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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Tamera's Take: Cats...I don't think we're in Kansas anymore.

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Tamera's Take is about being here.
Are you ready?  I am.

It has been two three four five six months since our last post. Let that sink in a minute.

Airport in Guayaquil Ecuador
Someone I know, posted on Facebook the lyrics to one of my favorite songs.  Once In a Lifetime - Talking Heads.
She posted it for a specific reason having nothing to do with us, but it seemed appropriate for this segment of Tamera's Take.  And the feeling is...same as it ever was...same as it ever was.

And you may find yourself
Living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself
In another part of the world
And you my find yourself
Behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house
With a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself, well
How did I get here?

(Once In a Lifetime - Talking Heads)

As I began writing this a few months ago, a Butterball turkey was thawing in my mom's refrigerator. Emeril Lagasse and Rachael Ray were on TV screeching to a studio audience about yams, cranberries and giblet gravy.

We are not in Ecuador.
Saying "chao" to our friend David last September

Still not in Ecuador.

We are not in Kansas either.

Waiting for our flight from Guayaquil to Miami

My husband and I were about 48 hours away from the traditional holiday, known in the United States as Thanksgiving. I had been to the grocery store three times in a few days to purchase food items for the feast. Trip number four was upcoming. 

It may sound like I am complaining, but I am not.  I am actually very happy to be with my family during this holiday season (and beyond).  That is what we say now, "The Holiday Season".  That time frame beginning around October 31st and ending January 2nd.  A blur of individual holidays that now resemble a box of melted crayons.  A big box of Crayolas.  All 64 of them.  No wait.  All 120 of them. Maybe it is 200 now.  They keep adding colors.  Anyway they are all melted. 

You may be asking yourself, well how did they get here?

Tornado? No.  Hurricane? No.  Earthquake?  Plausible, but no.

Very simply, Paperwork, and then more Paperwork.  The one paperwork item we got wrong prior to arriving in Ecuador.

Based on what we researched, FBI Background Checks did not, and could not, be apostilled.  That may have been the case a year ago. But government documents, processes and requirements change all the time, all over the world.

If you are trying to obtain a Resident Visa, your FBI Background Checks must be apostilled.  Let me repeat.  FBI Background Checks must be apostilled.

It takes approximately four months to receive FBI background checks, then add another month for the apostille process.

Chao Amiga!
Tourist Visas expire, temporary resident visas are just that - temporary.  So here we are back in Estados Unidos to get new FBI background checks.  Before you ask, No, you cannot use the old one. They are only valid for 90 days if you want them to be apostilled.  In addition, you must request an AUTHENTICATED FBI background check, in order for the U.S. Department of State to apostille it.

We move forward.

It was time to go to Super Target for (hopefully) my last shopping excursion prior to Thanksgiving.

And you may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right?...Am I wrong?
And you may tell yourself

Back again. Fast forward.

The Presidential Election in the United States is over - finally. The inauguration occurred on January 20th.  I do not get into political discussions, so I will say no more on the topic.

Christmas - Navidad - Noël - Weihnachten - Božić - Jul - Jól - Boże Narodzenie - Natal - рождество - Nollag  is now a month behind us.

Since we left Ecuador, the months have gone by fast. We have been very busy, but I have to admit, I miss Ecuador.  I am reminded of it every day the instant my laptop screensaver starts up. Thousands of photos we took during in our time in South America flow through the slideshow.  We have done our best to stay in touch with our Gringo Friends in Crucita as well as our Ecuadorian Friends - through WhatsApp or Facebook. But it is not the same as being there.  We practice speaking Spanish to each other and occasionally with other people when the opportunity arises.

To be honest, I was not sure what my feelings would be about our plan to return to Crucita in 2017.  I was afraid I would get sucked back into the things that make the United States so appealing to so many people - whether you are a citizen, a resident or a visitor.

Blondie - very happy to be out of the pet carrier
I will admit that back in September, within one hour of leaving the Miami International Airport in our National Rental Car (on our way to Jacksonville Florida), we stopped at a Starbucks, Burger King and Kangaroo Convenience Store. I even wore a Burger King crown.  It was better than going to Disney World. But that elated feeling wore off the first time we went to the grocery store.  One orange.  One dollar.  What??  Back to the land of overpriced GMO produce and even higher priced "organic" produce.
First cup of Starbucks!
We had to acclimate to our surroundings (again).

Everything is a trade-off. Public transportation was inexpensive and available everywhere in Ecuador. Unless you live in a major U.S. city, public transportation is expensive, complicated and inadequate. However, cars are easier to buy in the U.S. But the price of gas, insurance and repairs can make owning a car impossible for many people. Without going through a laundry list, suffice it to say there are pros and cons in both countries. It all depends on what you want.  What makes you happy.  What is important to your life and lifestyle. 

Every day I seemed to struggle with a strange balance of emotions.  In my thoughts are the people, places and things I love about the United States; and the people, places and things I love about Ecuador.

I missed my family and friends while in Ecuador. Now I miss the happiness and peace I found in Ecuador. I try to imagine how I can find that peace here in the United States so that I can be close to my family. I try to imagine how I can find a way to be close to my family while being in Ecuador.  I want my cake and eat it too. I know that what I want is not possible. Choices have to be made.

Something to keep in mind if you are considering moving to Ecuador. For those of you who have the financial resources to live in another country and travel as often as you want, these choices are probably not an issue. I am not one of those people. We will have to make choices.

Fast forward.

It is April 2017.  We chose our choices. For very happy reasons, we will be staying in the United States for a while.

The hiatus from blog writing is over.  Just because we are not currently in Ecuador does not mean we will not continue to blog about Ecuador.

It is sort of like starting an adventure (again).


Monday, September 12, 2016

Tamera's Take: Scarves, Cats & Nomads

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Tamera's Take is about being here.
Are you ready?  I am.

Before I begin, I need to say that it was a compliment that my husband borrowed my signature tag line, "are you ready", in his last post.

So we move forward.  Now I have borrowed his.

Las Grietas, Isla Santa Cruz, Galapagos
It is 9:30 am Ecuador time.  That's UTC-5:00 for you international readers.  In Jacksonville Florida it is 10:30 am.  When Daylight Savings Time comes around on Sunday, November 6, 2016 at 2:00 am, Crucita and Jacksonville will be on the same time.

It makes me feel a little closer to my loved ones back home.

What does "trouble maker" mean?
As you have read in my husband's recent blogs, some of our loved ones visited us in August. During their 10 day visit, we were treated to a trip to the Galapagos Islands for four days. Aside from a few minor stomach issues and some clouds, our time in the Galapagos was amazing. Upon returning to our house in Crucita we were greeted by our four cats and a not so fantastic story from our neighbor who was caring for them while we were gone.  Apparently one of the little darlings decided to hide in one of the guest bedrooms (upstairs) while we were loading our luggage into the truck at 3:30 am. At 4:00 am, the upstairs rooms were closed and locked.  Our cats (minus one) were downstairs, along with their food & water bowls, and beds. Our neighbor had been given a set of keys, cat food and instructions (in Spanish), the day before. We were off for Guayaquil airport.

I will make the long and excruciating story short by saying, our neighbor Maria was worried after a day went by and she only saw three of our four cats.  I only gave her keys to the downstairs and the exterior gates. Luckily she knows our landlord. The house was opened. The wayward monster kitty was scared but okay...after making a mess that cannot be described.

In the future, I will never ignore my instincts - which told me to check the entire house for a "cat count" before we left.

One cool bag, one strange hat
On Pandora Radio, I am listening to: Madonna "Just Like a Prayer", which was released spring 1989. 

I do not even have to look up the year this song was released. I know the year because forever in my memory is my four year old daughter dancing and twirling around the house, with her hair brush microphone singing that very song.  She may not have known all the words.  She certainly did not know the MTV video that caused so much controversy.  All she knew was that she loved to sing and dance.  Especially when momma sang and danced with her.  Her momma loved that too.

People close to me know I love wearing scarves.  They are my favorite accessory.  I know every way to wrap, twist and tie them.  They seem to work for me.  In any season.  Any time of day.  What is not to love?! If it is raining - cover your head.  If it is cold - wrap around your shoulders.  Having a bad hair day or the wind is blowing - twist and tie around your hair. If you need a bit of color on a drab day - just pick one and go.  My daughter likes scarves too.  Although I think she is more of a hat person. She wears them well.

I do not see a many Ecuadorians wearing scarves in Crucita. No matter.  It is my thing. I do not feel the need to change that about myself.  Although I will say that I am now recognized by my fishing hat more than my scarves around here.  It is a simple tan cotton fishing hat. I have had it for nearly 15 years.  I wear it a lot.  I brought 6 scarves with me when we moved here.  I brought the hat at the last minute.

Two weeks ago I received all the confirmation I needed; in Crucita, I am recognized by that darn fishing hat.
The only ATM in Crucita

So here is what happened.

We needed cash to pay our utility bills and buy a few things from Frema's tienda.  Jason offered to walk to the ATM machine.  The ONLY ATM machine in Crucita. I do not try to use that machine any more.  It hates me. When I say it hates me, I mean that I cannot get it to work.  Jason has no problem with it.

The issue is that the machine "requires" your card (tarjeta) to have a chip in it.  Our Visa debit cards do not have chips.  Our bank and many others in the U.S. do not feel the need to put chips in their cards. I am sure it has something (everything) to do with the cost associated with updating software, and replacing machines.

When we first arrived in Crucita, we were told there was an ATM machine in our little fishing village. It is located at the COACMES building, which is a 10 minute walk from our house. The first time we tried to use it we realized that chip technology is alive and well in Ecuador. Good for banks and security. Bad for us. In order for us to use an ATM machine, we had to go to Portoviejo - 18 miles away.  There are ATM machines that will accept cards with or without a chip.

Bus ride to Portoviejo for cash.

We did this for 5 months.  Right up until April 15, 2016.  The day before the 7.8 Terremoto (earthquake) hit Ecuador.

Two weeks post earthquake, we were really in a difficult situation. No buses to Portoviejo. Even if there were buses running, it would not have mattered.  Most bank machines were not working. Most of the buildings that had ATM's were destroyed.  Portable ATM machines were set up, along with lines of people waiting hours to use them.

We mentioned our ATM predicament to a few of our friends and acquaintances here in Crucita and asked them what they thought we should do.  First they offered us money and asked if we needed food or water.  If we have not made this clear before, that is what it is like to be here in Crucita, Ecuador. People help each other. Not just in times of catastrophe - all the time.   No "once a year slogan" required.  A slogan that lost its true meaning so long ago, that everyone forgot.  I will let that one sit.  You will either get it or you won't.

We declined the kind offers of money and food.  We were not at that point yet.

We were told by two Ecuadorians and one Canadian friend that if you "keep trying", your chip-less card will eventually work in the Crucita ATM machine.


Stunned and with some amount of disbelief, we grabbed our cards and made the trek to COACMES (co-a-may). The Cooperativa building where the ATM machine is located.  Deep breath. Google Translate App open and ready on our cell phone.  The card slides into the machine.  It speaks to us in Spanish, telling us basically that the card will not work, and "please remove your card".   We remove the unacceptable card and slide it in again.  The machine speaks to us again. Please remove your unacceptable card.  We do.  But we try again; and again; and again.  After 15 or so tries, we see a different screen appear.  Press here for Espanol. Press here for English.  Woo Hoo!  English!!!  Please enter your PIN.  Those words never looked so good.  Please select Withdraw, Inquiry, Deposit.  Withdraw Withdraw Withdraw!!!!  Please select, Savings, Checking,....blah blah, whatever came after those selections I have no idea.  Savings please!!!  Enter the amount.  We enter 200.  We receive $200, in $10's and $20's.

Jason - Las Grietas, Galapagos Ecuador
Okay.  Back to my hat story.

As I said, two weeks ago Jason walked to COACMES, to withdraw cash.  He was gone a long time.  I knew this was not a good sign.  He returned about 45 minutes later with a look on his face that meant only one thing. The attempted transaction was not successful.  Two hundred tries not successful.

I asked him for my little blue zippered wallet that contained the bank card. He looked in his recently acquired bag from the Galapagos.  All Ecuadorian men carry these by the way.

No blue wallet.  He looked in his pockets.  No blue wallet.

My "wifey" panic sets in.  His calm standard response, "I know I have it; it's here somewhere".

Obviously NOT here somewhere, as my heart sinks, we make the trek together towards COACMES. We are now looking on both sides of the street, in the ditches, trash cans, etc.

I have already envisioned what must have happened.

On Pandora Radio: Adele "Set Fire to the Rain"

Sea Lions like the benches
After the absolute frustration of 200 attempts to make that card work in the ATM machine, Jason puts the near useless card into the little blue wallet belonging to his wife.  He then puts the wallet into his black bag that reads "Galapagos" on one side and "Ecuador" on the other. Walking away from the ATM machine, knowing that he and his wife will soon be on a bus to Portoviejo.

What really happened was he put the card into the blue wallet.  Then looking away he goes through the motion of putting the wallet into his bag and misses the bag completely.  The wallet falls to the ground in front of the ATM machine.  He walks home.

Fast forward.

We are nearing COACMES at break-neck speed.  I am wearing my tan fishing hat. I look up at a young man walking towards us. I recognize him.  He works at COACMES.  I know he recognizes me by that silly hat of mine.  Instead of the usual "buenos dias, or hola", he says, "tarjeta y bolsa azul". At the same time he is making the shape of a square with his hands.  He has just told us that they have our card at COACMES.

A bus ride to Portoviejo.

It would be the last bus ride with that debit card.  It expired September 1, 2016.  Where is my new card?  At my daughter's house in Jacksonville, Florida.  We are still working out the logistics of getting that card mailed to us from the United States.  That story to be continued in another blog.

La Ruta del Sol 
We have since retrieved our back-up card from our friend Tamy. She lives just outside of Portoviejo.  That card does not expire for another year.  We may only have one card, but at least we have a working card.

It is times like these that I feel more like a vagabond than an adventurer.  Maybe there really is not a difference. Its a good thing I have a lot of scarves and an awesome hat.

It seems to be the standard, basic apparel for backpackers, travelers and Europeans. We see a lot travelers who fit that description in Ecuador. Especially when we take trip on La Ruta del Sol (The Route of the Sun).  While we were in the Galapagos last month, I saw many more.  I fit right in. Minus the backpack.

Our move to Ecuador was my first real introduction to Hostels. They are everywhere. I knew what they were, but had never actually seen one.  In my ignorance, I assumed they only existed in Europe and used by teens and twenty-somethings who were trying to find themselves. I could not be more wrong. I cannot speak for other countries, but here, they are cheap, clean and a great way to save money on lodging while on your adventures. Regardless of your age.

I must admit that until a year ago, I owned a Frommer's Guide to Paris on $3 a day.

It was bought probably 30 years ago.  After time became dog eared, torn and revered with all the hope of a girl who thought she would get the chance to experience day.

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Saturday, September 3, 2016

Let's Do This - Multiplazas, The Duke Boys, and Bam Bam

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A local pharmacy will sell you Bactrim sans prescription.
And so we move forward.  The previous evening something happened that was not so good.  My wife, began having problems with her stomach.  She had a rough night to say the least.  The good news is Ecuadorians have a remedy for the 24 hour bug which our landlords clued us in to.  A quick trip to the pharmacy or tienda for two Bactrim Forte.  One will usually do but we buy 2 just in case.  You see in Ecuador no prescription is needed for antibiotics and you can buy by the pill.  Within eight hours of the Bactrim my wife was on the Physically able to Perform list. Guess what.  I got it next.  I however, am allergic to Bactrim. It is a strong antibiotic and I am allergic as I know because a prescription in the U.S.A. resulted in hives.  I had to live with the stomach bug for three days.

Then Dad #2 got it.  He lived with it as well.  Finally, Mom got it while we were in the Galapagos.  She finally took the Bactrim and had a mild allergic reaction (itching) but felt better the next day.  We did not eat the same foods and Brenda and Linda never got sick.  This leads us to believe it was not food, just an unfortunate bug.

Tamera and I have not experienced anything like this since moving here and we later found out a bug was going around.  My apologies to our guests.

And so we move forward again.  I talked before about all the wonderful gifts my parents brought.  I want to also mention a gift my cousin Brenda brought.  A Kindle Fire complete with full library.  It is very hard to get English language books here and Tamera and I both love to read.  We are very fortunate to have such a generous, supportive, and kind family.  By that I mean on Tamera's side as well as mine.  To us there is no difference between the two and readers should know that.

The Portoviejo Multiplaza
 And so we move forward yet again.  As my wife was not feeling well it was decided she should stay home and rest.  Today was the first venture out of Crucita and to Portoviejo.  There were multiple items on our agenda so this development was just a little stressful for me.  You see I rely on my wife for translation more than I should.  When we moved here my Spanish acumen consisted of asking the time, someone's name, counting to ten, where is the shoe store, and ordering beer; not necessarily in that order.

What will you find on the streets of Portoviejo?  The Duke Boys!
Now, I would have to drive in a large Ecuadorian city for the first time.  You see, we have almost always taken a bus or cab.  When my our friend Rob visited he drove and I navigated.  That was before the earthquake.  Now all our landmarks are gone (is that the General Lee?), there have never been many street signs, roads are closed, stop lights/signs are mere suggestions, and driving here takes some getting used to.  I would also have to translate in stores as well as at street markets, make sure the costs given are what is paid, and make sure our change is correct.

Thankfully, I was able to postpone a shopping trip to Picoasa until the next day when Tamera could help.  My family understood.

Our first stop was the Multiplaza.  Here you find Supermaxi grocery, our stated destination.  Supermaxi has more import items than other stores in my limited experience.  You will find TodoHogar which I equate to the U.S.A.'s Bed, Bath, and Beyond, KyWi Ferretero which is the U.S.A. version of Home Depot, electronics, toy, and clothing stores.  You will also find KFC, a pharmacy, ice cream shops, etc.  As at most large malls your car is protected by private security.

I don't mean one or two out of shape "rent-a-cop" types riding around in a golf cart or little truck.  They are large and in charge.  They are at the entrances and exits and in one mall, in towers looking over the entire establishment.  By the way, I have found it is impossible for one or even two men to keep four women together in a mall, or market regardless of country.  We explored, we shopped, we found bagels, we had a blast.

You will find a few things other than language and security differ in the stores here.  One is the lockers.  If you have bags or backpacks you must put them in a locker before you enter a store.  This costs nothing and the key has a security tag on it.  This tag reminds you not to forget your bags very loudly.  It is the same tag used on clothing to prevent shoplifting.  I think it is a great idea.  The second is the carts.  When you walk into Supermaxi there are red carts.  Do not take them.  Instead, walk a little further and take the silver cart.  Once you navigate the grocery store and have everything you need the silver cart gets emptied at the register.  As your items are rung up you push the silver cart to the side to be picked up and returned by staff.  A bag boy at the far end of the register counter has magically appeared with a red card in tow.  He bags your groceries and puts them in the cart.  DO NOT HELP!  It is his job and he will look at you as though your are loco just as he looked at my Dad.  Once you have paid it is time to go to your car.  The bag boy brings your groceries and loads them into your car.  The tip should be $0.25 per cart.  We came, we saw, they bought us a new coffee maker.

Sweeties from the local dulcerias!
And we move on yet again.  We head back in the general direction of Crucita.  There is a little roadside stand on the way.  It is made of bamboo and wood.  It is not a place most people might stop however, I was clued in to this piece of heaven by our friend Tamy.  I want the family to try ensalada de frutas. It may seem like just a fruit cocktail.  As explained in a much earlier post it is really not JUST a fruit cocktail as it is homemade daily and is the most delicious fruit I have ever tasted.  Ice cold and amazing.  Everyone has one.  I think they share my affinity for this tasty treat.  One cup is $0.25.

As we move on for our final time before heading home I inform my family that we are headed to Dulceria Bam Bam.  Bam Bam is located in Rocafuerte which is famous for its dulcerias or sweets shops.  Bam Bam was introduced to us by Tamy who says it is the best one.  So far I must agree.  We have tried others but Bam Bam is the best.

Dulcerias make a number of items but are not considered panaderias (bakeries) because they don't make breads.  They are specialty sweets shops.  Ice cream, cookies, cakes, candies, and my favorite; Rompope (rom-po-pay).  Rompope is like a caramel eggnog infused with what else?  Rum.  Now, recipes vary by each region so aguardiente can also be used as in the linked recipe.  I've only ever had the rum variety.  It is very rich, thick, and sweet.  Ecuadorians drink it not just at Christmas as we originally thought, but throughout the year.  It is consumed by the cup or in small shot glasses.  We also enjoy it in coffee and it makes an excellent ice cream topper.  The family gave the rompope mixed reviews but overall, the dulceria was an excellent stop.

As we walk into Bam Bam we see a huge glass display case containing all the cookies and candies made fresh that day. There are literally over a hundred choices and of course everyone wants to know what each one is.

I have no idea.  Really. I know what I've tried and like but I haven't tried close to all of these treats.  Twenty candies are $1.  I won't say how much my family spent because I don't know.  Suffice it to say we still have plenty left two weeks later.

Pumped with sugar highs we head home.  My wife is feeling much better, hungry even.  That is good because tonight we will head to Napoli for beachfront pizza.

Nothing like a slice on La Playa.
Napoli is one of two oceanfront Italian restaurants in Crucita; the other being Genoa.  Both are delicious as evidenced by my wife liking one best and me liking the other best.  Napoli sports a brick oven and excellent thin crust pizza as well as a full Italian menu.  At some point we will blog about the restaurant but suffice it to say everyone enjoyed a good meal including a langoustine pizza that it out of this world.  When washed down with Club (a South American pale lager), Sangria, or just a coke, the meal was simply delicious. This all takes place overlooking the Pacific from huge bay windows of this second floor restaurant. We had them open to feel the cool breeze of course.  The perfect end to a great day.  Chao!

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Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Arrival - A First Day in Ecuador

Are we Ready?  Finally!
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Time flies.  Our visitors from the U.S.A. or Estadas Unidos or EEUU as it is abbreviated in Ecuador were here for ten days.  I thought it would be long enough but as I said; time flies.

So, my mom #1 (yes I have a mom 1 and mom 2), dad #2 (yes I have a dad 1 and dad 2), cousin (I have many cousins!), and a new friend (now family) have departed Ecuador.  We had a houseful for the first time and it was great.  We also had many adventures such as the triple triangle, the drive through Portoviejo at rush hour, finding the airport in Guayaquil just in time for lunch traffic, and a cut through road to the desert.

Boat Repairs on La Playa
Those in the know are laughing right now as well they should.  You may be too as these next few weeks will result in you reading all about them.  Tamera and I learned we know more than we thought, we still have a lot to learn, and we know what it is like to drive and navigate in Ecuador. Fun and scary at the same time.  We got it down now. Yep!

Also, we literally have thousands of pictures from our travels as everyone's were downloaded to this (now damaged) laptop we use for our blog and everything else.

It was my intention to give everyone credit on their individual photos.  It is impossible due to the sheer number so all future photos concerning our visitors and consequent trip to the Galapagos go to Brenda Burkes, Linda Kerchener, Dottie Mullins, Ron Mullins, Tamera Overman, and well, me.

I know it is cliche to say "I'll start from the beginning so I will not say it.  I will just start shall I?

The Pick Up at Manta Airport
From the edge!  Our house has five bedrooms and five full bathrooms.  There are ten beds total, including trundle beds.  There is air conditioning in one bedroom while the rest have ceiling fans.  One of the bathrooms was damaged in the earthquake and cannot be used. We had four visitors coming.  Since my parents are used to air conditioning my wife and I moved out of the air conditioned bedroom and took the downstairs bedroom.  We are acclimated now and don't use the AC anymore anyway.  In August there is really no need and the fresh air is so much better anyway.  We washed all the pillows, sheets, and blankets in preparation.  My wife hand painted a welcome sign for them.  We swept (a must do every day), mopped, cleaned bathrooms, etc.  It really was not much as we don't utilize most of the bedrooms/bathrooms anyway.  We just wanted it to smell nice and fresh.

So our visitors had the entire second floor for their use.  It gets the best ocean breezes and I believe they were all comfortable the entire time.  If not, I expect to hear from them!

Our attorney (starting to feel a little Hunter S. Thompsonish referencing my attorney all the time) delivered our rental truck to us.  We needed the truck so we could take everyone into town for groceries, shopping, and sightseeing.  We also needed it for the drive to Guayaquil as you will find out later.

Mom and Dad arrived first after a four hour layover in Quito.  They came bearing gifts like the infamous peanut butter, horseradish, good old U.S.A. whisky, books, seeds for gardening, DVD's, Cheese Its (already gone), and other various sundries we can't get here, at least not easily.

My Cousin Brenda and I
We took them to our friend's restaurant, Motumbo for dinner.  They met our neighbors, Eduardo and Flores on the way and received a proper Ecuadorian fisherman greeting.  We ate a delicious beachfront meal and returned home. There are the normal questions about cocktail and tartar sauces (no, none here) and menu translation (the back is in English!).  We had to be up very early to pick up our cousin and friend so we returned home and spent some time catching up.  We were all tired anyway so after a quick tour of the house it was time for bed.

The next morning, mom and I got up.  We drove to Manta to pick up Brenda (cousin) and Linda (friend now cousin!).  We arrived as the plane did. No Brenda and Linda.  Hmmm.  They had an eight hour layover in Quito so they should not have missed the connecting flight. Right flight?  Check.  Right time?  Check.  Extra luggage?  Check.  Where the heck?  There they are behind us. How we missed them and they us I'll never know.  They had to run back to the tarmac as the airline was taking their luggage away.  Luggage?  Check.  The sun was coming up now so they were able to take in the mountain drive, farmland, and produce stands that dot the road to Crucita.  We arrive home and for the first time, we have a full house.  It feels great.

Locals Enjoying Fresh Coconut on the Malecon
Brenda goes upstairs to get some rest. Linda is up for the day.  These two flew in from Virginia and North Carolina and have been travelling a long time.  Linda somehow slept in Quito airport.  Linda has learned to sleep anywhere I find out later. I make everyone breakfast.  Home fries and frittatas with fresh green peppers, onion, basil (from the rooftop), and tomato.  Tamera makes some good strong coffee manually as our coffee pot decided to die on us.  Coffee is a necessity for all but one of us.  Do you know how much we miss Starbucks?

Brenda is up now and it is decided that our first real day will be a walk down the beach and a little tour of Crucita.  Photo ops are good and everyone is ready to start snapping!  We are anxious to show off our little town.  So off we go.  The sun is shining; a 50/50 proposition here in the winter and the water is turquoise.  Sometimes one needs to ease in to paradise so we do.  Brenda and Linda purchase mango with salt and lime from a street vendor.  We're moving slowly.

Time to get to Work!
There are fishing boats as always.  Crucita is after all, fishing village.  The mariposas (butterflies) are beginning to appear on their migration back to the north.  Moto Taxis are headed up and down the Malecon and the kids are on the beach on their siesta from school.  The Catholic school style uniforms are everywhere.Really everyone is just beat from travel and all the stresses that come with it.  We return home after a time and then on to Rimini for cocktails and dinner. Fresh seafood with family on the beach.

The Mural Art in Crucita and all of Ecuador is Outstanding
Lunches and dinners here are traditionally served with rice, fried plantains, and a little side salad with lime based dressing.  The family finds out what they like and don't like quickly.  For most, the plantains are not a favorite though Tamera and I like them very much.  No worries.  Just substitute french fries AKA papas fritas in most places.  The important thing is to try something new.  My family isn't scared to do just that.  Brenda, mom, and I agree on one thing, however.  We have to get a good steak at least once on this trip.  Will we find one?  See if we don't.  Chao!

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

To All in Italy

We are so sorry for the tragedy you have experienced and continue to endure.  Our prayers are with you.

Most Sincerely,
Jason and Tamera,
Crucita, Manabi Ecuador

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Welcome new readers from Italy! Bienvenidos los nuevos lectores de Italia !

Welcome Italy!  We hope you enjoy our blog.

Bienvenido Italia! Esperamos que disfrute de nuestro blog .

Welcome new readers from Guatemala! La bienvenida a nuevos lectores de Guatemala!

Welcome Guatemala!  We hope you enjoy our blog.

Bienvenido Guatemala! Esperamos
que disfrute de nuestro blog.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Eight Months In - Of Rose Colored Glasses, Weather, and Freedom

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Well, here we are!
Well, here we are.  We have surpassed the 6 month mark and by a couple of months at that.  We are now in our eighth month here.  Why is this significant you ask? Well, my wife and I read a lot of other ExPat blogs and one of the recurring themes is the six month mark.  You see, that is when the rose colored glasses come off.  Allegedly.  No, this is not Paris with its beautiful rose light which inspired the saying.

That much is obvious.  Also obvious?  Our six month anniversary was marred by Mother Nature and as we all know, you don't mess with Mother Nature.  Yes, I'm showing my age a bit with that one.

My point is, we are beyond comparing our initial six month's experience with anyone else's.  Looking at it now I see I was being a bit obtuse in thinking we could anyway.  Everyone has different experiences or alternate takes on said experiences which mold how they feel.  Our experiences have left us somewhat conflicted.  Should I stay or should I go?  I will not speak for my wife though I know how she feels.  This is all on me.  One man's opinion as it were.

So many different fruits and plants.
I want to preface the next paragraph with this: I lived in Jacksonville, FL for so long it feels like my hometown.  I loved living there.  My kids are there as are my parents.  My very best friends are there. It is a beautiful city and like any growing city it is facing its own growing pains.

Now-  In Jacksonville, I heard gunshots on a regular basis.  Hell, we found a slug on our back patio though this is the exception, not the rule.

The year we left Jacksonville was in the process of surpassing their annual record of murders.  I do not like having to say that but sometimes the truth hurts.  As in every large city there are areas that are just bad.  Jacksonville is no exception.  They will figure it out.

I have not heard one gunshot here; have not seen one story where someone was killed by gun. There certainly haven't been any mass murders or school massacres as in other areas of the world (none in Jacksonville either).  No policemen have been killed by gun.  No bombings or mass killing by automobile.  No acts of terrorism.

A view of our home, Crucita from the southern mountain.
That is not a political statement nor am I advocating for pro-gun or gun control. Just stating facts here.  We had earthquakes instead.  That is the trade off I guess.  The bright side?  This massive, devastating earthquake thing will most likely not happen again in my lifetime and if it does, I'll probably be to old to care. If we do experience one of that magnitude again sooner rather than later, I will be much more equipped to deal with it than I was.  It may sound weird but I prefer earthquake to a bullet.

I have no statistical data to back this up but I feel like I have a greater chance of being shot in Jacksonville than I do being killed or seriously injured by an earthquake here.  OK.  Maybe not a very bright side but I feel that way. 

The Pacific as seen from our rooftop.  Good morning!
I think it is safe to say my personal rose colored glasses were broken in the initial terramoto and still I love it here.  I mean I love it here a lot.  Right here and now, Mother Nature notwithstanding.  It helps to remember we are not the only ones going through it.  Our friends here seem to all feel the same way which also helps because I know what we feel is normal. It also helps that friends and neighbors here reach out to check on us and us them.  It does not matter how.

Face to face, Whatsapp, Facebook.  Some days I just want to bug out but that feeling is fleeting. Most days I wake up, head to the rooftop terrace, and drink in that Pacific ocean view.  Then I smile.  I smile because I know I am supposed to be here.  I belong here.  As my wife said, we are home.

Our landlords and amigos, Victor and Deysy (Daisy).
In eight short months we have made many new friends.  There are so many wonderful people here and they are just as interested in us as we are in them. Sometimes they have more questions about us than we about them.  Our local tienda owners are a great case in point. Whenever we go in we buy for a few days at a time.  There are no shopping carts or baskets.  You get the things you can carry, place them on the counter, then go back for more.  As we do it they tell us the names of what we purchase in Spanish.

Then they always want to know the "English" name for it.  We get questions about where we are from, what is the weather like (both hotter and colder than here), do we have mosquitoes there (yes and way more than here!), do we have pets (yes. can you guess what kind?), do we like Crucita (yes we do thanks very much).  Priorities are different.  Yes, there is the need for money but most people seem to be content with life.  Things move slowly.  Stress levels are much lower than in the U.S.  Well, non-earthquake related stress anyway.  You get the point.

Can you say tranquilo (trang-kilo)?  I knew you could!
The ExPats come from everywhere.  Italy, U.S., Canada, Germany, France, Columbia, Brasil, etc.  It makes things interesting from many standpoints.  

I mentioned weather.  It does get hot here in the summer months.  Not as hot as it does where I moved from but some days are close.  It does not stay hot at night at least not most evenings.  You can generally fall asleep with your windows and doors open to reap the benefits of the sea breeze and the sound of the Pacific.

No sound machine needed here.

The summer is also the wet season.  To date I have heard thunder once, seen no lightning, and there has been one serious downpour.  The butterflies are everywhere as they migrate.  We had two stretches of week long (or close) rain.  The rest of the time the rain mostly came at night.  There are many sunny days, tasty waves, and extremely high tides.  Many times the tides cover the Malecon when at their peak.  The hottest time of year was March.  Many locals told us it would be cold soon.  Cold?  This is the Equator.  Frio they said.  Winter is coming.  Yeah right.

The summer months.  Ceiba trees on Crucita farmland.
Then, just before the earthquake something happened.  It got cool.  One day it was hot.  The next day not.  That turned out to be a blessing because we were without power for awhile.  Winter is here.  As promised.  Our A/C is off day and night. It will stay that way until Summer returns. Of course it is not really cold though some nights the wind is strong enough to give you chills.  It is cool here. It is perfect temperature day and night. You can do outside work without breaking a sweat.

There are a lot more overcast days but there is generally a few hours of sun even on these overcast days.  There is no rain to speak of so things get a bit dusty.  The mountains are brown again. The ocean temperature drops a degree or two but not enough to stop us swimming.  The tides now get very low and the beach is huge.  There are different birds around.  The whales will be here soon. August is the coolest month or so I am told.  The whales love it here in August.  It is also the very best time of year to visit the Galapagos Islands.  As the ocean currents turn cold they bring in migrating wildlife en mass.  More on that in August I hope.

Grown on our rooftop.  Mi gusto!
I won't take too much time on food in this post but farm fresh eggs and vegetables are plentiful.  Oranges or naranjas (nar-on-ha-s) are back now.  Peppers or pimientos (pim-e-in-toes) are year round as are onions or cebollas (say-bow-yas) Pineapples or pinas (pee-nyahs) are easily found and delicious.  Limes or limons (pronounced lemons) are back after a brief hiatus.  We have our own tree which produces continuously.  Potatoes or papas (spelled like it sounds) are year round as are the Ecuadorian sweet potato, comote (com-oh-tay).  Simply delicious.  So many fresh beans or frjoles (free-hole-ays) are available we still have not tried them all.  Fish or pescado (pez-cod-oh), shrimp or camaron (cam-ah-rhone) are easily found daily.

I have lost so much weight from eating well and exercise I can fit into a concert tee-shirt I wore in the early 90's.  I now wear mediums comfortably.  I was an extra large just months ago. My blood pressure is down (never all that high to begin with), I no longer smoke, and drinking is now very minimal.  All great things for my health.

So what is not to like?  Well terramotos of course.  My rose colored glasses are as I said, broken and most definitely off.  Should I stay or should I go?  I think we will stay unless something happens that makes it impossible.  Will we stay in Crucita?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  It is a perfect place to begin. Easy access to affordable transportation, food, English speaking friends, and a close proximity to a large city make it very attractive.  As time goes on we may move around the country a bit.  What is it like in the mountains, the true Amazon?  What is it like south of here, closer to Peru?  What is it like in Peru, Columbia, Chile, or Brasil?  Could we end up in one of those places someday?  Maybe. We are free to do as we will and just a few hours travel changes your environment greatly.  We are free.  What can be better than that?  Is our compass slowing swinging northward again?  I think so. Chao!

Note:  As I added pictures to this blog (the last step before publishing) we experienced another tremor or tremblor .  4.2 in strength with the epicenter just off the cost of Manta about 12 kilometers away.  No damage or injuries.  Just nerve racking. 

"I feel the earth, move, under my feet!"

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Sunday, July 17, 2016

Tamera's Take: P.T.S.D., CATS, and What the hell am I doing in Crucita Ecuador?

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Tamera's Take is about being here.
Are you ready?  I am.

...going to have to get back to you on that one.

The gully gave way behind the once beautiful house.

It has been about two months since our last post.  Well, my husband's last post. I started this one on June 17, and obviously was not able to finish it. Today is July 17.  I do not know what to say except that since April 16, 2016, I have no idea what I am doing anymore.

On Pandora Radio listening to: "Under Pressure" by Queen (with a little help from David Bowie)

The song seems appropriate.

Too damaged to pass inspection. It will be torn down.
Of course I am talking about since the earthquake.  I cannot even say the "E" word without feeling nausea.  That would be the "T" word in Spanish.  Terremoto

We will just call it, IT.  If you read Stephen King, you will know that IT is just as terrifying.

The first two weeks after it happened I felt a certain amount of shock was normal.  Expected even.  I did my best to keep the shock in check.

Try to be normal.  Try to move forward.  I said these things to myself every day.  I told myself everything was going to be okay.

A month after it happened, I noticed my "shock", or whatever it was, was not subsiding.  The day I started writing this post marked two months.  Yup still there. Somewhere in the back of my mind I kept thinking ever so briefly, "PTSD".  I associated PTSD with soldiers returning from battle; victims of violent crimes; children dealing with death in the family; etc.  So that cannot be what it going on with me.

Remains of beautiful blue windows from nearby house.

I am acquainted with a few counselors, therapists and psychiatrists, both socially and professionally. I used to work at a women's center, which is how I became acquainted socially with several counselors. But here is the thing about that line of work.  Two words.  "Absolute Confidentiality".  They never discussed clients, and I never asked.  So I do not know a lot about the various types of mental illness and how they are diagnosed.

A long time passed before we could walk the beach again.
I know they exist. I know some can be treated; some can only be managed.  I do not think any can be completely cured. I say this from years of personal experience.  I will not say who, when, where, or how I know them personally.  It is confidential, and let's leave it at that.

I finally contacted one of my counselor friends.  P.T.S.D. (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Right on the mark.  Damn.

She helped me as much as she could given my location.  Actually she helped me a lot.  She researched and sent me information on free online books about P.T.S.D, online support groups and therapists, etc.  There are even support groups that you can Skype with.

Everyone knows at least one person who suffers from a mental illness. It is an illness that is hard to understand if you have never walked in those shoes.  It is not something people like to talk about.  If you have a broken leg, it is visual.  The pain is something people can relate to.  If you say, oh by the way I suffer from, (fill in the blank), people do not know how to respond or act towards you.  Yet the person with the mental illness is in pain and suffering just as much as the person with the broken leg. Just think about it the next time you meet someone who has Depression, Anxiety Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, P.T.S.D., or any other form of mental illness.

Looking down from the hillside to Crucita

As an extremely introverted person, I analyze everything. Always have.  Always will.  I know I am getting slightly off topic but it seems important for you to know that I thought about the changes in my behavior for the past couple of months.

What were some of those changes?

Crucita fishing boat waiting to go back out to sea.

Separately, they seemed insignificant at first.  However, the more of them I recognized, the more they seemed to start sticking together and forming a black hole in my mind. It was like pieces of me were disappearing.  I am sure I sound crazy at this point, so here are some specific examples.

I started to forget details and events completely.  No recollection at all.

Following a major earthquake, aftershocks are normal for two to three months. I had to look this up. I have no prior experience with earthquakes so I did a lot of research.  It was necessary in order to get through the days (and nights). But I was not able to look any of this up the first week after it happened.  Yes, we had intermittent electricity starting around day 3, but we did not have WiFi for a week.

We live near the ocean. Every time the wind blows, the doors and windows rattle, and I jump out of my skin. Why? Because it sounds and feels like the beginning of an aftershock.

Those aftershocks came.  I read the other day that Ecuador has had over 2,000 aftershocks since April 16.  The aftershocks that I only vaguely remember learning about in school. The only reason I remember the first week of aftershocks we experienced, is because every time one happened, I wrote it down in one of my notebooks.  I had no idea of the measured intensity, since I had no access to any outside communication.  All I could do was write down the time and describe them.  I am not even sure why I was doing this, except that I thought that if there was some pattern, I would see it and know if they were going away or getting worse.

If "worse" then we had to be prepared to leave; even if on foot.  We would not leave the cats. The two Sherpa cat carriers we used to bring our poor cats from Florida to Ecuador, were waiting by the door. I am sure the cats would rather take their chances than get in those carriers again, but in those carriers they would go. We would not be able to bring much else with us. Some dry food, water, change of clothes, hats, sunscreen, Off, sanitizing gel, candles, matches, cash, passports.  I had filled our beach bag with items that we thought were critical if we had to flee.  There was no pattern to those aftershocks.

Every day ready to flee.

Nightmares.  I did not really dream about the earthquake.  I dreamed about tsunamis.  Almost every day.  I still do occasionally.  Thankfully the dreams are getting better.

How does that tsunami dream look?  I am on the third or fourth floor of a building, standing in front of a large window that overlooks the ocean.  I am sure this building represents my house but looks nothing like it.  It is night as I stand in front of this window.  But darkness does not stop me from seeing the wall of ocean water coming towards me.  It is taller than the place I am standing. I do not move.  I do not yell.  I know it is coming and there is nothing I can do.  That is my nightmare.

It is important to say that during this earthquake, we were never in danger of a tsunami.  I do not know why that became my nightmare.

I will speed through some of the other "symptoms" I experienced.

No desire to take walks anymore.
No desire to touch the ocean.
I stopped taking photos.
I forgot nearly every Spanish word I knew.

Every family member and friend wanted to ask me questions and talk about the earthquake.  I did NOT want to talk about it.  At all.  Ever.  But they wanted and needed information.  So with my head spinning, I talked.

I wanted to do things to help other people here in my village or nearby, but I had absolutely no way to do so.  I felt helpless.  I felt even more guilty.  I felt guilty that I was alive and my home survived.

My husband got an Earthquake App for his phone. It sends out an alert of earthquakes/aftershocks in real-time.  So basically an alarm goes off as it happens.  I hate that app.  Every time the alarm went off I went numb.  Every time there was a notification, my husband had to say it out loud.  I finally asked him to stop telling me.  I just could not take it any more.

Sleep is a thing of the past. Before the earthquake I was in bed and asleep early every night.  I woke up between 5:30 - 6:30 am every day.  Now sleep comes as the sun rises if I am lucky.  Am I just afraid to sleep in the dark?  I do not know.  Am I ever going to feel happy again?  I do not know that either. But I hope so.

It is amazing how things can change 180 degrees in the matter of 58 seconds.  That is how long the earthquake lasted, 58 seconds.

Everyone back in the States asks us when are we coming home.  Our response - we are home.  But I would be lying if I did not admit that I miss those familiar people and places back in America.

Gertrude Stein, an American writer, poet, feminist, and playwright once wrote, "America is my country and Paris is my home town".

America is and always will be my country. I have called many places home in my life. Orange Park Florida, Newport Rhode Island, Elmira New York, Tallahassee Florida, Hollywood Florida, Gadsden Alabama, Atlanta Georgia, Jacksonville Florida.

Right now Crucita is my home.  If I am lucky, I will have the chance to call other places home as well.

I have no idea of what the future will look like.  I know what I want it to look like. But that is going to take some time and a lot of adjusting.  Until then, I am just waiting for my compass to point north again.

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