Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ecuador Residency

There would be a danger in taking our blog as the final word on achieving Ecuadorian residency.  With that said, I will attempt to tell our story.

A residency visa allows you to live in Ecuador permanently based on your type of application.  If you just come for a visit you get 90 days in one year.   Most norteamericanos seek either an investment visa or a retirement visa.  Because the requirements seem to change monthly it is important to discuss in detail with your Ecuadorian attorney about which process is better for you.  Since Rachel and I are not yet eligible for Social Security our only option was an investment visa.  You currently can attain this qualification with the purchase of either a financial instrument or a real property in Ecuador.  Our investment in the condo qualified us.  When we get the deed to our new property in Cotacachi, we will have to go through another process to exchange our qualifying investment, but hopefully it will less stressful and time consuming than the first go around.  The process for retirees is much easier from what we've heard and observed, but there are little traps waiting for you if you are not fully prepared.  Unfortunately the abogados (attorneys) tend to get blamed for the slow process and errors.  In most cases, the attorneys are not to be blamed.  The government agencies that do the processing are less than efficient.   Patience is always a virtue,  Hopefully you are much more virtuous than this type A blogger.  We began our process over ten months ago!

You might wonder why this could be such an enormous undertaking.  We only hear rumors, but it is pretty well documented that the minister that heads up this operation has been replaced 3 times since our application.  Each time the minister has been replaced, his entire staff has been fired as well.  I'm not sure how deep this corruption goes, but apparently pretty deep.  In the USA our corruption is usually in the millions and includes lavish vacations, private jets, jewelry, and enormous cash trails. It is usually perpetrated by people in powerful positions.   In Ecuador the corruption is a few dollars here and there and spread widely, but it's corruption none the less.   Anyway, imagine starting completely over with an entire administrative staff.....3 times in a year!  Actually, it is amazing we are getting our residency at all.

We were notified in early August that our passports had been 'stamped' in Quito with the investment residency visa.  Of course it took them two weeks to notify us.  The window of opportunity for completing the process was already closing.  You have 60 days to complete your censo and cedula processes once your visa is stamped.  We had already been waiting 9 months so we decided to wait till our move to Otavalo at the end of August to claim our residency.  Quito is only a two hour bus ride from Otavalo.

We arrived in Quito Monday so that we could get in line early Tuesday at the Officinas del Registro Civil.  Our Cuenca attorney arranged for his Quito participating attorney to meet us there at 8:30 when they were opening up.  At first things seemed to be going extremely well.  Our abogado, Cynthia, got right to the front of the line as we observed while seated thirty feet behind her.  After a short discussion I saw his finger motion the death wave which literally means in Espanol 'you're screwed'.  Cynthia's face was at first stunned, then sunk.  They didn't have the paperwork!!!

Cynthia is fresh out of law school.  They get assigned these nasty tasks when they join the law firms here.  Credit her tenacity however.  She double and triple questioned the bureaucrat.  Ten months of waiting, a special trip to Quito and in an instant....'We don't have your paperwork'. 

As she broke the news to us we were likewise crestfallen.  There is a standard phrase from Latinos to impatient gringos when the impatient gringo has lost his luggage or some other monumental setback.  "Don't worry" is the phrase.  Literally translated it means  'I don't have a clue how we will resolve this issue'.   Credit Cynthia.  She didn't say "Don't worry".  I give her much credit.  She told us she would have to go to the extranajero (or something like that) and have a trace put on the document that was critical for us to go forward.  She wasn't specific about a timetable on this matter.  Her unspoken words meant hours, days, weeks, or..... She said we could wait there and gather moss or go down to McDonalds for WiFi and lattes and wait there.  Guess which one we chose.  I finished two blogs while we were there.

We left the Registro Civil about 10:00 and immediately started to imbibe volumes of caffeine at Macs to maintain a certain level of attention and agitation.  Honestly we really enjoyed ourselves.  We sat in cushy leather couches with our lattes.  We caught up with emails, the current state of world chaos, and really enjoyed the passersby in this obviously westernized and affluent area of Quito.  The Big Macs tasted just like in the states too.

About 2:30 we got a call from Alexis, Cynthia's boss.  Cynthia had located the document!  It turns out that it was just where it was supposed to be but the bureaucrats are notorious for never finding things the first time around unless you leap over the counter and pull it out for them.  It's frustrating to have what you want in the hands of such incompetence.  I digress.  Remember, I'm type A.

So again we head over to the Registry Civil.  By now the place is crowded and noisy like the Chicago Board of Trade and even the usually patient Ecuadorians are showing some signs hypertension.  This time we have to battle and jockey for a place to sit and wait.  We get a waiting turno card which gives us the magic permission to go before the bureaucrat once again.  The flat screen above shows the evolving turnos.  I look for Cynthia and she's no where to be seen!  She has the document and without it we go nowhere.  After calling several times I finally reach her.  She's upstairs having the document stamped.  She's in line too.  Now I'm thinking our turn will come up and she's not here.  Another two hour wait for nothing!

My angst (as usual) was for naught.  Cynthia shows up before our turno with a stamped document.  Another short sigh of relief.  Cynthia somehow has some pull and gets to the front of the line without a turno card.  Go Cynthia!  She motions Rachel forward and with her stamped passport and censo in hand Rachel dutifully advanced with the reverence of communion.  I followed with slighly less reverence.  Another process complete.  On to stage 27.  The next level of bureaucracy was to be even more formidable.

I'm not sure what you call this phase of the cedula but it is where they reverify your documentation and get your information logged into the registry.  They pour over your passport, censo, and your application for cedula.  Our attorney had tried to 'anticipate' an issue we were surely going to encounter.  He knew that my birthplace, an obscure town in South Dakota (Canton) would not be on the system in Quito.  He suggested that we enter a nearby well known city, so I chose Sioux Falls as my birthplace.  Big mistake.  After much questioning I finally caved and said this was just on the application because my attorney knew that Canton wasn't on their system which was true.  They went back on the system to see if Canton was there.  Indeed it was! (I'm pretty sure my birthplace is now Canton Ohio).  Rachel wasn't so lucky.  Her birthplace, Lawton, Oklahoma was also not on the sytem so it was going to be another day while they loaded another city onto their system.  We left the registro with our tails between our legs and our dappers down.

We were exhausted from a day of waiting in line and questions about our names, birthplaces, lost applications, and one too many Big Macs.  We had no place to stay overnight.  We were hungry and crabby and disappointed that our process was still in limbo.  We were still unsure whether another day of bureaucracy and waiting would bring results.  We found a hostel and it was ok.

The next day we arrived early again with fresh hope.  This day they just didn't like Rachel's name.  Her legal name is Rachel Treeman Roland.  Treeman was her maiden name you see.  What they just couldn't understand is that her middle name was the same as her parent's name.  Apparently they don't like parent's last name in the middle.  They were talking to us about Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis.  We weren't sure of the relevancy. They could understand if Rachel was a widow and kept her deceased husband's last name, but this thing about having a maiden name in there...well, it's just unacceptable.  After some rather lengthy discussion they capitulated and accepted her legal name. 

Next week we go back to Quito to pick up our actual cedulas.  Wish us luck.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Moving Day

Rachel and I have been anticipating our move to the Imbabura for some time.  Like every other special 'event' in Ecuador living, it is an adventure.  You see there is no Mayflower,  North American Van Lines, or other such corporate 'cookie cutter' household mover here.  It's all about doing the best you can with what you've got.  We hired Transportantes Espinoza who specializes in moves between Guayaquil, Cuenca, and Quito.  I don't think they have much competition.  It's not like the yellow pages are full of movers.  When people move here it's usually across town. They call their uncle Pedro who has a pickup and start loading.  That kind of a move from Cuenca to Otavalo just isn't practical!

Our friend Noshy got us in touch with Juan who owns and manages Transportantes Espinoza.  He's a friendly, warm man who exudes confidence in what he's doing.  We reserved our judgement on whether to recommend them until our move was complete.  To be honest, there were some huge misunderstandings.  For example, we were assured that we would have a 20' truck.  When the 15' truck showed up my heart sank.  I knew it would not be big enough!  It wasn't.

We did however have a contract.  The contract said they would pack our things and move us from Edificio Palermo in Cuenca to Calle Pedro Perez in Otavalo for $1583.  They did.  Nothing was broken.  There were plenty of things that could have broken.  They packed things like the professionals they are.  I've never seen furniture packed so meticulously.  First they wrapped each individual piece in a styrofoam material and then again with heavy cardboard and then tightly shrink wrapped.  Our only concerns were that boxes and items that were clearly marked with up arrows would remain in that position.  Apparently that was just a suggestion.  In the end that 15' truck did not have breathing space for an Ecuadorian mouse when they were done loading.  The really bad news was that the refrigerator, the bicycles, and a few odd ball boxes didn't get on board! 

With the refrigerator and bicycles on the sidewalk and the truck packed to the gills like a Thanksgiving diner's stomach, I was concerned that the overflow would be strapped to the top of the truck.  I had visions of the Beverly Hillbillies racing through my mind.  Much to my relief another van showed up and whisked away our precious LG side by side and our Mongoose bicicletas.  A deal was a deal.  We paid no extra for the second truck.  That was Juan's mistake, not ours.

Rachel and I claim thrift as a virtue and necessity in an early retirement without social security.  We could have taken the one hour flight from Cuenca to Quito and might have been waiting for our household in Otavalo many hours before the arrival.  That's not the way we do things.  Instead we rode in the truck with Fernando.  It was wonderful.  We've ridden on the bus from Cuenca to Quito before (see earlier post) and it can be tiring and a real stress on a 60 year old male bladder.  (Rachel claims a nurses's bladder that can go 24 hours without relief).   Tires blow and the bus is typically crushed to overcapacity in certain stretches of the trip.  This was different.  We knew there would be no additional passengers.  We could actually stop for nature's banos.  We could look out the expansive windshield and see stretches of the Pan Am Highway in a way that we'd never seen it before.  It was beautiful!

Our 12 hour odyssey through the Andes in the moving van was wonderful but we were pretty spent by the time we arrived in Otavalo.   When I say spent,  I mean we were a bit frayed.  We just left beautiful Cuenca and the safe and convenient confines of Palermo some five hundred mountainous kilometers behind and we had no idea about our new digs.  We had never seen it before.  We only knew we would be in a house in a compound with two other houses in Otavalo.  We figured we could live most anywhere for 8 months while our house was completed.  Let's just say we were a bit disappointed.

There are certain adjustments that have to be made when you are in a purgatory move.  A purgatory  move is when you have all your stuff with you while you're waiting for what you think will be heaven.  We're hoping that our heaven will be in Yanapamba.  Purgatory may strengthen our character and help us appreciate what we've had in Cuenca and what we hope to have in our next move to Cotacachi.   We're used to being able to use our own washer and dryer.  We are used to having robust internet in our house.  We are used to hot showers as long as we want.  Privacy was never an issue in Palermo. Having a Super Maxi minutes away from home was wonderful.  Anything you wanted was a hop, skip and a bicicleta ride away.  Welcome to the other Ecuador.  Thank you God for this growth opportunity.



Just a word about friends.  True friends are a treasure, God's gift.  Rachel and I each had friends before we got married but the friends we've shared here in Ecuador transcend our prior experiences because of need.  I truly believe it is about sharing a unique life experience that you couldn't describe to anyone who hasn't lived here.  There are just certain knowings that become part of your everyday venacular that could not be understood unless you have struggled to communicate in another language (let alone another culture)  walked the streets, eaten at the local cafes, shopped for corvina at Feria Libre, looked for a three prong electrical adapter at a ferreteria, or jumped on the wrong bus.  It's not like we've been to war together, but we became a brother/sisterhood.  Together, we've learned to deal with things and adapt.  We remind each other why we came here when the homesick bug hits or when we've had one too many mananas.  For those we left behind in Cuenca, just know we cherished the time we had with you and look forward to your visit to the Imbabura.  Mi casa su casa.

For our special Ecuadorian friends that helped out when you didn't need to, we thank you.  You are surely angels sent from God.  Thank you Xavier, Galo, Francisco,  Jose,  Juan, Noshy, Eduardo, Paul, Wilson, Nellie and all the rest of you that reached out with humanity to us gringos.  We love you. 

Uhzupud, Paute, Biblian

Our friends Jim and Angie Barnes are always ready to go on another adventure.  We're really going to miss having them take us on their mini-odysseys around Azuay.   Our adventure on Saturday was the Iglesia de Biblian, a hike up a mini-mountain, and a wonderful meal at the Uhzupud resort in Paute.  
The pictures above and below really doesn't give justice to the visceral response we had when looking over the sheer edge of the cliff we were on.  Two thousand free fall feet below were the villages of Biblian and Paute.  One difference between Ecuador and North America is the lack of safety measures along hiking trails.  There are no guard rails or warnings. You're just supposed to have a little common sense.  One little sllip and you are an instant goner, common sense or not.  Anyway, the view was spectacular even with a little drizzle.

Next stop was Iglesia de Biblian, a unique church built into the face of a cliff.  It was a day of climbing trails along sheer cliffs and hundreds of steps up to to an ancient sanctuary.  The picture below shows the church and the mini-mountain we were climbing right and center.

Actually it wasn't that ancient, circa 1895.  I will say however that it was a bit of an engineering marvel to construct this place of worship in such a precarious foundation. 

In the picture above you can see the wall of the iglesia merging with the vertical wall of the cliff.

Inside the sanctuary you are reminded that you are in a building clinging to the face of a cliff.  The raw face of rock forms the backdrop to the alter.

I'm not sure this church would pass the standards of access for the disabled in the United States.  None the less we saw 85 year old women holding vigil in the sanctuary.  The human spirit is an amazing thing, especially when guided by The Spirit.

Ecuador is a developing country, so when you find a little oasis of opulence you are at first taken aback by the stark contrast to everyday living here.  The resort of Uhzupud is such an oasis.    As a rule hostels, hosterias, and hotels typically don't have such things as a heated swimming pool, tennis courts, volley ball courts, outdoor table tennis, stables, and waiters in white jackets.  Uhzupud has it all and their food was delicious.  People more or less have to know how to find it however. Your regular tourist passing through Cuenca would never hear about it or find it.  You have to be here for a while and then you hear rumors of Shangri La in Paute.  Even then you might find a bridge out and have to get creative about how you get there.  Then again, Jim Barnes is a creative driver and missing bridges are merely an invitation to another adventure.  I'm sorry I didn't get pictures, but use your imagination.

I even got to go for a little ride on one of their mounts.  To be honest, any day I'm on a horse is a very good day indeed.  Thank you Jim and Angie Barnes for a delightful day together.  We will miss you so much and are looking forward to your coming to see us in Cotacachi.  I'm pretty sure we'll have plenty of fodder for new adventures when you get there!