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!

Still Waiting

Matt teased me when I posted “The Wait is Over.” “Really,” he asked, “don’t you think it has just begun?”

Of course, he was right. What was I thinking? I should have known better after living in South America for this long. Nothing comes quickly.

First, it was the wait for our visas. The process is two-fold: we need visas to live in Ecuador and then we need permission to live on the Galapagos as temporary residents. When we were here for Matt’s interview in February, we sat down with a calendar and a school employee and outlined all the steps it would take to get our visas. The school wanted Matt to report to work on April 1 and thought it would be faster if we got our visas in the US. According to our conversation and the calendar, we would be able to go to Chicago sometime the last week of March for our visas. Then we could fly to Quito and wait a couple of days for our Galapagos residency. Perfect, we thought. Wrong, we should have known.

Based on these conversation, the expiration of my visa in Peru and Matt’s Peruvian school happy to have him exit sooner rather than later for cost reasons, we packed up and got out of Peru two weeks after we returned from Ecuador. It was no easy feat, but we got it done and the movers picked up our stuff the day before we flew to the US. Within 2 days of arriving in the US, Matt drove to Madison to get our documents apostilled (certified by the state) and we emailed them off to his new employer. And then we waited.

Oh, we had a good time: hit my family’s annual St. Patrick’s Day party and our friends’ baby shower, visited with family, hung out with friends, shopped for the summer clothes we would need on the island, ate and drank to our hearts’ content. But as the days passed and our visas were no closer to being processed, we abandoned hope that they would get done by the end of March and left for Quito.

We arrived in Quito on March 31 and the wait continued. What the heck was taking so long? To this day, we are not entirely sure why we had so many delays, but after 2 1/2 weeks we finally had them: our visas. Oh and did I mention that we would have to undergo this process annually?

Matt’s teachers had already reported to work and he had been trying to have meetings and guide them from Quito, but he was anxious to get on site before the students arrived on May 4. And I was anxious to move into our new home and get settled. Then we learned that the Galapagos permission needed to be refiled and would take at least another week and a half. Matt raised a fuss (not Matt’s style though it is mine) and we flew to the island on April 26.

But there was a catch. While the law had recently changed and Matt could enter the Galapagos as a “transeúnte” or “transient” and transform that permission to temporary residency, I had to enter as a tourist, which meant that I would have to leave the islands and reenter as a temporary resident. In addition, a tourist can only be on the islands for 90 days in a calendar year, so my time was limited. We flew to the islands with 2 large suitcase and 2 carryons as we had been advised to send our remaining three boxes by air freight, so we had dropped those off a few days before we left.

And then the waiting began. First, the 3 boxes didn’t arrive. For two weeks. Thankfully, I had the foresight to make sure we had a set of sheets and towels in the luggage we took with us. But we had no idea that it would take 2 weeks for the rest of our necessities (like more than 2 pairs of shorts and our snorkeling gear) to arrive. I called daily to check the status and was told that it is “poco complicado” or “a little complicated” because several of the cargo ships that serviced the island sank in the past  6 months, which means that transport space is limited. And our cargo kept getting bumped for more important cargo like food and medicine. One day it actually flew from Quito to Guayaquil (a port town on the mainland), was taken off the plane in Guayaquil and sent back to Quito. But one happy day, our 3 boxes arrived and we promptly went snorkeling.

But on the residency front and our shipment from Peru, nothing. Matt would politely ask about his residency and be given vague responses. Eventually Matt got tired of asking and demanded a specific answer and learned that his paperwork had never been started. What?? This was 5 weeks after we arrived on the island and my time was ticking. Similarly, our shipment was nowhere in sight. First it was delayed leaving Peru, then it was caught up in Guayaquil for 2 weeks and finally, it was stuck in Quito because it was, once again, “poco complicado.” 

Finally, 6 weeks after we arrived on the Galapagos, Matt’s residency was approved. Great, we thought and made my plans to leave the island for Quito so my residency application could be started. Within hours of booking my flight to Quito for Sunday, the movers contacted me to advise that the shipment would arrive, you guessed it, on Sunday.

So here I sit in Quito, in exile for an indeterminate amount of time while my residency is processed. I could be 3 days, it could be 2 weeks, no one really knows. The shipment did arrive at home yesterday, but 3 boxes, including our TV and iMac are missing. So the wait, on both fronts, continues.

They Arrived!

They Arrived!

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.



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.