Today is the Day!!!
Have you read International Living’s ‘Guide to Buying Property in Ecuador’? I read it more than a few times and recalled it saying the process can be done in 3 hours with the correct paperwork and a checkbook. International Living made it sound so simple! A part of me assumed we would sign some papers, transfer the title and voila! We will be property owners in Ecuador!
Tomorrow was going to be a long day and I really did not know what to expect. I had to be 100% and getting a good night’s rest was crucial. Before falling asleep, Captain did a last-minute check on his email to make sure every was in place for tomorrow. He was quite entertained at the email he had received the day prior. It was from Agent. The subject line read, “Ready to Work”. Really? Now he is ready to work??? We have been here for 2 months, leaving in two days and NOW he is ready to work!?! Hearing what he had to say was of little interest to me. Agent was the last thought I wanted on my mind before turning in.
Sleeping did not come with ease. It seemed the moment I fell asleep, I was waken abruptly. KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK! I glanced at my watch. Bear was not kidding. It was 6:30 AM on the dot. I was thinking, “go away and come back in an hour!” Reality struck. It was time to face the world. We had been waiting for this day for some time now. We are buying the Perfect Property!
At 8AM we were meeting with Lion in Muisne, the island city. Because the land in located in ‘Muisne County’, this is where our taxes would be paid and title transferred to our name.
Our lawyers in Quito had arranged a counsel for us, an advocate and translator. The ladies were two Ecuadorian sisters; one a highly educated professional who would stand as our translator and the other who lives for real estate business in Ecuador. Though our appointment was south, the ladies were located north a ways so we made the detour to pick up Lucky and Lingo.
When we arrived at Lucky’s real estate office, Bear grumbled. He is always huffing about something. It is as if someone has disturbed his slumber while hibernating. Inside the small red brick office, Lucky was scrutinizing the minutes. They both shook their head in disapproval. Lingo translated, “the minutos claim you both understand Spanish and there is no need for an official translator.” The minutos also did not mention the structure on the land or the appeasement.
In general, we had agreed to Bear’s sale terms. All along Captain had insisted, the appeasement and structure must be included in the contract. How could Lion and Bear disregarded our only terms?!
While Lucky called our lawyer for last-minute details, Captain and I made our way outside. Bear trampled closely behind and grumbled, “I came to this lady time ago to help sell my land. She probably want a cut now. Welcome to Ecuador.” His impatience was ignored. Captain and I were spending our life savings. We were not rushing anything…
Bear huffed even more. Bear’s ticket was for a week in Ecuador; while not doing business he had many plans for relaxation. Hugh Hefner of Ecuador was celebrating his birthday with his ladies and tonight was the party. Even on the one day Bear needed to do business, he seemed annoyed he was not on his own time!
The tiny Green Spark was stuffed with our five bodies as we made the hour plus drive to Muisne. It was a very quiet ride as you may imagine at eight in the morning with three parties of strangers, all who speak a different primary language.
After the long and winding road, we arrived to the boat launch where we would catch the water taxi to Muisne. We were greeted by Lion and his misses. Moments after introductions were made, Lady Luck started talking business. Lion was shuffling paperwork between his manila folder and the sisters’ hands. Once again, their eyes narrowed to read the fine print and ensure the documentation for a free and clear title was provided.
I may not comprehend the Spanish vocabulary, but I understand body language, gestures and tone. Had the ladies offended this man by examining his documents? Lion took a great big breathe in and let out a tremendous roar! He repeated his family name and enunciated it for Luck. Was he threatening our advocates with his family name??? Lady Lingo confirmed my suspicions. Lion was full of pride and he wouldn’t shame his family name! This deal was legit! Lady Luck didn’t budge. She did not fear Lion’s roar.
Muisne is a sleepy island town with much potential to become a tourist trap as it has a long sandy beach and mangroves to explore. But with ram shackled structures and a brick road that looks as if it’s been in construction for years, Muisne has some work to do. The sidewalks look much like the road, dirt with small stretches of poorly laid brick. Moto taxis are seen zipping along the mile long main road from the boat launch to the sandy beach. On the main block there were a few Ecuadorians shopping at the local grocers. Sitting outside their eateries, families were to recruiting customers into their restaurants.
Off a side road of the strip, we would spend our whole day visiting the city buildings and experience the part of purchasing property that International Living never told us about!
Lion led us all to our first stop, the Tax Man. We were standing in front of a teal, two-story cement building. It was a very simple structure compared to the municipal buildings in the United States but there was an open air courtyard in its center. The first office we came to was our destination. It was a large room but crammed with four different desks and shelves cluttered with binders, books and folders. Stacks upon stacks of files stuffed with documents were piled on the desks and in various places. Was this important paperwork? If so, hopefully someone had a method to the mad mess!
I was not sure the role of the various office personnel but they sure knew my business. Nothing that occurred in that room was private!
When Lion had instructed us to come to Muisne and pay our 1% taxes (cash only), I assumed this was an under the table payment. We decided it would be in our best interest to wait until today for valid reasons. The tax collector looked over the rough draft of our minutes and wrote a receipt for 1% of the sale price. He instructed to take the receipt to the bank around the corner where we would pay our taxes in cash. Now this was much more legitimate than what I had imagined! At least we were paying a bank!
Standing guard was a security officer with a sawed off shotgun. This is commonly seen at the banks in Ecuador. Just remember to always take off your sunglasses and hat or you will be told to do so by the very stern guard!
Our debt was paid in full, with cash and a “PAID” stamp was placed on the receipt. The seven of us then made our way back to the Tax Man because the “PAID” receipt then had to be returned to the tax collector. Before returning to the Tax Man, we stopped by the Ecuadorian Kinkos to make a copy. He must have been the only business center in the town because there was a line, at least 3 other persons needing his services. Or maybe he had a line because his 1982 printer functioned at snail speed?
When we returned to the Tax Man’s office, I noticed the row of chairs near the door. When we first walked into the office I was following Lion and Luck and paid little attention. But the second time through here, the sitting people now caught my eye. Was this a line? If so, Lady butted in from of them all! I witnessed a man making his way to the open seat at the secretary’s desk. Lady had also spotted the opportunity and was headed straight for it. Lady Luck slid right in front of him and sat in the chair with no remorse.
Line cutting has always offended me. It’s like saying, “my time is more important than yours.” But in Ecuador, line cutting is the norm. I suppose if I am in a hurry, I can cut in line and no one will object!
Next step was to finalize the ‘minutos’ at the notary. Another heated conversation began. Lion’s plan was to return to the notary in Esmeraldas. After the minutes were finalized, we still had to do more paperwork in Muisne. My thought process was, “Why leave the island, drive almost 2 hours one way, only to have to return to Muisne for the title transfer? Is there not a notary here?” Luck and Lingo had the same objections. The ladies advocated for us and said there was no point to drive all the way to Esmeraldas. Even more so, the notary in Esmeraldas was Lion’s cousin so I strongly agreed with the ladies. Besides the wasted time of unnecessary driving, I would rather not use a notary that has family ties to our business counterparts!
Among the differences of business in Ecuador and the United States, notaries statuses vary greatly. Their prestigious position is more comparable to a judge in the US. It was confirmed a notary in Muisne was available, and of course, right around the corner! The minutos were going to be finalized in Muisne where ‘family tradicion’ would be left out of our business deal.
The Notary’s office sat on the backside of the main street of town. It was nestled between a small family restaurant and another space that appeared unused. A glass partition separated the waiting area from the Notary and her secretary. The secretary opened the glass partition and we proceeded inside. She overlooked our paperwork and several times our business was interrupted with other civilians needing their matters tended to also.
It was finally our turn with the notary. Lucky and Lion sat down directly in front of The Judge and began the debate. There was so much back and forth between Lucky and Lion. The Notary was listening very intensely and would interject occasionally. Lingo was also listening very closely. “What is going on,” I wondered. Of course my negative mind was thinking of the worst and thought for sure this deal was falling through…
Finally, Lingo offered me a little reassurance and stated this was business as usual. Lucky was ensuring the structure and the appeasement were included in the contract.
Meanwhile, I sat outside and Bear joined me. He stated the ladies “were causing issues.” Bear claimed, “this what everyone do here. Complicate and cause problems to make money.” What was he talking about? As far as I was concerned, these women were making sure we were getting what we pay for! I paid little attention to him. Bear was just huffing…was it getting close to party time?
The Notary dismissed us and stated we could return in an hour to obtain the completed minutos. Only at this time did Lion notify us that we would have more fees, both the notary and transferring the title. I thought for sure we were going to go right back to the bank and remove cash from the ATM. How naïve of me… The others were surprised the bank even had an ATM! If it would have accepted our Wells Fargo Debit Card from the US, would there be enough money on hand?!
We knew it was a long shot, but we had to inquire. In our possession were those damned traveler’s checks! Without surprise, the bank was not able to cash them. Of course not!
“What are we going to do???” I wondered. Why hadn’t we brought our checkbook like International Living told us?!? Let’s be honest; there is no way it could have been that simple. Captain kept me on track. “There is only one thing to do. We have to drive and get more cash.” The closest ATM was back in Atacames!
The others planned to eat lunch while we drove to get cash. Who knew where the others would be when we returned so Lingo said quickly, “Here,” handing me her phone, “call Lucky when you return. Go!!“
Captain and I ran down the crummy brick road, hopped into the water taxi and took the 30 cent ride to the mainland. As we settled in to the Spark and made our way to the ‘Pacific Coast Highway’, I realized why Lingo spoke with such urgency. It was after noon and Atacames was a solid hour’s drive one way. There was still much more paper work to do!
It may have been mid-day, but the day was definitely not half over! After finalizing the deal in Muisne, we still had to drive four hours to Quito! Our flight back to the US would be leaving bright and early tomorrow morning. The minute the paperwork was finished we would have to be on our way to Quito. The plan was for Captain to drop me off at the apartment, ensure our bags were all packed and prepare some sandwiches for the long day ahead. Meanwhile he would go to Atacames and get cash.
The long day ahead was the least of my concerns. All I could think was “ATM, please be in working order! Let Captain get enough cash without maxing out our daily withdraw limits!”