A Ways From Home

Well, hello there!  Yes, I am still alive.  Life got the best of me and I wasn’t taking the time I should have to write. But my story continues.  Hmmm…now where was I?  Oh yes.  Ecuador…

During the initial stages of culture shock, a trip back home is often helpful to gain perspective, to remember why you moved overseas in the first place. When we started our visas we would be on a probationary period in which we could only leave the country for three months for each of the first two years. A travel nursing assignment is typically ninety days so if we left, it would a perfect opportunity to return to the States and make quick cash. For now though, I had no intentions of leaving Ecuador. The adventure was just beginning…

What a long time coming to legally start the visa process. On our previous trip we had gathered all of our paperwork: marriage license, background checks, long form birth certificates and passport photos. This was not simple considering Captain was born in Florida and me in Indiana. We married in Las Vegas and had lived in both in Chicago and Fargo within the year. Because of the two-year travel restrictions, our intention was to have our advisors turn in our paperwork when we were really ready for that move. But when we handed our advisors all our paperwork we’d gathered and notarized, they informed us that it all had a six month expiration. Oh? Really?! Uh, okay. Thanks…

This time around, we had all of our documents in line. Our background check was recent and all our papers had been notarized again as the notary always dates her signature. We knew we needed more consecutive time in Ecuador for construction so the time had come. Captain and I had saved a good bit of money to begin our life in Ecuador and were ready to start building our dream. After many months of working with our advisors, we were finally applying for our visas! Our U.S. matters were settled and Ecuador was going to be home for the next two years!

Ecuador was going to be home for the next two years…hm…reality was setting in.

Having been on the road for several years with travel nursing, I made a conscious effort of staying connected with others. I sent postcards, letters and pictures. Long calls were made to catch up and I sent emails here and there to just say hello and see what’s new. But now Captain and I were living in a remote village along the coast and our arrangement didn’t allow for these simple luxuries. I hadn’t thought about what a challenge this isolation was going to be. And this was going to be home for the next two years? Feeling further and further away from family and friends, I started to really miss home as I knew it…

The internet has sure made this world a smaller place and allowed people to stay connected no matter where they are in the world. So for someone like me who finds personal relations so important, the internet has allowed me to be a ways from home but still feel there. But out in our parts, it took some effort if I wished to connect with others. To send an email, I had to make the 30 minute winding drive to the noisy internet cafe in Tonchigue. Of the fifteen desktops, three are typically playing loud music and the other eight occupied are blasting childish and sometimes violent computer games. To make a Facetime call or use my Magicjack landline, wi-fi was an hour away in Atacames. Captain was hesitant about me traveling alone so he always came along. And because the House on the Hill wasn’t puppy proof, Miles and Grace came along as well. Because the trip to Atacames was lengthy, we also ran our errands. By the time errands were finished, the sun was high in the sky, the dogs were getting hot and Captain was anxious to get back home. The short time I had on the internet was not the quality time I loved sharing with those I cherish.

I tried to plan my interaction attempts around the routines of others. “Maybe I will catch her on her lunch break.” “It’s the end of the workday. Hopefully she picks up.” “He’s at work so chances are he’ll get my email right away…” But often times there were missed calls, poor connections and a longing to reconnect with my loved ones.

Watching television has never been much of a hobby of mine. But when Captain got Direct TV, I started having a “social life”. Turning on the television to my favorite shows was like meeting up with my best friends. Hanging out with The Big Bang Gang. Laughing at Nick and Jess on New Girl. Sympathizing with Adam on The Goldbergs. When the Voice was on I speculated which contestant was Mom’s favorite. Watching Modern Family, I knew Sis was laughing at all the same moments. How I missed my friends and family so much.

But the Universe would send me little reminders that I was never that far from home…

Getting gas one day a motor bike caught my eye. This bike was quite different from the others covered with decals of naked women and sports drinks. Plastered all over this one were Indianapolis 500 decals.

Opening the Hulk’s driver side door, I noticed a decal that read: assembled in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Our truck was built an hour away from my home town and made it all the way to us here in EC.

One episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Coulson and his team were in Muncie, Indiana. Some of my funniest memories are with my college buddies in good old “Funcie Muncie”.

A stressed day in Atacames was put into perspective when I glanced down and saw this on the sidewalk:

Wabash, Indiana?!?

Publishing a chapter was no longer a simple task but the connections created between me and my readers inspired me to continue telling my story. The moral support and genuine offers I’ve received from my readers is unbelievable. “If you need anything from the States, please ask. I would happily send it to you.” “We haven’t heard from you in a while. How is your building coming along and more importantly, are you okay?” “I’m going to ask my Ecuadorian family if they have any friends there in the North we can connect you with.” Another woman suggested sending her husband to help us with our building. I was amazed at how inspired others were by my story. Their comments of “courage and bravery” helped me better understand this challenging path that I’ve chosen. The matter of fact comments like “well-thought out, brutally honest and very informative” showed not only was I a character in a story but I was helping others in similar situations.

Living a gypsy life as I have for almost five years now, often times I’ve felt “out of sight, out of mind”, wondering if I was a forgotten one.  When family reaches out and lets me know they are still reading, I feel so good inside knowing they think of me and I have their support.  For so long though, I was over-extending myself clinging to relationships where I was putting in way more effort than the other person. I’ve had to redefine what a healthy and happy relationship means to me and in doing so, many of my friendships faded, fizzled out or burst into flames. What ever the reason for our lost connection, I am learning to not take any of it personally. This is life. People come and go.

The beautiful thing about letting go of not-so-ideal relationships and being away from the ones you love, is the open space for new people. When we create this space, we allow the opportunity to make new friends, lasting relationships and, at the very least, learn lessons from others. So of course, when I was missing those I love dearly the most, the Universe would send someone my way…

I received an email from a kindred spirit from Fargo telling me she was in Ecuador for good and loving life. Our meeting in Fargo was so synchronistic and with our passions aligned, I was sure we were destined for true friendship. We exchanged phone numbers and she called me soon thereafter on the landline at the House on the Hill. Calls on the landline can get expensive but talking to a friend in the ease and privacy of my own home was so comforting. She told me all the wonderful manifestations in her life and shared wisdom about building a home, living in Ecuador and allowing life to unfold. Although she was ten hours away in Puyo, I finally had a true friend here. It was the boost I needed for my social life…

Thereafter I began having random encounters with quite fascinating people.

While driving through our small town one day, a tall blonde woman caught my eye. She was carrying a surf board and a really big back pack. There aren’t many blondes in our parts so I smiled at her and thought “you’re blonde, too!” She smiled back and approached us. The brave woman was from Holland traveling on her own and was looking for a hostel for the evening. While helping her arrange lodging for the night, it came up in conversation that she had already read all the books she brought on her trip. Holly joined us for dinner, borrowed a book from my library and we laughed all night while sipping wine and swapping stories. She told me about her aspirations of beginning a surf community that protects the waterways of Ecuador.

Another day Captain and I were stopped at the end our drive because a slithering creature had caught our eye. A jeep passing by screeched to a halt and out jumped three men. The leader of the troop, Curious George was so excited with what we had found. What looked like a snake was actually a giant warm. He told us about his conservation efforts, other conscientious neighbors and encouraged us to visit his home in the next town over. I couldn’t wait to learn more from Curious George about composting toilets, raising chickens and farming in this climate.

That's a big worm!

Not too long thereafter, Captain and I had stopped by George’s to learn more. George wasn’t there but when we turned around to head back home, before us stood a tall, skinny white guy. “I’m Leaf. Great to meet you guys.” Where did he come from??? “I’m renting a little cabin here in the woods.” He literally came out of the woods. He was a young American living part-time in Ecuador and dreams of a wellness community. Conservation was a focus of his as well.

Coming together with a community of concerned citizens felt good and helped me feel more welcome to the area. But still, nothing feels more at home than being with my family.

Before I left for Ecuador, Mom said she already couldn’t wait to come see me. “I finally get to use my passport!” She suggested a few dates that might work for her and I told her I had no clue what my life was going to be like in the coming months so no way could I make such detailed plans. “Mom, you know where I’ll be. Come anytime.” Whenever I was on travel, no matter where I was, Mom always came to see me. I knew she was super excited to come visit I but had no expectations of how soon I would be seeing her. Having yet to be overseas, she was a bit weary of traveling alone. “How do I get ahold of you?” “Are all the signs in Spanish?” “How will I get to your place?” Her worries were all too similar to my fears and anxiety…

Mom started asking questions about specific dates and I knew she was getting serious about visiting. Emails were more frequent and when Sis told me about her approaching vacation time, I knew Mom found a travel buddy. Soon I’d be getting an email with flight confirmation.

I reminded my Mom that if she waited for a little while, she could come visit when our building was finished. I couldn’t wait to see her again but I knew this wasn’t going to be the Ecuadorian experience I want to provide to my guests. When she told me she didn’t want to wait, I was relieved because there was no one I needed more than my mom…

It had been a long winter in Indiana; Sis said she couldn’t wait to get outta there! With the stress of construction and the discomfort of culture shock, knowing Mom and Sis were coming to visit was the only thing getting me through the days. But our conversations reminded me how awesome it was that I was living this overseas adventure and could share it with those I love. Days before leaving for Ecuador I asked Sis if they were ready for their trip. “Yeah. I’m packing right now. Mom? Hell, she’s been packed for a month!”

I had been preparing for my family as well. The guest room was cleaned and feng shued. The landlady’s linens stash was found and I chose the prettiest set of matching sheets. I’d bought boogie boards and beach chairs so us girls were ready for our fun in the sun! We were going to spend our week lounging on the beach, taking surf lessons and beach combing.

Mom and Sis could have taken the fifty minute flight to Esmeraldas from Quito to avoid the six-hour drive to the coast. There was a bit of hesitation with this option as first time international travelers so Captain and I agreed to pick them up in Quito. We had to go to Quito for a few days to finish our visas and get our cedulas anyways so it was perfect. We coordinated our trip to Quito and planned to pick the girls up from the airport on our way out of the city. It was going to be a long ride back from Quito in the truck with the whole family but Mom was stoked. “It wouldn’t be the true Ecuadorian experience if I didn’t take a trip in the back of the truck!”

Before leaving for Quito, Captain and I were finishing the last-minute cleaning at the House on the Hill. With only our guest bathroom left to clean, I went to rinse the sink and noticed the water was out. Hmm…interesting. We still had power. This was a first to have power but no water. We then discovered the cistern was empty. Normally it was being filled by the town’s water. When we asked Mr. Deeds he informed us the town had been out of water for a month.  Why hadn’t he thought to inform us? Perhaps we would have rationed our water differently…

We asked around in town and were told the following day a new pump was being bought and we’d have water at this time. Great. We would be leaving for Quito but luckily we had cleaned the whole house except for the guest bathroom. I planned to do this first thing when we returned as a clean bathroom is incredibly important when having guests.

After months and months of planning and preparation, we were taking the final steps for our resident visa. After working with our advisor for sometime now, we knew she had a tendency for poor planning and procrastination. So every other day prior to coming to Quito we called to ensure matters were straight. This trip we had little time to spare and were ready for this drawn out process to be complete. There was always an excuse as to why the process was stalled. It came as no surprise when we were informed two days before leaving for Quito that immigration discovered discrepancies of our arrival and departure dates. (This was two days before leaving for Quito.) Apparently the database showed that we hadn’t returned to Ecuador since our last trip. “Well, we are here now so figure it out!” We provided arrival and departure dates as well as the airlines used and were assured we would be out of Quito on time.  ( I suspected this had to do with us overstaying our welcome on our last trip to EC.  Someone must have conveniently left out information so we could get out of the country unscathed…)

Our first full day in Quito, we headed to the immigration office and took a number, a similar experience to waiting at the DMV. Our advisor was always ready to cut in line, but this day no clerks were having that. We had to wait like everyone else. After sitting for almost two hours, we were called to the front where we had pictures taken and our paperwork was handed over. That was all for this day…

Forty-eight hours later our passports were returned to us with an addition, an Ecuadorian visa. We got our picture taken again and then headed to another government building where we would obtain our cedulas. A cedula is an important identification card necessary to open a bank account or get a cellular plan. We took a number and patiently waited until we were called. When the man called my number, I answered a few questions, got my picture taken again and was told to come back to the window in two hours. A few hours later, I had my cedula! Alas!! After a long paper trail, Captain and I were finally legit!

Legit!

What a relief…I didn’t want our visa ordeal getting in the way of the girls’ visit so I was thrilled!

With the new airport moving outside of the city, the Quito lodging with our advisors was no longer near the airport. So it was decided that I would take the old airport/new airport shuttle to meet Mom and Sis and we’d then take a taxi back. I was a bit nervous as this was my first time I’d really been alone in Ecuador. Captain was always by my side when traveling so it was terrifying and exciting all in one.

My plan was to be waiting for the girls when they arrived at the airport. When it took longer to get to the shuttle, I knew I was going to be pushing it. And when the shuttle, which supposedly left every twenty minutes, took forty-five minutes to finally leave, I wondered how long they would be waiting on me…

Anxieties fluttered about. Why didn’t I leave for the airport earlier? Will Sis be perturbed they had to wait on me? How nervous will Mom be if I am not there? Were my plans for their visit going to go smooth? Should I have planned more things for us to do? What if they didn’t have fun? What if they didn’t want to come back? I then wondered if I was feeling anxieties of Mom and Sis. What is causing them to worry? Was everything okay on their flight? Are they having issues with luggage? Ahhh!!!

Okay…it was time to stop worrying. We were all a ways from home and everyone needed to relax. I’d get to the airport when I got there. This was a time to be happy. There was much to celebrate. I was traveling alone in Ecuador! Mom and Sis were visiting! Don’t worry, be happy!

What I love about true friends and family is no matter how long it has been, when you meet again, its feels like it was just yesterday where you left off. And that is exactly how it felt seeing them at the airport. Here we were quite a ways from home but when I saw the two of them, I couldn’t have felt closer to it.

They had a cart full of luggage and I knew most of it was items I had requested from the States. Also, they each were holding a bouquet of flowers. Flowers? For me? Really!?! No… “They handed us these when we got off the plane!” Ha! Of course they did! It was Valentine’s Day and roses are a main export for Ecuador. How sweet. I was glad Mom and Sis got a warm Ecuador welcome from someone since I wasn’t there to do it…

A line of sparkling taxis were waiting at the arrivals gate and the taxi coordinator was quick to offer a ride. Us girls obliged and the next taximan up, opened his doors and welcomed us into his bright yellow taxi. It reeked of new car smell and with not a speck of dust on the dash, I could tell the taxi was this man’s pride and joy. The moment all of our doors were shut, the timer started ticking. We were told is was between forty-two and forty-five minutes to our destination. With the driver’s heavy foot, I was sure we were going to make it under forty. He drove like he was going to beat the record…

The ride was a perfect time to catch up on life in the United States. Work. Friends. Family. Relationships. It was so special to hear my sister’s stories as she too is a nurse and now working in Mother/Baby. Not everyone can appreciate the stories of a nurse so its fun that I can relate to Sis on that level. Her stories hit close to home and seeing our similarities brings me that much closer to my sis…

Mom had been awfully quiet and then I remembered all the horror stories I’d told in my tales; Mom hadn’t missed a chapter so she was well aware of the madness. It’s one thing reading about the drivers here in Ecuador; a whole other experience when it is the real thing…

She was looking over the driver’s shoulder with her eyes glued to the road. “Geeeeeez,” she gasped with clenched teeth. “Mom, its best if you don’t watch.” I couldn’t convince her to look away so I continued my conversations with Sis as Mom sat on my left, flinching around every curve and each pass.

“This is going to make me sick,” Mom said. I knew what she was talking about. Public transportation always made me a little queasy. But these drivers going so fast, passing on both the left and the right, they take nausea to a new level.

“No. I am going to get sick.” This was a wasn’t a figure of speech. It started with a gag and then I saw she was fighting it. “I’m gonna get sick!” Oh God! My spanish skills were put on the spot and all I could recall was the word from the bus stop sign. “Parada! Parada!” Clearly this was not the correct word for stop because the taxi man was not stopping very quickly. I was tapping on his shoulder and still unsure of the correct word, I was saying, “Parada! Por favor! Parada!” He couldn’t ignore our sense of urgency and when he realized Mom was about to spew all over his baby, he swerved across the two lanes of traffic and slowed to a roll. “Blaaaaaaahhh!!!” Yep. There it was. He got to the side of the road just in time because Mom couldn’t hold back any longer. Here was Mom, leaning out the backseat door, cars blazing past on her left and the driver had only slowed to a roll. (Clearly he didn’t want to lose any time on this trip…)

Tissues and water were quickly gathered and ready for Mom when she got it all out of her system; she was more concerned with getting the car door ripped off by the other car that were passing with little regard to our ride creeping along. We were a ways from home so I learned the more appropriate word for stopping in these situations knowing this probably wouldn’t be the last incident. Being nauseous is never fun but Sis and I were laughing hysterically. Within minutes of sitting up and the driver pulling away, Mom was tapping on the driver’s shoulder again…

I would have suggested she move to the front seat but I knew that would only make the experience more terrifying being that much closer to the windshield.

There were a few more minor incidences and when we made it home, I knew Mom was sure glad to be standing on solid ground. “Oh, your dad will get a kick out of that story…”

That morning we got an early start as we wanted to make it to the coast by dark. Packing the truck was a timely task as we all had quite a bit of baggage. The girls had their luggage as well as the few bags of goodies for me. We had the dog kennel, a new chainsaw and weed wacker as well several light fixtures for our rooms. (Captain and I had taken advantage of being in the city and spent our free day shopping at the Gran Kywi.) With two dogs, four adults and a good-sized mandarin tree, the small amount of spare room was perfect for the mattress I’d brought so our ride would be a comfy one!

Cozy

The dogs hopped in the front with Captain and us girls got cozy in the back. The infamous markets of Cotacchoci and Otavalo were hours out of our way home and meant spending an extra night in Quito. I promised Mom next trip I’d take her to the best markets but this trip we were going to check out a new market I’d heard about. It wasn’t far and would give her a taste of what she would find in the other markets.

The market was just a short detour from one on the main roads leading to the Mitel del Mundo. In no way was it a substitution for the grand markets but this was her best opportunity to do a little shopping on this trip.

Mini Market

A beautiful sign welcomed us in and we made our way to the shops. There were four booths inside a cozy building and even clean public restrooms for visitors. There was sterling silver jewelry, leather belts and shoes and hand bags of all sorts. Sis bought a hand carved tomahawk for her boyfriend and the classic cream-colored Ecuador shoulder bag for herself. Mom thought of all the gifts she wanted to bring home but there just wasn’t the selection she had hoped for. But she was happy to find a big fluffy wool sweater to keep her warm on those really cold days in Indiana.

The shopping may not have been as grand as the markets in Otavalo or Cotacchoci but what a spectacular view!!!

A Ways From Home

Our next stop was about an hour away. We’d planned a quick stop for a canopy tour in Mindo. Mom of course had been preparing for her trip to Ecuador and read all about canopy tours. After hearing her tourist tales of people crashing into trees and breaking cables, I’d wondered if I should have inquired about the safety of this place…

The canopy tour was a series of five runs and through the cloud forest. As our guide helped us with our gear, I realized how dangerous this activity could be. We were strapped into a harness that fit around our thighs and waist. Each cable run had a steel latch so after climbing up the ladder to the cable, we hooked up and took off. We wore helmets and leather work gloves and were handed a leather break. Unlike my mother, I didn’t know much about canopy tours and wasn’t sure what to really expect. But as I was getting on my gear, I started getting butterflies. This could be quite hazardous…

When I was handed a pair of oversized work gloves, I wasn’t concerned with their fit until the guide explained that we had to grip the L-shaped leather pad to brake. And apparently braking was really the only thing you have to do when ziplining. The guide’s assistant went ahead of us; he would stand on the landing platform and signal when it was time to start braking. Our guide strapped us in and sent us on our way. The views were beautiful but honestly, I was preoccupied with the guide’s instructions. Feet in so they don’t catch a tree! Head low so the cable doesn’t splice your face! All the while wondering if I’d be the lucky one to have a cable snap…

Approaching the platform for landing there were many things to consider. Keep your feet up so they don’t catch on the platform. Brake when instructed. Too hard and you’ll stop a ways from the platform. Too soft and you’ll end up body checking the guide’s assistant that has no other choice than to stop you with his body! With the oversized work gloves, braking was not so easy so we all got some good laughs with our crash landings.

Slow It Down!

By the last run we all had mastered braking and landing. Gliding through the treetops in the cloud forest was beautiful. Next time we zipline, we will be pros so we can fully enjoy the whole experience without worrying so much about the landing! Ziplining across river canyons would be phenomenal. Okay, who am I kidding? I would be just as worried then as well…

Off to the coast we went. It was over a four-hour drive so us girls got comfortable. With the exception to cloud forest, it is typically a dry ride but I told Mom and Sis to have their rain coats handy. I was facing forward and noticed a tall dark cloud that was approaching us very quickly. “I think we are going to get wet!” Sis quickly pulled out her raincoat and slipped it over her head. I then realized I’d been so focused on telling them what to pack, I didn’t pack my own raincoat.  Ahhh!!  “Here, I have an extra emergency poncho!”  Before Mom handed me her emergency poncho, big raindrops started to fall. The plastic ponchos were blowing in the wind, twisting and turning and making it nearly impossible to put on. Mom’s poncho was a glorified trash bag and was shredding into pieces with the intense winds. I was facing forward so when I finally got my poncho on, it got stuck to my face and became a serious suffocation hazard. The rain was falling hard and we were laughing even harder. How great it was to have a good laugh with the girls. When the rains stopped, Mom held up her trashed trash bag and said, “I don’t know why I didn’t get my raincoat out because this didn’t do a damn thing!” Again, Mom had me and Sis laughing hysterically.

It's Raining, It's Pouring!

On our way home to the coast, Mom and Sis soaked up the sunshine and got the tour through the Andes. “This way to rafting.” “That way to ancient burial grounds.” “This is where we were when our shifter broke off the Lada…” They took in the view from the back of the Hulk. Rolling hills topped with pasture and aged jungle ravines, they were amazed with the standard of living. Mom made an interesting observation. “For as poor as they live, they all dress in pretty nice clothes.” It was true. Even in our incredibly poor village, most of the ladies always wore cute outfits and had nicely manicured nails.

Mom and Sis received the grand tour of the House on the Hill when we arrived. They were shown to the guest room where they would be staying for the week. My priority was cleaning the guest bath but it took one flush of the toilet to realize we were still out of water. It had been a week and the town was still out of water? Great. Well…

“Welcome to your home for the next week!” Their first days in Ecuador and Mom and Sis were living in a house without water. Mom wanted a true Ecuadorian experience and she was about to get one. How soon before they start missing home?

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