Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Why Ecuador/Cuenca?


Because you want to. Because you've always loved to travel and the idea of actually moving to and living in a new country is inspiring, exhilarating, and represents an optimistic approach to life and the future. Because it reverberates in your head, resonates in your heart, and itches in your feet. Because it's a one-of-a-kind siren song and if you're lucky enough in this life to hear it, you have no choice. You simply must answer its call. Because it's your destiny to do it and you will. 

This is a quote from the first pages of David Morrill and Deke Castleman's book Expats in Ecuador: Life in Cuenca.

I couldn't have put it into better words myself!! Then today, something popped up on my Timehop app (an app that takes you back in time with photos and other miscellaneous social media tidbits you've posted) from three years ago and I am glad I saw it... it rings very true today! I said:

Sometimes in life when we’ve grown up, we have to realize that we don’t need anyone to sign a permission slip anymore before we get to do something awesome. Sign your OWN name on the dotted line and go live your dream!

Do you ever feel that way, that you can't do something because so-and-so doesn't approve? We never have a specific point in life where we realize we don't need to ask for permission from Mom and Dad or get anyone else's approval, or even have a certain grade point average in order to do what we want to do with our lives. There was no day that came when it was made clear we could literally do whatever we wanted with our short, fleeting lives.

It's today! If you don't know it already, it's today! It was yesterday, too, but if you didn't know it, now you know -- it's today. And that's what we realized when we decided to go do this thing... we realized we had the flexibility to literally pick up and leave (with some careful effort and planning of course!!) I've built a very stable business working from home that earns more than enough to support us here at home already -- why not take it abroad? Ben is working (VERY hard, might I add) to start an online business of his own and the work he needs to do for that can also be done anywhere in the world. We both just need access to the internet. Why does it have to be here in Orlando? We've wanted for a long time to be able to travel different places and see different things in the world, and not spend all our free time at home watching Netflix marathons every weekend. 

We want to be better people.

We want to learn a new language, learn to appreciate another culture, learn to see the world through a different set of eyes and with a fresh, more grateful heart. We want our souls to flourish on the novelty, ache for familiarity, flutter with excitement, and soar with gratitude. 

We know, without doubt, that there is no way we will return home, after a year abroad, unchanged. We know, without doubt, we will be glad we did it. We know, without doubt, that if we listen to naysayers and negativity from within or from others, and decide to stay home out of fear, that we will sorely regret it. Plus, living in Florida, speaking Spanish is truly invaluable. Being able to connect with non-natives is invaluable and personally I'm VERY excited to be able to master it. Yo quiero aprendar Español! 

Life is short! Life is meant to be lived. Life is not supposed to be spent on the couch in front of the TV (not all of it, at least). Life is not measured in monetary successes (who cares how much money you make? What do you do with it?), but in the fullness of your heart and how you spend your TIME.  Ben decided several months back he didn't want to spend the healthiest, most vital years of his life chained to a desk at a job he hates merely to make other people happy, to fulfill the status quo, or because "that's what people do". WHY WAIT until you're older to enjoy life? Why sacrifice years and years of your life to misery in hopes that when you're older THEN you'll be able to enjoy life? Because that's the safest thing to do? I don't think it's that safe at all. We have no guarantees in life. AT. ALL. Not even the next breath. I've realized that waiting until after we've put in 30 or 40 years of work to enjoy what life has to offer would, for us, be pretty foolish. If we have the desire and the means to take hold of life NOW, why wait? Especially when you don't know how much time you have. Imagine if we were to continue on, day in and day out, week after week for 10, 15 years doing the same thing, wishing we were doing something else, or being someplace else, longing for new experiences and perspectives, but waiting until the "world" gave us permission to do so (retirement, etc.)... and then something happens, and we've got weeks left to live. How much regret and sorrow would you have if the reality hit that you'd spent, quite literally (remember, you're dying now), your entire life waiting to do all the things you wanted in the LAST 10-15 years of your life... and then it happens that you don't even HAVE those last years.

Nope. Nuh-uh. Not gonna risk that.

So, I realized we had nothing truly holding us back from going on this adventure, other than fear of the unknown and silly ideas that you should wait to enjoy life, I immediately felt like I'd arrived where I was supposed to be. I don't feel "stuck" anymore. I like what I do, my jobs and whatnot, but there is more to life than work :) Why not go discover what else is out there? Also, I've stopped wishing I was someone else, somewhere else. If you're on social media, you know how it can be: other people's plans, lives, etc unfolding before your eyes, and you're on the couch, in your pajamas, wishing you could do the same thing. Don't tell me you haven't been there (IF you regularly connect in social media outlets, you will know what I'm talking about :)). Ben and I are adventurous spirits. That "stuck" feeling I had was itchy feet, the "go out and do something" feeling. A smoldering fire in need of rekindling. Now that we've been actively kindling the fire, life feels new and exciting and not ho-hum, boring, regular old by-the-book drudgery anymore. 

Are you kindling your fire? Have you been waiting to enjoy life later, when it's safer/when you have paid your dues/done your time/saved your money/made sacrifices? Why are these things important? Who taught you that? And more importantly, why should you listen?

Hasta luego,

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Flights + Learning Spanish... Day 3!


So, super cool update re: getting to Ecuador. I was on Kayak looking at prices, trying to decide based on baggage allowances whether it'd be worth an extra $250 a person to take an extra 50 lbs each with us... when I saw an ad for the American Airlines AAdvantage MasterCard. 30,000 bonus miles if you spend $1000 in the first three months (NOT. HARD.) I had talked previously with my very savvy father-in-law, Ken, about these types of deals and they come highly recommended from him. So... I applied, and was accepted automatically. Yay! So I look up the awards chart for the card, and it turns out that each one-way flight to Ecuador on off-peak season (which is 10 months of the year) is 15,000 miles ... which means we will be flying to Ecuador FREE. WHOO-HOO! It will get us to Quito. We have one short 55-minute flight to Cuenca after that... the next day, probably. 

Organizing which visas to get and where... I like to PLAN ... I know we have time, but the sooner I get this stuff planned out, the sooner I can relax :-) Honestly, the thing I'm most anxious about is cleaning out the garage and the guest bedroom closet. There is SO MUCH STUFF in there. If we're going to rent out this place, fully furnished or not, we're gonna have to purge. It'll feel good, I keep telling myself. It'll feel good. What I'm thinking is if we do the garage first, we'll have someplace to put all the crap from the closet. Right? RIGHT?!

Well, it is day 3 of my Spanish learning journey. I've noticed that Spanish is SO much easier than German and in Florida, Spanish is very useful... it really opens the doors to a whole new world here. I'm already speaking full sentences. Complicated sentences? No. But sentences nonetheless. :-) 

Today I said the following (and I'm very proud of it!): 

  • "I want more cats."
  • "It is my big lizard."
  • "It is a big cat."
  • "Do you want to eat pasta for dinner?"
And a bunch of other really useful things. I'm using Cat Spanish and Duolingo (sorry if you already knew that), both of which approach things in slightly different ways but they're both interesting and I'm learning quite a bit from both.

Escribo más luego!!


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

It's time to go do something!

In 2012, on a plane coming home from a one-week trip to Jamaica, I saw an episode of House Hunters International on HGTV. It took place in Cuenca, Ecuador. This was the first time I'd ever heard of Cuenca. And I never forgot it (okay, I forgot the name a few times, but I never forgot what I'd seen). The show followed a young-ish Canadian couple and their daughter looking for a place to stay in their new home country. I was impressed by the beauty of the city, the friendly nature of the people there, the low cost, but high standard of living, the emphasis on health, and so many things. Cuenca first became popular in 2009 when the magazine International Living named it the number one spot to retire in the world.


Fast forward two-and-a-half years after I saw that video. I now have a completely remote job as a professional legal proofreader. All I need is the internet, e-mail, and my iPad and I can make a solid salary ... anywhere in the world. My husband, Ben (whom I now want to call Ben-HA-meen ;-)) had been working a solid job at some universities doing financial aid. He has in recent months decided that he doesn't want to work for someone else's dreams (literally, he is helping students achieve their dreams, which is a good thing, but not forever, when you have dreams of your own).  For a while, the idea that we could pick up and leave, go somewhere, do something crazy, and not be "normal" adults that work every day, stay home on the weekends, and watch Netflix to kill time, seemed out of our reach. But it also seemed sad. Now and then I'd think about it, we don't have or want to have children, so... what? We are just going to sit here and get old and THEN go do something? Um, no. And I never thought Ben, with his background, would ever quit the corporate rat race. Until....

...Ben decided he wanted to work on starting his own software company and enrolled in a hands-on entrepreneur development program called The Foundation. It's six months long, cost almost $5000 and Ben. is. SO. into it. I've never seen him THIS EXCITED or THIS MOTIVATED to do anything. Ever. It's awesome. I know I don't have what it takes to do what he is doing, but I know that he does have what it takes and he isn't giving up.

We'd already been discussing Ben taking a leave of absence from his job for a period of three months for him to focus on his new business. We started talking one evening (okay, it was two days ago) and the subject of Cuenca came up... the low cost of living...the high standard of living... the friendly people... the cooler climate... you hate your job.... I make more than enough to support us here, so definitely there... we could rent out our house... Mom is cool with it and said she'd take the cats... WHY DON'T WE GO!? Ben said initially to "sell him" on it, because he had his doubts, but it really didn't take long to do that... like an hour. Not even kidding.

So we're going to Ecuador in six months. We have set our "leave time" for April... our next vacation will be at least a year long ;-) The first two weeks will be actual vacation, looking for a place to live, etc. and once we are settled into our own pad, I can begin working again as usual. We'll be looking for someplace furnished, as we don't intend to stay forever.

What's happening in the next six months??

Well, first of all, I'm going to learn Spanish. I started yesterday, in the McDonald's by my house. I was having issues with verb conjugation and asked one of the employees for help. Well, he didn't speak English. I eventually figured it out but sitting there, I thought to myself, Self, you never would've spoken to him if you weren't trying to expand your soul by learning his language. There, in the McDonald's, I felt immersed, because I was.

I am actually ENJOYING learning Spanish. A shocker, if you know me! I have already learned German, so I think it makes it easier... plus, I am really motivated. I want to be able to communicate with people when we're in Ecuador. I've been using Duolingo and Cat Spanish, both free or low-cost programs on iPhone and iPad. They're fun and I can't believe all the words and phrases I've learned so far!! Me llamo Caitlin, soy extranjera, y me gusta!! (I'm called Caitlin, I'm a foreigner, and I like it!)

We're going to sell a bunch of stuff... clean out the garage, get rid of stuff we don't even know we have, stuff we don't use, donate, donate, donate... we'll eventually sell Ben's car, and knock down the insurance on mine and find someplace to keep it while we're away. We're still deciding whether we want the house to just sit here, rent it out to someone for a year (cheaper rent, just take care of the place) or pay a service to host our place on AirBnB... there are a lot of rentals here in Orlando so we're not sure exactly what the best option is. Right now, we're leaning toward a long-term house sitter type deal. They get a furnished place, everything they need, for a good sum less than what they'd pay in a comparable place... we just want the mortgage covered with enough on top to cover any additional expenses like our insurance and property taxes. Otherwise, we'd have to pay for cleaning services for short-term rentals, etc. and what if it doesn't sell every day and we don't make enough to cover the mortgage, etc... which it probably won't. Seems like a less-hassle option to choose someone to live there full-time. I'm sure we can find someone!

Oh and... we know it won't be easy :) We've both lived abroad before, experienced culture shock before, been homesick before and gotten through it before. Heck, when I lived in Germany, once I'd finally arrived in my little apartment, the first thing I did was break down into tears. It took me a few days to leave the apartment. But this is normal. Culture shock is real. The main reason we WANT to do this is to get uncomfortable, pop our American bubbles and enjoy more of the world. Get to know more people. Learn a new language. All of it. Having been through the process before, we know there is nothing we can't handle.