Welcome to our website ! Our vision is to inspire & promote international understanding through education and cultural exchange between South America - Ecuador and the rest of the world. To help people rediscover life with purpose, integrity and compassion, benefit from our experiences, and acquire knowledge for living in harmony in a globally interdependent and culturally diverse world. To share our "life changing adventure experiences" with family and friends worldwide. We have consolidated a wealth of the best resources on Ecuador, along with travel journals and photos. Our hope is that you will find this a valuable, user friendly resource network, which enriches your life, enables you to learn, challenges your thinking, and empowers you to discover and undertake your own new experiences and adventures.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Feliz Navidad

Christmas 2009                                                                                                                                             

Our experience this Christmas will be  entirely new -  a tropical climate without snow,  joining hands with family and many friends throughout the world over the internet. Clear night skies are now filled with twinkling stars, waves are rhythmically lapping at the shore, and our glasses are still filled with a Chilean Merlot, but there will not be any wonder of snow or placing another log on the fire.  We can still enjoy a swim in the Pacific Ocean, and then relax in the hammock in the afternoon ....  it seems so strange how soon we seem to have forgotten about winter !  Today I almost caught a large fish in my mouth as it leaped out of the water and directly over our boat.

We have not had rain in the last eight months, and this was becoming problematic for crops and farmers. In just the last several days a gentle rain has begun to fall here at night. Yesterday we were gardening to the music of Christmas Carols from the local park.

Christmas is an important religious festival in this predominantly Catholic country, with a strong focus on the presepio or manger. Santa Claus is not very well known and it is the " christ-child " that brings their gifts. Similar to western countries - highly commercialized in the big cities, with christmas decorations in evidence from October onwards and festive music in the shops. Escape to the rural communities for a more peaceful Christmas without the shopping hype.   Christmas trees, gifts and dinners are in every family in Ecuador.

We have been very surprised as Nativity scenes and Christmas decorations lights etc are plentiful here and up much earlier than back in Canada. Actually with the country's electrical shortage - we continue to experience daily 3 hour blackouts -  all the decorative lighting is somewhat ironic.  In fact a simple bamboo cane hut on the mountainside, we didn't think even had electricity,  is beautifully lit at night.

Nine days before Christmas traditional novenas - Catholic prayers and "house tours" began the holiday season. Elaborate Nativity scenes are set up in local barrios, churches, and individual homes, where they all seem to have spent months trying to outdo each other in their presentations. Directly below our house is our barrio's nativity scene where each evening neighbours gather to recite prayers to the Holy Infant  and sing. Ecuadorians visit other homes during this time looking at the nativity scenes. Walking anywhere in Bahia de Caraquez the last week has been a magical treat, from the nativity scenes, twinkling Christmas lights adorning houses, balconies and trees, magically lit palm trees, and Christmas Carols floating through  the tropical evening air. Celebration is unique and the mood is clearly festive. Churches, Schools, Universities, and various associations have held Christmas celebratory events with music, food, and dance. Children place their Christmas lists into an old shoe or write letters to baby Jesus explaining how well behaved they have been this past year, along with their gift requests.

Christmas day starts at midnight Christmas Eve with the Christmas family dinner - chicken, turkey or pig and pristinos - cinnamon pastry, and visiting relatives and friends. The twelve days of Christmas starts December 26th, they are the twelve days from Christmas until the beginning of Epiphany - January 6th. Here in Ecuador, and throughout South America, they are more strongly celebrated than in North America… each day very rich with meaning.

Christmas Day is the day of giving gifts. Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar saw that Christ would be a King, a Physician and a Priest and the gifts send the message for us to have balance in our lives. Caspar brought Gold for the King as a symbol of abundance. Melchior offered Frankincense to the Priest within the Child which signifies wisdom. Finally Balthasar carried precious Myrrh for the Physician that this Wonder Child would be… the symbol for prophesy. We should learn to take care of our wealth, look after our health and maintain a positive moral spirit.On Christmas day the children usually will find new shoes and their presents. Sweets and biscuits are given in huge quantities, and seem to take up most of the space in supermarkets during the holiday season.  Although presents are exchanged they are usually token gifts rather than extravagantly expensive purchases. Very few wrapped gifts are received, a bag of animal crackers and sweets is most common for children.

In Quito Christmas festivities start right after Quito's birthday - December 6th continuing until the new year. Not much work happens for this several week period.

In the Andes a more traditional Christmas Day is a colorful procession of the Indians who live and work in the highlands dress in their finest clothes and ride their brightly arrayed llamas down to the ranches where their employers live. They bring gifts of fruit and produce, which they lay before the Christ Child in the pesebre, or manger. Children also bring their gifts and make speeches to the Holy Infant, asking blessings for their family and their animals. Then there is a fiesta with much singing and dancing outdoors. The hacienda owner distributes gifts to the employees and their families. A huge feast will be enjoyed  consisting of roast lamb, baked potatoes and brown sugar bread. As in North America there is always too much to eat, so that the processions that wind their way into the mountains at the end of the day, are as heavily laden with leftovers as they were with offerings in the morning.

The musical installment (Rondador) is made of bamboo and comes from the mountain regions. The fans (Aventador) are found all over Ecuador and are made by the local indigenous groups. The Santa basket is made from straw and is a common ornament. The straw ornaments are used for several other festivals during the year. The colors of the decorations signify the festival.

And in the highland University town of Cuenca known throughout Latin America as the City of Festivals, not a week goes by without some sort of celebration. A must-see pageant of color and culture, the granddaddy of them all, is El Pase del Nino, the Christmas Child Procession known throughout the continent. This Christmas tradition begins at 10.00 a.m. every Christmas Eve and finally eight hours, thousands of floats, hundreds of bands, and 100,000 participants later, it ends, delivering the baby Jesus to his manger in the Old Cathedral for the Midnight Mass.

Christmas celebrations elsewhere in Ecuador :    


Rompope Recita

This is a traditional Christmas drink recipe from Ecuador, much like eggnog.

    * 1 l milk
    * ½ lb sugar
    * 2 cinnamon sticks
    * 1 bottle Aguardiente or other alcohol
    * 8 egg yolks

Boil the milk, sugar and cinnamon together in a pan until the mixture turns a pink color. Remove and allow it to cool down. Beat the egg yolk and then add to

the milk. Boil again. Remove and allow to cool. Add the Aguardiente. Place the drink in a bottle in the refrigerator.

We trust this season's greeting finds you and your family well.  We would like to wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas and a festive & safe holiday season. May your holiday be filled with the fellowship and warmth of family and friends, good health, good food, and fine wine and music. May all of us, regardless of religion, race or creed, remember the true  meaning of Christmas     “Peace on earth and goodwill to all.”

                    Season's Greetings from Débora & Ernesto Millard

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

El Dia del Muerto - Day of the Dead

A series of weeklong celebrations commemorating the 134th anniversary of Canton Sucre in Manabi began on Monday October 26th.  The opening speech was attended by delegations from all educational establishments in the city  (higher education, secondary, primary, gardens, and nurseries) in an expression of tribute and affection for their homeland.

There have been daily parades of colourful floats, costumed dance troops, and marching bands, civic ceremonies,

cultural events, dances, soccer games, and a competition for swimming across the bay.

Normal business activities are paralyzed for hours during these festivities and events. The Bay Queen, Miss Sonia Duenas Bermudez represents the ciudad with skill and beauty during these festivities.

This week of events culminates in a four day holiday weekend and has attracted many visitors from Quito to the area. The several hour line-ups of vehicles waiting for the gabarra to cross the estuary, may be historic as the new bridge is scheduled to open in November, 2010. The events have caught the attention of every family who filled the balconies, doorways, and main streets of Bahia de Caraquez.

This week of fiestas is followed by two extremely important dates throughout South America. They are the 1st and 2nd of November. All Saints Day (Todos los Santos) and Day of the Dead (Dia de los Difuntos, o muertos).

November 1 - All Souls' Day is a day of alms giving and prayers for those who have passed on. The intent is for the living to assist those in purgatory. Many western churches annually observe All Souls' Day on November 2 and many eastern churches celebrate it prior to Lent and the day before Pentecost.

While the Day of the Dead may sound like a grim event, and for North Americans unfamiliar with the day it may conjure up images like this,

it's actually a  time to celebrate and remember the lives of dead family members. 

Traditionally in Ecuador for el Dia del Muerto (Day of the Dead) – November 2nd  Ecuadorians prepare traditional foods and visit the graves in remembrance of their ancestors and lost loved ones. It is especially important to the indigenous Quichua people. Families gather to pray to the souls of dead relatives, asking them to return for just one night. The ancient belief is that the soul visits its relatives within these days and should have plenty of food to be fed to continue further on its after life journey. The celebration itself is a mixture of ethnic cultures and Catholic customs.

The family spends significant time preparing for this visit with a variety of items such as the bread dolls, which have a specific meaning depending on their shape. Horse shaped breads for example meant transport.  The ritual involves the construction of a tomb that is adorned with the soul's favourite drink and food, and over this tomb they place black cloth and the bread dolls, together with several other things that are meaningful to the individual.

People decorate altars in their homes and gravesites with food, candles, candy skulls and marigolds to welcome the souls back to earth.

Families gather together in the community cemetery with food offerings in remembrance of their ancestors and lost loved ones. Traditional ceremonial foods include Colada Morada, a delicious spiced fruit porridge that derives its deep purple colour from the Andean blackberry and purple maize (recipe below).  This is typically consumed with guagua de pan, a bread shaped like a swaddled infant.  The bread, which is wheat flour-based today was made with cornmeal in pre-Colombian times.  They can be savoury and filled with cheese, or sweet and filled with guava. .

In our experience we found most Ecuadorians celebrate Día de los Difuntos, o muertos in a more practical way.  On our visit to the cemetery the surrounding block was filled with flower and food vendors.  The cemetery is several hectares in size and varies from the famous Buenos Aires Recoleta style individually designed marble tomb sites,

to a sparse hillside( with better views ) in the far corner with simple wooden cross gravesite makers.

Upon entry to the cemetery we were met by a large group of painters who would accompany your party to clean &  "re-paint or freshen" the gravesite for you.  Today the cemetery was very busy with many families paying tribute to their deceased relatives and adorning their tombs with flowers. Many graveside candles were burning, and several families were playing guitars and singing.

The Grand Parade Finale Event was November 3rd, a 3 hour long parade on the Malecon of dignitaries, marching bands and costumed dance troops, fire engines,

military equipment, dancing stallions, and a wide variety of service clubs and organizations.

I would venture a guess crowds of about 100,000 people enjoyed the grand finale event.

Recipes for colada morada can vary by region and family. While all versions contain blueberry, blackberry, and pineapple, some will use naranjilla juice (an Andean fruit), babaco (champagne fruit), strawberries, and even raisins.

This recipe varies from traditional versions of colada morada by not containing the purple cornflour base, rather substituting cornstarch. This cornstarch recipe will keep longer than the corn flour one, which tends to ferment. Cornstarch is also more readily available outside of Ecuador than the purple corn flour.
Tea Ingredients:
·    ½ bundle of spices for colada morada (5-6 orange leaves, 1 fistful each of lemon verbena and myrtle)
·    6-8 whole cloves
·    6-8 whole allspice
·    4-5 cinnamon sticks
·    1-2 ishpingo (Ecuadorian spice)
1.    Fill a large Dutch oven halfway with water (approximately 2 liters).
2.    Place the spices in the water. Boil for about 15 minutes. Set this tea aside to be used later.
Juice base ingredients:
·    1 ½ pounds blueberries, rinsed of any impurities
·    2 pounds blackberries (boysenberries can also be used, or any combination of the two)
·    1 large pineapple, peeled and cored*
·    2 cups (or more) sugar
·    2-3 heaping tablespoons cornstarch
1.    Put the blueberries in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a roiling boil for 5-10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
2.    As the blueberry juice cools, blend the blackberries with a couple of cups of water. Strain the juice and set aside.
3.    Cut the pineapple into small cubes.
4.    Once the blueberry mixture is cool, blend it and strain it. Mix the blueberry and blackberry juices with the tea of spices above. (Divide into two Dutch ovens for easier handling.)
5.    Add the pineapple and boil for about 20 minutes, or until the pineapple is soft but not mushy.
6.    After the pineapple is cooked, add about 1 cup of sugar to each pot. Let dissolve and taste, adding more sugar if needed. (The amount of sugar needed will depend on how ripe the fruits are. Adjust the sugar levels to taste.)
7.    Put 2-3 heaping tablespoons of cornstarch in a glass of cold water. Stir and dissolve the cornstarch and then add half of the mixture to each Dutch oven. Stir for about 5-10 minutes more, allowing the colada to thicken. Adjust the amount of cornstarch as needed (more for a thicker colada).
Serve the colada warm or cold. Ecuadorians will eat colada with guaguas de pan, soft bread loaves shaped in the form of babies (guagua means baby in the Quichua languague), filled with chocolate or marmalade, and decorated with frosting on top. In place of guaguas, any soft dipping bread will do.
* Other fruits can be added to colada morada, such as strawberries or babaco. If adding babaco, add at the same time as the pineapple. If using strawberries, add the fruit in the last step, cooking for about 5 minutes

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Pachamama - Mother Nature

 Please invest an hour of your time to watch this excellent documentary - be well informed and help decide " Where do you draw the line ? " Sacrifice biodiversity and future generations environment and health for immediate gratification from oil revenue now ? Ecuador lead the world with constitutional reform recognizing and granting " nature " rights - now what ?


Ecuador's worst drought in 45 years has caused the government to force restrictions on electric power use. Officials have started a series of country-wide electrical blackouts aimed at reducing consumption by 10%. Most of this country's energy is hydro-electric generated and water levels at the large generating station on the Paute River are approaching historic lows. Perhaps the expected El Nino rainfall will now even be welcomed.

Esteban Albornoz, Ecuador's Energy Minister,  said that the drought is affecting all of northwest South America and that power and water shortages in Colombia and Venezuela are more serious than those in Ecuador. In Venezuela, where blackouts have lasted for as long as 24 hours, there have been violent protests in several cities.

Society is rapidly adjusting their daily routines as these blackouts could potentially last for months, and will continue until the water shortage changes. Candles, battery lights, and generator sales are soaring and inventories rapidly depleting.   

With the daily blackouts occurring in Bahia de Caraquez  between 3:00 p:m and 6:00 p:m daily, and several additional occurrences during the early evening hours, life takes on some interesting dimensions. Retail and food service locations continue operations relatively uninterrupted. Cash register receipts are now hand scrawled, and you may have a salesperson accompany you with a flashlight into the store's dark corners. Fuel service stations, banks, medical clinics, cyber cafes, and a growing number of small businesses now employ a stand alone gas generator during the blackouts. Condominium and apartment dwellers with the nicer views are in new " physical conditioning mode " using the stairs in the absence of functioning elevators.  Refrigeration, television, internet accessibility, & communication are interrupted. Residences are also without running water during this period as most water is pumped from their local water storage cisterns. Typical Ecuadorian homes also have very few windows - due to the proximity of neighbouring buildings, or where potentially open to a view they opted to minimize any heat transfer from direct sunshine.    To our Canadian & South American family & friends and international visitors please be patient if our communication is less timely - we are reading a new novel or having an additional siesta !  Once again pause for thought on the more simple lives of our forefathers, and how dependent our society has become on electricity - yes even in the developing countries.     

Unemployment was already very high in the coastal regions ( official 14.8 % however we believe practically it is much higher ), now we see growing crowds gathering in the streets to socialize and pass the afternoon blackout periods. 

An excellent bestselling, thought provoking book is " Confessions of an Economic Hit Man " by John Perkins.  " Economic hit men are highly paid professionals who cheat countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars. They encourage world leaders to become part of a vast network that promotes U.S. commercial interests. In the end, those leaders become ensnared in a web of debt that ensures their future continued loyalty.  Drawing on them to satisfy political, economic, or military needs. In turn they are provided with upgraded or desperately needed infrastructure.  Disguised as foreign aid they funnel money into the coffers of huge corporations and the pockets of a few very wealthy people.

Ecuador a prime victim, was loaned billions of dollars three decades ago for projects and infrastructure that would help its richest families. Today over 50 % of the national budget is required to pay the interest on the debt instead of helping millions of its citizens who are officially classified as dangerously impoverished. In the past three decades as a result of this " economic help "  Ecuador's official poverty level grew from 50 % to  70 % ,  and unemployment has risen by 55 % . 

We North Americans really don't know much about the rest of the world ! People are starving and we are worried about oil for our cars. Babies are dying of thirst and we are searching the fashion magazines for the latest trends. We shut our ears to the voices of those who are crying for help, and label them radicals or Communists.

The book aims to increase awareness of our economic exploitation and insatiable appetite for the world's resources. While a few swim in riches, the majority drown in poverty, pollution, and violence. We need to alter our global course towards compassion, democracy, and social justice for all. We must open our hearts to the poor and downtrodden, instead of driving them further into poverty and servitude.

The book  is dedicated to two of John's former clients, Jaime Roldos- President of Ecuador and Omar Torrijos- President of Panama, both met calculated deaths from opposing the global empire. "

John Perkins has established  a world wide grass roots movement of people from diverse cultures and backgrounds dedicated to shifting consciousness and promoting sustainable lifestyles for the individual and global community. The objective of inspiring earth-honoring changes in consciousness is accomplished through programs that educate and foster environmental and social balance. Dream Change was originated to encourage new ways of living.                               
                                                                   Dream Change

Currently the movie " CRUDE " also documents the rainforest destruction, and collapse of indigenous cultures in the Amazon basin due to the oil companies practices. For more information :

Friday, October 30, 2009

Guayaquil, Ecuador

The interior roads south from Portoviejo through Manabi to the province of Guayas are in very rough condition as they are being widened and reconstructed.  What currently exists for many miles resembles little more than a wide dusty goat trail – in fact I believe a goat trail would be a smoother ride!  Once you hit the province of Guayas, capital city Guayaquil, the roads improve considerably.  The coastal route of Ruta del Sol is also currently a much better route.

Along the west bank of the chocolate-brown Guayas River in flat coastal plains, we find Ecuador's largest city and the nation's main seaport of Guayaquil.

It is the largest shipping port on the Pacific Coast of South America, handling 80% of Ecuador's imports and 50% of its exports including shrimp, bananas, cocoa and coffee. The city is home to 3 million people and one of the country's two international airports. A hot and humid seaport, and industrial urban centre, it has a long-standing reputation of being dirty and unsafe.

Recently it has undertaken a massive urban renewal project to attract tourists and shed the notoriously bad reputation. Though it has always had a strong economy and plenty of nightlife, due to a series of fires it does not have the cultural heritage of Quito or Cuenca.

One of the main projects was Malecon 2000 a major restoration of the historic Simon Bolivar Pier, and creation of 2.5 miles of  ultramodern promenade / boardwalk along the Guayas River. In the city centre it is a pleasing mix of pedestrian friendly leisure and recreation space, green areas, monuments, modern art sculptures, viewpoints, restaurants, and tourist shopping and services.  It is anchored with a large outdoor "Hong Kong like" shopping mall  (popular for toys, clothing, electronic goods, DVDs, and CDs) on the south end, and the hill of Santa Ana and barrio of Las Penas on the north.


Las Peñas was completely destroyed due to a fire in 1896 (el incendio grande). It was rebuilt in a neoclassical style and now this trendy artistic centre of the city has restored many of its 400-year-old colourful houses and converted them into art galleries, shops and restaurants.

A staircase of almost 500 steps traverses the neighbourhood.  A peek into the lighthouse at the top provides wonderful vistas of the city.

The tall ship Guayas has its home base along the river promenade. It also features an Imax theatre, and Museum of Anthropology and Contemporary Art (MAAC).


The Palacio Municipal is located in front of the Malecon 2000 and houses the political offices of city and province. Built in a neoclassical style, it is considered one of the most important architectural works in the country.

We visited the Mercado Artesanal a collection of 280 colourful artisan shops. Its many vendors sell indigenous handicrafts, leather goods, jewellery, woven goods, pottery, and paintings from artisans throughout Ecuador.  The building takes up an entire city block.

Typical Guayaquil cuisine includes encebollado (one of many typical seafood soups), ceviche, arroz con menestra y carne (rice and beans with grilled or fried beef), patacones (twice-fried plantain slices) and pan de yuca (bread made from cassava).

One of our favourite destinations here is the Parque Seminario dating back to 1880 (also known as Parque de Las Iguanas or Iguana Park or Bolivar Park), which is exceptional for its wildlife. It is the shady home to many large iguanas, variety of birds, and a pond filled with colourful Japanese Tilapia. These animals chose this place to feed themselves from its vegetation, because the town of Guayaquil used to end in this park and all the rest was savanna. It is relaxing to watch the iguanas and you can even feed them mango slices from the park vendors. A typical equestrian statue of Simón Bolívar is located in the centre of the park.

The city's first high capacity bus rapid transit system, Metrovia, opened in 2006 in an attempt to reduce traffic congestion and automobile smog.  Due to the nature of driving in Ecuador with few road signs, one way streets, traffic diversions, and the significantly higher congestion here, we recommend leaving driving to the local expert taxi drivers.  The fare during the day almost anywhere in town will cost $ 2.00; it will easily double at night due to increased safety concerns.

Another project was the creation of the Nuevo Parque Histórico, a park in a housing development area that is called Entre Ríos because it lies between the Daule and Babahoyo rivers (which confluence to form the Guayas river), in a mangrove wetland area. The park cost the city about 7 million dollars.

It is a refuge for fauna and a zone of historical-architecture preservation, and has a traditions-and-history exhibition centre. The idea of the creation of this park came from Ecuador's central bank in 1982, as part of their "Rescate Arquitectónico" ("Architectural Rescue") programme.

The Cathedral Metropolitana de Guayaquil is one of the many churches represented here.

The Mall del Sol & El Paseo Centre are fresh new technologically advanced shopping centres ( in a developing country ) that are more impressive than any new shopping centres that we have seen in North America. 

The city's new airport, José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport (GYE), though using the same runways, had its passenger terminal completely rebuilt in 2006. The old passenger terminal is now a convention centre.

Stadium Estadio Monumental is the second largest stadium in South America with a seating capacity of 85,000.  They also have modern facilities for horse racing, kart, bicycle, motorcycle, and car racing, basketball, golf  (not very common in Ecuador), polo courts, and water sports facilities.

Guayaquil has had a tremendously tumultuous history.  In 1687 it was attacked and looted by 260 English and French pirates under the command of George d'Hout (English) and Picard and Groniet (French).  This battle left 75 defenders of the city dead and more than 100 wounded, and 35 of the pirates died and 46 more were wounded. The pirates took local women as concubines. Quito paid the ransom that was demanded by the pirates on the condition they would release the hostages and not burn Guayaquil to the ground.

Twenty-two years later in 1709, 110 English pirates lead by Rogers, Courtney, and Dampier looted Guayaquil and also demanded ransom.  They suddenly departed without collecting the ransom after an epidemic of yellow fever broke out.

In October 9, 1820, almost without bloodshed, a group of civilians supported by soldiers from the "Granaderos de Reserva", a battalion quartered in Guayaquil, overwhelmed the resistance of the Royalist guards and arrested the Spanish authorities. Guayaquil declared independence from Spain, becoming Provincia Libre de Guayaquil, and José Joaquín de Olmedo was named Jefe Civil (Civil Chief) of Guayaquil. This would prove to be a key victory for the Ecuadorian War of Independence.

On July 26, 1822, José de San Martín and Simón Bolívar held a famous conference in Guayaquil to plan for the Independence of Spanish South America. La Rotunda is a semi-circle monument commemorating that meeting of the two Latin American liberators.

Plaza Colon  located on the site of the last stronghold of the Old City, it is today established at the entrance of the boardwalk tunnel.. Its was named  by the Counsel in 1892 at the time when a monument was to be erected in honour of Christopher Columbus who discovered America.  Facing us we have the "Fortin de la Planchada", an old colonial bastion which was rebuilt in 1906 and from where the defense of the city was carried out.

The Peruvian Military invaded the city in 1829 and again in 1860, the latter is referred to as the Battle of Guayaquil.

In 1896 the city suffered from a major fire, which destroyed large portions of the city, and the city has sustained major damage from several earthquakes.

Guayaquil has a lively population and a number of attractions that will make your stay worthwhile. This being an El Nino year they are expecting to receive very heavy rainfall between January and April 2010.

For additional information on Guayaquil:

Guayaquil Tourism

City of Guayaquil

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Bahia de Caraquez, Manabi, Ecuador