Happy Two Year (and a Day) Ex-pat Anniversary!

Two years ago yesterday, Matt and I landed in Peru and began our international living adventure.

Last Hurrah!

In the past two years we have:

  • Lived in 2 countries
  • Learned Spanish
  • Trekked to Machu Picchu
  • Acquired a donkey jaw as a musical instrument
  • Ate guinea pig
  • Swum with sharks, manta rays, sea lions and sea turtles

and so much more!

While the there will always be challenges and we miss our stateside family and friends, this adventure has been incredible. We have made new friendships that will stand the test of time and distance and had experiences we will never forget.

You only get one life, so live the life YOU want to live!

Young, wild and free

Young, wild and free

PS. This is my 100th blog post – thanks for reading!

Latest Adventure: Buying Furniture

Furniture shopping in Milwaukee was a pain due to the endless choices. When we were in the market for something, we could spend multiple days running around to furniture stores and department stores as we looked for the right piece and the best price. Matt and I are extremely decisive and hate shopping, so two weekends was about our limit. Furniture shopping on the Galapagos is the opposite: I ran around for the past month trying to find ANY furniture to buy. On Saturday, we committed to making it happen and finally were (mainly) successful.

Our apartment is a spacious one bedroom with an amazing patio that lends to the airy feel of the place.

It is above the doctor’s office/hyperbaric chamber (the doc who lives on site is our landlord), which is handy for telling people as street names aren’t often used here.

We rented it partially furnished; the main furnishings are included but few household items are. “Furnished” means some  patio furniture, a double bed (we thought it was going to be a king because that is what was in the apartment when we saw it, so I tri-fold the the king sheets we bought; one makes due on an island!), stove, refrigerator and microwave, kitchen table and chairs, and a sofa, wicker chaise and wicker chair. For a month we used action packers as our doorway table. In casual conversations with our landlord, I managed to finagle additional patio furniture and a computer desk (still working on a chair). But the living room furniture was abysmal. Matt referred to the sofa as an airport sofa, but it was actually less comfortable, disconcertingly grimy and unused.

As we have learned, it is best to bite the bullet and buy what we want to make life more comfortable sooner rather than later. We started asking around about furniture shops. “There’s one on Baltra past the bank,” Matt said one night. We headed over. “This?” It was a crowded shop with random items but there was a sofa and table and some dressers. “No, it can’t be this; she said it had a lot of good stuff. It must be closed.” After stalking the street for a few more days, I concluded that dingy shop was the place. I went in and asked if they had additional furniture or whether furniture could be ordered. The woman looked at me like I was crazy. Okay, I guess a furniture shop is anywhere that sells any random piece of furniture.

I continued to run down leads all over town, but never found what we wanted: a sofa, a cabinet for the doorway, some end tables. Or, I might see an okay sofa, but everything is sold as a set, so we couldn’t buy it unless we wanted the settee, two chairs and coffee table too. The coffee tables here are all small and out of proportion to the furniture. And they have glass tops. Matt still has the scar and PTSD from the exploding glass table in our Lima rental, so we were not interested those.

Exploding Table

Exploding Table

We did find one shop that had nice, handmade furniture, but it didn’t have the pieces we needed. We asked the woman whether we could have something specific made (at that time we thought we would have a cabinet made that would double as a doorway table and a bar for our glassware and limited booze supply). She seemed confused and kept pointing us to the items they had – a bookshelf or bedside table. Eventually she said we could bring in a drawing and dimensions, but we got the feeling that at the end of the day we would end up with either a bookshelf or bedside table. Ultimately we found this table at a different store and bought it on the spot.

Action Packer Replacement

Action Packer Replacement

The other option was to go to the “artisanal zone” and have furniture made. We asked questions: where is it, is there a person you recommend, do they have furniture ready to buy? The answers were vague and contradictory: someone would have a name, but we would never get it; someone else said they cater to the tourists but they have some furniture; another person would say the prices are expensive and it takes forever to get something made. We learned that we would need to have something made and then find an upholsterer to make the cushions for it.

Armed with this limited knowledge and the assurance that “any cabbie could take us there” we flagged down a cab late Saturday morning and asked to go to the artisanal area – where the carpenters are. The cabbie seemed to know what we meant and sure enough we headed out of town and turned down the road someone had pointed out to Matt. A few turns later, we stopped. “This guy does good work” our cabbie told us. We were parked on a dirt road in front of a gated lumberyard, complete with a chained, barking dog. What? Where are the shops, the wares, the storefronts? Our cabbie got out with us and called to the woman in the yard who sent out an older man. We chatted, explained that we wanted some furniture and then we all hopped back in the cab to head back to town where we understood the carpenter had a showroom. On the way back we drove through the rest of the “artisan area” – a cluster of probably 15-20 lumberyards and workshops scattered over a several block area, with no finished goods anywhere in sight.

Our cabbie (Angelo) and the carpenter (Rafael) chatted the entire way back to town. Matt and I sat in the back seat, ignored. Wondering what we had gotten ourselves into and sure that Rafael was Angelo’s uncle or other relation, we went with the flow. We ended up a few blocks from our house in front of a nondescript building. Rafael unlocked the gated and let us into the first level of a house where there were some lovely pieces of furniture. A few sofas, bedroom sets, tables etc. Matt and I had already decided on two chairs in addition to a sofa and we liked what Rafael had to offer. Next thing we knew, Angelo was helping us pick out our furniture, asking Rafael about finishes, explaining what we wanted etc. We  crossed a courtyard to the first floor of another house where there were some additional pieces. In the end we chose a sofa, two chairs, a coffee table (still small, but with a made-to-order wood top) and a small end table, which is a concept that does not appear to exist here.

More conversation ensued and we all hopped back into the cab to the upholsterer. We stopped here:

Upholsterer

Upholsterer

Rafael talked to a young guy, a kid really, and then we headed up an unfinished stairway to the work room, mindful of the edge the entire time. Rafael described the cushions we needed and asked what fabrics were available. There were some really hideous ones and a few that could work. To save time we wanted to choose something in stock and not wait for a cargo ship to bring some fabric. Once again, Angelo helped us choose our fabric. Where else does your cabbie pick out fabric with you? We selected one but I told them I didn’t think there was enough for all of the cushions (I’m no seamstress but it was pretty obvious even to me) and eventually the young guy conceded that was the case. More discussion and Angelo inquired whether they had a fabric that would coordinate. Go cabbie Angelo! We found one one from the limited options, placed our order and were assured it will be ready on Wednesday.

On the way to our house, we made arrangements with Angelo to pick us up at 5pm to go pick up the furniture (with the exception of the tables that Rafael needs to make for us). 5 came and went and no Angelo. I called him. ” I’m sorry, I’m busy now.” Okay, on to Plan B.  We walked over to Rafael’s store (thankfully Matt remembered where it is) where he and his wife were waiting. We apologized and explained that Angelo didn’t show up and Rafael says they can call someone for us to move the furniture. We talked more, established what we were taking and what he will make and then awkwardly kept waiting for the financial part of the transaction. Eventually we realized that they were politely waiting for us to do that part, because we had talked with Rafael about prices earlier, so we finally just said “okay, we want to pay do you want to pay here or in the other house” and got the deal done.

Rafael flagged down a cab for us and told the kid that he will be making two trips with our stuff. The kid looked reluctant, but helped load the furniture. Here is Matt taking the first load home.

Matt

Matt

All in all a successful day, even if the furniture looks somewhat like park benches until we get the cushions. Here is hoping they are ready on Wednesday. As an added bonus, our shipment from Peru is supposed to arrive this week, so we can finally get organized and settled.

A World Apart and Yet So Similar

My family spent all of our summer vacations, and many Sundays in-between, at a cottage on Lower Nemahbin Lake. Only about 40 minutes away from our home in Milwaukee, or, when we moved, Watertown, it seemed like the middle of nowhere. Probably because it was the middle of nowhere to my mom, who was a city girl through and through and hated to drive on the freeway. Now it is considered “Lake Country” where professionals live and commute to Milwaukee, but back then it was the boondocks – farm fields, one grocery store in town and the lakes. The cottage added to the boondocks feel: no indoor plumbing save a cold-water kitchen sink added in the 70s, mismatched furniture, tired kitchenware, one “parents” bedroom downstairs and a cobwebby upstairs where we kids fought over the ancient 5 beds. But to me, it was paradise. (Saying Goodbye to My Childhood )

Fast forward 30 years to Puerto Ayora, my and Matt’s new home on Isla Santa Cruz on the Galapagos Islands. This truly is the middle of nowhere – 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador – but as the largest town on the islands, it is a curious combination of isolation and tourism. We have lived here slightly over 2 weeks and it is apparent that nothing prepared me better for life on the Galapagos than those summers at The Lake.

Glorious View from Our Balcony

Glorious View from Our Balcony

I’m sticky. All the time. The temperature hasn’t dropped below 80º or the humidity below 70%. At the moment it is 7:23 am and the temperature is 81.1º with 79% humidity. I sit, as usual, with a fine sheen of sweat and frizzed out hair. We do have a shower but it is an island, so you are supposed to try to conserve water. (Yes, I realize that seems backwards, but while there is plenty of salt water around, there isn’t a lot of fresh water). So I try to shower once a day although sometimes I break down and have to take another one. At The Lake there was no shower. My mom would heat up some water and give herself a sponge bath, but the rest of us would just go jump in the lake. Literally.

The plumbing is a bit…primitive. It looks nice – huge shower, double sink, jacuzzi tub, but the apartment has cold water. To be fair, our landlord asked if we wanted him to hook up the hot water (sun heated, I think, without the aid of solar panels) so we do have some hot water in the shower, but it has a mind of its own and with the heat, I prefer a cold shower anyhow. We were told to turn the water off as we soap up to conserve water and not flood the bathroom. We wash dishes, and everything else, with cold water. You can’t flush toilet paper; it goes in the bin in the bathroom. So the bathroom smells like an outhouse. A bonus of our apartment is that the toilet is in its own little compartment, so at least that is the only room that smells like an outhouse. I realize that years of mouth breathing in the outhouse at The Lake come in handy here as well, especially when I take out the trash.

Indoor Outhouse

Indoor Outhouse

I live in shorts, sandals and swimsuits. For the first time since I was 12, I walked down the road (to the beach) in a swimsuit. A modest one, mind you, shorts and a tummy-covering top, but even so, it felt like being a kid again. At night it doesn’t cool off, so there is no need for jeans or sweatshirts like in Wisconsin, but we are told that will change. I’m not convinced and love wearing casual summer attire all the time.

There are plenty of bugs, inside and out. We don’t have air conditioning in our apartment, so the windows and doors are always open – day and night. We do have screens, but that doesn’t stop the critters (or dirt) from getting inside. The day we arrived, I noticed that our kitchen counters had tons of microscopic ants and spiders everywhere. I was appalled. I obsessively killed them and bought Raid to assist in the genocide. Now I just smoosh them and keep eating. I store food in plastic bags and sometimes in the microwave because I haven’t seen an ant in there yet. Like The Lake, every night at dusk we are driven inside by the mosquitos. Instead of daddy longlegs, our mosquito eaters here are the geckos. I’ve learned to co-exist with them and they have become a part of our nightly entertainment as we cheer them on while they catch the bugs.

Everything is a bit grimy. The water is non-potable and has a sticky feel. We don’t have a washer or dryer so laundry either goes to the full service laundry (no self serve here) or I hand wash and hang dry. When you pay by the pound, your definitions of clean and hand-washable change. But something about the combination of the detergent I bought and the water leaves the hand wash smelling less than fresh, so I am considering in investing in a washing machine though I worry that the dryer at the laundry may be what is killing whatever is stinking up my wash. I sweep, clean the floors and wipe up the counters constantly, but it is a losing battle against the dirt. I remember at The Lake wiping down the plastic tablecloth covered table after dinner and noticing that it was still sticky. That’s what it feels like wiping down the counters here. And the geckos poop everywhere! It looks like bird poop. I am currently trying to figure out how to clean it off my ceiling without it falling all over me.

Poopy Gecko

Poopy Gecko

We have plenty, but not exactly everything we want. Much to my dad’s annoyance, my mom used to pack two cars to the gills (and I swear at times things were tied to the top) to go to The Lake for 2 weeks even though it was less than an hour from our house. Now I understand. Like my mom, I packed my own things. We have 29 boxes, about half of it kitchen/household wares, in transit from Peru. It has been two months since it left my old home and is currently on a cargo ship. I don’t really expect it to arrive to the island for at least another month, but it will feel like Christmas when it does. Our apartment is partially furnished, so we have the basics but the dishes are mismatched and chipped, the sheets don’t fit the bed and we have one small frying pan and two pots. Unlike my mom, who would never buy anything, I broke down and bought two utensils and some dish towels to tide us over.

Kitchenware

Kitchenware

It is the same with food. We can get plenty to eat, but not the variety we are accustomed to (even less than in Cajamarca). My mom used to bring food from Milwaukee – the brands of pasta and sauce she liked among other things- and turned up her nose at the limited selection at the local grocery store. On the other hand, I embrace going to the Saturday morning market (the earlier you arrive, the lower the prices!) and buying from the farmers, but also look forward to next April when we will be back in the US and can eat lamb or Mexican food or countless other ethnic foods that aren’t available here.

Entertainment is both limited and limitless. There are no movie theaters, concerts, plays, or golf courses. Our internet is sporadic. The town has a minuscule library that I have yet to find open. At The Lake, the black and white TV was only turned on for the late news and Johnny Carson (except when Nixon resigned). Days were spent outside: swimming, canoeing, going for walks, goofing off. At night or on rainy days, we played cards and board games or read a book. So it is here. We have a TV, even cable and a DVD player, but we don’t turn it on often. We can go swimming and snorkeling every single day, there are great walks to take to beaches and in the highlands, and we can stroll though town at night and watch the sharks feed alongside the pier or the sea lions sleep. We play cards and games and just relax. Life is slower here and it is fantastic. Some might find it boring or frustrating, but I find it a return to the best part of my childhood: waking up to the sound of the water on the shore.

Paradise

Paradise