He Said/She Said: The Container(s)

He said….

Everyone we met that had moved to Ecuador advised us to spend the first trip just looking around. They would say, “Don’t make any major decisions on your first trip.” It was good advice, we just didn’t listen.

It took us one day to determine we couldn’t live in a condo with four dogs. There was another day to rule out the houses we were shown close to town and on the third day we saw the perfect property, negotiated the price and signed the contract for land and house to be built. We got to the airport that same night, looked at each other and said, “What have we done?

For two hours we frantically called our bank to cancel the check we had left as a deposit. It was Sunday night and it wasn’t happening. We decided we could wait until Monday morning, see if we felt the same and then there would still be time to back out. By Monday we had talked ourselves off the ledge.

The Architect's rendering of our new home in Ecuador.
The Architect’s rendering of our new home in Ecuador.

The next year was spent designing the perfect home – by email. The architect would send the plans in Spanish, we used translation software to translate, write our reply in English, use the translation software to turn it back into Spanish, and this went on for months. We finalized the floor plans, the electrical plan and even the paint colors with only random person-to-person contact. Finally, we were told we should ship the furniture and schedule our move.

imageMoving household goods to a foreign country requires that you lease containers to ship everything in, hire packers to pack all of your things and load them into the containers (securely hopefully), a U.S. based freight forwarder, a shipper for the ocean transport, a freight expeditor in the entry country for customs, a land shipper to drive the containers from the entry port to your home and a service company to unload.

Alternatively, you can hire a full service company for turn-key service. Wanting to take as much pain out of the process as possible, we hired the turn-key service, an Agent based out of New York. They claimed they would handle everything “door to door”.

We checked several of their references and felt comfortable they could do what they claimed. The next step was to make a list of everything being moved.

We went through the house, item by item. The Agent contracted with a local company to do the packing and load the container. He came to the house to take a look – he took pictures of everything that was being shipped and then announced it wouldn’t fit in one container.

The cost of the second container was ridiculous – I had already been down that road. So, the Agent and I negotiated the second container price but decided it would be a back-up. We would get rid of some more things and try to fit into just one container.

I’m always accused of never being around for any of our moves. Maybe I was there for one, but it does seem like something always comes up. I left to take care of things in Ecuador the week the movers came. Marcia stayed back at the house with the dogs to oversee the packing and loading of the container.

She said…..

It was the perfect home. I looked at the pictures online several times a day before we met with the agent who showed it to us in person. It was even better in person. I loved this house. I thought we would live there forever. Maybe we would leave when we were old and feeble….not a minute sooner.

image

We were having coffee one morning when my husband suggested we consider moving to Ecuador. The cost of living would be so much better. We could live our lifestyle for the rest of our lives, never downsize. We could find another dream house. And we did, except…..

We had too much furniture. Quietly, I started selling this and that. A nice lady bought the dining room furniture and left with all of the living room furniture too. A college girl came to pick up the floral chair and her mom bought a whole set of china. For weeks I priced everything I could bring myself to part with and justified why I would absolutely not consider selling other things. Then I would capitulate and sell more.

What was left got evaluated, estimated and eventually packed for a trip across the ocean.

My husband had coördinated the move – all I had to do was supervise. There were things to be taken care of in Ecuador and although it does not seem like a very good decision now, he went on the trip while I supervised.

The first couple of days were not without incident, but came and went. The rules were that every box had to be inventoried, contents written on the outside of the box and registered on a spreadsheet which I carried around on my iPad. Boxes sat everywhere with their contents defined for everyone to see. Twenty-eight bras, ten sweaters, twelve pair of socks.

The workers started falling behind schedule. The foreman of the group got irritable. By the second night he was yelling at the New York agent. By the third night he was yelling at me. He said we needed another container. I yelled back at him, “I have sold more than half of my furniture and you tell me it still wasn’t enough?” He walked out and took the workers with him. I wasn’t sure he’d come back. I spent hours prioritizing what else I was willing to give up. It was horrible.

imageMy husband got involved and negotiated another container. The first container was to be at the port in Charleston, S.C. by Thursday night but it was sitting in the yard, backed up to the front door Thursday morning. I don’t know what the HOA thought about this. At the time I didn’t care.

The second container had to be at port by Saturday morning or it wouldn’t ship with the first container. The New York agent assured me this would cost us dearly.

The first container had finally left and the driver was back to retrieve the second container. At 5pm Friday, we were one-third finished packing the second container….and the foreman got irritable again. He was on the phone yelling at the New York agent. I couldn’t tell what it was about. He gathered the crew and the packing materials, said he was finished…they drove away. I stood there paralyzed in the moment.

As it turns out, the New York agent stupidly paid him 100% in advance. It was Friday night and he wanted to go home. There was nothing the agent could do to help. I had to figure this out on my own, except I had no clue what I was going to do on my own. I started making phone calls but every mover in town seemed to be done for the weekend or was already on another job.

The man who was to drive the container to Charleston that night never hesitated when he told me he would wait with the container. “All night if that’s what it takes,” he said.

My neighbor had been checking on me all week and arrived around 6:00pm with the idea that we could ask the workers that were roofing a house down the street for help. I walked down the street and for the first of many, many times to come I asked, “Do you speak English?”

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