Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Camel Box, Packing and Letting It Go

(All of these pictures were taken from our porch...all in one day...of the changing weather.)

Hola, it's Nancy.

Wanted to share more stories for all the folks who are in the process of packing and planning to move here.  I''ve been writing back and forth with some who are in the midst of deciding what to bring, what to toss, what to store, what to ship and I'm thinking more readers might be able to learn from our stories, too...Yep, all that work is hard to do!  Been there...

In some ways, it's agonizing, nerve-wracking and just downright sad as you go through years of memories.  But, you're not alone!  Most of us who made the jump to our new lives in Ecuador went through that range of emotions, from smiles, to tears, and back.  An emotional ride! 

Yes, you may find that some men and women pack and plan differently...  Rich managed to pack in about 20 minutes (I'm exagerating, but just a little!). 

For me, I packed, re-packed and packed again for weeks.  I wanted every inch of available space to 'count'.  Rich had all his stuff all organized and ready to go in just a fraction of the time it took me...and we both managed to get most of the important stuff in the luggage for each of us. 

Funny how that all works out in the end.  No, even  though I packed carefully with tissue paper and a careful eye for wrinkle free packing, I can't honestly say that Rich's quicker packing resulted in more wrinkles...  it all wrinkled anyway, my stuff and his.  Thank goodness for irons!

We decided, early on, to move with suitcases only.  We just didn't want to try to ship stuff, mainly because we didn't want to then deal with shipping again if we decided Cuenca wasn't for us.  We also didn't want  the additional angst of worrying about the shipment and maybe lost/broken items or customs fees. We felt we had enough angst in our lives just to get here! We didn't know enough about shipping at the time, or what we could find here, and didn't want to take the time to learn it all.  We came on a wing and a prayer and way too many suitcases!

Some folks do ship in containers and crates.  Furniture, art, books, complete kitchens, the favorite cast iron skillet, canning jars, every piece of clothing they think they will ever need, treasured items.  They are prepared to deal with costs, delays, customs, inspections, possible toil and trouble.  Some are glad they did, some are not.  We're still glad we came with a bunch of suitcases only, but it's a personal decision.  Only you can decide what's best for you. 

We gave stuff away to charities and to friends and family.  We dumped stuff in the garbage.  We found a wonderful new home for our precious kitty, Mr Boots, which was the hardest decision we had to make, but we still think it was a good one.  Boots is so much happier staying in the country and he's still spoiled rotten, still hunting lizards, still digging in the dirt...He would be totally miserable in an apt in the City.  We still really miss Boots, but our decision was really all about his happiness...not ours.  Yes, there are good vets here for your pets, if you do decide to bring them.

There always seems to be 'something' that makes you pause as you go through stuff.  Count on it.  Maybe those baby shoes of your firstborn, maybe Gramma's china, maybe old love letters and photos, maybe a little handmade Christmas angel.  Maybe a special glass table, maybe your hard-earned muscle car, maybe your tractor, maybe your tux.  In my case, it was the treasured Camel Box.  Those 'symbols' will stop you right in your tracks.  How can I possibly live without THAT?

This Camel Box is really special to me...  Rich had bought it for me several years ago at an auction, all hand-carved with lots of details.  It was definitely a splurge.  Inside is a brilliant blue shiny lining on copper  and I kept little momentos there.... dried rose petals from the garden, an eagle feather from a walk at the river at the ranch, a special letter from my Dad,  a little glass bluebird of happiness and so much more.   At the time, I just couldn't get past leaving it ALL behind.  I was paralysed.  I kept going back to the Camel Box, admiring it and loving it and crying over it and all the gifts inside. It became the symbol of missing everything, even before leaving.

How did I get passed it and get on with the next tasks of clearing out a lifetime of stuff?  I got lucky.  A compromise!  Our dear friends offered to keep the Camel Box for me, safe and sound.  I handed it over, with the understanding that I could get it later...and I transferred most of the treasures inside the Camel into the suitcases for the journey.  What a blessing!  That was easy!  So, the Camel didn't have to go to the auction, it didn't have to really be left behind. It would be in safe hands.  I could use that precious luggage space for more practical things, including the little goodies inside the Camel Box.  It was a very sad day to say good-bye to the Camel, but I know it's still there waiting for me. It took rational and kind friends to help me sort it all out (you can tell how crazed I was getting with all the overwhelming tasks at hand!)

Everyone has a Camel Box symbol.  Sometimes we laugh with our friends as they recount their Camel version, too.  But, we've all got those stories....those things that we have so much trouble letting go of.  Those things that we think define us and bring us so much pleasure.  Camel is back in Oregon, but most of the little treasures it contained are still with me and I'm grateful for that.

So, relax as you go through the stuff!  (Yeah, soooo easy for me to say now!)  Remember, you'll have a Camel Box story too, we all do.  Either plan to bring it, ship it,  or let it go.  Or find a friend or a family member to keep it safe for you.  It helps you to move on and get one more closet cleaned out!  You can do it.  It can all be done, trust me.

After our ranch sold, we had an auction to sell off most everything...yarn and craft stash, furniture, tools, garden/BBQ stuff, farm vehicles, art, rugs, Christmas decorations, over 100 boxes of books, kitchen stuff, clothes...just about everything. We even had previously unopened boxes of stuff from previous moves auctioned off! Some folks have estate sales or garage/yard sales, some sell on Ebay or Craig's List, which worked for them. The good thing about our auction is that, at the end of the day, most everything was all gone and we had money!

Yes, auction day was a sad day, but somehow we felt 'lighter' and more ready to get on with the next phase of our lives. I remember sitting on the steps after the auction was done and everyone had left...I'd saved 2 wine glasses, a bottle of wine...and Rich and I sat recounting the busy day, and enjoying the sunset.  As we toasted each other,  a lone, dried tumbleweed rolled across the pasture as a fitting close to a phase of our lives....where, just hours before, hundreds of people had wandered with newly purchased treasures.

We agreed it was all worth it, all of it, and we were hopeful for the future. Life is an adventure, we had each other and we were ready in our hearts to move on.  We were looking forward to the llamas, iguanas and learning the tango in South America.  We were moving to South America!  A giant step forward...Wow!

We have no regrets...

If you come to check out Cuenca before moving here, you can do the homework of finding out just what IS available here.  Go to Sukasa, go to the Mall, go to the grocery stores and markets.  Check out those little shops, too.  Ask your new friends here.  Unless you're particularly partial to your special food processor, for instance, know that there are good ones here.  You might pay dearly for some things here as they are imported, but you can get most stuff here...  complete kitchens, sewing machines, cars, furniture, small and bigger appliances, picture frames, you name it.  What you can't find in your taste can be made to order, some vendors can order and ship for you, too.  Less choices here in specific US brands, but perhaps a generic will work for you.  All takes time to find...and some folks prefer to just ship everything and get settled quickly.  We now roll with the delays in finding or ordering the perfect stuff for us...but, that's just us.  Sometimes we just compromise...  instead of a red one, we'll take the blue.

We didn't browse the stores before moving here, which did make it hard to pack...  We just figured we'd figure it all out when we got here.  Our luggage contained many practical, and not so practical things.  We packed computers, including all the cords (but no printer...easy to find here.)  We packed minimal clothes...some for the beach and jungle, some for business meetings (since so many folks compared Cuenca to US cities and we didn't want to look too raggedy...), some for chilly weather (like wool sweaters and shawls, handknit wool sox and hats and fingerless gloves, all available in the markets, but we didn't know that at the time).  We packed flannel robes and PJ's and slippers. At the time, we didn't know we could find them here, too...and, besides, we wanted them our first few nights.

 We packed some 'just in case' stuff, too...I packed 1 long-ish black skirt, slip, tights and heels...  I have yet to wear them here (and now they're too big and I wouldn't chance the heel thing now on the streets.)  We packed office supplies (which you can get here) and a plastic coffee filter and pepper grinder, binoculars and kitchen timer (also all here).  We packed those tiny treasures...priceless!  We packed some important papers, only because our scanner crapped out at the last minute.  We packed our favorite music cd's (which we don't listen to much anymore and we could have bought here).  We packed jeans, just in case we'd have the opportunity to go horseback riding!...and then we lost weight, so I had them altered here, but you can buy good quality jeans here, too, which I have. Jeans in good condition are this City's mainstay...everyone wears them as you can tell from the pictures on this and other blogs.  We packed meds, enough for the first few days, knowing we could find most here and good doctors, too.

We shopped online for travel stuff...check out travelsmith and magellan's sites. 

It pained us to leave books!  But, Rich now has a Kindle, which he loves! and there is the Carolina Bookstore for books in English (and Spanish).  We only packed books to get us through the flights, the waiting in airports, the first couple days...We did pack maps and ONE travel book (which are here, too, and the internet has a ton of info, as a good alternative.) We packed extra underwear which was good, sometimes hard to find in your size and style and quality here.  Good, comfortable walking shoes are a must! and we are glad we packed some, even though you can find or order custom made in your size.  I did find a pair of Sketchers in my big, US size 9...whoa, they were expensive!  About $80 a few months back, but worth it (for me).

We packed  cameras, gifts for family, some jewelry we couldn't part with and cash.  Lots of small bills.  We included small amounts of cosmetics, travel size, a first aid kit, a flashlight, extra reading glasses, sunscreen, bug repellent and sunglasses, credit and ATM cards. We packed our cell phones...and we were able to have a chip added so they work here.

We've been patient (most of the time!) and lucky enough to find most everything we truly need here in Cuenca. If you settle in a smaller town, you can always come on into Cuenca (or Quito or Guayaquil) to shop, with more choices and maybe better prices than the outlying areas. 

Hope this helps and Happy Packing.  Looking forward to your Camel story, too!

Love, N

(Added Jan. 26:  Not-so-good pic of the camel box...)


  1. Nancy, thank you for this. It is very thoughtful of you to take the time to relive your decision making process. I know I'll be rereading this post many times. Mary

  2. Awesome Nancy.. thanks. I relived our decisions while reading yours and thought... why didn't I think to bring that! But like you said, if you hunt and ask enough people ...
    You dont always get what you want, but you just might find... you get what you need! insert slightly off key singing...

  3. What a wonderful blog post! Thank you for taking the time to reflect, share, & advise. There are so many of us reading these blogs trying to figure it all out. Whether shipping or suitcasing it, we all face the daunting task of downsizing our American lifestyles, with some of us suffering from over-sentimentality or the "I might need this sometime in the future" syndrome....a big part of the too much stuff problem in the first place. You helped to alleviate some of those questions. You have also helped calm the fears of asking ourselves if we can really do this & will it all work out in the end. Thanks!

  4. Excellent post, Nancy. As you know Cynthia & I did just the opposite and brought our stuff, and you're absolutely right, it's an incredibly personal decision. We never even considered going the suitcase route because as "strangers in a strange land" we wanted the comfort of being surrounded by the possessions we've accumulated over our many years of marriage. This is an area where you should be directed not by the advice of others but what's in your heart.

  5. Nancy, did you find alot of those items very expensive in Cuenca or about the same that you would pay here? We are lucky in that our daughter has a house with a basement and she said that we can keep some things there (those things that I just can't let go of). We have decided not to sell our house just yet because we love our house here in Louisville, KY. So we are going to try to rent it for a while and see if that works for us. Thanks for listing all of those items.

    By the way, I have an Iphone. Will it work down there? Thanks, Sue

  6. Thanks, Everyone, for the kind words and additional comments.

    Sue, not sure about the Iphone, as we don't have one. Perhaps other readers or bloggers have information for you.

    About costs... we figure the costs of US stuff is, generally, about 20-25% higher than the same stuff in the US, mostly because of import fees. And, the quantity is low for some items...instead of many on the shelf, there could be only 2-3 (which could jack the price, too).
    Sometimes, the item isn't re-stocked when they are gone.

    For anything you're looking for, the quality can be all over the place. But, most models of Cuisanart or LG, or GE, for example, are here (with the higher price tag.) Just depends on the quality you're looking for. Some Ecuadorian brands are just fine for us (and cheaper).

  7. Many, many thanks Nancy for writing this post. Tom and I have set our goal date (Oct) for moving to Cuenca. Every day since, I've been mentally downsizing our belongings-no real action yet. We recently decided to go the suitcase route,just like you two and Charles & Bruce, and forgo the hassels of a container. Thankfully, our daughter has accepted the responsibility of being the family treasures keeper. I feel so relieved after reading your story-your experiences before and after the move! Linda