Ecuador – what went wrong?
In all honesty I thought Ecuador would be the final chapter in my life. After realizing that there was simply no way I could afford to survive on my limited pensions in Canada I had started researching other countries to live and decided on Ecuador. From my time spent in Panama previously I didn’t consider going back there for a second.
Primarily because part of the move was establishing a website business, with the goal of informing Canadians about Ecuador, there was little need to update my personal website, until now. After months of research about Ecuador, hours of conversation with my great friend, Heather Paul, whose advice was invaluable in making the decision to move to Ecuador and putting together a pretty detailed plan, I made the move to Ecuador December 2nd of last year, full of promise of a new adventure. I was not; however, prepared for exactly what kind of adventure it turned out to be.
Many people, both here in Ecuador and back in Canada, have asked what went wrong, so this post is about what my Plan A was, and how it all fell apart through circumstances well beyond my control, forcing me to leave the country I so love now. I hope it may also serve to warn others of what can possibly go wrong with their own plan. It reminds me so much of that famous quote –
Little did I know that my departure from Canada was a foreboding of things to come. Let’s just say that it was all pretty messed up, starting with the driver service dropping me off at the wrong hotel. Only went downhill from there, almost missing my connection in Panama City when they did a last minute gate change, but I eventually arrived in Quito. Then I was virtually accosted by a customs official who questioned the six months worth of meds I had brought with me, including my insulin in a cooler bag. Thought I was not going to be allowed into the country, or, at best, allowed in but with no meds to survive. Would have been a very short visit.
My original plan after doing all my research was to head to where I have now lived since February, Cotacachi. I think the attraction was how much it reminded me of BC where I had spent fourteen wonderful years of my life. That plan got sidetracked when I met Ana Romero on the internet before coming to Ecuador. She had offered to help me with a lot of things I needed to do, the first of which was getting me picked up at the airport in Quito and taking me to the cabin I had rented for a week, called Balcon De Lago (the balcony of the lake), planning to find an apartment somewhere close.
The first mistake I made was in response to Ana telling me, much to my surprise, that there were no apartments anywhere in nearby Otavalo. Although the cabin was pretty rustic, it was a gorgeous view out my front window every morning and the family who owned the place soon adopted me as family, so I thought, what the heck. Why not see if I could just stay there? Big mistake!
Soon things did not go as planned with Ana. Although she was helpful coming along with me on my shopping trips to Ibarra, she didn’t quite understand our relationship and began bossing me around. I made jokes about her not being my wife, but I was trying to get my point across that she was not going to be in charge. We did have a wonderful meeting with the owner of a new development in Ibarra. She was there on a possible modeling gig but it soon turned into a discussion about promoting the upcoming opening of the plaza on my websites and it went well. I thought we were a good team.
Back to the cabin. I knew we had the language issue and I didn’t want any misunderstandings, so I asked Ana to come and negotiate a longer term deal with the owners, Efran and Jessica. I asked Ana what time she could come for a meeting with them and she said eight o’clock. Knowing that she wasn’t much of a morning person I questioned her being there so early, but she insisted, so there we were, all assembled at the dining room table at eight o’clock waiting for Ana. She finally shows up at nine o’clock, an hour late, and didn’t offer a word of apology for keeping everyone waiting. I was not impressed and had to wonder if this is how she was going to be with potential website clients. She had also been pretty presumptuous about me always paying for her meals and drinks whenever we went out anywhere, the last time being when our driver and she accepted my offer to go for a “beer” on the way back from shopping. She soon ordered dinner for herself and our driver without even asking if it was okay, so I assumed that they were paying for their own meals, that is until the bill showed up. I said I offered to buy them a beer, not dinner, but neither of them had any money so I had to pay, certainly not willingly.
After the meeting with Efran and Jessica and a very good and positive discussion we agreed on $350 a month for me to stay in the cabin long term, which would include my thermos of coffee in the morning, all my meals, firewood, internet and DirecTV, and hot water in the shower (suicide shower). All seemed very positive and I had found a new home.
Not so fast. Okay, so I get up pretty early, usually around six and start working on my websites. Given that they had school aged kids I figured that they were probably up fairly early as well, but soon I was waiting longer and longer to get my much needed coffee, some days not getting it at all. Breakfast usually involved a couple of pieces of fruit and the very occasional oatmeal. Lunch was all based around my bowl of rice, something I’ve never really been crazy about and certainly not as the main diet source every single day. Dinner was rarely anything to keep an adult alive, seldom with any kind of even Ecuadorian meat. Most often chicken.
Okay, so I was losing weight fast and eating what I assumed was healthy, but there was still some things that I needed on top of what little Jessica was feeding me. This involved expensive taxi trips to Ibarra to shop at the SuperMaxi, which had a lot more of the things that we North Americans like to eat. I soon found myself spending upwards of a hundred dollars every trip there, which was not part of the planned budget or that my meals would be included in my rent. The other issue was that I did not have a fridge in my cabin, so my food items had to be stored in Jessica’s fridge in the main house. I expected that the things I bought would be included in my meals, but when they weren’t I went looking for them in the fridge, only to discover that the kids had eaten them.
I have no idea why the next thing happened, but it was certainly a nail in the Plan A coffin. I got really sick, to the point I was out of it and don’t remember a thing. All I remember was waking up in the hospital, apparently in Ibarra for some reason and I was meeting with Jessica and a doctor who only spoke Spanish, and who I learned later was an endocrinologist. They checked me into a room and hooked up an IV because I was dehydrated. The hospital wasn’t much, with a suicide shower and not all that clean, although the nursing staff were very nice. During the four days I was there the food was typical of any hospital. Nothing to write home about. The doctor stopped by for a few minutes in the morning and babbled away to me in Spanish, not a word of which I understood.
Jessica and Efran then showed up with some clothes for me and I figured I was probably about to be discharged, which I was. To my utter shock and dismay I discover that this is a private hospital and they want an astounding twelve hundred dollars for four days there before they will discharge me! There goes my budget for the dirt-bike I planned to buy to travel the country. To this day I have no clue why the didn’t take me to the public, FREE, hospital in Otavalo, which was much closer. What were they thinking? They didn’t know anything about my finances so how did they know if I could even pay the hospital? Crazy!
Living there high in the mountains it was darned cold all the time and I needed to keep a fire going all the time. The cabin came with nothing to have a fire, so I ended up buying a screen, starter items and fireplace tools. I paid their youngest, Sebastian, a dollar to keep my wood pile in the cabin stocked from the firewood they kept up by the main house. Soon though I noticed the firewood supply dwindling and asked when they were getting more delivered? In a couple of days more wood showed up, but it was terrible firewood. I could hear it hissing when I tried to burn it because it was so wet. It was impossible to keep it going and soon I was wearing my winter coat trying to stay warm while I worked. I was also getting more and more annoyed at the fact that I got nothing on the promises of DirecTV and my internet service was terrible. It was so slow and would go out all the time, making working almost impossible.
After getting nowhere on questions about the firewood I decided to bite the bullet and get a load of my own from a yard outside of Otavalo that I knew had some particularly good wood stored out the back where only a few people knew about it. I bought as much as my driver’s truck would hold, along with some kindling and piled it up outside my cabin. The next day I noticed that the plastic sheeting I had bought to cover it was removed and a bunch of the wood was missing. I then discover that people staying in the other cabins had been helping themselves to my wood, apparently with Jessica’s approval!
The next issue in this saga is when Jessica comes and asks me if I can pay my rent early because “they need the money”. I try to explain that this is really not my problem, but I don’t want to appear insensitive to their situation so I agree. Then she asks if I can pay two months in advance because they need to do some construction work to finish one of the new cabins. I draw the line at this and only agree to pay the current month in advance of when it’s due.
Although I have blogged about what happened next, it’s worth repeating here. I had been working since early morn, as usual, tending to my fire all day to stay warm. In the early evening I felt tired and just thought I needed a quick nap. Another big mistake, one that nearly caused my death. What happened is one of those things you just can’t explain. Normally Jessica would never come down after bringing me what passed for dinner. Anytime she found me asleep she would never come into the cabin and would not even think of disturbing me, ever. On this particular night not only did she come down to the cabin late, but she tried to wake me and couldn’t. Thankfully they called the ambulance and rushed me to the hospital in Otavalo, where, several hours later I remember waking up to the doctor saying that I would have been dead in twenty minutes from carbon monoxide poisoning. Close call!
I might mention another related issue on my troubles with Jessica. Both times they took me to the hospital they removed my watch and my ring and, for some unknown reason to this day, took my residency documents that I had with me. After the first time I found my watch okay but my very expensive diamond ring had ended up on the floor underneath my bed for some reason, but I found it. The second time I ended up in hospital I could not find either my ring or my documents. When I asked Jessica she did return my documents, or I thought she did, but nothing about my ring. I looked and looked, but only several days later, when she found my cabin torn apart and me very upset looking for it, did she volunteer that she would look in the main house. A few minutes later she returns with my ring in hand. Did she plan on selling it? I don’t know. More on the documents later.
Next thing I know one of the guests they have staying at the main house tells me that her and Jessica want to meet with me. It sounds important. Sure enough she explains to me that, supposedly according to Ecuadorian law, if I die in the cabin Efran and Jessica will be carted off to jail, leaving no one to care for their children, so they want me to move out. This is a couple of days before the end of February but my rent is paid until February 15th. When I ask when they would like me to leave she says the next day! So, in addition to my prepaid rent I tell her that I want my firewood paid for because it was supposed to be part of our rental agreement, plus they drank two bottles of my rum on New Year’s eve when I got sick and was in bed, not drinking. Jessica agrees that they will give me two hundred dollars when I leave the next day.
My driver has loaded all my worldly goods into his taxi and we are about to head to Cotacachi. I ask Jessica for my two hundred dollars but she says she has not had a chance to go to the bank. I offer to take her with us to the bank on our way, but she says she can’t do that because she’s “waiting for a check”. She promises that she will come to Cotacachi on Monday to pay me. That was just over seven months ago. Her only answers to my many emails was that she was a “person of integrity” and would pay me. Much as I’ve wanted to expose her on Facebook, the laws against slander and libel are brutal in Ecuador and without any documents to back up what she said I would be risking being charged. I’ve even had my doctor send her an email telling her that I need the money for medications, but that got no response either.
There was also the issue with my documents. Through the consulate in Toronto, but primarily through the Embassy in Ottawa, I had all of the documents that I would need to apply for residency when I got to Ecuador, including all the translations that the Embassy did for me for free. This was all in a file folder, the one that Jessica had been taking to the hospital, apparently if I either died or they needed any identification more than my passport. After I arrived at the hostel and unpacked everything I realized that I did not have my documents folder, something I should have checked before I left, but I had forgotten and I had not packed most of my things into the taxi. I called my driver to see if I had left anything but he said I had not. The only possible thing that could have happened is that Jessica has the folder, but I had no idea why at the time.
Before I had left for Cotacachi I had checked on any rentals available and found three places that didn’t sound bad for $350 a month, so I planned to check them out as soon as I got settled in one of the local hostels, called Hostel Kimbala, owned by two very nice people, Peter and Mauro. It was very clean and only $15 a night, but, of course, I didn’t plan on being there very long. Bad luck was starting to follow me because all three places I wanted to check out were all rented the same day. Every day I looked and looked for anything and let everyone I met know that I was looking for a place to stay. After three weeks at the hostel, paying what was $450 a month and eating every meal in restaurants, which was adding up, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to stay in Cotacachi or not.
Just when I was about to give up I had a conversation with my doctor, Dr. Vega, about not being able to find anywhere to live, and she told me her daughter was moving out of her apartment soon. She asked me if I wanted to go over and see it, which I did. The next day I met her daughter, Kuri, who was also a doctor, at the apartment, which turned out to be wonderful and only two hundred dollars a month! I moved in a couple of days later, on February 15th. Things were finally looking up.
Back when I spoke to the office responsible for one of my pensions, called the GIS or Guaranteed Income Supplement, the lady had my application in front of her. She said that based on my income for 2013 I should receive at least $455 a month, but she also thought that more of my income would be excluded so I could get up to $719 a month because the only income I would have going forward was my pensions. She also reminded me that the GIS would stop as soon as I had been out of the country for six months, which I knew. The payment would normally start in November, before I planned to leave, but their office was sixteen weeks behind in processing so she said it would be deposited around the end of January. I asked if I should not leave Canada until the pension was deposited but she told me no and said to “have a good time in Ecuador”.
The end of January had come and gone but still no deposit into my account of the GIS, so I started contacting Service Canada asking what was going on. When I came to Ecuador I had brought six months worth of my medications, the maximum I was allowed to get. My plan was to use the money from the GIS to file my residency application which, when I got my cedula, would then entitle me to register for the national health care plan and my meds would be covered. The IESS has a three month waiting period before coverage begins but I knew I had enough meds to last, at least that’s what I thought.
Not only was Jessica not responding to my pleas for the two hundred dollars she owed me, but she was also not answering me about my documents, in fact, she refused to even acknowledge that she had them. That, of course, was sending me into a panic thinking my documents were gone, but I just knew she had them. Ana had been trying to help me with Jessica, but they had had an argument back when Jessica thought she was trying to come between us, which she wasn’t, so she wasn’t getting anywhere either. Finally in an email to Ana Jessica finally acknowledged that she had my folder, but, again, no explanation as to why. Ana suggested that Jessica was going to try to ransom my documents in exchange for forgiving the two hundred dollars that Jessica owed me.
Now that I knew Jessica had my documents and I was desperately going to need them I confronted her by email saying that I was coming to her to get my money and my documents. I asked her if I was going to need the police to come with me? She replied telling me she would be in Cotacachi the next day to give me my documents. Nothing about the money she owed, but at this point my documents were more important. Surprise, surprise. She never showed up. After more emails and messages she said she was going to be going to Ibarra the next day and would come to Cotacachi. She actually called me in the afternoon to say she was running late but would be in Cotacachi later in the day. Again, never showed up.
After I told her I’d had enough and was coming the next day to get my documents and my money she said she would send them to me by taxi. My driver showed up with my document folder, no money, of course, and she hadn’t even paid him to come to me! At least I finally had my documents, at least I thought I had them.
The call to Service Canada was the beginning of four months of constantly calling and getting every excuse in the book, plus new requirements like the date of my divorce and copies of my passport showing when I left Canada, none of which was required when I first spoke to the lady back in October. At one point they sent a letter to my old address in Canada advising me that no amounts would be paid until I returned to Canada. In desperation now and months later I contacted my MP back in Canada asking for help. They got the same runaround from the people at GIS and I was getting nowhere fast. I faxed a letter summarizing the nightmare that I had been put through for months and demanded some answers. Finally they said that it had been approved and I would receive my money shortly, but, believe it or not, it was only going to be $155 a month, not the $455 I had been promised! That started a whole new round of arguments but they said they were now factoring in my 2014 income, which had not been reported originally because 2014 had not ended yet, and most amazingly, they now wanted a forecast of my 2015 income!
Now not only was I not getting what was originally promised, but it was months later now and my residency application was in serious jeopardy and my six month visa was about to expire. My residency story is beyond complicated, but at one point, after realizing I would not have the money to hire anyone to help me, I got in touch with an organization called, appropriately, VisaAngels and I sent the documents folder to my facilitator, Kathy, to review. She said everything was fine, but asked me where my translations were? I said they were in the folder but she said that there was nothing, so Jessica stole them for some unknown reason. After I received the paltry amount on the GIS I did travel to Cuenca to meet my facilitator, Kathy, and to go to Guayaquil with her to submit my residency application. Once I was approved I sent her the $350 fee for the government, but asked her to hold off paying it because of issues with my meds.
Before I came to Ecuador and just to have a Plan B I checked on getting my meds in Ecuador. I sent a list to Terri who checked that all my meds were available here and what the costs were. Now when my meds were obviously not going to last until I was on the health care plan I started looking at options. I had been told that I could get an emergency supply before the three month waiting period had expired, but my doctor then told me that was not correct. Other people told me that I might be able to get meds as long as I was registered with IESS, but, of course, that meant I had to have my cedula first. Although it was approved and going to be waiting for me to pick it up in Guayaquil, I had no money to travel down again.
I started checking to see if I could possibly get more meds from Canada. My wonderful pharmacist agreed to give me a three month renewal even though he knew I was out of the country. My friend, Denise, an ex girlfriend, offered to pick them up and ship them to me and I had another friend who owned a courier company and said he would help me with the shipping. After several emails back and forth I learned that the minimum shipping time from Canada to Ecuador was seven days, meaning there was no way to keep my insulin cold for that long. Denise picked up my dry meds and sent them to me by post and they arrived in three weeks, which solved one problem, but I still didn’t know what to do about my insulin.
First I contacted my pharmacist again just to check that he could supply my insulin, but to my considerable surprise he said he could not because he knew I was not in Canada. That was curious because he knew I was not in Canada when he supplied the dry meds so I could only assume that there had been a problem with his management. He did tell me that I would need a renewal of my prescription anyway. The doctor who had written the prescription for my six month supply refused to do a renewal unless she saw me, which was completely absurd. I contacted my family doctor, Dr. Coelho, who had just returned from maternity leave, to see if she could help and she agreed to renew my insulin.
Next challenge was finding a pharmacy so I contacted the pharmacy that I had used for years in London and who delivered everything to my now former apartment. They did not know I was not in Canada but I was worried that they would try to deliver my meds and would discover I didn’t live there anymore. I called the pharmacy and told them I was sick but my friend would pick up my meds for me. Again they offered to deliver them to me, but I insisted that my friend be allowed to pick it up, which she did.
On to the next challenge – getting it to me here in Cotacachi. The original plan was to have Denise pack it in a beer cooler with an ice pack and ship it by overnight courier to my friend, Monique, who was going to be in Montreal August 30th. She would then bring it back with her to California, then ship it overnight to yet another friend, Deb, from Cotacachi who was going to be in New Mexico the end of this month and would bring it back with her.
The first problem with this plan was that Monique had to have some tests and did not know if she was going to be able to travel to Montreal as planned and, in fact found out she could not travel after all. She suggested I check about shipping the insulin from Canada direct to Deb in New Mexico, but that had many challenges on keeping it cold and would also no doubt cost a fortune to ship anyway. By this time, thanks to the falling Canadian dollar, I was borrowing money off my dear friend, Heather, back in Canada just to eat, so paying for shipping was out of the question. My only hope was that the friend back in London who offered to sell the things I had left, and who had sold several hundred dollars worth, would finally send me the money.
Just about that time the people who had responded to my ads back in London and whose emails I had forwarded to Rick Kulak to call them back, started asking me what was going on because they had not heard from him. I sent several emails to him asking what he was doing, where was my money that he hadn’t sent me a dime of and what was he doing with the rest of my stuff? Never heard a word back and it was now clear that he was simply a thief and never intended to send me any money. I contacted his boss, who had been a friend of mine and he said that Rick no longer worked for him and to stop emailing him for help. Not only that, but after I sent my final email to Rick warning him that I had better not find him if he forced me to come back to Canada, my friend reported it to the RCMP and said I would be arrested if I came back. I asked him for the contact information for the RCMP so I could tell them my side of the story, but he refused. Some friend.
So, the Canadian dollar has been killing me, leaving not enough to live on, even in a country like Ecuador with a much lower cost of living. Every chance I’ve had to get extra money has failed, from my former landlady ripping me off to the thief back in Canada ripping me off. My facilitator has my three hundred and fifty dollars for my residency but I don’t see the point in going ahead with it when I can’t afford to go to Guayaquil to get my cedula. My landlord, the doctor, has suggested I move out because I am struggling to pay the rent. All of that is academic when I see no way to get my critical insulin. It all leaves me no other choice than to go back to Canada and leave the country I so love.
Oh, and just as I was finishing this blog about what failed I learn that my Visa Angel, Kathy, is going to rip me off for the three hundred and fifty dollars she had from me for the government fee. She spent the money she was holding for me until I knew if I could get my insulin and stay in Ecuador or not, so she simply invented three trips to Guayaquil she said she made for me, with no explanation as to why. Icing on the cake.