FRANK’S AND SHEL’S EXCELLENT ECUADOR ADVENTUREYour huddled couple yearning to be free

Jun 22, 2010 | 0 comments

Editor’s Note: Frank and Shel Drake scouted Ecuador in February and March looking for a retirement and expatriation destination; the story of how and where they found it is told in 10 installments on This is the second installment of a new series on getting ready to move to Cuenca. Frank is a seasoned globe-trotter and travel writer while Shel is a professional photographer.

I think of Cuenca, and Ecuador, and every day. I certainly recall our experiences there, all the memories of finding and exploring the place I’ve always been looking for.

But I also imagine the future there, what Cuenca symbolizes — the process of closing shop up here, the adventure of moving down there, and the distance, both physical and psychic, between the two. A whole new world just outside whatever door we live behind. Retired and expatriated. Free from the pre-retirement world of jobs and mortgages and bills. Free from a lifetime’s worth of possessions. Free, even, from family obligations. Free from creeping tyranny.

Shel thinks about Cuenca every day as well. It surprised her, and me, how deeply she misses and longs for Ecuador. The depth of her feelings for the place help validate my own, three months later and counting. It’s a one-of-a-kind siren song and if you’re lucky enough in this life to hear it, you have no choice. You simply must answer its call.

So that’s a given. Shelley and I are on our way. It’s just the logistics that need working out.

Our first project has been finding good new homes for many of the books that a 30-year writer/editor and a 15-year elementary-school teacher have collected. Another freedom: from heavy-ass books. Books, the revered 500-year medium, are tough to throw away. On the other hand, we can’t exactly ship a pallet full for sentimental value; out of the question.

So we’ve been selling them through Amazon’s used-book function.

Amazon is a dream to do book business through. It took less than an hour to launch ourselves as book resellers and the whole system is extremely automated and efficient. It’s a profitable, fun, and worthwhile thing to do, especially if you’re on a somewhat leisurely liquidation schedule. We’ve sold about a bookcase’s worth and netted around a grand. Not bad for an hour or two a week. 

Lots of used books on Amazon go for a penny (plus $3.99 shipping); we don’t bother with those. At our upcoming yard sale, we’ll try to unload the books that are too much trouble to sell on Amazon, for a quarter (paperback) and a dollar (hardbound) apiece. The books that don’t sell in the driveway, we’ll either donate to the library, leave on the used-bookstore’s doorstep, or drop off at Goodwill. The only books I’m carrying across the border are my Spanish texts and dictionaries.

We’re lucky to have an annual subdivision-wide yard sale that’s attended by hordes of bargain-crazed Las Vegans. We could sell the whole house, right down to the studs and sub-flooring, for the number of people who show up. That takes place in a couple of weeks.

The other heavy load I’m preparing for the yard sale is from the kitchen — all the accumulated and mostly mismatched tableware, cookware, flatware, and earthenware, the small appliances, cooking utensils, storage containers, cutting boards, and so forth. Yet another freedom: from stainless steel, bone china, porcelain, wood, glass, plastic, Teflon, copper, ceramics, aluminum, and, best of all, cast iron.

We’ve also made good use of Craig’s List, selling the pool table, spare microwave, bicycles, water barrels, stained-glass supplies, boots, a drum set, a broken iPhone, and an old computer. From the free site, we’ve given away carpet and tile and paint.

About the sofa, Shel and I are currently in discussion. We both want to give it away; it’s been through more than ten years of kids and dogs and cats and popcorn and pizza and Coke and mites and ants and who knows what else. She’s of a mind to give it away on Craig’s List, while I’d like to put it out by the street with a “Free” sign and see what happens. Hey, if it gets hauled away, I’ll do it with the ratty La-Z Boys too.

For most of the rest of the furniture, Shel foresees downsizing from this four-bedroom three-bath third-of-an-acre monstrosity with a 12-meter pool and several outbuildings to a two-bed two-bath town home — not a condo; it has to have a little plot for her garden — so that she can have an escape hatch for when Ecuador gets overwhelming and she needs to return to the familiarity of English and In N Out and eight-lane roads and her (grown) kids.

Me, I’m not planning on moving any furniture from one house in Las Vegas to another. Nor is it coming with me to Cuenca. I’m sure I’ll shift at least a few boxes of stuff I can’t part with, yet, to a spare closet in Shel’s  apartment. Otherwise, I’m going to try to fit everything I’m bringing to Ecuador in two or three suitcases.

What we’re going to do with the RV that’s sort of stored on the property as a crash pad for one of the boys remains something of a question mark. It hasn’t been started up in two years and it doesn’t have a title. So we’ll have to see about this 36-foot broken-down vehicle in the side yard.

Finally, unfortunately, how to dispose of the house could be one of the most momentous decisions I ever make. I’m putting this one off till the bitter end. But being freed from this monstrosity will be the best of all.

So, for now, that’s where we’re at, three months down and nine to go on the one-year expatriation plan. We haven’t been idle. We’ve been liquidating leisurely. We’re on our way to Ecuador. We’re dreaming of freedom. Every day.

Photo caption: What to do with a lifetime's accumulation of books? Frank Drake says sell 'em.

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