Shipping Crate Has Arrived!

The pallet of 16 boxes that our daughter (and cousin JD, too) so kindly put together and delivered to Freighters and Craters in Austin, Texas, (and picked up and shipped via Miami to Guayaquil by Old Dominion Freight Lines) arrived totally intact and with all the stuff that I carefully packed away last fall, winter and spring. Stuff that I was absolutely sure that I needed! And a lot of stuff that, yes, I really did need. Kitchen items, sheets, towels, washcloths, hubby’s bicycle shoes & clothes. Wait, wait. I didn’t put bicycle shoes in my boxes! oh, yes, our daughter kindly packed her dad’s shoes and clothes for him, marked them and sealed them up.  She’s such a good daughter!  And all my treasures:  Christmas decorations, just a few; our Ecuadorean wood carvings that we bought in Ibarra almost 40 years ago; pictures and things we took out of frames to ship but that will get framed here and then put on our bare walls; a few knicknacks.

For some reason, washcloths for face washing are not easily found here, and if they are, they are nice but very expensive. Same for sheets, either cheapo sheets that may not fit the bed as needed, or very nice but pricey sheets. Thankfully, good friends in Cuenca loaned us King size sheets for us to use until the boxes arrived.  I’m all set now, I’ve got good sheets for all the beds and washcloths for all the faces in the condo. I purchased 2 sets of flatware for 4 (total of 8) at a discount store in Texas; here in Cuenca we had bought flatware that wasn’t cheap, but was not really good pieces.   I am so glad I bought the better sets and shipped hemt. You can buy good flatware, here, too, but at about 4 times the cost. We made sure to not include anything that was china, glass (breakable items) nor did we ship any electronics. Our daughter rearranged the contents of a few boxes and put all the used clothing into one box marked ‘used clothing’ after we were told that Ecuador imposes a limit on the amount of used clothing that a person can ship to themselves here. We were way under the ‘used clothing’ limit but didn’t want customs in Ecuador to have anything to complain about with regard to our boxes.

Each and every box was opened by customs and re-taped with tape marked with the customs logo. Many of the boxes were a bit jumbled up but only one wood carving was slightly chipped. I know I had wrapped those carvings in bubble wrap, really good, but the one that was chipped was obviously unwrapped and then not put back together well. Maybe they were searching for drugs inside the carvings? I’ll never know. But everything else was in good shape.

We contracted with Vicente Villafuerte, of Go Ecuador Movers for all the customs, port services and transportation to Cuenca. We highly recommend his services. Vicente was very thorough, helpful and he knows this business; he has people in Guayaquil and people in Cuenca who are also very good. We never saw or spoke to anyone else but Vicente but we know he doesn’t do it all himself! Vicente kept us informed of the entire process along with pertinent dates.  The boxes were brought right into our condo on the day he said they would arrive. Vicente can be reached by email at goecuador@hotmail.com or by cellphone at:  0985370929.  His company can help with any shipping or moving needs.

Our next steps are to get some of our pictures and posters framed; we had them shipped without any frames (lighter!) and framing in Ecuador is not expensive at all, and they do excellent work.  We use Technovid, on the corner of Pio Bravo and Hermano Miguel in Cuenca. I’ve put out a very few Christmas decorations along with our treasured Ecuadorean wood carvings that we bought in the 1970’s on one of our living room shelves. Originally, we thought, why are we shipping these things back to Ecuador? We could just buy new ones. Now, I’m glad we shipped them as the carved characters are my old friends and make me feel like I’m finally ‘at home’.

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I’m off with the dogs…

I really really really want a dog. I miss Coco, and Tini, and Lucky so much; hubby is not yet ready for the responsibility. And yes, we will be doing more traveling – around Christmas and again in the spring…and hopefully in the fall, too. Sigh. There are so many dogs and puppies just for the asking, I could get one in a minute, if we were ready.

Trying to ward off the pet starvation woes, I have offered to volunteer with a few new dog lover friends, lovely ladies who have been doing incredible work with dogs here in Cuenca. Ecuadorians do not really believe in spay and neuter, as a whole, but there are a number of good professionals and volunteers who do their darndest to alleviate the number of stray or sick dogs, underfed dogs and unwanted puppies that are everywhere.

In a culture where not everyone has enough to eat, and where many people struggle on a day to day basis; where birth control for humans is not typically condoned publicly (while abortion is banned in Ecuador, you can buy condoms) an animal is not nearly as important as a child. Families here must make difficult decisions: feed the family or feed a dog? Pay for surgery for a family member or pay to spay or neuter the family dog who keeps having puppies? It’s not an easy decision for the average, not rich Ecuadorian. Which is worse: a dog wandering the streets for food, dodging cars, trucks and busses constantly? or a dog who is perpetually tied up on a rope or a chain with nobody taking good care of it? I’ve come to the hard decision that the chained dog here in Ecuador is sadder than the wandering dog. Yes, the wandering dog might get hurt or killed by a vehicle, but at least it can search for food, garbage, handouts, whatever it can find; while the tied up dog is dependent on humans who must remember to feed, water and pay attention to it regularly. Also, many tied up dogs have collars on them that were a piece of rope or leather that, over time, as the dog grew, became too tight and can grow into the skin or worse, choke it. I’ve seen both at the clinics.

What can a volunteer do in Cuenca if they want to help? There are any number of organizations in Cuenca that are trying to do something. The 2 that I am working with here in Cuenca are

1)  Happy Dogs in Cuenca, run by my new friend, Inge,  on facebook as https://www.facebook.com/happydogsincuencaspayandneuter and if anyone wants to make a donation to this worthy cause, go to:  http://www.happydogsincuenca.wordpress.com/ )

and also

2) Refugio del Mejor Amigo, which is a newer organization run by my good friend, Trish, which has been set up to house and feed over a hundred (and counting!) dogs at a lovely quinta where the dogs are warm and fed and can run around safely. The website for the dog refuge is, fittingly: www.dogrefuge.wordpress.com  Trish is setting up a foundation in the US, so friends can help out, more on that as soon as it’s up and functioning, but donations are accepted at Moca Bar on Gran Colombia, just west of Avenida Los Americas.

Inge and Trish, in their own ways, are both doing wonderful, needed and difficult (and costly!) work, using their own funds and the few donations they receive to put huge dents in the unfed, unsprayed/neutered dog population of Cuenca.

Trish is a true dog lover who came to Cuenca with her son and a couple of their own dogs, small ones, that they couldn’t leave behind. Once here, she started going to a Mercado with a friend every Saturday morning to feed the wandering hungry dogs – some dogs who had owners who didn’t feed them enough!! and others who were just hungry street dogs. Her friend would buy about 25 pounds of meaty soup bones every week and the dogs would get a good meal of protein at least once that week. The friend had been doing this dog feeding for about 3 or 4 years before Trish started helping out. About a year ago, the friend left Cuenca as she and her spouse couldn’t adjust to the altitude in Cuenca.  Since then, Trish has carried on the Saturday tradition, and the dogs at this Mercado know and love her and her soup bones. I’ve been going with Trish for the last couple of early morning Saturdays, and the dogs are usually waiting at the gates to the Mercado site, all excited as she arrives, laden with the meat bones.

Trish buys the bones at the El Arenal Feria Libre, Cuenca’s biggest Mercado, and many of the venders there have come to know her as the ‘dog lady’. They give her puppies that are slated to be thrown into the river; they give her sick, hungry dogs that no one wants. Every time Trish went to the Feria, she managed to bring home a dog or two, and the dogs began to overrun her large, 3 story house and yard. How do you say no to a hungry, poor pooch? Last year, Trish had bought a 2 pieces of property in the Miraflores area, a lovely spot with a few rustic buildings on a slope that gently leads down to the river, surrounded by small quintas and fincas. She had an idea that she could build a lovely weekend home, outside of downtown, that she and her son and dogs could enjoy away from the city; once her son graduated from high school in town, Trish would live there permanently, and the dogs could enjoy the part of land below the main building area, with their own buildings and runs. With this idea, Trish and the family that works for her began to fix up the Quinta for  her eventual weekend home.

But with all these dogs that were coming to be ‘hers’,  dogs who just couldn’t stay at her own home, she began to take them out to the Quinta to stay with Luis, who lives and works out there in one of the finished buildings.  So began the work of making it a Quinta for dogs: repairing the buildings, building new apartments, putting up a good wall so that the dogs couldn’t get out, (or neighbors, in), and separated areas for different groups of dogs; they put in heaters in the buildings for cold nights so the dogs would be warm. The local veterinarian with an office at the Feria Libre, Marco, became not only a good friend but a reliable professional as more and more dogs came to the Quinta; he has neutered many of the males, vaccinated and medicated those newly arrived dogs who had not had any prior care. He even came in the night once when a dog was suffering with pneumonia and Trish was scared  that the dog couldn’t breathe. Locals began to tie unwanted dogs to her front gate so that she would take them in. The Quinta became more of a dog refuge than Trish’s weekend home.  She could not say no to anyone who brought her a needy pooch but her pocketbook was getting strained as the count of dogs at the quinta exceeded 100. Marco, the vet, told her, no more!

In order to keep the dogs well fed, and to avoid feeding them only cheap dog food, Marco and Trish devised a good diet for the dogs of sweet potatoes, quinoa, broccoli, cabbage, and carrots in a good soup,  supplemented with some dry dog food. She buys huge bags of camote (sweet potatoes), huge cabbages bigger than a pumpkin. Luis, the young man who lives at the Quinta to oversee the dogs, cooks it up and feeds it to the dogs every day. As you can imagine, that’s a lot of dog food! not to mention that he needs to also take care of and clean up after over a 100 dogs.

At some point, Trish had to take a hard look at her own finances. What had started off as just helping a few dogs, feeding and housing them,  had turned into a huge, costly endeavor – but one she wanted to continue to do. Up until just recently, she had not asked anyone for any help to feed these dogs, she had paid all of the costs out of her own pocket: bones, food, housing, heaters, water, electricity, staff salaries, medicines, vaccinations, spay and neutering services.  While Marco the vet is not expensive and is devoted to animals, he is not volunteering his services, as he makes his own living as a veterinarian. With over a hundred dogs, all this take money.

Trish’s first idea for donations was to ask for a bag of dog food or quinoa, here and there, but that didn’t generate much. She owns a small café, Moca Bar, and the thought was, maybe a free cup of coffee and pastry if someone brings a bag of dog food, or a free cup of coffee if they bring a small bag of quinoa. Still not too many takers – guess nobody goes for coffee carrying dog food.

In Cuenca, it is difficult to get the word out about anything. Many expats don’t read any newspapers or listen to the radio, the TV is broadcast from outside of Cuenca. Facebook? some people do read it, but not enough to generate traffic for donations. Running out of money, Trish and her father decided to start a nonprofit foundation, El Refugio del Mejor Amigo, a 501C3 in USA tax jargon, so that friends in the states and expats in Cuenca, too, could donate to the Refuge, if they wished, with a tax deductible contribution. As I write, this has just about been done.  Until that time, any donations of money or dog food or quinoa can be dropped of at Moca Bar on Gran Colombia, just east of Avenida los Americas – and will be most graciously accepted!

Inge  and Happy Dogs in Cuenca devote all her time and any donated money to holding no cost spay and neuter clinics, when the donations allow.  Happy Dogs held a spay/neuter clinic in Ricaurte just before her big fundraiser this summer, Spaghetti and No Balls, and then 2 more after the fundraiser. Inge hopes to have one or 2 more spay/neuter clinics just after the holidays – and of course more, if donations come in.  She also helps to find foster parents for found puppies and sick dogs so that they can grow and heal and find forever homes.

Recently,  Inge has been volunteering all her time to help with a city and municipality project to spay or neuter 450 dogs around the city by the end of 2013.  The talented veterinarian, Christina, who used to work for ARCA but is now teaching veterinary studies at the Cuenca University, works on a maximum of 25 dogs each day of the clinic, on Saturdays and Sundays, starting at 8 in the morning and sometimes finishing late in the evening. I’ve helped Inge and Christina just once as a volunteer, but am scheduled to volunteer again the first weekend in December.

Christina the vet is known for her tiny, small incisions in the dogs, to lessen pain and shorten healing time. She is quite the dynamic vet who works tirelessly all day, with only very short necessary breaks. Helping out are usually 4 to 6 Veterinary college students; the 5th or 6th year students help Christina at the surgery table while the younger students accept the dogs from the owners (appointments are made in advance for the dogs to have the surgery), weigh them, shave the surgical area, insert an IV to get them sedated, monitor heart and respiration while sedated and after surgery, and then release the dogs to the owners with a Prescription for medications, care and feeding. Often times volunteers can also be other gringas like myself, actual human people nurses and other non medical helpers. Inge tries to schedule volunteers for only a half day shift so that no one gets too tired out.

Inge runs around the room (or sometimes, rooms) constantly busy, making sure that all is running smoothly: surgical implements are cleaned and put in the sterilizer; that Christina has all the sterile tools needed before each surgery (and occasionally a drink of something since she hardly moves from the table); dogs coming out of sedation are being cared for, covered with a blanket, held, stroked, calmed; vomit is cleaned up as sometimes the dogs vomit before (nerves) and sometimes after the surgery (anesthesia); doors are kept closed and others kept out of the surgical area; clean blankets and towels are handy, the patient’s owners get the correct RX script for their dog – I know I am forgetting lots of other things she does during the surgical day. Not to mention also training the volunteers in these tasks.

The surgeries go like clockwork, in my opinion; the students know their duties and keep the dogs moving from intake to surgery to recovery to waking up. There’s very little blood and each dog who leaves will have a better chance at life now that they won’t need to expend energy on reproducing. Me, as I am not a medical person, I have the job of cleaning the implements, folding them into the cloths and putting them into the sterilizer;  also calming the dogs and writing out the RX scripts for each dog. Doesn’t seem like much but I was also quite busy since there are so many dogs! Inge tells me that Happy Dogs spay/neuter clinics are run in a similar fashion, the difference with these clinics is simply the funding. Once these city clinics have worked on their maximum number of dogs, Happy Dogs will start up their spay/neuter clinics once more. There are so many dogs and cats – it’s a never ending project!

The instrument cloths were in sad shape as they are used so often; I offered to make new ones as my small donation to the cause. Some had burn holes where they had gotten too close to the sterilizer walls, others were stained, some were too small. Easy enough for me to do, I hope I make them correctly. For those of you dog lovers reading this, Inge & Happy Dogs always needs money for spay/neuter clinics for dogs and cats. The more money donated, the more pets can be altered in 2014, and then we will have less starving dogs, cats, kittens and puppies on the streets of Cuenca.

One of Trish’s rescue dogs has had puppies…maybe when they are ready to be adopted I just might get hubby to agree to a puppy…meanwhile, these dog concerns will be my dog focus. I’m hoping that any of my readers who are dog lovers will help either, or both, of these rescue organizations. Please visit their websites for pictures and more information.

Back home from Peru…Lima, Cuzco, Machu Picchu – what a trip!

We’ve been home for about a week or 2 now from our sojourn to Peru in October. We visited friends who have moved to Peru (from Africa), made empanadas and corn tortillas together, had a great visit with them, then we flew to Cuzco where we spent a few days before catching the train to Machu Picchu.

Lima is big, dusty, dirty, busy, full of people and traffic. Great shopping, however, compared to Ecuador, with wonderful clean and pretty organic markets, but a bit expensive. Majestic views from the cliffs near the ocean. OK, I could live here.

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Cuzco is a wonderful little tourist town, 13,000 feet above sea level, and is the stepping off point before heading up to Machu Picchu by train or hiking the Inca Trail. The town boasts a 17th century cathedral, gorgeous views, pretty colonial buildings, lots of touristy places and things accessed by small streets lined with perfectly aligned Inca stones.

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Sunday we had front row seats at the 2nd floor Starbucks on the Plaza de Armas for a parade – military, students, nurses, unions, children, even older folks from a nursing home. They all bunched up to march, uniformly, for 1 short block in front of the cathedral and the dignitaries, after which they all drifted away on the other end of the block.

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The poor soul directing the marchers (the man in the beige uniform, looking at a list) had a difficult 3 or 4 hours; it was like herding cats, trying to keep them all in line!

The train ride from Cuzco to MP City is a comfortable, scenic ride along the river from 13,000 ft (altiplano, dry, deserty) down to about 7000 ft altitude, as the scenery becomes, in turn, high plains with corn and sugar cane crops, which then becomes the jungle– with vines, orchids and almost constant views of terrace ruins, soaring granite cliffs peppered with flowering bromeliads, small villages and livestock.  It was lovely. They even fed us on the train.

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We were fortunate to grab a peek at Monte Veronica in the distance and a few other snow capped mountains that drifted in and out of the clouds.

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Macchu Picchu city is a cute little tourist town with great restaurants and lots of craft vendors where everybody has to start the trip to MP by taking a bus up to the site. No other cars are allowed in Macchu Picchu city except the buses that take you up the mountain. All food, crafts and supplies are brought in by the train. The bus ride is 20 minutes of sheer terror as the bus maneuvers the numerous switchbacks that cart you up the mountain to the site.

Machu Picchu is magnificent. The granite cliffs that surround the site, the misty clouds that burn off by noon, the terraces that hug the hillsides, the steps and sacred places cannot be shared by just a photo, or even a video. You have to be there; you have to experience it. However, it is NOT for the faint of heart, and somebody like me with serious fear of heights is going to be extremely challenged. I was. I didn’t traipse around the entire site (hubby did) but I did get up to the site, I did manage to see most of it, and I can say, I’ve been there. No way was I climbing up Huayna Picchu –I cannot believe anyone gets up there without falling off!

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Yes, there are actually people up at the top of that!

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I can now say I’ve been there. Hubby wants to go again! I’ll go to Lima (shopping), Cuzco, and even the train to Machu Picchu city, which I loved. I had the best meals there. Here’s a few pics of MP City and the meals I enjoyed.

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The waiter said it was trout, but it tasted like salmon. It was delish.

 

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Had the best time shopping, had a number of great meals, and the people were wonderful, too. Of course, this little village depends on all the tourists who pass through on their way to the Inca experience. A few years back, the rains washed out the train and the road up to the site. No tourists were allowed to come for 4 months. I can’t imaginge how these people managed to survive, but it seems that they did.

Next time, I think I may pass on ascending again to the heights of the Inca Holy site. I’ll stay down in Machu Picchu City. Loved it there.

Maybe. Never say never….

Next blog: Our shipped crate of 16 boxes has passed inspection in Guayaquil this week, and is supposed to arrive at our Casa next week! Yippee! it will be like Christmas.

Registering for IESS health insurance & filing a claim for our limited insurance

In August, I started getting hives. This is not new for me, I’ve had hives before. I have lots of allergies. Usually, I wash them with mild soap, put some cream on them, and they go away. Not this time. For 2 weeks, they drove me nuts! I tried everything. Antihistimines, benadryl, soothing creams hubby got at the pharmacy, you name it. Nothing worked. I tried limiting my diet, washing my hands a lot; I thought maybe it was those flowers I touched, so I avoided flowers. Nothing.

Finally, on a Saturday, I woke up to the hives on my face, my cheek, my neck, my forehead. Yikes! The ones on my arms and legs, because I itched them when I shouldn’t, had become very red, and I figured might even scar. I did NOT want a scar on my face. No. 

We have insurance here. I called every number on the little card they gave us, none of them went through. Some said they were the wrong number, others just rang and rang. Bother. So I hauled myself into a taxi and directed him to the one hospital that I was familiar with, Santa Ines. Supposed to be the best. OK. I entered the emergency area, and the nice nurse brought me immediately into a cordoned off area with a bed, and said wait. A GORGEOUS young intern or doctor (I can’t even remember his name) asked me lots of questions. When did it start, where did it itch, what had I taken, etc. Did I have any other medical issues, etc. Then he asked if I wanted a specialist to come look? Of course!! The specialist came, asked the same questions, and prescribed a shot of benadryl, Allegra!! and a special cream. I was given a slip to take to the cashier, I paid $61.00 and came back to the ER for my RX script. I told them I had insurance and they said, come back Monday for your forms. OK.  I went home, hubby went to the Farmacia for my drugs and I took and used everything. By the way, I love that cream. It worked wonders. 

We came back on Tuesday, asked in about 3 different places for the appropriate forms, they gave us some forms, and then we took them to Banco Pichincha to file with the insurance department. The insurance lady said, this won’t work. You need a different form, and they must be signed and stamped. OK. We went back to the hospital, asked for the forms to be actually SIGNED by the doctor, they ran around, got the doc to sign, and we went back to the bank with the forms. I think I am simplifying the whole process because it seems to me that hubby made at least 3 trips to the hospital and to the bank, each, to get the right forms. Next I got an email from Confiamed that a check in the amount of $18 was ready for me. $18? Hmmm. 

When we went to pick up the check, they told us that to get the entire reimbursement, I need an ‘affidavit of emergency room service”. If I can obtain that, bring it back, they will pay an additional $20. Deductible and Coinsurance makes up the rest.

So we went back to Santa Ines. Asked for the form. The ER tech says, you are not in the system, you aren’t showing that you were ever here. What? I went to the cashier, since I KNOW I paid them. She looked me up, then took us across the hall to another ‘customer service’ desk. We told her the situation, and she looked me up, found me, and then telephoned the ER to say that someone input my last name incorrectly, that she had corrected it and told him where to find it.

We returned to the ER, and he said, the form has not been produced yet, we’re busy, come back later today or tomorrow morning. OK. The next morning, I returned to the same guy, and he still can’t find it! He telephoned the lady, apparently she told him where, and he hung up and started typing. I asked, still can’t find it? No, he found it, but, the form hadn’t yet been ‘done’. I stood at his desk and waited. He asked me a few questions and then he took off to get the printed form. Yay! I’ve got the form. Now, we’ll have to take it back to the bank to submit. Whew. It’s a crazy process even in the United States. I guess insurance companies are the same everywhere.

Maybe there’s another solution to this Ecuadorian health insurance process. If you are young enough, anyway.

This month, October, I turn 60. Earlier this week, I went to the IESS (Ecuadorian Social Security) to register for the Ecuadorian Health insurance, covered by the government. If you are not an employee, but under age 60, you may register and pay for this complete health insurance for life. If we just kept our Confiamed, once we turn 70, it will be either horrendously expensive or we will need to sign up for another, also expensive, insurance for ‘older’ people in Ecuador. 

Since I am still a young thing, I decided to try the IESS process. See what happens, maybe I’ll get accepted.  I was instructed to go to the online website of IESS and sign up for the ‘voluntary’ health insurance, using my Cedula number. I could never get past ‘processing’. So, hubby and I trudged down to the IESS office in El Centro, got a number, and waited. And waited. The number paper said the wait would be 16 minutes. Hmmm. We waited for an hour and a half until finally, the security guard called my number. Using one of their computers, he went to the very same site I had visited unsuccessfully to register myself. He tried about 15 times to get into the system with my cedula number, until he finally got into the record of my cedula. Apparently, it wasn’t my number, or my computer. It’s their system. He said that happens all the time. It’s a busy system.

The system printed out a record with 2 items: my ‘base’ salary ($330.00) and the cost for me to buy the insurance, if I am accepted, at $55.00 monthly. I protested to the guard, but I am not an employee! No matter, he said. Here’s what your cost will be. Next he printed out a letter for me, with my name and number, etc., and told me to take the letter to the IESS clinic and get a complete physical, blood and urine work (checking for HIV, Hep B, urea, creatine, glucose, etc), a chest x-ray, and a PAP smear (all of which is outlined in the letter). If all of those are good, then I’m in!

The guard told me to go to the IESS dispensary, just around the corner off Borerro. I went, but they told me, no, they do NOT do any exams for ‘voluntary’ enrollees at that location. I must go to the IESS hospital, near the Monay mall, on the southeast side of town. OK. Can I make an appointment? No, I was told, you just show up and take a number. They will see you as they can, and it must be done within the next 15 days. P.S. the clinic opens at 7:30 a.m. I’m going tomorrow very early, hopefully, the taxi driver will know where to go, and hopefully it won’t take all day!

Later Monday, while getting a pedicure, I was chatting with the salon owner. Not understanding it all, I asked if she knew about this. She said, oh yes, I need to do that. When I was an employee, I had that insurance, but now that I’m a business owner, I will need to sign up just like you. What did you do? how was the process? where do I go? Yikes! I’m here for 4 months and a native Cuencana is asking for my advice and directions? no wonder it seemed difficult to me to get through this process. 

I showed her the letter for her help me with what it said, maybe explain the details to me. Eureka! remember that ‘base salary’ that I mentioned? When I get the exam tests, I can only be charged no more than 20% of my ‘base salary’ for the tests. Which will be $66.00. Not bad for a complete physical! I figured that I haven’t had a complete physical for a few years, it’s not too bad a price to pay, and then I may even get this permanent full insurance for life (as long as I pay every month – I’ll have to figure out where/how it gets paid, next step) and there will be no claim forms to submit. 

On my next blog: registering our ’employee’: our once a week cleaning woman, and figuring out how to register and pay her social security taxes on the wages we pay her. It’s ALSO a complicated process.

 

Busy Busy Busy

As usual, I’ve been lazy. I’m retired! Furnishing the new condo, shopping, trying out new restaurants, taking new bus lines to get used to the city, visiting with friends — new ones and old ones, planning for our upcoming trip to Peru and Macchu Picchu….just a few of the things we’ve been up to. Once we got our permanent visas and cedulas in hand, I thought we’d relax. Hmmm. It seems every day is busier than the next. I’ve got books I want to read and I can’t find the time.

Hubby has started teaching spinning classes at a gym close by; he enjoys working out at the gym up near Turi, Body Care, but the gym close to us needed his expertise. Monday through Thursday, 6 p.m. and sometime the 7 p.m. class, he’s the instructor. He’s now been able to use all that music that he spends hours downloading and mixing and sorting on his numerous music data holders.

I’ve wanted to get involved with some of the dog clinics and pet rescue groups, but honestly, it makes me so sad! I want to save them all! I’d like to bring them all home with me! Only one dog per condo is allowed n our condo; hubby doesn’t want any. We’d have dog hairs all over our new couch; we’d have to drag ourselves out of bed at all hours and in all types of weather. OK. Maybe later? or maybe someone will want me to take care of their lovely pooch while on vacation? Bring them on, he’ll fall in love with them, and I will too.

I’m enjoying learning how to cook and bake at 8300 feet above sea level and with a gas oven that, try as I might, never gets hotter than about 375 Fahrenheit. A lovely friend here in Cuenca loaned me an oven thermometer which clearly showed, even though the dial says “280” celsius, the oven thermometer never registers any higher than 375F. I placed bricks in the bottom of the oven, a shelf way up high with bricks on that shelf, and baking has gotten better. The bricks help to retain the heat, but I think I need more bricks. I need to start searching the trash around the many construction sites near our building. Each time I learn a bit more; each time, I get a better result.  No matter the result, I love the way beautiful roses always look good in my kitchen and I love looking out the window at my gorgeous view of Cuenca.

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Still searching for one or 2 pieces of furniture to complete the ‘decorating’ and we need things to put on our bare walls.  We found this lovely three piece wallhanging. I love the play of shadows on the little 3 dimension houses on the hill. It reminds me of houses everywhere along the Andes hillsides.

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I keep looking for that special piece of art for my very long dining room wall, and am still looking for that special kitchen clock. I’ll find them soon.

Cedula process – and the furniture arrived!

For those of my readers still in the States who may not know, the Cedula in Ecuador is the form of identification for all residents in this country. Whenever you buy something at a store, whenever you use a credit card, whenever you take a tour bus or van ride, or airplane trip, you must show either your passport of cedula.  Driver’s licenses are not as common in Ecuador; many people use public transportation and don’t need one. The cedula can also afford a few types of nice discounts, such as in country flights, tours, etc., as long as you also have an Ecuadorian credit or debit card from one of the banks here.

In addition, if you are over 65, up to $300 of your VAT tax spent each month can be refunded to you.  You must show your cedula to prove your age and receive a ‘factura’ of the charges you’ve paid, and submit these receipts to the IESS office in order to have the tax portion refunded, usually within 3 to 6 months.

When we received our permanent visa page in our passports, we were sent to another office in the Ministerio, where we filled out a one page form of our name, occupation, address, parents’ names, spouse’s name, education type (initial or superior, meaning university degree) and signature. We were sent to make copies of this form, and further color copies of our passports along with the visa pages. She gave us little notes and sent us to the cashier, where we each paid $4.00 each. Another official form was produced, with 2 $2.00 stamps on them. This form included all the details from the filled out form as well as our passport and visa numbers.

She told  us to appear at the Registro Civil, aka the cedula office, in 6 business days. We left the next day for our fabulous whale watching trip on the coast, the subject of my last blog entry.

On Wednesday this week, 6 days  after obtaining our permanent Ecuadorian resident visas, we appeared at the cedula office. Lines of people snaked out of the office, and 2 uniformed guards at the entrance told us to wait in a short line to speak to the people at the information booth. The nice lady directed us to one young man at a desk with an official paper sign that read “Certificacion de Extranjeros”: meaning, he is the only one at this office who is tasked with certifying the paperwork for the first cedula for expatriates. Most people get their first cedula as a child.

He was busy with another customer and kept running off to do something, coming back, speaking on the phone and generally being frustrated about something. A lady sitting next to him helped citizens with some other paperwork. She asked a supervisor to come relieve her for a few minutes, and this man, when he sat down, waved us forward to review our papers.

This is where the problem arose. The form that we had filled out was, unfortunately, only the copy of the original that the lady at the Ministerio had retained for HER records. We had the official document that she had produced, using all the information which had come from this form, but no. He would not accept a copy. Only an original. When told the original had been kept at the Ministerio, he said, ok, go get this one notarized, which here means that you affirm that the information on the form is true and your own doing, signed by you and the notary. Either way, he said, this form must be notarized, the copy or the original. They love their notaries here, all official forms must always be notarized.

We went off to a notary. No. They will NOT notarize a copy. Only an original. I suspected that since they were busy and they didn’t know us, they weren’t interested, and they could have notarized it, if they wanted.

Off we went back to the Ministerio for expat visas. The lady was busy with an expat, but the guard, very unfriendly-like, refused to let us ask her a question. Wait your turn. She is with someone, and this other expat is next. Ok. Even though we knew the blank forms were under the printer next to her desk, and she could just give us 2 new ones to complete. We waited.

At this point, I am remembering a few other times while we were at this office, waiting our turn: a flash of another guard, going into her office to speak to her, and the flash memory of her handing clean copies of this form to him which he then gave to an expat. An ahah! moment. This has happened before. One hand of the government process doesn’t know what the other hand is doing.

When we finally got in to speak to her, explain the situation, she very nicely said, no problem – and handed us these precious forms for us to complete, again, with the same information, but with an original signature. Simple forms, with about 10 boxes to fill in, we could have gone home in the same amount of time spent and I could have reproduced it on my own laptop/printer. Oh well. Live and learn.

Off to the notary. Notaria Primaria de Cuenca. Hubby had been here before, to get something notarized for the visa process, and we had noted that they were much less expensive than the notary upstairs, Notaria Segunda de Cuenca, where Cristabel had gotten the translations of our marriage license and letters of visa requests notarized. Cristabel had said that the Segunda was the most organized notary in Cuenca. Hmmm. The Primaria is cheaper, but we’ll see.

We waited at the notary, a very busy place for a Wednesday morning. Finally, we edged up to a desk that seemed not occupied by a customer and requested notarized copies of this one form. She demurred, and said she had done this for an expat recently, and they required also a notarized color copy of the passport. We said, just the one form. She conferred with a colleague, and said, ok, black passport copies will suffice. OK. She began to write a letter for the notary process, of which we would need 2, one of each of us. This letter states the notary’s name, my name, my passport number, and attests to the information being true and correct and also that the signature of the notary and my signature were originals. This is a form letter, should be easy to do, but we had to correct her typing as she misspelled or confused our names on the letter numerous times. Finally, she got it right.

Next she made copies of everything, 3 copies of each letter, passport copy, the infamous original signed form, and the document with the info typed on it from the written form, that infamous form. Here’s where the disorganization of this office became apparent. Five women and one man occupied desks in the main bullpen of the office; a large furnished office in the back, with a small step up, housed the ‘notary’, aka the Big Guy, he with the flourish of a signature.

While she was trying to organize each of the 2 piles of 3 copies each on her desk, and stamp each page at least once or twice (and the blank back side with a stamp that attested to its being blank purposely), and then initialing some of the round stamps with a blue pen, it was obvious that this office had 2 issues:  1) they only had 1 blue pen in the office, and 2) there weren’t enough of these 4 different stamps for each of the 6 secretaries. As she would work on one set of copies, stamping and initialing, someone would come up and take her pen or  a stamp or all of the stamps. Then when she needed it for the next set, she would have to go hunt for the pen or the stamps. While all this is happening, and we were sitting in front of her desk, customers kept coming up to her and asking for assistance. She would politely listen, tell them to sit and wait, or direct them to someone else.

Once all was ready, she took our papers to the Big Guy. He sat us down while he was talking to 2 other clients in his office, finished with them, sent them back to someone and then sat down and asked if we both spoke Spanish. Yes. Next he asked us to affirm the information on the papers, and we said, yes. He quickly marked many of the paragraphs on all the pages with a short vertical line, and signed the letter with a very flowery signature. Sent us and our papers back to the secretary.

She made more copies of everything, and then started the stamping and initialling process again. Each copy of everything had to be restamped and re-initialled, to be original signatures, I guess. She folded a light blue packet presentation paper around each set of the papers, with the letter first so that their name and mine would show through the cut out title page, and started to collate the forms into this packet, stapling the originals, stapling another copy set for us, and a 3rd copy set for their records. This process for each of us was continually interrupted again by people asking questions, people taking her blue pen and the stamps, and her trying to get them back.

She finally finished one packet and put it in front of me. I looked through it and the letter was the one with my name, along with my passport copy, but with hubby’s filled out form. I pointed out this error, and she started the collating process again. At this point a customer asked her to help and, ready for lunch now, she rather snippily told him, no, I am occupied with these people in front of my desk. I cannot help you now.

Finally she had them all completed, handed us the 2 notarized booklets of forms, left her copy set of papers on the keyboard of her desk, sent us to the cashier next to her desk and put on her coat to leave for lunch. Hubby asked, does the cashier know what to charge? Oh yes, she came back from the door to the cashier, and said something to her. Cashier asks, do they have their copies? Yes, she said, and left.

Lunch time is sacred in Ecuador, and even though the big pretty sign on the wall with the notary name of the business says ‘Open Monday through Friday, 8:00 am Until 6:30pm’ it was clear that everyone was going to lunch. The Big Guy had turned off his office light, closed the door, put on his suit jacket, and stuffed a red hanky into his left breast pocket.  After instructing the ladies about something or other, he walked out of the office onto the street. No one was sitting in the waiting area now, nobody was crowding the cashier’s desk and only 1 other secretary was finishing up. They may be open, but I don’t think much was going to get done until after lunch.

Tired, hungry for lunch ourselves, having missed breakfast, and not willing to go back to the cedula office again that day, we grabbed some chicken at Kentucky Fried across the street from the notary and grabbed a taxi for home. This whole process started at 9 am and it was now about 1:30.

Next morning we presented ourselves at the Registro Civil with all our papers which we handed to the young man at the desk for certifying expatriate’s documents. Oops. Hubby forgot his passport, and yes, you do need this for the whole process! No matter, the young man said, I will verify all for you and then you can go for your passport. He arranged the papers, checking online for our visas, printed out another copy of the official document that had all our info on it (and the 2 $2.00 stamps on it, guess it used to cost $2.00 for the initial cedula, it’s gone up and they haven’t bothered to buy new stamps as 2 imprints of the $2.00 stamp will do), handed us a slip of paper and directed us to the cashier. $5.00 each, and they gave us each a receipt with a number on it.

Our numbers were 167 and 168. They were on about 110, there were 12 registrars, so hubby said, I’ll go get my passport while you wait. I waited along with about 100 other people, watching a TV show of funny video clips of people and birds, hoping he would not miss his number. Hubby returned when they were at about 163! We both waited a bit more until our numbers were called. We presented ourselves at the assigned desk to be fingerprinted and photographed and to sign our name on a card that was scanned into the system. The registrar asked me my favorite color, which will be my password in case I need to change the cedula in the future. He took the forms, thanked me, and told me to come back in 48 business hours, Monday after noonish, to receive my cedula.

Since you don’t want to lose your original cedula, everybody here pays for a color copy of both sides of the cedula and then gets this new paper card laminated.  That color laminated copy is what everybody carries around. It looks just like the original.

What a country, eh? In Texas, I never thought about having my driver’s license copied, both sides, and then laminated, for carrying around in my purse, or for when I go to the gym without a purse. For for those who go to a bar or disco and again, don’t want to carry a purse with stuff but need identification, this is a great idea.

If you always lose your driver’s license, this might just be a new trick to try. If you lose your ‘copy’, you’ve got your original at home! Ready to be copied, again!

Monday we go back to the Registro Civil to get our cedulas. They are good for 10 years, after which you just renew the card, pay another $5 bucks, and get photographed and fingerprinted again for a new card.

On a lighter note, on Friday, our couch arrived from Muebles Coloniel and our bedside tables for the master bedroom and dresser for the bedroom also were delivered from the custom furniture store. The carpenter finally came back to rearrange the dishwasher in the cabinet hole, lift it up, secure it in the cabinet and put back the cabinet framing. All this in one day! It was a busy day, but we are happy.  We even found new sconce lights for the wall above the couch, as hubby hates the shell like glass covers. Too busy and girly, he says. Hope he puts the new ones up today…

Here’s the couch (it’s much more comfy than the futon!) and the new dresser for the guest bedroom TV.

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Puerto Lopez & Whale Watching

We just returned from a fabulous trip to Puerto Lopez, aka the Poor Man’s Galapagos. We went on an all day boat tour to Isla de la Plata where we saw whale after whale, and up close!

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I was expecting to see them way off in the distance, but the boat pilot got us very close and I managed to get a few nice pictures of the moment when they shot out of the water. It was a spectacular sight.

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Puerto Lopez is a small fishing village nestled in a lovely cove. We stayed at the Humpback Hostel, right on the beach. The owners and chef were so lovely, patient and they catered to our every whim…which meant truly fresh fish every night and a cup of tea in my room every night. Here’s a pic of the chef Jorge (short for Yuriy), his wife, Olga, and Vicenta, the hostel owner, holding the huge mahi mahi that we had for dinner our last night there.

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The hostel is a 4 story building which sits right across the street from the beach. The top floor is the ‘Terraza’ where we ate breakfast and dinner every day. Jorge and Olga catered to our dining tastes every day with fresh fish for dinner; crepes stuffed with bananas and drizzled with chocolate sauce for breakfast – we had no desire to try any other place in town. I took this picture when the tide was in, from the Terraza:

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