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Ecuador La Libertad Ecuador Uncategorized

Just Hangin’ Out

I’ve been staying home as the national strike continues; we are worried about possibly getting caught up in flash mobs/lootings. But so far things here have been pretty peaceful.

The stores are running out of produce and other goods! A couple days ago Dodie ventured out on a quest for produce and did pretty well! She got me 4 tomatoes, 4 bell peppers, 2 biggish avocados & 4 kiwi, a few fat carrots and a small container of blueberries, all at for $10… exhorbitant price but I think at this point I’d pay just about anything for some fresh food! I was down to just some romaine.

We ordered some nuts (pistachios, cashews, walnuts & almonds) from a guy named Freddie Nutz! I’m not sure if that’s his real name or not. He delivers, but when?? He’s 3 days late already.

Today I had my favorite taxi driver Frank help me buy a cheap cellphone. My regular phone only works here when I have wifi and I want to have a way to call someone if I am out on my own and need help. The cheapest one they had was a tiny $28 Nokia that’s only good for phone calls, no internet capabilities. I’m hoping this phone will also work in Albania. Then I had him drop me off at a supermarket, as I was getting desperate for some items.

Wow, there was hardly any produce! I did get a couple avocados but that’s all. No celery, lettuce, carrots, green beans, lemons. No milk, cream, butter or eggs, no meat except for some whole chickens. Lots of other shelves were empty as well.

Annnnnd…now I can never show my face at Super Aki again! I was looking for peanuts, and they don’t put them with the walnuts and almonds. So I looked it up on my translater app, and it came up with a word I wasn’t familiar with. I asked a stocker guy where they were and he didn’t understand the word either. So I looked up “nuts”. Before I realized what I was really seeing, I asked him where the “cojones” were! His eyes got big as saucers and I said, “OH! No no no!” I quickly looked up peanut butter and got the correct word “mani”. We both laughed but he seemed a little fearful….

Here are Before and After photos of our Keeper. He was starving, with severe parasite and mange infestations and had something terrible wrong with his legs when they picked him up off the street. They got him all cleaned up and Randy exercised his legs in the pool a lot. Now he’s a handsome healthy dog! It’s quite an amazing transformation.

And here’s our lovely little Bella, she’s my favorite! Soooo sweet and cuddly!

There’s a mysterious lump that keeps appearing in my bed! What on earth could it be?

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Ecuador Salinas Ecuador Uncategorized

Bird and Marine Sanctuaries

Big adventure yesterday! Randy & I went to the mercado early. Look at all the stuff I got for $4.50! A big bag of beautiful tomatoes, a giant zucchini and two avocados. I also got some pistachios, walnuts, blackberries, blueberries, more of that delicious swordfish and some chicken breast. (no flies!) I wonder how these chickens are raised, are they free-range? Factory farmed? There’s no point in asking because Ecuadorians are famous for telling you what they think you want to hear. They don’t consider it lying, just making you happy. Unfortunately I guess not many people buy pistachios here; they taste like they’re about 20 years old! And maybe they are. Oh well, live and learn.

Then Dodie, Randy, their godson Marco and I all piled into Frank’s taxi and went to a bird rescue center in Colonche (about an hour north), to celebrate Marco’s 13th birthday.

We stopped for lunch at an oceanfront restaurant called “My Bar at the Beach” I had chicken soup. The chicken part was in one large chunk, complete with bones, so had to be cut up. It had noodles in it but I was able to eat around them. Marco got this really impressive seafood rice dinner with a huge whole fried shrimp on top! It was a work of art!

Then we continued on to the bird sanctuary. This breathtaking barn owl was the first thing we saw upon entering. Wow! We actually got to pet it!

L to R: Janis, Dodie, Randy, Marco & Frank. I forgot the owl’s name.

Then we moved on to a demonstration of some raptors in flight, and walked around looking at all the other hawks, eagles, more really cool owls and a small petting zoo. I loved the owls best! These are all birds who have been injured. If they can be rehabilitated, they are released back into the wild.

The birds in this enclosure all had leather hoods over their heads to keep them “tranquilo”.

Then on the way home we stopped at a small marine rehabilitation sanctuary in Valdivia. Also pretty cool! They had some aquariums with seahorses, lobsters and some spiny urchins, penguins, pelicans and blue-footed boobies, a couple really big tortoises and other turtles.

This guy was massive!

On the way home we passed the New York Mets Motel, which Frank says is a “motel de amor”…three hours for $10! BYO partner.

Then we went to the jeans store in La Libertad, only open on Saturdays, to get Marco some new clothes. I got a $10 long- sleeved tee shirt for the cooler days coming up. The biggest size they carry was a men’s Large, which barely fits me! (I wear a women’s small or medium shirt size in the US). Ecuadorians are tiny!

Thanks to Dodie for all the photos!

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Ecuador La Libertad Ecuador Salinas Ecuador Uncategorized

Danger!

I know a lot of you are wondering why I don’t just stay in Ecuador. It would make sense in a lot of ways…I already have friends here, I know where to shop and kinda know my way around, and do speak some rudimentary Spanish.

Well I’ve been avoiding the elephant in the room…. it’s become very dangerous to live here. Sadly, Venezuelan drug gangs have moved in and apparently bribed the high ranking police to do nothing about their activities. There are now lots of rapes, robberies and other violent crimes being committed at gunpoint. A lot of it is in the capital city of Guayaquil, but it’s also here. In Ecuador, only the police and criminals have guns.

And it’s not just gossip or vague rumors, it’s happening to people I actually know! One of the teen girls who lives here during the week was robbed at gunpoint for her cellphone, right here on our own little beach. And last week, an expat’s adult daughter was on the main street going past the beach in Salinas when a gang member opened fire on a rival across the road, and she actually felt the bullet whiz past her head. In broad daylight!

I had envisioned myself taking long walks on the beach every day but now I’m afraid to go, except on the weekends when there are families there. I’m pretty sad about that. When I lived here before, I rode the bus nearly everywhere but now it’s not safe; I have to take taxis. I feel especially vulnerable….if you were a thug, which would you choose, an Ecuadorian who might make $350 a month, or a well-dressed skinny old gringa?? I may as well paint a bull’s-eye on my back! At least that’s how I feel, anyway.

I guess this kind of thing is becoming more and more common all over Latin America.

So that’s why I’m still planning to go to Albania. It’s cheaper than Ecuador and very very safe. There are no bars on the windows; that oughta tell you something! The expats in my Facebook groups all agree that they feel perfectly safe walking around at any time of the day. I guess there is some unwanted male attention at times but I really doubt that will be a problem for me, unless someone has a Grandma fixation!

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Albania Ecuador La Libertad Ecuador Uncategorized

Mercado Trip

I did book the beautiful Airbnb in Sarandë, Albania from September 11 until April 1! It’s beachfront but up on a steep hill so probably a five minute walk to get beach access. It’s a corner apartment so there’s amazing full sea view from the whole front plus a side view, just what I was looking for! In Vlorë, anything with even a sliver of a sea view was $600 or more, WAY up from when I was looking in March. The deal I worked out was €450 for the 20 days in September, because that’s still considered high season, and €300 a month (about $321 US) after that. It’s within walking distance from a large grocery store, pharmacy, restaurants and bars, and the local bus comes right by the building. My landlord’s name is Boguljub….I have NO idea how to pronounce that. He lives in Serbia but there’s also a local co-host.

Here’s the link: https://abnb.me/Jhy0Uzzcvqb

I went to the mercado in La Libertad with Dodie yesterday morning. It’s a massive rabbit-warren of hundreds of tiny booths. You could spend all day there just looking around! The mercados in Salinas, Paute and Gualaceo, when I lived there, were all contained in big buildings, though there was also a weekly outdoor market in Paute where people would bring produce and livestock to sell. It was funny to see people walking around with a cloth sack containing a wildly objecting live chicken or two! They sold everything there… puppies, kittens, lambs, pigs, calves, goats, canaries…

There is also a big building nearby containing the fish market, with lots of individual booths. I was on the hunt for fresh swordfish, and I found some! It was very expensive, a whopping $5 a pound. In comparison, Mahi-Mahi is only $2.50 a pound. At home in AZ, swordfish is about $15 a pound if you can find it….and it wasn’t pulled fresh from the sea yesterday, either. I got 2 1/4 pounds for $10. They also had beautiful fresh shrimp, both farmed and wild. There are lots of shrimp farms around here. And weird stuff like octopus and baby squid.

I got some really nice thick pork chops for $2.50 a pound….mind you, this is pastured pork, not factory farmed. Five lemons for $1, five vine ripened tomatoes for $.30 each, a pound of huge blackberries for $1.50, a big bunch of broccoli for .$25 and a big wedge of cabbage for $.10. SCORE!

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Albania News

It’s 4 a.m. and I’m wide awake, too excited to sleep! I just found a pretty good airfare from Detroit to Albania and I booked it for September 6! I’d been monitoring the fares and they were running around $1000 for decent flights from Detroit. (Flights without super long layovers and that allow a checked bag and carry-on). I kept checking British Airways and it was always $3046 for a one way ticket! Are you kidding me?? And I keep seeing scary rumors of much higher airfares to come. Tonight I entered a fictitious return rate for a round trip on British Airways, and it was $1145, which was GREAT because I had a $546 credit voucher from my first cancelled flight in March! (Thanks, Covid cancellation policies!) So my ticket only cost $600! Isn’t it crazy that a round trip ticket is 1/3 the one way fare!

I’ll fly from Guayaquil to Phoenix on August 8 and pick up the cool-weather clothing I’ve got stashed with a friend there, do a 5 day dogsitting gig, repack and fly to Detroit for a three week visit with old friends, then on to Albania. I grew up in Novi, a suburb of Detroit, and still have lots of friends there.

My best friend Cindy and I are hoping to do a two week camping tour of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I love it up there, and she’s never seen much of it. But it’ll have to be tent camping….I hope we can survive sleeping on the ground for two weeks! I’ll keep an eye out on Craigslist for some nice used cots.

All along I’ve been thinking I wanted to live in the mid-coastal city of Vlore, but lately I’ve been looking more at Sarande. It’s a couple hours farther south, so about 4 hours from the Tirana airport, but has some of the most beautiful beaches in Europe! The Airbnb rentals have shot up in the past couple months, instead of the $300-400 a month range for off-season, suddenly the same places are $500-700! I don’t know why! I found a beautiful beachfront apartment in Sarande, within walking distance of grocery stores, restaurants, etc. for $300 a month and I think I’m going to book it from September 10 until April 1. That’ll give me plenty of time to look around and decide if I want to apply for Residency.

From Sarande it’s a short 30 minute ferry ride to the Greek island of Corfu, and there’s an international airport there, though it’s smaller than Tirana so going to the US is a little more complicated, but it’s doable. The expat community in Sarande is much more active than Vlore, though I suspect most of them are a lot younger than me. The city goes pretty dead after the summer beach season but being such an extreme Introvert, it won’t bother me a bit if some of the bars and restaurants are closed; in fact I’ll probably like it better!

So…. that’s how I spent last night. I think I’d better at least TRY to get some sleep now, since I have to be up in a little over three hours. Ugggh, I’m gonna be sorry!

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Ecuador Uncategorized

Around The Peninsula

I went with Dodie the other day as she ran some errands.

This is part of the mercado…eggs or chicken, anyone? No extra charge for the flies.

We are making a big trip to the mercado on Wednesday. Everything is much fresher and cheaper there than at the supermarket, though I’ll take a hard pass on the chicken, I think!

We also went into one of the barrios. Dodie & Randy don’t just rescue needy dogs & cats, they rescue people too. They have formed a nonprofit foundation called Ecuador From The Heart. Please give if you can! https://ecuadorfromtheheart.com

When Covid hit, Ecuador did an extremely hard lockdown. Dodie got permission to go distribute food in the barrio and they help the young people get training and education. A bunch of young adults got EMT certification, a group of single moms learned how to cook corn dogs, french fries and onion rings and sell them every Sunday in the barrio. Donations also allow people to get free food if they can’t afford the $1 price tag. They’ve been cutting the dogs into 4 pieces so a family can all have a little bit of a treat for just $1. This past week each of the moms took home $16 total after expenses! That’s a HUGE boost in income for people whose normal monthly income is about $50! They also have programs for seniors.

Here are a few pictures from the barrio. I didn’t want to be too obvious about taking photos. Most of the shacks are made of bamboo but there are a few cement block homes. The square cement boxes are sewer hookups, almost finalized, and running water is not far behind! Again, thanks to the foundation! I saw one motorcycle while I was there but not a single car except our taxi.

I’ve never seen such a gigantic avocado! Even the small ones here are bigger than the avocados at home. I bought one of the smallest for $.35.

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The Critters at Casa Blanca

There’s no shortage of pets here if I’m feeling like companionship! The friendliest is my new best friend “Destiny” who is actually over-friendly, if there is such a designation. She lets herself in and out of my casita at will and is an “in your face” kinda gal.

Studiously ignoring this mouse!

There are seven other cats here and I’m really not sure if I’ve seen them all yet. Then there are the four dogs, three of them street dogs that were rescued from certain death and cured of all their ills with the loving care of Dodie and Randy.

This is sweet little Bella, the matriarch. She’s poodle and Shih Tzu. Mild and mellow is Ms. Bella!

Bones….notice the split nose? There are only three breeds in the world that have a split nose! He is probably descended from the Spanish Pachōn Navarro, though it’s pretty amazing that a “Heinz 57” street dog would still carry this unique trait! I had never heard of this, have you? Bones is large but very friendly and will stick his nose under my hand and flip it up when he needs some petting.

Here’s a better picture of a split nosed dog, this is a Turkish breed.

Then there’s Keeper, who came to them as a small puppy who was skeletal, diseased and unable to walk. Randy did physical therapy with him in the pool every day, and now he’s a medium-large healthy, active dog! A little intense at times but he likes me. We hang out together on my sofa a lot.

The most recent addition is Dulce, which means “sweet” in Spanish. She hasn’t been here long. She was hit by a car and has some hip problems and one hind foot looks like it was nearly detached and sewn back on! There’s nerve damage, as she’ll drag her toes when she’s tired or after a short romp. She’s very timid and startles easily but is learning to play, go up stairs, and accept loving. She really is aptly named; she’s really a sweetheart.

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Ecuador La Libertad Ecuador Salinas Ecuador Uncategorized

Casa Blanca at Playa Cautivo

After the long ride and stressful day yesterday, today is muy tranqilo, thank goodness! I’m just laying around reading my book in paradise.

Here’s where I’m staying… it’s amaaazing! It’s about 1/2 block from the beach. It’s not visible from here but I can hear it! The sea here is always filled with 30 or more ships that are waiting their turn for the fuel docks nearby.

Playa Cautivo

Casa Blanca was a thriving B&B until Covid hit. Ecuador clamped down really hard on movements in the first year of the pandemic. There are five beautiful little casitas; three are bedroom & en suite bath, one has a little kitchenette and mine is the only one that has a complete kitchen. It’s so nice to be able to cook anything I want! I am eating pretty much the same as I did at home, though I’m getting more and more anxious about not having a scale to weigh myself. Is my belly getting bigger??? I used to weigh myself daily!

It’s very tropical here, with passion fruits hanging from vines, and even a banana tree over near the pool, complete with a bunch of bananas! There’s lots of beautiful greenery.

Lounge area and entrance
One of the cute casitas
Plumeria

The first dinner I cooked here was Trumpeta, Trumpet fish. It was very good, much like cod. They sure look weird though!

Trumpet fish

I haven’t been to the open air mercado market yet, I went to a big supermarket because I needed all the basics. The produce was super cheap! Bell peppers 9 to 16 cents, a giant bunch of broccoli $.30, fat funny-looking carrots $.27, packaged lettuce $.68. On the other hand, the cost of some things made me recoil in shock…like $6 for a very small package of chia seeds, which I eat every day, and $6 for a tiny jar of coconut oil or avocado oil. If it’s made in Ecuador it’s really cheap but anything imported is super expensive, including things from China. There aren’t any Dollar Tree type stores here; if you need a kitchen implement it’s gonna cost at least $3-5.

The carrots are short and fat but delicious

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Ecuador Uncategorized

Fun with Notaries

I sold my car to my doctor/friend Matt. When he went to get it titled, they told him the car was still titled in NC! I was already on my way here so I had to figure out a solution long-distance. Oy! I had turned in my NC title and applied for an AZ title when I moved to AZ. I got the new camper title back but didn’t notice that I didn’t get one for the car. When I knew I was going to sell the car, I went to the DMV office and they said I didn’t need the actual title, I could just fill out a Transfer of Title form. So that’s what I did, not knowing that AZ had dropped the ball. Well now we’re in this big mess with a very tight time schedule because Matt needs to ship the car to Hawaii by June 30, and NC automatically holds title requests for 15 days after receipt!

How embarrassing! When I got here I downloaded an NC Duplicate Title request. It needed to be notarized so I had to hire a facilitator to help me do that. The first notary we went to insisted that we present an identical copy of the form, translated to Spanish. Not just the words, but someone would have to design a whole new identical form, which would take about a week and cost $200!

The facilitator had a notary friend in another town though, who said she’d do it without a translation. We went there and I discovered that in Ecuador they don’t notarize on the document, they do a separate sheet and staple them together. I got that and we sent it out via air to a friend in NC who’s going to add the money order and Next Day Air it to Raleigh. I also sent a Power of Attorney form so when the new title comes to her, she can assign it to Matt and Next Day Air it to him

But the more I thought about the Notarization being on a separate sheet, the more I wondered if it would be accepted. I called DMV, with the requisite seemingly endless Hold, and sure enough, it needs to be notarized on the document.

The only place to get that accomplished is at the US Embassy in Guayaquil or Quito. I was able to get an 0730 appointment for today and arranged for an English-speaking taxi driver to pick me up at 5 a.m. and drive me to Guayaquil.

If you assume like I did that employees at the US Embassy would speak English, you’d be wrong. There were two other people who also had 0730 notary appointments. First a woman came up but only spoke Spanish. We waited and finally a man came who blithely said they were not doing notarizations today, please come back on Tuesday and you don’t even need an appointment, come any time! Whoa! One man left, the other man said it was crucial that his document get notarized today, and I explained that I’d spent $100 on a taxi and drove two hours to get there and that I couldn’t come back on Tuesday. Another long wait and finally they let both of us in!

You have to go through a couple Security checkpoints, carry no metal, no keys, no phone on you. They have you remove & keep all your paper money and identification on your person. Boy I’m glad I wore pants with pockets because I had an embarrassingly huge gob of money, as I’d been told to bring small bills to Ecuador! I don’t know how I would have held it all in my hands. Pass through a thingie like they have at the airport while they x-ray purses and wallets, and you turn off your cellphone and they take all your stuff and give you a locker key. You sit and wait until called, then they do all the paperwork and then send you down the hall to pay the fees. It cost $100 for two notarizations! Then you bring the receipt back and wait again. They call you up and you hand them the receipt and go wait again. A man called me into the Interview Room and I had to put my hand in the air and swear everything on the document was true, and he stamped my documents….at last! Then we went to DHL and sent another air package to NC.

It took over two hours just to accomplish those two things! All in all it cost $350 to get the correct notarizations sent to NC. But it’s finally done and maybe now I can relax and enjoy my stay here, at least until I have to start worrying about receiving the new title back in time to get it to Matt. I know that’s going to take at least three weeks

Tomorrow I promise I’ll send more photos of this beautiful amazing place.

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Ecuador Uncategorized

I Arrive In Ecuador

On Sunday I had a nice drive to the Valley with Matt and his 10 year old daughter Eva, where we were met by my friends Jeanne and Jim. Saying goodbye to Matt was really hard but not as much of a snot-fest as I had feared. I was a big girl and didn’t cry too much. I’ve never ever had to say a truly final goodbye to anyone I really cared about before. Matt’s family is moving to Hawaii in July.

They kept me for a couple days, took me to get my $150 PCR test for travel and a couple other places, then dropped me at the airport on Tuesday evening. I’ve never experienced this before..NO LINES at the check-in counter or Security! Weird. So that meant I had 3.5 hours to wait for my 10:30 pm flight. Then a 4 hour overnight flight to Miami, a 4 hour layover, and another 4 hour flight to Guayaquil. Somehow I always manage to have the longest hikes between airport gates! My first flight was at Gate #29 of 30, and in Miami I had to go from Gate #1 to Gate #60! Good thing I had plenty of time, as it took me over an hour to get there; I had to stop and rest multiple times. My carry-on bag and underseat daypack were both very heavy.

Upon arrival in Guayaquil, I ran into difficulty. The Immigration guy was NOT going to let me into the country! He kept paging through my brand new passport and kept asking if I spoke Spanish. He went and consulted with 5 different people and after about 1/2 hour, finally a woman came over and said the problem was that I’d spent two years here and had been away for seven years, and my Residency permit had expired. Yeah, so what…..you can’t ever come back to visit?? I told them I was here for just 81 days. Honestly I don’t know what the big deal was, but they finally stamped my passport and let me in. Phew! Boy I was sweating bullets; I was sooo tired, and in no condition to be sent back to the US on the next flight out! There was no problem finding my luggage, they were the only things left on the baggage carousel, and there were no lines at Customs. Thank goodness Denice and her taxi driver were still patiently waiting for me.

They took me to Dodie and Randy’s wonderful Casa Blanca at Playa Cautivo. It was a B&B until Covid hit. It’s amazing! My casita has a large bedroom,full kitchen and bath. Just outside the door there’s a covered porch with comfy sofa, and lots of other lounge areas & hammocks over near the swimming pool too.

There are 4 dogs and 8 cats here, plus an outdoor aviary with lots of budgies, lovebirds and a couple cockatiels that’s right outside my door. Lots of very cheerful chirping! And I have my very own kitty, who is able to come & go at will unless I keep the screen door locked!

Kitty “Destiny”
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T Minus Nine And Counting

Oh me oh my! Only nine days left before liftoff; seven days til I leave here! I’m getting more and more excited….and sadder and sadder every day. Somehow those two should not go together, but that’s how I feel. I do wish I could just jump on down to Ecuador and skip that nasty expensive PCR test and the long flights. First a 5 hour redeye flight to Miami, then almost 4 hour layover, then a 3.25 hour flight to Guayaquil. And a two hour taxi ride to Ballenita.

I did get my transportation to Phoenix straightened out though, and I don’t have to take the Greyhound bus! Phew! Matt accepted a family practice position in an Urgent Care clinic in Hilo, Hawaii, so they are moving too! They are going to do a goodbye visit to family in Phoenix next Sunday and they’ll let me ride along. My best camping buddy Jeanne will meet us on the road and take me home with her, take me to get my PCR test on Monday, and drop me at the airport on Tuesday evening.

I am selling my car to Matt, either for his oldest son to take to college with him, or they may possibly be shipping it to Hawaii! It’s the only state I haven’t been to (got hooked on Alaska and went there 5 times instead) but maybe my car will make it. I suppose that doesn’t count.

I did a trial packing run the other day…bad news! There’s no stinkin’ way I’m going to get everything I want to take in one checked bag. So today I’m going through everything again, trying to winnow out everything but the essentials. I could pay the extra fee for a second checked bag, but then I’d have to pay it again when I return to Phoenix in August, and I don’t think my stuff is really worth that much.

In Ecuador they don’t have thrift shops. They use it until it’s unfixable or pass it along. So I really need to take my clothes with me. Besides, seems like all the Ecuadorian ladies really love to wear really tight spandex, which is definitely not my style! I can’t imagine spandex is at all comfortable in that 90 degree heat, either.

Last weekend Matt came over and helped me finish painting the back of the house. Even with my 10.5′ ladder I couldn’t reach the highest part of the gable end. He also helped me muscle the big solar panel and a couple of the heavier propane tanks into the shed. I also finally did some small carpentry projects that should have been done three years ago! I’m so glad I got all those outdoor chores done, as we’re now in the middle of 5 days of 50+ mph winds here. Being outside is just miserable. Except for packing and getting stuff stored away in the shed at the last minute, I’m actually done with projects.

I sold my darling camper yesterday, to a young couple of Canyonlands National Park employees. It was a great relief to get it sold, but I’m very sad about it. I sure had a lot of great trips and good times in the 13 years I had her. This leaving is different from the last time I moved to Ecuador in 2013, because then I knew I’d be returning to the US for a couple months every year, since my mom was still alive. So when I moved then, I left my car and camper with friends. This time if I do come back, I won’t have anything to drive or camp in. And actually if I do return just temporarily, I’ll probably fly back to Detroit where I still have lots of school friends, not to Phoenix.

I am also very sad to leave my rocks. Isn’t that crazy? But during the years when I was wandering around, I picked up a lot of special “good rocks”. For three years when I lived out of the car and camper, I carried probably 100# of rocks with me everywhere! They’re now surrounding my little garden spot. I am taking some good rocks with me, but just a small handful of really tiny ones, mostly agates. Funny how my past life boils down to a bunch of digital photos and just a few special things, all goofy. The things I can’t live without: a very small stained glass happy whale souvenir from Maine, and a plastic solar flamingo that flaps it’s little wings. This move takes the cake though, paring down to just one large suitcase and a carry-on bag of stuff! I am leaving a large suitcase in Phoenix, in case I ever do get to go to Albania, with cool weather clothing and a few other things that are hard to find there. I would get rid of about half the hot-weather clothes, as it’s only hot for about 3.5 months in Albania. (No real winter on the Albanian Riviera though).

As to the “where to go after Ecuador” decision, right now I’m thinking that if the situation in Europe is about that same as now, I’ll come back to Phoenix in August, do my dogsitting gig, then fly to Detroit and visit friends for a few weeks and fly to Albania from there. It’s crazy though, it costs about $300 more to fly there from Detroit than it does from Phoenix, even though it’s a couple thousand miles closer!

If I had to make a quick exit from Albania, I could take a ferry to Greece (Corfu) or Italy and fly somewhere else from there, if I couldn’t get to the airport in Tirana (two hours’ drive from Vlore). Still, it’s a bit scary.

If I’m too much of a chicken to go to Albania then, I can get a 90 day visa extension in Ecuador just by asking for it and paying $150. After that….90 days in Nicaragua, Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia??? I really don’t want to be THAT adventurous!

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Getting Closer!

My time here is growing short….again! I am leaving for Ecuador on or about May 14. I’m going to Phoenix first, and my flight leaves on May 17. I will need to get a PCR Covid test the day before. At this time I do not know how I will get to Phoenix, as I will be selling my car. As a last resort I think I could just do all the car transfer paperwork a day or so ahead of time and drive to the Greyhound station in Show Low, leaving the car there for the buyers to pick up. The Greyhound takes 6 hours (twice as long as by car, because it goes through Flagstaff first) and leaves at 6:30 a.m. It costs $70. There is a possibility that I can get a ride with a neighbor who goes to Phoenix monthly, if the timing works out.

I am excited to go to Ecuador but sad to be leaving my tiny house, I really do love it. I am now NOT the owner! We signed the purchase agreement last Friday, but I retain a Life Estate Deed so I can come back here and live in the house any time I need or want.

My return flight from Ecuador is on August 8. I have promised to dogsit for friends in Mesa from August 10-15. So I’d be ready to fly somewhere else on August 17.

I’ve been agonizing over where to go after Ecuador, someplace safe from Putin (that would mean NOT a NATO member country!) and cheap. I narrowed it down to Lake Chapala in Mexico, Tunisia or Morocco. The problem with Mexico is that they have not been granting Tourist Cards for longer than 30 days lately, so that would be a waste of money to fly down there for such a short period of time. I guess if you want to stay long term, they really want you to apply for Residency, for which I can’t qualify. Mexico requires a monthly income of at least $2413 a month, and my income is WAY below that.

But I’ve decided that if things are still the way they are in Europe, if Putin is not actively threatening the NATO countries, that I will just go ahead and go to Albania when I return from Ecuador. If it gets scary, I can make a run for Tunisia for under $200 airfare. I am hoping to make a 2-3 week stopoff in Detroit en route, to visit with my old childhood and school friends. Strangely, it costs several hundred dollars more to fly to Albania from Detroit as it does from Phoenix, even though it’s a couple thousand miles shorter trip! I can’t understand how the airlines figure their fares.

I’ve got most everything shipshape here, so there’s not a lot to do before I go. At the last minute I’ll have to stash the 5 propane tanks, two solar panels, two ladders and the house heater in the storage shed. Then there won’t be much of anything laying around that’s worth stealing.

It’s the windy season again. It usually goes from March to June but started a little late this year. Last night we had 75 mph wind gusts and the house was shaking a lot but thank goodness it’s been anchored well. Today it’s only 55 mph wind but it’s still too ugly to do much of anything outside. A normal day in windy season is winds around 30-35 mph, which the weather forecast calls a “breezy” day. I’m going to have a big job cleaning up when the wind settles down, things have blown away that have never been bothered before, like all the flowers out of my cute flowerboxes, a stack of foam insulation panels that had two ladders and some patio stones weighing it down, and lots of other stuff. I’ll have to go crawling around under the trees to retrieve a lot of it. Uggg!

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More Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes!

What’s on the schedule for today? Would you believe buying an airline ticket to Ecuador? Yeah, no kidding, try to keep up!

A friend invited me to come back to Ecuador (where I lived from 2013-2015) and stay in guest quarters at their lovely home overlooking the ocean! It’s near Salinas, about two hours SW of Guayaquil. It sounded like a great way to escape the summer heat here in no-air-conditioning-land. So I gave it a lot of thought and about five minutes later bought a ticket for June 8 – August 8!

The ticket cost is easily offset by not having to buy car gas for two months (a major investment these days!) and by the 75% reduced food costs. Ecuador is gmo-free like Albania, and most of the farmers can’t afford chemical fertilizer so the produce is naturally organic, and super cheap!

I’m so excited about having air conditioning plus having the use of a big swimming pool, and the opportunity to walk on the beach! Even though it will be winter there, it’s still fairly hot but I think I’ll tolerate it better now that I’m skinny, plus my knees don’t hurt anymore so the walking should actually be enjoyable, not an excruciating chore.

A number of my Ecuador friends have moved back to the US or Canada but I’m looking forward to reconnecting with the ones still there. Right now the only human I ever speak to is my doctor and that fairly infrequently. And even extreme introverts need SOME human contact! So that aspect is also welcome.

Are y’all crazy jealous yet?!

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Change of Plans

Well in light of all the strange things going on in the world right now, after much agonizing deliberation I’ve decided to postpone my move to Albania. I am still second-guessing myself but I guess playing it safe is a rational plan. But I am really really sad and disappointed. I had this whole new life planned out, and to change those plans is costly. I gave away and donated so many things that now I want back, and I will lose money on some Airbnb reservations that are non-cancellable. Some folks have said to try and change their mind but it would be different if Albania was at war. It’s not! There’s no way Airbnb is going to refund everyone who decides Europe is not where they want to be right now.

The kicker that helped me make the final decision was that the prime minister announced that there could be power shortages because they buy some resources from Russia. I noticed complaints from the Facebook groups about 5-6 power outages a day now…..coincidence? Hey if I’m going to be without power, it’s gonna be right here where I’m all set up for living off-grid, not in some all-electric city apartment!

I was having trouble making ends meet when I made the decision to move in October and now it’s way worse, the costs of food and gas in particular. Now it costs nearly $14 for one trip to town and back. It used to cost $8, which I thought was bad enough!

The thought of having to be here in this hot box for another summer is really depressing too. If the war in Europe drags out til summer I am considering spending $250 for a flight to Detroit so I can couch-surf at friends’ homes and soak up their air conditioning for a month or so! Surely no one would get too sick of me if I just spent 3 or 4 days at a time at their house? The big drawback I see to that is my weird eating habits now. I’m pretty sure my friends would not be shelling out extra money so I can eat my organic, gluten-free, sugar-free, packaged food-free diet.

The other alternative would be to take off in the camper again to higher elevations in New Mexico or Colorado. But most of the places where the free campsites are do not have easy access to organic foods either, plus it could be way too expensive if the gas prices continue to rise.

So……there are lots of things up in the air right now. I so like to have my ducks all in a row, and it’s just not possible at present.

I had donated so many of my clothes to the Concho thrift shop and threw a lot away, I decided I was going to need some back! So I went and found four shirts and a pair of cropped pants that I’d just donated last week, and luck was with me; it was Fill A Bag for $3 day! Yay. Most of the clothes I have left that I was going to take with me are “good” clothes, not “play” clothes. Working around here I get things stained and filthy so now I need more crappy clothes. Sigh.

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Getting Ready

Things with the move to Albania are progressing! Effective January 7, Albania changed the rules for Residency. Now they will be offering Retiree and Digital Nomad Residencies, but all seems to be in confusion right now as to exactly how they’ll work and what will be required. I was going to pay 59 Euros for a 30 minute phone assistance call with a facilitator but even they said to wait, they just don’t know what’s going on yet! One thing is for sure, that generous 1 year Visa for Americans is no longer, and I will have to apply for Residency within 30 days of entering the country. Yikes. I have exactly 30 days before I leave.

I did go ahead and get an FBI criminal background check and got it Apostilled, that’s a special seal from the state or federal government attesting to the validity of a document. I read that it could take up to 8 weeks (and I only had 6!) so was very relieved with it arrived quickly. I also got two Apostilled birth certificates. Of course all these things are not cheap.

I learned that Albania has a northern and a southern dialect, and they are quite different! I wonder which one I’m learning. Hopefully the southern one! One of the things that makes Albanian so difficult for Westerners is that some words are just unpronounceable for us. Like the word for “hot” is nxehte. Huh? I hit the audio button over and over but still can’t duplicate the sound of this word. And there are plenty more like it. If I pair it with “coffee” though, they all mash together. Kafe Nxehte comes out “Kafenzehsta”. Luckily a lot of Albanians speak English, and if someone doesn’t, they’ll drag over someone who does.

I’ve been collecting things to be packed in the camper, it’s my staging area. The gigantic spinner suitcase I bought for $10 at a thrift shop is there on the bed, along with my carry-on backpack and smaller under-seat daypack. I’ve been trying to sort and clean out the storage shed to make room for those things, so I can get the camper cleaned out and hopefully sold. It’s a big drawback to having a tiny house, there’s just no extra space for things like that.

Yesterday I brought in all the clothing I’d stashed out there to go….tried everything on and weeded out about 2/3 of it! I’ll probably become known as the little old lady who never changes her clothes. But I know they do have thrift shops there, as long as I don’t gain any weight. I’ve read that it’s pretty hard to find clothing larger than size 10 unless you have things custom made. I sealed them all into those Space Bags that squish all the air out, and they still take up nearly half of the big suitcase.

Today I went through all the goodies I’d stashed out there to go. I wish I knew what was going to be available there, and what’s not. I thought nearly everything was already out there, but there’s lots of stuff thatI’m still using so will be last-minute items. Seventy of them, as it turns out! Yikes. I guess I’ll be winnowing that list down also, though nothing really takes up a lot of space or weight, 100 items do add up. Luckily the few special things I can’t live without are very small and light.

The suitcase weighs almost 11 pounds so that leaves only 40# for my stuff. The heaviest items are the Chromebook, the PC laptop, a powerful solar battery bank to recharge the phone & Kindles, and two Kindles. Those will all go in my carry-ons.

Two weeks ago I saw the neurologist again, and a neurosurgeon about the brain tumor. The neurologist and my speech therapist both thought I should get it out while it’s nice and small. The speech guy told me they grow tentacles and if you wait too long, just removing it causes a lot of damage to the brain. Pretty scary!

Well the neurosurgeon absolutely did not recommend removing it. He said it’s so small, they’d do more damage trying to find it than it would ever cause. The first neurologist I saw 2 1/2 years ago told me it was a couple inches above my left ear, right about where the speech center is. Wrong! It is actually right on top of my head, between the two hemispheres. Nowhere near the speech center, so there’s no way it’s causing my speech problems. And he also said that this kind (meningioma) almost always grows super-slowly and I’ll most likely be dead of something else before it ever got big enough to cause problems. And they DON’T grow tentacles!!

So the neurologist blames the speech problems on a small brain stem stroke that was SO small, it didn’t leave any trace! I find it hard to believe but I guess we have to blame something or else send me off to the crazy-farm. She wants me to have a CT scan of my head and neck but I’m waiting to discuss this with my regular doctor. I’m not really seeing a lot of advantage to getting it done, and CT scans do involve a good bit of radiation. I had a CT scan of my head 2 1/2 years ago when we were searching for a reason for the speech problems, and it didn’t show anything. BTW my speech is much improved, but not 100% fixed. I still have to be very cognizant of where my tongue is situated.

I dog-sat for friends in Mesa for almost two weeks in early February. I sure got my “dog fix”! There was a big boisterous neutered male Standard Poodle, a tiny intact male Toy Poodle, two Havanese and a toy Doodle. One of the Hav girls was in season. Oh my! The toy poodle, Finn, hated the big poodle. Luckily he has no teeth so when he went all Cujo on the big poodle, he couldn’t do any damage. And the big poodle was just enough of a doofus to not realize he was being seriously attacked. Finn and Misti had to take turns being crated. She was an angel but Finn whined and cried the whole time. What an adventure!

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Brain surgery….me???

I had my first speech pathologist appointment this week. Right away he noticed that my tongue seems stuck to the roof of my mouth. I’d noticed that too, but wasn’t sure where it was supposed to hang out. Who ever notices these things before you really need to know?! He had me read some stuff and do some tongue exercises, and I have a lot of daily homework to do before next week’s appointment. One thing is to read while using a metronome, one word with each click. The speeds are 55 beats per minute (VERY SLOW reading speed!) and then whatever speed I feel most comfortable. I showed him that I can say anything perfectly if I talk really fast, and he said he’d never seen that before. Great. As if I’m not odd enough! And it turns out, the reading speed I’m most comfortable with is 192 beats per minute, or about 3 words per second. I wonder if it has anything to do with my normal reading speed, which is very fast, around 1500 words per minute? (I read two or three books a day). I’ve been really concentrating on keeping my tongue away from the roof of my mouth. I’m thinking it can become a habit, and 90% of my speech problem will be fixed. He thinks if I can correct the “S” pronounciation, I’ll sound near normal. (“L”, R” and “TH” are the other sounds I have trouble with.)

He thinks the speech problem is related to the brain tumor and not, as the neurologist thought, a brain stem stroke too tiny to show up on MRI. So now I don’t know what to think! He strongly thinks I should have the tumor excised while it’s nice and small and easily removed. He pointed out that I have probably 20+ years to live and that the tumor will most likely have to be removed at some point, and if I let it grow, it puts out tentacles that attach to blood vessels and my speech center. That makes surgery much harder and every cut they make to the tentacles, also damages the brain. Yikes!

But….BRAIN SURGERY??? I’m just not quite ready to have my brain bored open, even if it IS supposedly an easy fix right now. The neurologist also thought I should have it removed. Two against one! So I’ve made an appointment with a neurosurgeon in Flagstaff. “You don’t need surgery”, SAID NO SURGEON EVER!

But the logistics are mind-boggling. I had a terrible time finding someone to drive me to/from my one hour cataract surgery 30 miles away. Where do I find a designated driver for a surgery 2 1/2 hours away, when I’ll probably have to be in hospital for a day or two? Somehow I doubt they’ll let me just hop in my car and drive myself home after brain surgery. And surely I’d have to go back for a post-surgical checkup a few days to a week later, before being released to drive. Plus I’m not even sure if I have time before leaving the country to get it done and recuperate. Covid restrictions allowing, my flight to Albania is on March 22.

So I may put it off til I get to Albania. One of the best neurosurgery centers in the world is in Milan, Italy, a short flight away. I’m not sure if the private health insurance I’ll get will cover me outside of Albania or not, so that might mean I’d have to pay out of pocket for the surgery. It’s far far cheaper there than here but I think it still costs around $1500. I’d need some time to save up for that, plus hotel or Airbnb costs for the week or so I’d need to be there. But…there’s no tearing hurry to get it done; these meningiomas are very slow -growing.

And the deepest darkest part of me wonders if I’ll come out the other side and still be “me”. Pretty sure I would be, heck it’s not like it’s a frontal lobotomy! And if not, maybe I’d end up a nice happy extrovert instead of this uncomfortable introvert. Hope springs eternal!