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Several weeks ago our attorney asked for more papers. The Ministry wanted a copy of my police report from the US, despite having submitted a report for the original visa I used to enter the country. Not only did I have to get the report, but it requires an apostille from the state as well. I sent off several envelopes to friends, the police station, and the state of VA. Three weeks later I had the paper in hand.

We submitted the report, and the Ministry came back with yet another request. Because I am being sponsored under a family visa, my wife had to sign an affadavit stating that she had the funds to support me. She had already signed such a form in the original visa request, but now they wanted her to explicitly state how much monthly income we had. Since we are just starting our business and are still in the red, she was forced to simply lie. Our attorney made up a figure, we put it on paper, took it to the notary, and signed and submitted it. This was adequate. Since there is no cross-referencing of information here between public agencies, there´s no concern that maybe the Ministry will check with the Tax Service to see what our latest tax returns have been.

We got the good news today the the visa has been approved. Now we just have to wait until September 15 when the head of the visa section can sign the approval.

We’ve been here at the beach three days now. We took a drive up to Muisne this afternoon, about an hour an a half from here. Along the way you pass many small and large farms, Cebu cows roaming, sometimes a few horses, some looking good, others not so good. Banana plants among tall green jungle, clearings in other spots with livestock roaming, natural fences grown in straight lines up impossible hillsides. Passing through a settlement here and there, you see fighting cocks out for sale on a dirt patio, large stalks of bananas hanging up for sale under a tin roof, a group of a dozen or so men and boys chatting at the bus stop, with a lone woman waiting for the bus. Cacao trees grow in among the banana trees, visible around nearly every corner with their red leaves and large pods growing out of the trunks.

At the road’s end, Muisne starts; an island separated only by mangroves and about 300 yards of water from the mainland. Before the crossing are shops selling dry goods, poor bamboo houses built over the muddy ground, motorcycle rickshaws which have been converted in only the last few years from tricycles due to the flood of cheap imports from China.

On the way back we stop in Atacames, a beach town whose waterfront has swollen out of control with a bazaar selling more cheap chinese goods-useless trinkets and souvenirs, cheap plastic toys from the lowest end of the quality spectrum, bathing suits and t-shirts. Piled in next to the endless bazaar are beach bars made of bamboo and cheap wood, each one blaring reggaeton, salsa, or cumbia music louder than the next. It’s a tinderbox that attracts mostly foreign tourists or those on the lower end of the income range. Cheap hotels and restaurants and shops selling clothing and beach gear line the other side of the street, and the town seems to rarely sleep.

Less than ten years ago this was still just a sleepy fishing village with an empty waterfront but for a few fiberglass boats and the buzz of outboard engines. Now you can hardly reach the beach without first having to pass through a store, a bar, or someone selling something from the sidewalk. And they call this economic development? It’s a sad alternative to what could have remained, and became, an even more pristine and quiet backwater, the kind of place you went to get off the beaten path. Now it is the beaten path.

Today we drove 50 miles down the coast to Mompiche. Mompiche is a place-not a town, not a village, not on the map-Maria and I had visited about 13 years ago. I had learned of it when I lived here before, talking surf spots with a guy at the gym I used to go to.

Back then is was only accessible by boat. We took a boat from Muisne that day, through mangrove swamps then out to open ocean for about a twenty minute ride. Mompiche is a large, sweeping bay with a perfect left point break with a wave that sweeps easily 300 yards on a small day, probably much more on a big day. The boat left us at the shore. The area was pristine, with only a few small beach cabins at one end of the beach, and no sign of anyone there at all. I surfed that day and we snacked on crackers and some mangos the two urchins who accompanied us on the boat picked from the trees nearby.

The road along the coast was completed about six years ago. Another dirt road was built sometime thereafter down to the beach, as the coastal road often goes far inland rather than actually hugging the coast. From the turnoff it was about 3 miles down to the beach. You wouldn’t actually know it was the turn to Mompiche but for the sign advertising lodging.

Now there is a small settlement growing; a few restaurants, mostly catering to the gringo backpacker clientele, a few cheap lodging places, some poor houses here and there. Trash has started to accumulate, and the lack of order is noticeable. Stickers of popular surf brands dot the windows of some of the lodging places. At least a dozen fishing boats were up on the sand, fish heads and fish guts littered the beach. This is the end of the high season for the beach, but at least a dozen cars were also parked on the beach. I can only say I was disappointed to see progress had arrived here.

The surf was flat, so we went for a walk along the beach and collected a few seashells. A man with a beach restaurant offered to take us in his boat out to the point or to the “Isla Bonita”-the pretty island-somewhere nearby. He also advertised for lunch by showing us the prize jumbo langoustines and lobster just caught that morning. But it was no longer the prized, pristine beach of the past, so we soon got in the car and headed back to the beach house, where the novelty of the unexplored has long since worn off.

I’ve now got all my paperwork submitted to the attorney who will in turn submit it for processing to all the proper authorities. Just waiting to hear now whether some additional document is needed, which would be no surprise, or if all is in order.

Meanwhile, the lack of a visa makes doing so many activities here a bit tougher. If it were this hard in the US (well, it is a long and frustrating process, but you are not as limited while waiting as you are here) it would be a lot less attractive place to go. Of course, as I am fond of pointing out, there are a) many, many accomplices who help illegal immmigration in the US by turning a blind eye to the laws but b) they do so because without immigrant labor many sectors of the US economy would come to a grinding halt. But I digress. Without the visa and the accompanying “cedula” or ID card I can’t:

*obtain a driver’s license
*start a business
*open a bank account
*own or register a car in my name

Those are just a few things I can think of, but they are pretty major ones. Now, it seems that this would make life pretty inconvenient. You can usually obtain a 30 day permit with your US license or bring an international license; but I’ve been here well beyond 30 days. You can do most everything you need to start up a business, except make it official for tax and banking purposes. You can get cash on your US ATM card without any problem.

But if you were just another expat and planned to immigrate to Ecuador with your family, and didn’t have some local contacts here to help you out, it would be a bit of a hassle to get started here. Having patience solves all your problems.

We originally started to get ready to go over 18 months ago. That was before we decided it would be a good idea to have another child before going. So things were postponed for some time while we waited for Sabine to come along. She is here as of July 24, 2006, so we are now ramping up to go once again.

We made the decision to go some time ago, and I semi-obligated us to go by shipping some chocolate manufacturing equipment down before my last visit at Christmas so that I could produce more chocolates. Now I have the incentive that a large part of the needed investment to get started is now sitting down there waiting to be used.

Now that the moment of truth is just around the corner, we have been starting to second-guess ourselves, wonder about the wisdom of our decision, look at other options, and exhibit all the typical symptoms of self-doubt. Back when our departure was not just around the corner, it was “We’ll go when we have enough money.” We soon realized that to reach “the number” we would have to stay here another 15 years, or wait for retirement.

“The Number” would have made it easy, would have made it safe-and when is something easy and safe fun? When is it an adventure or a challenge? We thought if we can just hit “the Number”, that that way, if we failed in the business we would still have enough money to continue to live decently, and barring any major calamities, in perpetuity. Well, we realized that was never going to happen, or might happen when we reached retirement (a big might); in which case it wouldn’t happen it all. That would have made moot our primary reason for going. We finally just figured we’d have to go and give it a try.

Now we are realizing this is pretty much a no-return trip. Nothing is irrevocable, but in this case, failure is not an option. We have two kids to take care of. Now, we know we must succeed and if we don’t, we either have to look for another option for employment there (of which there are almost none) or come back to the US, sans all our belongings which we are taking with us.

The other big issue is finances. We figure we have enough cash, once we sell our house, to get set up and stay put for two years or so, while setting aside a large chunk to invest. But if we don’t start making money, we will have to start using those funds. We could use that money to buy a house in Ecuador and thus have no rental costs, but there is one major drawback to owning real estate in Latin America, that is usually not pointed out to you in all those ex-pat websites about living like a king on the beach in Central America or elsewhere.

Real estate is not a liquid investment in Latin America like it is here; that is, once you buy something, you can’t turn around and sell it several months or even years later-your cash is fully tied up. It could take years to sell, or you may never sell at all. There is no dynamic real estate market.

Most people here I talk to tell me “Go!” A lot of them say they wouldn’t have the courage to do something like this, and they admire us for having made such a decision. I don’t know if this is all true and they are thinking in the back of their heads “What idiots! Why would they want to go to a poor, underdeveloped country with no job opportunities!”

I see it like this; we can stay here slaves to the grind, my wife in a well-paying job where she feels the days are just passing her by, while I am at home taking care of the kids for the next few years (I’ve been at it now for three, and would have three more to go before I could go back to work). Our kids will grow up knowing most of their extended family as only strangers they might see once a year a few weeks at a time if that, around whom they hardly feel comfortable. Slaves to the idea that we have to have our hefty 401k/retirement account, our paid-off house, and all the trappings…etc. etc. Or take the risk, allow my wife to do what she wants which is take care of the kids, allowing me to do what I want which is make chocolate. Have our kids grow up with grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles around all the time, maybe poorer materially, but richer in spirit and family. Our conviction is that family comes first, and our mental and physical health will be better with it around. Which would you choose?

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Welcome to Destination Ecuador!

Welcome to Destination Ecuador! My family and I have been living in Ecuador for the last four and a half years. We’ve dealt with the worst kinds of red-tape, searched out or ended up making hard-to-find ingredients ourselves, imported equipment for making chocolate confections, learned the import-export business...Continue >>

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