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?

Friday, October 31, 2014

Ecuador Days 6 & 7

October 6 & 7, 2014

Well we've been on the farm a few nights now and WOW were we unprepared for the COLD temps at night! The daytime temps are in the 70's but the nights get into the 40's and there is NO HEATER!!!!!

Mom fail. Wife fail. Self fail. Total epic failure. Minor detail I forgot to inquire about with our host family first. You know that feeling when you are so cold that your teeth chatter and your body starts to shiver in an attempt to warm itself? Thank goodness for lots of blankets and fleece pajamas that we borrowed from our hosts for Reese! Dean and I wore layers of clothes and hoodies to bed! Needless to say this is very new territory for us as we came from south Florida where we sleep half naked with fans on! Poor Reese bear didn't know what to do. She's never slept with blankets before. Body heat is amazing when you feel like your close to having frost bite. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating. I wish I were folks. But I'm not.

We're surviving, just adjusting. Finally after a few somewhat sleepless nights (I never sleep well in a new place and I was freezing) we're getting acclimated and things aren't so bad. We actually got good sleep last night! During the day Reese and I are mostly with Lindsay and Gus (their 11 month old adorable son) while Dean works on the farm with Shawn. We rotate cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner and washing the dishes after each meal (dishwashers are common here). I've also done some light housework like sweeping, wiping, organizing, etc. while little one allows me. Lindsay and I enjoy conversations about motherhood, Ecuador living, babies and other wonderful fluffy stuff.

Today Lindsay taught me how to make corn tortillas! I was surprised that I liked them so much! Reese and I also wandered the farm to find daddy to see what he was doing. Today he worked on the pig enclosure. The new baby piglets were small enough to escape the wide gaps in the existing fencing so Dean attached chicken wire to it. He's enjoying his manual labor! And I enjoyed watching him sweat and get a little dirty. :)

Nap time was a bit of a struggle today. But I can't blame her. We've been on the move for several days now AND we all caught colds (was it the airports or the climate change - I'll never know!) which makes things even more challenging when she tries to sleep. You know what though? There's no reason to stress or worry about it. I just want baby girl to be comfortable and I do what I need to do around her.

So here at the farm they raise pigs for butchering. They process the meat from start to finish. They warned us in advance that we needed to be okay with the entire process (including killing). Wahhhh poor piggy! Gimme bacon. Lol. This evening the guys cut and packaged some previously butchered meats. It's really an interesting process to watch. They cut, trim, weigh, package and seal the meats in order to sell them. Talk about home grown!

Tonight we had a delicious Mexican dinner of stuffed peppers compliments of Lindsay and Shawn.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Ecuador: What is Workaway?

As you read this blog and my recents posts about our current life in Ecuador you may be wondering how in the world we ended up in Ecuador and why.

Most of you know that Dean and I love traveling. We met traveling in college on Semester at Sea and we've continued our travels through our relationship and marriage. We've been to over 30 countries together and don't plan to stop! But now we are a family now and it isn't quite as easy to just take off anytime anywhere. There's a financial piece too. How do we afford it? What about jobs? That part will be a separate post so stay tuned.

We first decided that we wanted to spend a few months in Ecuador and we were brainstorming ideas about how we could make it happen. We both love to research and with the internet at our fingertips we began a zillion searches. That's when I happened upon the website It's a website that connects hosts with volunteers all over the world. The hosts are looking for volunteer help for anything from A to Z and volunteers give 20-25 hours a week of their time in exchange for room and board! Say what?! Aside from flights, room and board is usually your BIGGEST expense while traveling! This is HUGE! And you can literally find anything you can imagine to do...anywhere! I'm not joking guys, check out the website!

Anyway we loved the idea of doing this for a portion of our trip. After lots of searching and communicating with potential hosts, we arranged to stay with a family on their farm outside of Quito. They raise pigs & chickens, have 7 dogs, and a son turning 1. They are from the US but have been living in Ecuador for the last 6 years. As we are traveling as a family, we agreed that I may not be able to 'work' the full hours so we were going to chip in a bit for food costs. Still an amazing deal for a unique traveling and volunteering experience.

I can't recommend the experience highly enough. More posts to come on our 10 day Workaway experience including what we did, what we ate, our accommodations, etc.

Ecuador Day 3

October 3, 2014

- today we leave Quito and head to the farm about 3 hours away
- We went to get breakfast and had the same as yesterday along with the friendly service
- also met a gentlemen that items a lodge on an island of Ecuador in the Amazon (whaaat)
- enjoyed conversations with him about Ecuador and the world and his activists pursuits
- after breakfast we walked around the corner to the super maxi (grocery store basically) to grab a few things like wipes, shampoo and conditioner, 2 wash cloths to have on the farm
- We walked back and packed up our things as we arranged a pickup at 11am
- at 11am no one arrived
- at 11:45 we called Shawn at the farm to find out if there was an issue
- turns out traffic was pretty bad but Washington arrived at 12pm
- We picked our things into his brand new Kia van and loaded Reese into her car seat
- I ride shot gun bc I get car sick and a 3 hr ride is no joke!

Alas we arrive to the farm! We're greeted with their 7 dogs and these adorable smiles :)

And this my friends was our humble abode for 10 days

Monday, October 27, 2014

Ecuador Day 2

October 2, 2014

I didn't get the best nights sleep in our cramped bed but we all awoke about 7:30 am ready to start the day. The hotel provides breakfast from 7-10 am and that's exactly where we headed first. It's actually a full restaurant too! This hotel is just very unique and cute and I love it. It has curved walls, beautiful teal doors and windows, stained glass, ivey growing beautifully up the outside walls, a quaint courtyard with flowers and stone pathways and it's completely fenced which is perfect for our Reese bear!

Breakfast was made to order and we had scrambled eggs, sunny side up eggs, yogurt, granola, banana, watermelon and coffee. It was perfect and delicious. The dishware is beautiful clay. Our server is so so nice and accommodating to our Spanish level. And she loves Reese (I mean who doesn't, but still) she helped us order our meal in Spanish and kept telling Dean how good his Spanish is. We're really trying to immerse ourselves in the language to learn better. He knows way more than I do but I'm excited to learn! After our delicious, complimentary, meal we played inside and out while setting up wifi calling on my phone to reach out to our families. It was great to be able to reach them so easily and they loved hearing from us. Back to the room for a tissue and snack and Reese is actually ready for a nap. While she snoozes I write this and Dean is planning our next step. Bus tour? Walking tour? Wandering? Who knows! Our day in Quito wasn't planned in advance (which is typical for us) so we're figuring it out now.

The weather is beautiful. Blue sky with a few small clouds. Lows are in the 40's and highs in the 70's. The cooler temps actually feel great! Not even cold just fresh and brisk. Today we're wearing jeans with sneakers and zip up hoodies. It's perfect.
Baby girl had a great nap and when she woke up we ventured out on foot to find lunch and look into the double decker bus tour. There are plenty of places to eat here that's for sure! We decided a small cafe with indoor and outdoor seating looked good. It had cute little wooden tables with paper placemats and chalk to draw/color with. Perfect for Reese! We first sat inside then realized outside was the best. Great view of the mountains and the street! Why not?! I had the sopa to start. It was the best I've ever had! Potatoe with avocado and cheese. We all loved it, Reese included. My meal was grilled chicken with rice, vegetables and small salad. Overall it was tasty and hit the spot but the chicken was dry. Bummer! Dean also had a similar dish but called chicken salad. His was also a bit dry. I had cappuccino too which was amazing. Reese enjoyed climbing the furniture, writing with the chalk, and roaming close by with us between bites of food. Our server here was also extremely nice and helpful.

The remainder of the day was filled with sightseeing, eating, walking and lots of bus rides. Oh and did I mention eating?! We're pretty good at that sport. It went a little something like this: 
- found park to sit, relax and look at the map at to find the double decker bus stops
- found a wonderful pastry shop for a delicious sweet treat
- got on bus tour which was 3 hour tour around the city showcasing the most beautiful and historical places
- Reese did fantastic in the ergo! Even napped a while on the tour
- the city of Quito is huge and gorgeous
- We stopped and got off at the virgin statue that had a 360 degree view of the city and surrounding mountains and volcanoes

- We paid about 20 cents per person to walk up into the statue and get the highest view possible
- bus tour was $12 pp (Reese was free)
- the tour ended at the largest park in the city
- We asked a local police officer the best way to get back to our hotel and she said to take the bus
- the bus ride was also about 20 cents per person
- We got on the wrong bus first but people were helpful and told us how to get on the correct one (thank gosh for dean's Spanish!)
- 15 min bus ride and we got off
- it was dark outside by now and I wasn't sure where to go from here so I started getting nervous because it was also getting cold for Reese
- We stopped in McDonald's to sit and look at our map & hotel was across the road!

Pheeew! Home sweet home (away from home) at last! Today was long and busy but very worth it. 

Ecuador Bound!

October 1, 2014

Yesterday we made the journey from Florida to Quito. If I could sum it up in one word it would be flawless. We couldn't have asked for it to go any better! We left the house at about noon and went to Miami airport. Everything went smooth and we grabbed a bite to eat before we boarded. We let Reese roam and run and burn some energy in the uncrowded gate we were waiting in. The flight into Atlanta was quick and easy. She slept a little bit of the way and when she didn't we snacked, played on the phone, and looked out the window. We arrived in Atlanta right on time and had precisely one hour until our next flight departed. (Which isn't very long for an international flight!) We had to change terminals (from domestic to international) and thankfully the Atlanta airport makes this quick and easy with the fast train and lots of good signage. We had a restroom break and grabbed a snack for the fight and BOOM it was already time to board. I was a little nervous because this would be the longest flight with Reese at 5 hours. And that's after a 2 hour flight already. When we boarded we asked if the fight was full and were told it was actually OVER sold. Ugh. Bad news. Momma started to get a little nervous!

But low and behold, several people didn't board and we were able to move to the first row with lots of extra space! What what! Thank you God! This made a world of difference while traveling with an 18 month old. After takeoff, that space became Reese's play area. For 3 hours she enjoyed playing with her dolls, rolling a ball, blowing bubbles, reading books, chatting with friendly passengers and climbing in and out of the seats. Then we stretched out across the row of three seats and baby girl slept the final 2 hours. I watched an episode of shark tank and another mindless sitcom. I couldn't believe how easy it was! And the sunset from above the clouds is beyond mind blowing. Pinks, oranges and purples for as far as the eye could see. Before we knew it we were landing in Quito!

The Quito airport is beautiful and easy to navigate. And customs was quick and easy. (After we spent about a half hour filling out the customs forms) We grabbed a taxi to bring us to the hotel which is about a 40 min ride away. Baby girl was awake and a bit crabby but still a champ. We arrived at the hotel about midnight Ecuador time which is 1 am home time. We'd been traveling about 12+ hours total so we were tired but mostly excited that we're really here! The hotel is adorable. Our room is very cozy (okay, it's a bit tight) but still perfect and has more than what we need. We opted to stay at a more unique place rather than the typical American style hotel. Finally by 1:30 am we crawled into the full size (we thought it was a queen) bed and drifted off. Good night Quito! We can't wait to see you in the daylight tomorrow. :)