Greetings from Baja California Sur

I wish I had a better excuse for not writing more lately, but the fact is I just kind of lost the rhythm for a few weeks. That being said, I’m back and with stories to tell.

Diana and I landed in Loreto, Mexico, on Friday and have been busy exploring ever since.  It is much greener than I expected.  In fact, it is much greener than people who have homes here ever expected.  Apparently there has been significant rain recently, resulting in some amazing desert scenery.  Not thousands, but millions of huge saguaro cactus dot the landscape with bellies full of fresh water.  Vultures circle overhead, waiting patiently for parched cowboys to die.

As most of you know I grew up in Colorado, so take it for what it’s worth when I say that the mountains surrounding Loreto are an awesome sight.  I understand that I can’t hike up into them and catch big, fat rainbow trout, but they are every bit as dramatic from where I stand as Pikes Peak or Rabbit Ears Pass ever were.

This is the calm before the storm here in Loreto.  Many restaurants and hotels are closed until late October when tourist season officially kicks off.  Unfortunately, many more businesses will remain closed as a result of a two-tier economic downturn.  The first coincided with the U.S. recession in 2009, when guys like me suddenly lacked a pot to piss in.  The second came about a year ago when news of drug violence in Mexico-at-large created guilt by association for this quiet little village.

The malecon along the water’s edge looks like what it is: a beautifully designed and ambitious project that recently came to a screeching halt.  Here is where the grandest hotels and fanciest restaurants had the farthest to fall, and did.  Plywood guards their largest panes of glass from would-be vandals as they wait for new money, new owners, or both.

We have only scratched the surface of the housing situation, so I will withhold my first impressions until I’ve had a chance to learn more.  My guess is it starts cheap with significant room for negotiation.  Not Ecuador cheap, but cheap.

And finally, for tonight anyway, we had an opportunity to experience Mexican healthcare firsthand; something my Dad has been concerned about ever since we first sprung the news on him.  Diana had been having kidney pain for a few days prior to our arrival.  We were in the middle of renting a car when the girl behind the counter started making small talk.  Next thing we knew, she was driving us to a doctors office while our car was being prepped.

When we got to the office, the doctor was in the middle of lunch but happily set it aside and ushered us all (rental car lady too!) into the exam room.  Diana described her pain, got weighed, poked and prodded and I got a free sucker.  Ten minutes later we received two prescription drugs and a $40 peso doctor bill.

That’s somewhere in the vicinity $3.30 if you’re keeping score.


Maya’s trip: part 3

Lots to learn here.  Thanks again, Maya, for sharing your experience with everyone.  Please continue to keep us posted on the move, assimilation, etc.  And, more importantly, get started on your blog!

Thank you, thank you! I’m back in Toronto now, and I have to say that I can’t wait to go back. It’s a rat-race and traffic here, not to mention – frost at night.
People here (US, Canada) have so many more possessions and conveniences, yet they are not happy… I guess there is always more to be had, and the pressure to acquire.
I was chatting with the cab driver on my way to Quito, a very cheerful fellow. He said: “I have my job, I have my family, a house, and social security – what more can I wish for?” OK, enough of philosophical musings…
Just to give you a few details of the buying process: once my offer was accepted, we made same day appointment with a local abogado, or lawyer. He was recommended to me by two local real estate agents. Luckily, these nice ladies did not hold my private purchase against me (by the way – if you need a good, solid and nice real estate agent in Cotacachi and area, contact Micky Enright. Google “Micky Enright Cotacachi” and her website will come up).
The sellers came with a folder full of documents; the abogado reviewed them very thoroughly – all the permits, approvals, plans etc. Everything happened to be in order. He then drafted a “letter of intent” specifying who’s buying what from whom, and how it’s going to be paid for; attached a copy to my passport to their letter, a copy of their “cedulas” to my letter, and charged me…$20 for 1,5 hour of work.
The sellers bought me ice-cream to celebrate. I’m doing a deposit of 5% today to their bank account; the remaining amount will be transfered when I go back, and the final paperwork will be done.
The sellers and I speak Spanish, so we avoided the cost of translations etc.
Now I have to decide what to sell/give away, what to keep, what to do with th estuff to keep, how to transport my two cats, what to do with my leased car. any advice/insignt will be appreciated!
I really would like to be there no later than the beginning of November.
I’ve been cautioned that buying from the locals may be more complicated – for ex. sometimes several members of a family have some rights to the title, it’s hard to determine if the seller actually can sell, and so on.
More soon.

Maya’s guest post: continued

Wow, this girl does not fool around!  Join me in congratulating her on taking some bold, decisive action. And giving me a little bit of a complex in the process.

Sorry for not being in touch for a while. No, no blog yet – maybe soon. The hostal has difficulties with the famous wifi, sorry for not being much in touch in the last few days. I will report more details soon, writing from an internet shop now, on a Spanish keyboard.
Just to let you know – I decided to make an offer on a cute little house owned by a Canadian couple; it has a beautiful garden full of hummingbirds and a view of the two volcanos (or is it volcanoes?), Cotacachi and Imbabura. I should know if my offer was accepted in some 15 minutes. Bitting my nails now… asking myself “am I crazy, what am I doing” and similar questions.

I also found a few local restaurants where the food is not bland: Aji de Piedra, Casa de Turista, Daniels. Gringos, eat local food! Owner of Aji de Piedra told me that many Americans want only one thing: chicken, fries and salad. How un-adventurous! By the way, try jugo de mora (mora juice) – delicious!

I also want to encourage everyone who wants to live in South America – learn Spanish (or Portuguese if you think about Brazil)! It really is possible, and will get you out of the “gringos ghetto”, or the gated communities, where the gringos steam in their own juice. Not very healthy, in my opinion.

OK, time to make a call and find out about my offer. I will write again soon!

OK, my offer, after a small increase, was accepted. It´s almost done…I´m coming to live here in November, unless something totally unpredictable happens. I´m going to have a STRONG drink now…
More to come soon.

Meet Maya: my first guest blogger

As you know, I failed to get up into the mountains during our trip to Ecuador.  We were just really focused on beach communities, large and small, and kind of lost track of time.  However, I do have a reader named Maya who is currently spending time in Quito.  Her trip down there, as you’ll read, went even less smoothly than mine.  However she has learned and shared a ton since then.  With her permission, I’ve consolidated each of her super candid and helpful posts into one long report that should be of interest to anyone still wondering about the mountain region and culture of Ecuador.  She is a regular reader of this blog, so if you have additional questions, simply reply to this guest post and I’m sure she’ll get back to you.  Enjoy!

Submitted on 2012/09/06 at 10:05 am

So, I started my trip from Toronto to Quito yesterday. After 6 hours in the airport, a delay due to a thunderstorm, THREE aircrafts having “technical problems” (should one ever consider flying American Airlines – seems their planes are falling apart – or they are lying to the passengers), I ended up in a Miami hotel (writing form the lobby right now) with a bunch of almost-worthless food vouchers, hoping that my rebooked flight today at 8 PM will actually take off. Thanks, American Airlines!
The Ecuadorians on the same flight proved to be extremely helpful, cheerful and patient people. The guy from the next seat took me “under his wing”, rebooked my flight, got the hotel and food vouchers in a record time, provided an interesting conversation – couldn’t wish for better company.
By the way, I read on the internet that many Americans are concerned about “leftist leanings” of Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador. Quite a few fellow passengers said that they are “Correistas” , that the president improves the infrastructure, builds roads, gives loans and scholarships to the indigenous population, so they can develop small local businesses and get themselves out of poverty, and in general takes the country in the right direction. It was nice to hear that a government does actually something right – for a change!

Submitted on 2012/09/07 at 11:47 am

After another delay of the rebooked flight I arrived to Quito last night, some 30 hours later than planned. Friendships were forged on board – I have phones and emails of 7 people from my original flight, all asked to let them know if I need anything and how I’m doing, and my impression is that they mean it!
I still remember how to speak Spanish, which helps.
First impressions from Quito: very busy, hustling and bustling city with gorgeous vistas of the mountains. Mount Cayambe covered in snow particularly pretty. What I could see so far is a mix of all architectural styles and colours stirred and shaken together, with some palms and vegetation thrown in, covered in a thin layer of pollution from fumes spewing buses.
I went to see the old town, with narrow, up and down streets; nice Plaza Grande with the Palace Presidential, palms and old colonial buildings. Old houses looking like nothing much have surprisingly nice patios; lots of small businesses of all kinds (plumbing supplies seem to be very popular!) and little “hole in the wall” food places. The hostal where I’m staying is rather shabby by Canadian standards, but very clean, and TIENE WIFI.
No time yet to see more – due to the elevation (and possibly diesel fumes) I’m panting like a fish out of water and have to take it easy. Will try coca tea, apparently good for many ailments…
I’m off soon to eat something, tomorrow planning to go to Cotacachi – a destination for many expats, about 2 hours or so from Quito. No pictures for now – I forgot the little cable connecting my camera with my laptop (#@%!!&).

Submitted on 2012/09/08 at 7:36 pm

I traveled from Quito to Cotacachi today. Panamerican is being widened and the whole country along it looks like one giant construction zone. Houses are build like layer cakes – first floor done, no roof as such – waiting for the second floor “when the kids grow up” or a relative working in US or Spain will send more money; big, ornate empty houses waiting for the said relatives to come back; more of the great majestic volcanos, huge greenhouses with roses – #2 Ecuadorean export; very dignified, good looking, polite and mature beyond their years indigenous children helping their parents; huge market in Otavalo with local handicrafts (I’m going to go back and buy as many wonderful tapestries as I can fit in my luggage) and more. Let’s face it – many things look shabby, dusty and unfinished, it’s a poor country, and I was very happy to have a really hot shower today. But – the people are just stealing your heart. After the shower I bumped into an American couple who live in the area. We went together for diner and they told me that moving to this little place in Ecuador from US was “the best thing they did in their life”. They will show me around next week. By the way, they agree with you that “Ecuador needs everything” and there are endless opportunities for business; they are developing a few, but “it’s not work, it’s fun”.
More to come – I hope I’m not boring you and everyone else to death!

Submitted on 2012/09/09 at 5:01 pm |

I’m seeing a real estate agent tomorrow, one recommended by Domenick Buenamici, who writes quite bit about Ecuador, as “decent”. I’m very curious what I’ll find out.
About food: it’s mostly bland and not bad, but unremarkable; with the great fresh “raw materials” available, someone should open a cooking school. Oh, I’m also going to check a coffee shop with REAL coffee tomorrow. Will report soon!

Submitted on 2012/09/13 at 4:59 pm

I’m still in the mountains, in Cotacachi. I’ve seen two houses in new developments – similar price, space, finishes, walking distance to the “town centre”, similar dirt roads; met a herd of cows going home at the first house, and a bunch of cute piglets playing on the road near the second. More to see tomorrow. It’s not Switzerland, yet the place, with its warts and all, starts to grow on me. Also, no chance for a house for 55K in Switzerland…
Yesterday I went to Otavalo, to the famous indigenous market, bought very pretty wool tapestries, and had a nice lunch at a mexican (?) restaurant. Figs with cheese for dessert – really good! I went by bus for the grand sum of $ 0.25. A local lady sitting next to me told me a lot about herself, and asked me questions that my close friends don’t ask – and yet, somehow it wasn’t irritating…
There is a drought, so we have water cut-offs for a few hours for the next few days. It’s dry and dusty, especially with construction going on everywhere – almost like in Toronto.
The “real” coffee shop is making a killing – you can get a cafe latte and read American Vogue!