Sunday, December 31, 2023

2023: The Best and Worst of Times

Another year is in the books so, in keeping with tradition, I am sharing the highs (and lows) of 2023.

I tend to censor what I post on social media and, many times, I have put on a happy face when in reality I am suffering deeply. There are very few people who know the full extent of everything that happened to me this year, partly because I had to stay silent for legal reasons, but also because it just hurts too much to talk about it. Even now I will not go into all the details, but I will share enough so that you can understand why I may not have been in touch as often as before or perhaps seemed distracted or distant at times.

But first, let's start with some of the best of times:

I was thrilled to have more friends and family visit us this year:

  • In early January, we spent many great times with our friends from Brazil, Eduardo and Carol, and we also enjoyed a visit from Fabian's friend Carla and her daughter June from New York City.
  • My mom and stepdad came to Galapagos in mid-January and spent 11 days with us here, then we all flew to the mainland and spent another 10 full days touring around Ecuador.
  • In late March, my friend Anna from Ukraine came to visit. We always have fun exploring together and her time here was no exception.
  • In April, Fabian got to hang out with my friend Morten from Denmark (sadly I was in the U.S. during his visit), and we had a great time catching up and drinking excellent beer with my friends John and Lindsey from Portland, Ore.
  • In June, Fabian's friend David from Switzerland came to visit and surf. By chance, another surfer from Switzerland was also here during that time and thus we became fast friends with Britta.
  • In early August, my friend Hilda came from Houston. Our story goes back to Portland, Ore. and extends to her family in the U.S. and Guatemala. We did just about everything you can do in three full days!
  • In late August, my friend Adena from Miami arrived with her niece Anna and future nephew-in-law Jarod. As they only had five full days, two of which were devoted to day trips by boat, our time together was short but we tried to make the most of it.

We also made many new acquaintances through our business and we continued to expand our circle of friends on the islands. I especially enjoyed developing some existing friendships and spending lots of fun times watching soccer and attending events and hosting cookouts with our closest friends here.

Other highlights of 2023 include:

  • getting Starlink internet service in May and going from an average 1mbps download speed to almost 200mbps
  • continuing to grow our business, Galapagos Surf Discovery
  • Fabian winning a scholarship for Misión Ecuador, a two-week series of intensive classes and workshops that took place in November with the focus of developing business skills and supporting entrepreneurs
  • purchasing land in the center of town (Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristóbal) 250 feet from the waterfront
  • hiring an architect to design a residential building on the land we purchased two years ago
  • replacing our apartment's terrace roof in November (finally!) -- no leaks and better sun protection means we can enjoy more time outside
  • learning that our submissions for Emprende Turismo, which provides seed capital for innovative tourism ventures with potential for development and growth, were selected for advancement to the next phase of the program which includes online training as well as one-on-one mentorship

Some of the challenges of the past year include:

  • Fabian had his long-awaited U.S. visa interview in February but he was turned down and our appeals were also denied. The entire reason we were trying to obtain his visitor's visa was so he could meet my grandmother before she passed.
  • Fabian finally had much-needed eye surgery and gallbladder surgery in February which required us to live in Guayaquil for almost six weeks.
  • We continued the roller coaster ride of buying a house in San Cristóbal that started in early 2022 and that we ultimately gave up on in June.
  • Fabian tested positive for COVID in late August and was sick with a fever for almost a week. I never took a test but developed a wheezing cough in early September that took me the better part of the month to recover from.
  • I had to give up my dream of becoming a certified Galapagos National Park guide. In late October, the local university published the enrollment process for the next guide course and I discovered that I am not eligible because I'm not yet a permanent resident of Galapagos; I have to complete my 10-year temporary residency first. I was very disappointed to say the least, especially since this criteria has not been strictly enforced for previous applicants. It is unlikely the course will be offered again anytime soon as the last one was six years ago.

The unbearable sadness of 2023:

My sole surviving grandparent, my paternal grandmother Betty Smartt, passed away in May. You can read the tribute I wrote and shared at her memorial service.

My grandmother desperately wanted to live out her life on her own terms, but her declining health robbed her of the independence she cherished. To make matters worse, she had to face the truth about the one person who had the ability to resolve everything for her. While my sister and I worked diligently to help her fulfill her final wishes, the last few months of her life were miserable, not just for physical reasons but because she was consumed by grief and emotional pain.

Unfortunately, due to our attempts to help our grandmother and even though we had a legitimate basis for doing so, my sister and I were dragged into a legal battle. Instead of being able to properly mourn her death, we were forced to hire an attorney to defend ourselves and fight for the small inheritance we were lawfully due from her last will and testament executed two years earlier.

So, in addition to making two unplanned, expensive, emotionally draining trips to Tennessee, I still have pending legal bills, I was denied access to my grandmother's personal belongings that had only sentimental value and were instead sold as part of an estate auction, and I lost my father.

In summary, 2023 was one of the most difficult years of my entire life. I did my best to focus on the positive, to be thankful for my health and the loving support of family and friends, and to enjoy the life I have created with my husband in Galapagos. But I continue to struggle mentally and emotionally, and often prefer solitude over socializing as it's the only way to avoid having to lie and say that everything is great.

I have a lot to look forward to in 2024 and am hopeful I can put the challenges and heartbreak of the past year behind me.

Wishing you all peace, hope, love, health, and happiness in the new year!