Category Archives: Ecuador

Restless Roots – Where to Next?

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The problem with traveling, and enjoying it, is that once you start, it’s hard to give it up.  I fantasize about putting roots down and settling in one place…except, the reality of doing that some how scares me.  I think of the routines and habits that come along with being “settled”, the consistent parade of familiar faces, sites and scents, and I run for the nearest airport and farthest/quick destination point.  Why that is? I do not know…perhaps I do not want my roots to show. Roots being a metaphor for permanent settlement and not my socio-cultural /ethnic background.

So the constant question these days is, “Where are you going?”  My standard response has become, “The Caribbean for two months and then we will see from there.”  This is the plan that is not.   Going to Cuba has slightly side tracked my Ecuador plans because while it’s markets are spartan, compared to Cuenca (Ecuador), Cuban people are really hard to beat.  And in the end, isn’t the experience of being in a new place more about the people than the marketplace? Of course I can’t work in Cuba,  so unless I create a project for myself, the Cuban adventure will last until boredom sets in and we move off to the next country.

So, this summer’s adventure is all about discovering Cuba, its culture, history, people and food.  We will see where the adventure leads us from there.  I am committed to spending at least the next 12 months abroad, so we will see.  And if I happen to meet my prince and fall in love  in [enter the country name], I may consider planting my roots in the ground  and not simply in a portable/roll-away flowerpot.

Onward ho!

 

 

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Anyone Up for A Trip?

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What happens when the Black Gringa (me) takes off from writing for a few days?  Well, I wake up, planning to have a completely normal day, and then buy a ticket to Cuba!  It is a trip  I have been contemplating for about 20 years and today for some unknown reason, I decided to write it off my “bucket list”.

So, in six days, I’m off again to another Spanish-speaking country with my travel buddy.  Now to present something ironic, I actually thought about having my little one spend the week with grandma in Los Angeles or her aunt and uncle in Washington DC, but the roundtrip tickets there (including unaccompanied minor fees $460 at the cheapest) were more than the roundtrip ticket to Varadero, Cuba ($335). So for one week, Cuba will be our classroom as we learn about Columbus (not discovering the “New” world, Spanish colonization, the slave trade and the Cuban Revolution. We will also be working on Spanish language, map skills and self-sufficiency. Homeschool for the 3rd grader, gotta love it!

Like the random, spontaneous traveler I am:

  • I have no idea what we are going to do (besides roam randomly, hang out, and do some of our usual school work)
  • Accommodations are yet to be determined
  • Transportation is yet to be determined (besides the flight)
  • And, I have 5 days to figure it out

Fun times.   The first thing I have discovered is that outside of a lower airfare, it is significantly more expensive to be a tourist in Cuba than in Ecuador.  There is no comparison.  In Cuenca, excluding our apartment, I spent less than $100 over the course of a week.  That is pretty hard to beat, especially looking at some of the posts on getting around Cuba.

While I look forward to our upcoming adventure, I am already missing the  budget friendliness of Cuenca.  That said, I plan to salsa my way to Cuban bliss, then return to start packing up for our Ecuadorian move. Yeah!

There’s never a dull moment in the Black Gringa household.  That’s how we roll!

Step 1 – On Moving to Cuenca

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Where do I begin?  I mean literally, where do I begin to unravel the litany of things that I need to accomplish to make this move?  If I over analyze, over think, over strategize, it begins to get complex, quickly.  Schools, homes, cars (or not), things in my apartment here, things for my apartment there, visas, adjustment period, culture shock, and other “stuff”.

Just listing these things down makes me anxious….then I realize, who am I kidding!  The only things that really matter are the plane tickets.  The beauty of a ticket is it automatically streamlines and simplifies everything.  You get a specific date when your place “here” needs to be empty, you get 2 suitcases to back your stuff in, and really…what more do you need?

  1. I am renting, not buying, so if my friends are not able to help me find an apartment before I get there, I will surely and quickly find an apartment once I arrive. Check
  2. We are getting there in the summer, so school will be on vacation.  And I made the decision to homeschool for the of this school year.  So for now we have got school down to a science (literally, plus Latin, Spanish, math, grammar, history and geography). Check.
  3. With bus rides for a quarter and taxis between $1.50 and $2.00, who needs a car!  Definitely not me. Check.
  4. I am selling, giving away, donating, or putting in storage, everything in my apartment here and I am getting everything new for the apartment there (I’m really zen about home furnishings anyway). Check.
  5. We will extend the term of our tourist visa for 6 months before we leave the US and I will figure out the rest while I am chillin’ in a relaxed pose in Ecuador. Check.
  6. Adjustment period?  Culture shock?  Seriously, it is Cuenca, Ecuador not Timbuktu, Mali.  Visit the Latino neighborhoods and businesses in your town, imagine it significantly cleaner (because Cuenca is cleaner than the vast majority of American cities) and in a valley surrounded by mountains.  Adjustment finished.  Check.
  7. There is no other “stuff”.  And if there is, it will be taken care of at some point, while in my relaxed Ecuadorian pose. (There is the issue of closing down my business, that but requires a whole post of its own.)

So the biggest step is to purchase our tickets and I already told my oldest daughter we are making two stops immediately after her high school graduation in June,

  • Grandma’s house – to drop off all of her boarding school stuff; and
  • JFK airport, to catch our flight to Quito.

And like the awesome daughter she is, she is right on board (pun intended).

Step 1 – Decide the specific date we are leaving and buy airline tickets.

Ecuador – Permanent or Temporary Move

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I took a hiatus from writing specifically about Cuenca, Ecuador because I have been mulling over whether our family trip this summer will be a permanent versus a temporary move.  I have always been a “just do it” kind of gal, and I find the leap before you think approach to life very invigorating.  So why am I becoming more hesitant as the weeks roll past?

Because being on vacation is like being drunk at a party – your normal walls and insecurities come down, your hair is loose (be it yours or store-bought) and your soul is free and open.  Then you return home and after a few weeks of the normal routine, that vacation feel starts to wear-off.   That said, the best quick-fix solution I have come up with for reminding me why I am considering making this trip a more permanent move, is a visit to any McDonald’s between the hours of 8:30-10:00 am.

Is it the incredibly gross “beef” products they sell?  No. Is it the $1  any size coffee? No.  It’s all of the older, retired Americans who have made McDonald’s the new hotspot.  Yes people, if you are in your 70s and 80s and looking for a vibrant social scene of your peers….McDonald’s is the spot!!

This is both an interesting and distressing fact, depending on where the McDonald’s is located.  If in the wealthier suburbs, then you see groups playing cards, bingo, and being rather jolly. However, if in an urban or lower social economic center,  well then the scene is just depressing.

Depressing, because it is so clear that so many there simply crave human connection. Another person to hear their voice and know that they exist.  They sit and complain about the family members who no longer care about them, the friends who are awaiting open heart surgery, the medications they take, their aches and pain, their past glories, and the latest in local politics. It is depressing because their communion with the world happens for the few hours they are within the overly fried, mass-produced confines of Micky D’s.  Then it is back to home.

Now…granted, I am under forty, so bingo at Micky D’s is a way off…but it reminds me of how wonderful it is to live in a place where age is considered a privilege and not a purgatory, where friends and neighbors are family and your life is filled with the sight and sounds of young people (if you so choose). It reminds me that there are so many beautiful places and people to experience in this world and I am very blessed to have the opportunity to explore it.

So, we are looking forward to making Ecuador our home for a while and really learning about the country, its history, and its people.  We are looking forward to getting really good with our Spanish, growing our base of wonderful friends, and continuing to live a life rich in adventure, communion, love and laughter.

Yup, this a permanent move for us…well, about at permanent as we get.

Starting A Business Abroad

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“Hi I enjoy your blogs, I am African-American from the States and would like some information about your experiences in Cuenca and if it is a big challenge for blacks to start a business over there. You stated your experience and I thought that was great. I want to experience the life of Ecuadorians and especially Cuenca, what must my expectations be? Is it really true that $300.00 can get you a nice place to live?  Your help will be greatly appreciated.”

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I am one of those people who does not know how to take a true vacation. Laying around beaches or passing the days completely self-indulged is an absolute challenge for me (which is one of a number of reasons why I hate cruises).  While my travel may seem random to an outsider, those in the know, know that there must be a specific interest I have in that country or city and that it is in some way tied to a business idea.

So when I travel to a new place, be it in the United States or anywhere else, I always have an eye out for the business environment and opportunities for entrepreneurship.  I also have a personal principle of not wanting to work for anyone other than myself and my clients, so I definitely try to consider all the possibilities.

That said, over the years I have realized some universal truths for doing business abroad:

  • Take your time. Doing business abroad can be a slow process and you want to make sure not to sink everything you have into a business proposition that is unteste;
  • Travel with an open mind and have no preconceived notions, because they are probably wrong;
  • Get to know a place before you start thinking of business there because what may work where you currently are, may not be feasible in another environment (this requires time);
  • Get to know the people before you put plans in place because their needs and desires may be completely different based on culture, religion, region, etc. (this requires time);
  • Keep your ears and eyes open and your mouth closed (regarding business plans).

On this last point, the minute you voice that you are interested in doing business in a place, everyone will (1) immediately know that you are not from there i.e. you are a “gringo” and (2) everyone will present you with a “great” business proposition.

On the challenge of being black and starting a business in Cuenca –  No one cares what color you are…black, brown, purple, neon blue. As a North American foreigner your money is green (yes, you too Canadians), and that is all that matters.  Anyone who runs a business has to hustle and take care not to be hustled, especially when working in developing countries.   You could be in the blackest country in Africa, surrounded by folks you think look like you…but they know you are a “gringo”, “toubab”, “pumoy” foreigner from the West, and trust that they will be first in line to take advantage of any naiveté.  Now that I think of it, that sounds just like New York.

So are there any particular challenges with being a black, North American, person, starting a business in Ecuador? Not particularly because you are essentially a black gringa/o.  What will present a challenge is language.  You will always fare better if you know the language enough to get around and to ensure surrogates are not leading you by the nose. The second challenge is finding trustworthy surrogates, which takes time because everyone has their own agenda.

Next, travel with no expectations, just go… you will never be disappointed and will almost always find something joyful.  Okay, correction. I had no expectations when I went on that cruise and I was still thoroughly disappointed…actually revolted.  So maybe “never” is too absolute, please substitute, “almost never”.

Finally, yes it is possible to find a place in Cuenca that I think is nice for $300.  The operative phrase being “I think”.  I like to be comfortable  but I have simple tastes, I appreciate zen decor and I like living with locals, like a local.  Yes, I have been known to hand wash the family laundry, but  I also require things to be clean, secure and welcoming.    Normal Cuenca apartment pricing means not living in the expat buildings or neighborhoods, negotiating stated prices, and having the ability to speak just a wee little bit of Spanish (you’ll have more leverage).

In the immortal words of Jay-Z and Pharrel (yes..I am going there)

“I’m a hustla baby, I  just want you to know –
It ain’t where I been, but where I’m about to go…”