house overlooking Cuenca.

To import your belongings requires that you declare residency, a process that can take several months and mounds of documentation. We tackled the process at our usual pace of 120 miles an hour – a pace that has contributed its own fair share of success and stress over the years.

Shippers were hired to load and ship two, 40-foot containers of everything from lamps, art, dishes and appliances to gym equipment and a wood burning stove. Expediters were hired to clear customs and manage the delivery and unloading of everything at our new home.

I left several months early to complete the residency process so the containers would be cleared duty-free. I thought this would take a week or two. Then I would return home, get the North Carolina house closed up and bring Marcia and the dogs back. There were complications.

There were problems with customs and the shipper so our Ecuadorian attorney agreed to intercede on our behalf, but she needed my passport. Reluctantly, I gave her my passport shortly after I arrived in June.

There were delays every other day. Days turned into weeks and then months. Still no passport. This office or that directorate had delayed this or needed to stamp that. The expediter wanted more money. She assured me she could get the containers cleared through customs…..with just a little more money. This went on and on.

Since I was there, I decided I may as well be productive. We needed a car, so I bought a car. I didn’t speak Spanish, they didn’t speak English. The roads up to our house were mostly dirt – well, mostly mud so we needed a four-wheel drive. I researched every car they showed me, most of them made in Japan. After several weeks, I decided on one and used hand signals to negotiate the price. I think I got a good deal.

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Construction on the house wasn’t finished. So, I made trips up to meet with the architect, trips up to meet with the construction manager and the real estate agent. I took pictures – lots of pictures and sent them to Marcia. I wasn’t sure it would be finished by the time she arrived and I started looking for a house we could rent – with four dogs.

On one of the trips up to the house, I came across a Chevy Suburban that had slid off the road in a ditch. It was an elderly couple – no English, of course. I tied my little Tonka Toy Grand Vitara up to their number and pulled them right out of the ditch. We were all shocked, but that little car turned out to be a monster.

I moved out of the hotel and rented a condo, explored the indigenous markets, found the grocery store, the post office and the best place for a cappuccino. I got to know some of the other ex-pats and went to the weekly social.

Four months had passed, still no passport. It had became apparent that I wouldn’t make it back home to help Marcia bring the dogs over. We talked every day by Skype but we had been living in two different worlds. Finally, she would arrive this week.

I hired a driver to bring us back from the airport in Quito with the four dogs. It was an 8-hour drive and her flight didn’t arrive until 11pm. We would drive through the night.

The three dogs in their kennels came out first. Then I saw her. I was so excited for our new memories to begin.

She said…..

It was like a band-aid being ripped off your arm. We knew it was going to happen but when it did, we weren’t ready (I wasn’t ready) and it stung.

We were having coffee when the email came that the containers with all of our belongings would arrive in Ecuador in three days time…two weeks early.

It was decided my husband would go over to attend to the details and everything went into high gear. That was early June. I didn’t see him again until October.

When he left, my next marathon was about 16 weeks out. It took a few weeks of denial but once I accepted that he couldn’t come home, I settled into my training. Everything I did that summer seemed to have a finality to it. The summer was very introspective.

Dakota and I sat on the back porch the last night we were in North Carolina.
Dakota and I sat on the back porch the last night we were in North Carolina.

After the marathon, I was home for one last week. I gave away the houseplants, brought everything in from the porch. The jeep dealer was going to buy my jeep back and the day before the flight, I took it to them. The tears were flowing before I reached the end of the drive and I sobbed all the way there. I didn’t want to sell my Jeep, I didn’t want to leave my home, I didn’t want to go. It was too late for these thoughts.

I rented a pick-up truck to carry the dog’s kennels already assembled to the airport. Our flight left from Atlanta, a 3-hour drive. We left early.

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Dakota, Dudley and Dylan at the Atlanta airport.

Check-in took two hours. Three dogs went into kennels and were loaded into the belly of the plane. Damen, the oldest, was in a carrier under the seat in front of me. He slept the entire flight. I did not.

We landed in Quito at 11pm and just beyond the stacks of the dog’s kennels in the baggage claim area I could see my husband’s face. All my worries subsided and, in spite of being emotionally and physically exhausted, I was excited. We set out for the drive over the mountain to our new home.

The driver got lost in Quito and drove around for over an hour. There were 8 more hours of driving after that. The dogs were everywhere. It was a very small car. The kennels strapped on top. There was an avalanche of rain. The car leaked. My husband sat in the front passenger’s side.

The two small dogs were scared and wouldn’t leave me. I couldn’t sit up any longer and crawled in the back with Dudley and Dylan. Dylan wouldn’t scoot over. I had to lie down. The floor was wet. I couldn’t believe this – I was so tired. I slept in what felt like a small mud puddle. I was cold. It didn’t matter. For at least a little while I slept. Off and on I heard the rain pouring outside. I felt a little drip on my back.

We pulled into the driveway of our new home around 10am. My husband was excited and proud. The dogs jumped out all at once. The driver was so kind. He spoke English and said to me, “Welcome home.”

I stepped out of the car and both feet sank to my ankles in mud.