The Transition

At the end of the last post, I had told the tale of deciding to sell the home where I had lived for 15 years and leave my life in Tallahassee, Florida behind. My husband and I had settled on Cuenca, Ecuador as our future home. By April, 2015, my practice was sold, our home was sold, and it was now time to make the move! Let me be clear: the last time I’d moved from one city to another was in 1986, when I graduated chiropractic school in Atlanta and moved to Tallahassee with the contents of the small duplex I shared with my (now former) husband. I’d moved around in Tallahassee a few times, each time upsizing to a bigger home to make room for a growing family, and, as I was finally forced to face, a growing collection of possessions. For 28 years, whenever in doubt as to whether to throw something away, the default answer was, “Just put it in the (garage, spare room, upstairs closet, utility room, attic: pick one).” My ex had left a lovely collection of scrap building materials, fencing, and plumbing leaning against a cheap metal shed in the backyard which provided shelter to a thriving family of rats. It wasn’t an episode of Hoarders—not by a long shot!—but it was a lot.
Ironically, all the hobbies and projects we had intended to complete over the years had sat, untouched or half-finished, in our special areas we had set aside for them. Woodwork unfinished, musical instruments unplayed, fabric uncut and unstitched, yarn not crocheted, targets not shot, weapons not fired, seeds not planted, landscaping not installed, canvases not painted, clay not sculpted: all took up space in our home. We realized with a pang that, now that we were able to retire early, we finally had the time to work on all these avocations, but now we had to eliminate all the materials and tools in order to become internationally mobile. Collections had to go: frogs, tobacco pipes, seashells, shoes. And all this had to go NOW! The buyers had only a month to close on THEIR house, and in a market such as we were in we couldn’t afford to let them get away!
Junk King took down the shed and building materials and much of the miscellaneous junk in the garage in one afternoon. I highly recommend them for this type of project; there was not a scrap of paper or a single screw or nail left when they were done! Craigslist ads (over 30 of them) brought a series of buyers for furniture and collections. A lovely lady carefully packed up my seashells; a young couple just starting out got the sofa and loveseat; a man recuperating from a spinal cord injury got the exercise bike. During all this, we were packing the things we wanted to take with us for shipment to Ecuador. Then it was time to prep for the garage sale; family, friends and helpers hired from Craigslist helped move everything out to the garage. And the driveway. Fortunately, the weather was forgiving and the things didn’t get rained on.
It made me sad to see the dining room table my family had eaten at since the children were babies, sold to a dealer. But neither child had room for it and my ex didn’t either. The fold-down futons my son’s friends crashed on after nights of video gaming were donated. Tablecloths and crystal serving pieces that had been received as gifts for my first wedding had never been used, and so those were not hard to let go of. But there was a moment that threw me for a loop. I was negotiating the price of a trailer hitch (somehow we wound up with four trailer hitches, despite having only one car that could pull a trailer and one small utility trailer), when I turned and saw a woman quietly going through a box of books with my Thanksgiving tablecloth over her arm. Somehow, the symbolism of that tablecloth, and the memories of all the holiday dinners with family and friends, most still living but some now passed away, twisted in my heart like a knife. Tears sprang to my eyes, and I grabbed my husband’s arm, saying, “Honey, will you help this man with the trailer hitches? I need to go cry!” I sprinted into the house and bawled for about five minutes, then pulled myself together and returned to the sale.
The sale was a huge amount of work. The best thing about the experience was that my son and Steve’s daughter, both teenagers, were joined by their older sisters, who drove from other cities. All four children stayed in the house, sleeping on the floor once the beds were sold, helping pack, and reminiscing about joyful times and painful ones, over all the years that house had been our home. Each of the older girls left with a car crammed to the headliner with mementos, pots and pans, clothing, and décor. My dear friend Susan, who helped us move as though it were her household and not ours, got my Dyson vacuum (Best. Vacuum. Ever.) and her husband bought our electric generator.
Then it was time to rent the Budget truck. Two full loads to the storage locker. Lockers. Three lockers, by the time all was done! The original plan was to have the international movers store the items we planned to take to our new home in Ecuador until we got our residency visas, since we couldn’t bring them into the country before the visas were processed without paying onerous import duties. However, the moving company hit some snags and couldn’t get the stuff until after our move-out deadline, so into the storage lockers it went. We decided this was just as well. It was possible we might not even like Ecuador, or might have a problem with the visas, and this way our possessions were tucked up safe, waiting for us to make a return trip to oversee packing and shipping.
The next few truckloads went to my boy Ben’s house. He moved into a 3-bedroom with his girlfriend and two roommates. I have to say, it is quite a well-furnished household for a bunch of college kids! I remember my first apartment with thrift store finds, milk crate furniture, and no TV or air conditioning. I’m glad I could give him a more comfortable start than I got, but a little part of me feels like he’s missing out on the struggle which makes people appreciate what they achieve a little more.
Salvation Army sent a truck the next day to pick up the remnants. Ten suitcases were all that we held back, and ten suitcases was all we could carry on our flight to Ecuador. All the frantic activity ended, and here we were, ready to go. Unfortunately, Steve had injured himself on the job and we were obliged to wait for him to resolve the worker’s compensation claim first. So the two of us, my cat, and ten suitcases moved into an extended stay hotel for two months.
The hardest part, for me, of the whole process was the gradual realization that I would NOT be able to bring my Cessna 172 (a single-engine prop plane) with me to Ecuador. If you’ve not been bitten by the aviation bug, you may not understand the supreme sense of joy and freedom you get when your wheels leave the runway. I researched ferry pilots and routes across the Caribbean to reach my destination, then began to search for an airport home. It was then that the grim reality hit me: general aviation simply does not exist in Ecuador. When my search for small private hangars and aircraft mechanics came up blank, I went to Google Earth. I found that the familiar tiny crosses of little private aircraft were completely missing at Ecuador’s 50+ airports. What to do? I’d put several upgrades on that plane; I loved that plane and I knew it like the back of my hand. I contacted the local flight school almost three months before departure, and they said they’d love to lease it from me to use for instruction. That, I thought, would be ideal: I could keep my airplane but offset the cost of maintaining it with lease income, and it would be waiting for me if and when I decided to return to the US.
Weeks became months, though, and the flight school kept postponing the final inspection and lease signing. In the end, they quite rudely and summarily blew me off, leaving me with only 26 days until departure in which to sell my plane. I advertised it in all the newsletters and websites, and found a buyer with only days to spare. I took a hit on the price, but at least someone bought my lovely airplane who would love her as much as I did! How sad it was to take off for the last time from the little South Georgia airport that had been her home for three years!
I filled my days at the extended stay hotel with poolside sunbaths, canceling accounts and changing addresses, and getting visa paperwork in order.
I have a new sense of empathy for immigrants. Ecuador allows a person with a certain set retirement or disability income to apply for a residency visa, allowing them to remain in the country indefinitely. The process for getting the visa, though, is anything but straightforward. The list of documents required is subject to change without notice, but includes a passport, birth certificate, police criminal background check, marriage certificate, and a certified document showing the source of income. Each document must be certified by the issuing agency or notarized in the state where issued. Following that, I learned a new word: apostilled. Apparently, in 1963, a bunch of countries signed an agreement to honor each others’ certified documents; the certification was called an apostille. So, for the cost of usually $5, a certified, notarized document must be stamped by the apostille office in the same state where it was issued and certified or notarized. Complicated as that may seem, there were of course problems. For example, when I sent my original, certified birth certificate to the state where I was born for an apostille, they sent it back, saying that it was no longer valid (WTF? It had the signature of the very doctor who delivered me!). I had to apply for a NEW certified birth certificate, issued by the department of vital statistics and based on their database. In order to get it, I had to submit a copy of my passport (which, incidentally, I had originally obtained by submitting the now invalid original birth certificate. Sigh.). After all this is done, the documents needed to be translated into Ecuador’s national language, Spanish. It was recommended to me to wait until reaching Ecuador to have this done, since the translation has to be done by a translator acceptable to the Ecuadorian immigration service. I have a postgraduate education and I found the process confusing. I can’t imagine how an immigrant with a high school education or less can deal with it!
Mostly, though, I read, watched TV, visited with old friends one last time, and fretted about the trip, the flight, customs, baggage theft, my cat’s vet certificate, whether my son was getting enough rest, what to do with my car (eventually, I just signed it over to my son), what the weather would really be like, was it true that electronics cost three times as much there (Yep!), did I really know enough Spanish to get by and if not, whether I could learn.
Finally, after two months of ennui, the big day arrived. Susan (dear friend that she is) and Ben, my son, helped us at 4:00 a.m. to get all our ten suitcases, two carry ons, and a cat carrier to the airport. Ben surprised me by choking up a little at the gate. The TSA had to make the process just a little more unpleasant by searching my carry-on and making me remove the cat from her carrier, but, well, that’s part of why I’m leaving this country in the first place, right?
We splurged a bit by buying first-class tickets. The extra baggage allowance saved enough money on overage charges to justify it. It was our first time ever flying first class and we were both considerably wowed. A reclining seat into which we actually fit! We deplaned in Quito feeling quite human (except the cat, who seemed to feel quite feline after sleeping under the seat all the way). My rudimentary Spanish proved to be adequate to get us through customs and Agrocalidad (the Ecuadorian USDA). The final leg of the flight, from Quito to Cuenca, proved to be a little bit problematic because: 1. The luggage allowances were different, but they let us check our bags through “as a courtesy”; and 2. Because the Agrocalidad official had refused to return the cat’s health papers to me. Fortunately, I had a second copy, in English and Spanish, with all but the official USDA-ensorceled stamp and signature, and that was enough for the airline to let her board.
After alighting at the Cuenca airport, the hotel porter met us with a minivan which was clearly too small for all the items we had to transport. However, he and the maletero del aeropuerto (Skycap) wrestled and shuffled, and finally, in what I declared “el milagro de las maletas” (the miracle of the suitcases) we were on the way, with the cat’s case on my lap and the porter’s groceries balanced on the console between us.
Next post: First Days in a Strange Land

2 thoughts on “The Transition

  1. Can appreciate some (a tiny portion) of what you went through as we have down sized to a townhouse a year ago. Gave a bunch of stuff away. Moving to a different country altogether, as you describe, is a whole new level. I will stay tuned for further adventures.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s