Saturday, December 13, 2014

Settled In - Puerto Cayo, Ecuador

We've been in Ecuador for over two months now and specifically in Puerto Cayo for a 8 weeks. We're now at the point where things are working on auto pilot sort of. We know where to find everything we need. We know how to get around with the bus system. We've met lots of people nearby (both Americans and Ecuadorians). It feels like we're actually living here and not just vacationing. The days are normal & relaxed.
Dean and I find ourselves often talking about the simplicity of life here. Most people are happy just 'being'. The streets aren't bustling and busy & traffic is non existent. The typical family here has a small business at the front of the home with the living quarters at the back. Tiendas and restaurants are common. Others are fishermen that catch daily and sell their catch to restaurants, locals or gringos (us).
The town we're living in is very small. It's mostly considered a vacation spot and the majority of homes are vacation homes. Right now is low season. High season starts toward the end of November and runs through April. This is when we're told that things get busier. For now we're enjoying our little piece of paradise. :)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Our Visit To The Relaxing Vibrant Surf Town Of Montanita, Ecuador

It was a quick 1.5 hour bus ride from Puerto Cayo. It cost us $6. And we're in the surf town of Montanita, Ecuador. We've only booked a one night stay here as we were told this is a big party town and one night is enough but we're not sure...immediately after stepping off the bus, we're in love.
Locals and gringos pepper the streets. Restaurants and shops abound. Mexican, Italian, Mediterranean, oh my! Friendly smiles and others speaking English...bakeries, fro-yo, tattoo parlors and surf shops a plenty. Hotels and hostels, each one unique to the next. Colorful and clean. We are loving the vibe in this seaside town. It took us all of two minutes to see the sign for our hotel off the main street near the bus stop. The hotel owner, Robby, meets us with smiles and English. He's from California and has built one incredible hotel here (Montanita Estates). He immediately takes to Reese and tells us he has a son close to her age. Right then he also asks his staff if the 3 bedroom villa is available as it has a full kitchen and we're welcome to it! (Ummmm that room goes for $225 a night...which is really about $800+ US equivalent and he was just going to give it to us) We graciously and politely told him the room we booked would be perfect because it had a king bed while the others have a queen. But whoa, how nice is this guy already?!
We check out our room which is spectacular and very luxurious before walking back over to the center of it all.
Earlier I saw someone eating pizza which just sounded amazing so we set out to find it. And we did and it was fan-freaking-tastic. We got the pizza, salad & lasagna combo for $12. It was one of the best meals we've had in a while. I love seafood but we've been eating it everyday and I was happy to have this Italian comfort food. Along the way we've already talked with a few people, both locals and foreigners that are super duper nice. Of course Dean already made plans to take surfing lessons with one guy.
And I'm getting a massage tomorrow AND a mani/pedi! Y'all, this is huge right now! I couldn't tell you the last time I saw these places! I seriously might not sleep tonight!
We strolled along the beach soaking up the sun, digging our toes in the sand and watching the surfers ride the waves. We wandered the little streets taking in the enormous amount of restaurants and local artisan shops. Everything is unique. No chain stores or fast food joints here.
Lots of guys have long hair, dreadlocks and/or tattoos and are carrying a surf board. We kind of blend in. I love it! And there's so many families with kids!
We walked back to our hotel for a dip in the hot tub before retiring to our room to put baby girl to bed. We're already talking about staying here longer than first planned...I REALLY hope we do...

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

So how exactly did we make Ecuador a reality?

Several people have asked and I've actually wanted to share the details of how this trip/adventure/family sabbatical all came to be. I need to share some back story too so this may get a bit lengthy!

First and foremost something like this requires an open mind. And you must WANT to do it. It's not something I suggest if your hearts not in it. Okay so beyond that, what really does it take?

Dean and I have traveled to many places (we met on Semester at Sea where we lived on a ship for 3 months and traveled to 13 countries while taking college classes) and have always talked about continuing our travels when we had kids. So when we had Reese we talked about what exactly we would do. Where? When? How long? HOW? For me it was important that we not leave the country until she was at least one year. Why? I wanted her to get a good start on building her natural immune system and I wanted the first year near our families and friends. Secondly, I didn't want to go TOO far from home. At one point we thought about going back to Thailand for a while because we loved it there but with Reese it is just too far from home (18ish hour flight) and we don't speak any Thai. So the conversations continued over time. Then we started researching.

We also talked about how we could do it financially. We aren't rich nor do we have a deep savings account. We would have to plan ahead enough to have the money we would need before we go.
The financial piece played a big role in us landing in Ecuador. While researching, Ecuador kept coming up as having a low cost of living while having great weather and being beautiful! And it's not far from home (4 or 5 hour flight to Atlanta or Miami), Dean speaks decent Spanish and the currency is the USD.

Basically we researched where we wanted to go and started number crunching to see how much money we could put aside and save before we went. We started to like the idea of Ecuador so we dug further into the logistics of living there. How much are furnished apartments? Where should we live? As we began digging deeper we were taking notes. We created an Ecuador cost of living spreadsheet (I'll share that soon) to give us an idea of how much we would need per month. Then based on how much money we could save, we would determine how long we could be here before returning to the 'real world'.

Before I go further let's talk more about money. My family has one income which is Dean's job. For the past year he has been working with his dad and together they run a software business. The business is still in its infancy. Our income covers our bills nicely and we live a modest lifestyle. But it's basically paycheck to paycheck. If you would like more specific details about this please send me an email.

So how did we save for our trip?
We reduced our ongoing bills as much as possible! Last year before Reese was born we paid off both of our cars while we had two incomes, we rented out our house and moved into a cheaper apartment. These big changes freed up some cash to start putting away. These are very substantial changes that some may not make but for us it was well worth it.

Shortly before our departure we sold our cars. This was a big chunk of change for our trip. But obviously we planned to return and would need cars again so we put some of the money in savings to cover about of year of payments when we return as we will have to adjust to having car payments again. We also moved out of our apartment and put our belongings in storage. Once our year lease was up we went month to month until our plans were finalized.
We sold a few big items like our sectional sofa and big screen TV to save the money and free up space in our storage unit. We sold some smaller things too that we really just didn't need or use anymore.

We also don't calculate the two 'extra' paychecks per year into our budget. What I mean is Dean gets paid biweekly which turns out to be 26 paychecks per year. Two months out of the year he gets 3 paychecks (as does anyone that gets biweekly pay). We make our budget to only include the 2 paychecks per month. Therefore we saved the two 'extra' paychecks for this trip. Usually those go toward our our family cruises/vacations etc.

We also received a security deposit refund from our apartment. Since we aren't moving into another apartment right away we decided to use this as well to fund our trip.

If you receive a tax refund that's also a great way to save some money.

Once our belongings were in storage and we moved out of our apartment there were a few weeks before leaving to come to Ecuador so we stayed with family to save a little more while Dean still worked full time. This actually worked out great as we got to spend good quality time with our families before taking off.

We estimated the total of what we could save and compared that to the estimated monthly cost of living and travel expenses to Ecuador. We would have roughly enough for 3 months.
We then discussed timing. When should we go? Our apartment lease recently ended and we went month to month which gave us some flexibility. We had travel plans in September already, Dean was going to south Africa with family for two weeks and Reese and I were going to GA while he was gone. Also in the mix was the fact that Deans sister is pregnant and due in early February so we want to to be back around for that. So we did the date crunching...and made our departure date for October 1, 2014. Our return date is December 24, 2014.

Our total budget for the 3 month trip is approximately $8500.

I'd love to hear your thoughts...was this helpful to you? Would you like to do something similar? Any questions? Please ask! I love to hear from everyone that is reading.

Coming soon....
What about Deans job? Did he quit or is he still working? How do you just leave like that?