Friday, August 12, 2011

some more thoughts about packing/shipping...and another week in a new continent

If you move to Cuenca, you may notice several things you used to take for granted are not on the grocery shelves.  It is not a BIG deal for most people.  After all, Cuenca has friendly people, pleasant weather, luscious tropical fruits at inexpensive prices, beauty all around us and many of the conveniences we were used to, as well as some fantastic new experiences.

I have a few more suggestions to help you think about what you may want to pack, if you are bringing a container or buying some space on someone else's container or shipping goods in any way.  We had the good fortune to rent a little space on another couple's container.  I was very occupied with what few household goods to ship.  I am glad for all the things I DID bring but I wish I had packed a couple more boxes.   I am enjoying life here every day so don't get me wrong. Its not a big deal.  Some of it is getting  used to living in another culture with the new lifestyle of retirement.

It reminds me a bit of when I moved from Berkeley, CA to Washington D.C. many years ago.  I could not find a brand of yogurt I favored.  I needed to learn which seasonings to buy because there were different regional choices .   Back then, there were no chain stores so it was a bit of an adjustment to find the products I was used to on the West Coast.

So let's imagine that I had 2 large moving boxes to fill up with some things I'd like to have now, even though I can live very well without them. 2 new boxes of baking soda, plenty of good quality tupperware type of items - the ones here are cheaply made and incredibly expensive. Lots of printer paper - the paper made here does not fit American printers.  A powerful blender. Any small appliances or electronics that you think you may need will be less expensive in the US and possibly better quality or the very same brands.  Toaster, mixer, food processor, microwave are all considerations. Also DVD player if room, (you can get most DVDs here but if you already own favorites, bring them). Your fav reference books.  I gave away about 20 cook books and miss a couple of those greatly. Remember, although books are very heavy, buying books here in English is a little complicated.  There is no Barnes & Nobel down the street! A Kindle or similar reading device allows you to have books without the weight and you can easily add books here.

More warm clothes for chilly evenings and early mornings.  I gave away 5 beautiful 100% alpaca sweaters  of my husband's and mine because I could not imagine we would need them here. Duh! Pack warm pajamas for cold evenings. Consider an electric blanket - it is cheaper to run than the room heaters they sell here. By 8 am it is warming up most days so it is the darkest hours of night that may challenge you regarding temperature. Also pack plenty of good quality towels and linens (bath, bed, kitchen).  They do not seem much cheaper in price here but it is hard to find the quality you are used to in the US. If you have favorite shampoo, other personal products, toss a bunch of those in because you will run into that inflation for imported products, even if they do have the product you want here. Well I think the two boxes are getting full.

A total aside:  yesterday my grandson in Oregon turned 3.  We had a wonderful visit on Skype.  Happy Birthday BRS

An aside about shopping here:
 I just located a place to buy rice noodles so that is great. I was down to my last 6 oz of rice noodles brought from the US.  We really like them with stir fry. There is good pizza here to suit all sorts of tastes. I plan to make some gluten free pizza crust soon.  Grinding whole brown rice in a little coffee grinder is working for now.  But I will probably burn it out soon.  I tried almonds and it got pretty hot.  Either the almonds were moist or they are naturally oily and gummed it up a bit.  still it worked to make some flour for cookies. I'm researching powerful grinders - boy, they get expensive quickly! But it would make life easier and can be amortized over several years.

I'm about to break down and ask a friend to ship me some Nestles Toll House chocolate chips. I still have half a an alcoholic looking at that half bottle of vodka!   What an obsession I have going. I sometimes go months without eating chocolate but right now is not one of those times.  Generally, I'd rather skip dessert if I cannot eat toll house choc chips cookies. I pass on chocolate that is not dark and semi-sweet. We found a couple of good, responsibly grown and produced Ecuadorian chocolates but they do not come in chip form, as I've mentioned before. It is good eating chocolate - very healthy for that one bite you are supposed to have per day. But too expensive, even here where it is grown and produced, to put in cookies. So Nestle Toll House remains my favorite.

We joined a service here that ships things from a Miami address to Ecuador.  So I can order something on Amazon, for instance, have it shipped to this Miami address, they open it, clear it for drugs and contraband, etc, it cannot be over 8 lbs and then charge us $5 per pound additional shipping and send it on to us.  It takes about 2 more weeks from Miami to Cuenca but has worked great on a couple of things we tried. For us, it is to be used for important needs only due to that extra shipping plus we get charged Florida tax on the purchase.  Gets us coming and going but then we get the item that seemed important/needed so it is worth it in some cases.

Social front:
We have met some lovely expats who are quite interesting and have some things in common with us.  Len is kind of a hero to a guy here who loves anything Apple = IPhone, IPod, IPad 2 so those two talk on a similar geek plane. We met up with them 2-3 times this week. Meeting people is helpful and easier than I had imagined, easier than when I was in Portland because peopled live so far away and did not have much time.  Being retired has great advantages!  And Cuenca is 400,000 people but in a basin, much less spread out than Portland, OR so things seem closer and more accessible in ways. The ex-pat community is smaller than some inflated numbers indicate. Probably not over 1000 English speaking expats but no one has hard numbers. Even the US Consulate representative - she estimated only 400 US expats here in Cuenca but many point out that does not include those of us who are awaiting residency status, nor does it include those who are here illegally.

 We hosted an Espanol-speaking card party this week.  Ironically we never got to cards but we spoke Spanish all evening with 3 women who are the most generous, welcoming Cuencanas.  I prepared a great dinner of Italian soup, antipasto platter, made a new kind of coleslaw with the great cabbage they grow locally. I also made cobbler from Ecuadorian mora - black berries.  The berries looked gorgeous but were quite sour.  R. told me they are usually used in juice but I had the crust made, waiting, the oven hot and my mind set on cobbler.  I added more sugar and some canned peaches and baked it for an hour. With a dollop of whipped cream, it was delicious.  The dinner turned out really well and the company was excellent. Thank you R for the tip about sour mora!

Oh, I have to praise the whipping cream here.  It is divine! Like the silky, rich cream I recall from my youth on a farm in Idaho.  My mom used to make the most fabulous butter.  Sometimes she shaped it into roses, which I doubt we 4 kids appreciated. Hey - I do now, Mom. That butter was a work of art!
A favorite colonial building facing Parque Calderon, the city center.

Not knowing Spanish is my biggest issue.  I went out each day this past week, to shops to a meeting, to wander around looking at the beauty and unique scenes that make up Cuenca, and tried speaking Espanol as much as possible.

Last week I ordered some curtains for my sewing room - you may have read that in my blog.  Riding in the taxi for about 2 miles in total silence because the seamstress/decorator did not speak a word of Eng and I did not have enough Espanol to get a whole sentence going.  Interesting. Kind of uncomfortable but I lived.  I'm so used to chatting.  But once we arrived at her studio, she and I got the basics covered and I LOVED the textile place where we got the curtain material.

This week she came to hang the curtains.  They are lovely. I am really pleased with them.  Now I'm enjoying the thought of painted walls so I'm browsing the Sherwin-Williams web site.  You can upload a photo of your own room and then try out a combination of paints on the walls. It is really fun!  Here is a photo of the room.  Remember, it is a work in progress. The light through the curtains  made the walls look spotty, they really are a solid color.

The walls are a light cream now.
One wall will be an accent wall and the rest will be a fairly light but not too neutral color.
 Selecting colors is 60% of the fun of painting a room for me.

Now back to the issue of what to bring:

If you have special dietary needs, check with the shipping company to see if unopened boxes and cans of food can be shipped in a container.  If it can be, load up on the products you need/like and bring them. Include a note in large font taped securely on the top of the food box written in Spanish and English that explains your food sensitivity and why you are bringing these foods.

I brought some food in this way, not in the container but packed in a suitcase with a bilingual note, and had no problem at customs or with security.     GREAT TIP: You can purchase an airline approved foot locker on for about $45, free shipping to a US address. A former airline pilot who is living here told us about that. The foot locker can be used as a suitcase/checked baggage on future flights.  It would help keep your food secure while in the container and then could be used on flights back to visit the US, etc. I worried, perhaps unnecessarily about varmints on a ship being attracted to the container if it had foodstuffs.  But your shipping company will have advice about that.

It is helpful to know that there are airline approved foot lockers you can check like a bag, it must meet the weight and size limits,  it counts as one of your checked bags.  But it holds a lot.  Just remember it cannot be over 50 lbs.  Otherwise, pack that puppy to the brim!

A brief aside about food issues:

Ecuador has wonderful coconut that is not sweetened. Its dried and full of natural flavor, shredded very fine but long shreds -  it is terrific.  I used to love Baker's coconut but this healthier coconut is great.  Anyway, I'm quite sure I could beat the heck out of it in the blender and it would be like the coconut flour I have been unable to locate anywhere in Cuenca... so thanks to Lynette in Oregon for another idea. "Blenderize" the dried coconut.

I have looked at Vitamix over the years and always nearly pass out at the cost. A reader of the blog suggested a high quality grain grinder so I checked out the brands that are rated highly for quality of grinding and durability - and again nearly passed out in a heap at the cost.  But maybe I'll save toward one of these.  I know that Vitamix would do juices nicely with pulp and skin of some. However, we are doing fine making smoothies with the blender we bought here.  And it is the grains and nuts I need help with for eating gluten free.

So back to what to bring in the container or boxes you may ship? That is your tough decision to make. Others have blogged about the difficult choices of what to pack and what must find a new home.  A moving example is Nancy of nancynrich writing about her camel box - does it go?  does it stay?Those tough decisions are part of the wrenching yet exciting decisions you face if you are launching a new adventure.

Regarding packing your valued objects, I bought almost no packing material because it worked so well to wrap things in my fabric stash, towels, sheets, etc. We brought basics by renting space on someone else's container, as I mentioned.  We had about 10 boxes and a few household goods. Amazingly, everything arrived with only one casualty - my office chair had an important piece broken.  But the chair was 10 yr old and can be replaced.

All the china, art objects, paintings, computer equipment, etc arrived in perfect condition - just as I had packed it.  If you sew and are coming to Cuenca, pack your things in fabric.  It gets your fabric here and protects your belongings from breakage at the same time. I lined boxes with bath towels and small rugs, cushioning the china and other delicate objects inside that protective cover. When I packed pans and pots, I added Tupper-ware type stuff to keep the box as light as possible.  I lined the sides with cookie sheets and flat objects, only wrapping things with a fragile component, such as a small handle on a pan.  I wrapped those items with kitchen towels.

Shipping a container is risky and expensive.  Sharing a container with someone else is a good solution for some. Just as some people elect to have a moving company pack their goods, others elect to come with just 4 suitcases and leave all the rest for a brand new start.  These are personal decisions and quite overwhelming at times. You will sort out what is right for you and what works for your budget and time-line.

So, I hope this is helpful to some of you reading this who are contemplating coming to Cuenca.  It gives you a peek into one person's process.

Have a terrific weekend - enjoy each day, wherever you are in your life journey.


  1. Well, now I know that when I come for a long visit in October, I should bring Nestles' semi sweet chocolate chips in order to be very popular with my new friends! Enjoying your posts. Let me know if there is anything I can bring for you.

  2. Sharon--
    I love this receipe from gluten-free gobsmacked.

    I use a regular GF flour blend and put the cookie balls on wax paper to freeze. Once frozen I transfer the balls to a freezer bag. Then I have a big bag of cookie balls and can bake one or two cookies fresh whenever I am in the mood (which is pretty often it turns out).

    I guess the frozen cookie ball idea would work with any chocolate chip recipe---not sure why it took me half a century to find/learn it.

    Best price for 4.5 lb bags of toll house chips is around $18 shipped. With your mailing service, I guess you would add $25. $43 for chocolate chips does induce palpitations . . .


  3. Vitamix has a special canister for grinding flours. It is an additional cost but uses the same base as the blender canister s you buy the vitamix (Costco runs specials 2-3 times a year)and the extra canister. And don't forget about the incredible, healthy soups you can make in minutes.

  4. We are doing low carb, what I do for almond flour is take slivered almonds which I buy at a repostería (bakery supply) or Costco and pulse them in the blender. You have to be careful not to blend them because you can end up with almond paste. I have blanched whole almonds and done the same with them, but slivered seems to go faster. I also put dried coconut in the blender to make instant coconut milk, so that should work for your coconut flour too. Just don't run it too long. I have some little jars that I bought to fit my blender so I don't need to use the big container. I found that a coffee/spice grinder doesn't have a good enough motor to make almond flour.