A Funny Thing Happened in the Office of Immigration

March 12, 2013

Dear Fund Your Life Overseas Reader,

It isn’t vital that you speak Spanish when you live or work or start a business in Latin America. You can get by without it.

But when you’re faced with the type of situation Steve endured in Ecuador, it sure does help if you speak some of the local language…

Rob Carry

Editor in Chief, Fund Your Life Overseas

P.S. Learning Spanish doesn’t have to be a long, dull process. Cut down on the hard work with this simple, 20-minute strategy.

IL Masthead

* * *

Of Course You Don’t Have to Speak Spanish:

But Why Wouldn’t You?

By Steve Watkins

It was an hour-long drive to the nearest Office of Immigration. Long enough to imagine the worst of scenarios as we headed north to extend our Ecuador visas. A meeting like this needs to go smoothly—no hiccups. But we were still very much in the process of learning to speak Spanish.

Once we arrived we checked in, took a number, and then spent the 45-minute wait running over all the potential language barrier possibilities.

“Numero cuarenta y siete,” called the receptionist. 47. We were up to bat. I wiped my brow and proceeded down the corridor as various verbs, prepositions and conjunctions ran through my mind.

“Gina, mi Espanol es no perfecto,” I told our case worker before we kicked off. I was hoping to score a few points for being a modest gringo. “No problem,” she responded in her native tongue.

From there we proceeded to navigate the process fairly smoothly. We completed the forms, handed over the documentation…it was all going great. Until it came to a question about my occupation.

“What is your profesión?” asked Gina in Spanish. I searched for the word in my mind so she would understand that I’m a writer.

“Escritor,” I responded.

A moment passed. She seemed surprised and almost more respectful.

“Predicador?” She loudly repeated what she thought she heard me say…loud enough for the entire office to hear.

I looked at my wife, Dana, and she looked at me. “She thinks you’re a preacher,” Dana said.

“Not a preacher, a writer!” I said, “but I suppose I preach a lot when I write.” Everyone in the immigration office burst into laughter. Any sense of nervousness or apprehension vanished, we wrapped up the process and we were out of there within minutes.

It’s the question I’m most often asked by exploring expats: “Do I have to know Spanish to live in Latin America?”

And my response 100% of the time is: No, you don’t have to…but you really should.

Imagine going to your favorite restaurant on a Friday night and ordering a succulent dish. You’ve been anticipating this all week, and finally the waiter places the steamy, savory platter before you.

But wait. All you can do is smell it. No tasting allowed.

For me, that’s the equivalent of not knowing Spanish in Latin America. Why would you pursue half an experience when with just a little effort, you can have the whole empanada?

I’m a blue-eyed, fair-skinned American whose appearance screams “gringo,” the moment I walk into a room. No one in Ecuador expects perfect Spanish from me, but I know they respect me for making the effort.

-30-

After 85 Days in Ecuador: 10 Things I Can Say

“No one ever became poor from giving.”

~ Anne Frank

Today,  Dana and I log our 85th day in Ecuador. The next three weeks will be a time of busy preparation and list checking before returning to the United States.

Anne Frank

Anne Frank

Today, we waded through the Ecuadorian bureaucracy of a successful visa extension, and during the hourlong drive home I reflected on a few things.

These are some things I’ve learned, come to understand, or believe even more because of our time here.

1. I don’t care what anyone says, … generally, most people in the world are good. I said most!

2. There’s a great irony in the notion that we spend a lifetime learning, and yet I’ve discovered that oftentimes, and in many different situations, the best attitude I can have is to be present in the moment, forgetting everything I ever thought I knew.

3. As much as I detest labels, on the liberal-conservative, left-right spectrum, I’m probably more of a leftist-liberal than ever, and for that, I make no apology. Three months in a third-world country causes me to believe even more that government’s role is to provide:

  •  creative reinvestment and philanthropic scenarios for the wealthy;
  • stability for the middle class;
  • opportunity, a safety net and support system for the poor.

4. Church is not a place you go, but rather an attitude you embrace, and it’s found wherever you are at a given moment in time.

5. The American educational system should require that students be at least bilingual, and preferably have fluency in even more than two languages.

6. Charity, and a charitable spirit, is a fine quality in a man or woman.

7. A smile, and a friendly pat on the back, speaks volumes between those who otherwise may not communicate so well. And between those who do, for that matter.

8. Fear absolutely can be eliminated from your life.

9. As much as I love to stand up for what I believe is right, it’s not necessarily always the best thing to do. Oftentimes, yes, Always, no. It’s tough.

10. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard someone use the cliché’, “it changed my life,” after an extended trip abroad, I’d be rich. I’ve always hated that cliché’. And the interesting thing about this time in Ecuador, well, of course, it’s changed my life.

-30-

Saturday in Jipijapa

rainy season in ecuador

"The more a man reads, the more he realizes how much he doesn't know."

“The more a man reads, the more he realizes how much he doesn’t know.”

Dana Watkins in Ecuador

A small roadside waterfall.

A small roadside waterfall.

As I was climbing to the top of a hill for a shot of the jungle, these guys gave me a shout-out.

As I was climbing to the top of a hill for a shot of the jungle, these guys gave me a shout-out.

The strawberries here are delicious.

The strawberries here are delicious.

living in ecuador

Juan xxxiii movement

When a gringo walks down the street with a Nikon around his neck, everybody wants their photo taken. I obliged this local banana and plantain entrepreneur.

When a gringo walks down the street with a Nikon around his neck, everybody wants their photo taken. I obliged this local banana and plantain entrepreneur.

Carnival in Ecuador

The world stops when it’s Carnival in Ecuador.

It’s yet another time when nationals from all across the country descend on the coast for the four-day holiday, and many of them come to Puerto Cayo. It’s probably the busiest I’ve seen this town since our arrival.

And it is major, big-time hot here today.

Umbrellas everywhere. Why? Because on a sunny day like today at this latitude, 30 minutes in the sun can  send a fair-skinned gringo to the hospital.

Umbrellas everywhere. Why? Because on a sunny day like today at this latitude, 30 minutes in the sun can send a fair-skinned gringo to the hospital.

Carnival in Ecuador

We traded some snacks with these three young girls who were catching a little shade near our beach spot. Here's the thing about shade and shadows on the equator. From 11 a.m. to 1 or 2, shade is almost non-existent because the sun is directly overhead.

We traded some snacks with these three young girls who were catching a little shade near our beach spot. Here’s the thing about shade and shadows on the equator. From 11 a.m. to 1 or 2, shade is almost non-existent because the sun is directly overhead.

A new buddy who was kind enough to share a little lunch with me.

A new buddy who was kind enough to share a little lunch with me.

Carnival in Ecuador

This may not be so impressive to you, but when a stage like this goes up on the beach in Puerto Cayo, a serious (and very loud)  party is only hours away. Ecuadorians take their party music very seriously.

This may not be so impressive to you, but when a stage like this goes up on the beach in Puerto Cayo, a serious (and very loud) party is only hours away. Ecuadorians take their party music very seriously.

Carnival is a time when it's pretty much okay for young children to pull pranks... water guns, water balloons, etc. The diablitos (little devils) also purchase this colored foam to spray on unsuspecting victims.

Carnival is a time when it’s pretty much okay for young children to pull pranks… water guns, water balloons, etc. The diablitos (little devils) also purchase this colored foam to spray on unsuspecting victims.

Biggest hat on the beach.

Biggest hat on the beach.

Snowcones for 50 centavos. It always makes me think of the Tropical Sno stand in our home town where we often pay $5.

Snowcones for 50 centavos. It always makes me think of the Tropical Sno stand in our home town where we often pay $5.

Again, the importance of shade cannot be overstated, even if you're on the move.

Again, the importance of shade cannot be overstated, even if you’re on the move.

Our local restaurants are packed.

Our local restaurants are packed.

Road Signs of Ecuador

It’s a 20-mile drive from our home to the nearest “major town” in the Manabi province. And from our back door to Jipijapa we go from sea level to 2,500 feet in just a few miles.

I recently took note of the various road signs on this drive and how interesting they are. It’s an interesting commute….

Yes, the inclines are this steep.

Yes, the inclines are this steep.

Puerto Cayo Ecuador

Not to worry, but falling rocks or a mudslide could kill you on this drive.

Not to worry, but falling rocks or a mudslide could kill you on this drive.

For all my associates with the National Rifle Association: Please refrain from shooting the monkeys.

For all my associates with the National Rifle Association: Please refrain from shooting the monkeys.

Puerto Cayo Ecuador

Very typical.

Very typical.

Honestly, I have no idea what this means.

Honestly, I have no idea what this means.

See photo below.

See photo below.

See photo above.

See photo above.

Not a top had, but a speed bump - they are everywhere.

Not a top hat, but a speed bump – they are everywhere.

After a day like we've had, this is precisely where I should be spending my time.

After a day like we’ve had, this is precisely where I should be spending my time.

DSC_0209

Take precaution against the heavy mist. (you are driving through the jungle)

Take precaution against the heavy mist. (you are driving through the jungle)

DSC_0195

Otavalo – South America’s Most Famous Market

A 30-minute flight from Manta to Quito, then a 90-minute drive north to Otavalo. Sounds easy enough. Not necessarily.

A 30-minute flight from Manta to Quito, then a 90-minute drive north to Otavalo. Sounds easy enough. Not necessarily.

Some of the world's finest artisans live in this remote town.

Some of the world’s finest artisans live in this remote town. Dana bought these two pieces.

Spices.

Spices.

We purchased the hand-woven rug on the right as a wall hanging in Casa Azul.

We purchased the hand-woven rug on the right as a wall hanging in Casa Azul.

Yarn.

Yarn.

From the market in town, we traveled to this spectacular property owned by a friend. It's the rim of a volcano- Mt. Imbabura where I set a new personal best for elevation above sea level at 15,190 feet. The water in the crater lake is so acidic that it will not sustain life.

From the market in town, we traveled to this spectacular property owned by a friend. It’s the rim of a volcano- Mt. Imbabura where I set a new personal best for elevation above sea level at 15,190 feet. The water in the crater lake is so acidic that it will not sustain life.

Otavalo Market

Two old friends stop for conversation.

Two old friends stop for conversation.

The bold colors of Latin America are among my favorite things.

The bold colors of Latin America are among my favorite things.

Many of the indigenous people carry coin cups and will ask you for change on the street. It's hard not to give them money.

Many of the indigenous people carry coin cups and will ask you for change on the street. It’s hard not to give them money.

Otavalo Market

The art of embroidery is at its finest here.

The art of embroidery is at its finest here.

These coca "products" are  for sale everywhere, and are said to cure just about anything that ails ya. I'm sure that's true ,but I passed on the opportunity.

These coca “products” are for sale everywhere, and are said to cure just about anything that ails ya. I’m sure that’s true ,but I passed on the opportunity.

Catching up on her reading.

Catching up on her reading.

Otavalo Market

Otavalo Market

Mud Baths at Agua Blanca

Agua Blanca in Ecuador

Today, we visited Agua Blanca, a spring in the Machalilla National Park near Puerto Lopez.

Agua Blanca is a beautiful forest, wild animals everywhere and a type of sulfuric spring where people go to bath and cover themselves in mud that is believed to have some kind of anti-aging quality.

I already feel 25 again!

Agua Blanca in Ecuador

It's about a three kilometer hike through the forest to the spring ... and it's been very rainy this week and we have lots of mud.

It’s about a three-kilometer hike through the forest to the spring … and it’s been very rainy this week and we have lots of mud.

Everybody loves the mud.

Everybody loves the mud.

Especially the kiddos.

Especially the kiddos.

The swimming spring at Agua Blanca. It's sulfuric qualities are said to reinvigorate a youthful feel.

The swimming spring at Agua Blanca. It’s sulfuric qualities are said to reinvigorate a youthful feel.

Agua Blanca in Ecuador

Agua Blanca in Ecuador

Miss Ecuador 2013. Not really, but we played it up!

Miss Ecuador 2013. Not really, but we played it up!

Mother-in-law's tongue. It's everywhere.

Mother-in-law’s tongue. It’s everywhere.

Termite nest near the spring.

Termite nest near the spring.

View from the park's highest elevation on a misty day.

View from the park’s highest elevation on a misty day.