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 13, 2011
It is summer in Chile however we had almost forgotten how cool nights can become when moving away from the Equator. We enjoyed visiting friends, wonderful long, bright summer days, strolls along the beach, good quality ethnic restaurants, and tropical fruit ice cream.
The coastal community of Valparaiso is a collection of famous architecturally designed, colourful, homes and buildings built on a very steep cliff descending to the protecting bay on the Pacific Ocean.
Outdoor ascensors / elevators provide access to these various areas on the cliffs. The sheltered bay is home to Chile's major seaport bustling with sea cargo, passenger ships, the navy fleet, and fishing vessels.
It is an older, poorer area with the major fish and fresh vegetable markets for the coastal area, and refurbished buildings providing homes for artisan galleries and tourist restaurants.
We enjoyed meandering through the myriad of steep cobblestone streets where often older, richly colourful buildings would appear perched in mid air overhanging steep cliff sides. The architecture has been influenced by many immigrant cultures and provides inspiration for architecture students from around the world. In addition to staircases which traverse the steep hillsides,
Naval vessels occupy the bay, and a large naval training academy is along the beach.
Valparaíso has an unusual system of ascensores funicular elevators (highly-inclined cable cars) which are one of the world's 100 most endangered historical treasures, or the Polanco elevator where one enters a long dimly lit mine-shaft like tunnel, and then a traditional vertical elevator which lifts its passengers several hundred feet within the earth to emerge to a daylight exit near the mountain top. There we found an abundance of fine restaurants serving typical plates and folkloric music, and artisan kiosks.
Vina del Mar "Vineyard of the Sea" is more modern cosmopolitan, luxurious, with spacious tree lined streets and lots of pedestrian friendly green spaces.
Famous for it's miles of beautiful stretches of beaches, malecon with a variety of activities,
Casino, and the business and shopping centre for the coastal communities in the area.
The Chileans have just voted Vina del Mar to be the most livable / favourite city in their country.
It is also a popular beach resort destination for many South American & European tourists.
Artists have designed a variety of intricate "life like" sandcastle sculptures along the beaches. This octopus and giraffe are good examples.
Large sand dunes lay opposite the ocean and provide a playground for ATV's, motorcycles, jeeps, and dune buggy's.
Chile has one of the strongest economies all of the South American countries. The streets are lined with shiny new popular franchise stores and restaurants and bustling with brand new vehicles.
The people are very active and health conscious with joggers, cycles, swimmers, and fitness centres everywhere. Sports such as surfing, boarding on the sand dunes, roller blading, and extreme cycling are very visibly popular. It's citizens have worked hard and successfully eliminated the prevalent corruption common in Latin cultures. Transparency International's 2011 Corruption Perception Index ranked Chile - 22 considered one of the least corrupt countries in the Americas. Less corrupt than the United States ranked - 24; Canada ranked - 10. But Ecuador - 120; Venezuela - 172 continue to rank among the highest countries for corruption. This fact continues to be overlooked by the optimistic promoters of retiring or living in Ecuador !
The residents of Chile aspire for the material luxury items enjoyed by the western world. Although property, homes, accommodation, and restaurants are priced higher than other Latin countries we found automobiles, clothing, electronic goods ( computers, digital cameras, televisions, appliances ) and fine red wines to be significantly less expensive than Ecuador. Grocery prices and fresh fruit and vegetables are comparably priced.
On December 2nd & 3rd Chile had a variety of talented artists involved in a 23rd annual countrywide fundraising telethon for charities. They raised 21,735,065,227 Chilean Pesos ( approx $ 4.5 m US ).
Preparations for Christmas and New Year celebrations are well underway with decorations, commercial sales & advertising, and " dusting off " peak season facilities. Vina del Mar hosts one of the largest famous New Year's fireworks exhibitions in Latin America. It will be attended by over two million tourists & spectators who fill the length of coastline from Valparaiso to Vina del Mar and hillsides for a view of the bay's pyrotechnic display. The coastal resort areas are currently filling with tourists from Argentina.
The hillsides have being incorporated into the tiered apartment, and hotel structures that line the bayshore.
While vacation hotels, apartments, and suites are abundant if you are interested in visiting for the holiday season be sure to book accommodation well in advance as thousands of South American ( Argentina & Brazil ) and European visitors come for the festivities here on the beach.
Jennifer Lopez was also visiting Chile this past week.
100,000 spectators turned out for the " Paris parade " held in Santiago. 32 gigantic inflatable helium characters showcased in a 3 hour long Christmas parade.
Friday, November 11, 2011
First a few interesting facts about Ecuador :
* Ecuadorian Cacao was selected as the " best in the world " in the World Chocolate Fair in Paris, France held in October of this year.
* Most visitors cite their main concern when visiting Ecuador is the visible poverty - 33 % of our population remains below the world poverty line.
* Net annual migration continues to be negative one percent.
* For a population of 15 million people here there are 14 million cell phones !!
* In 2011 Ecuador had a startling 42 % increase in people living with HIV / AIDS to 37,000 cases
Beginning in early October we had the elections of the various Reinas to represent communities, schools, and organizations for the upcoming year.
Each involves its own festivities and often a parade. Saturday, October 22nd was Leonidas Plaza's birthday, followed by the celebration of education at the end of October. The first week of November is a national holiday week. In fact with the summer holiday season approaching the Latinos have really started a holiday season with feriados that will blend into Christmas, New year and "Dia de los Reyes" on January 6th... followed by Caranaval and Semana Santa.
The 1st and 2nd of November. All Saints Day (Todos los Santos) and Day of the Dead (Dia de los Difuntos, o muertos) are extremely important holidays in South America.
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. It is a
time to celebrate and remember the lives of dearly departed 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. 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 grave site makers. Although celebrated by all it is especially important to the indigenous Quichua people. Families gather to pray and sing 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 grave sites 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 cornstarch ( recipe ). 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.
Our experience has been over the last several years these traditions are very quickly being lost as the volume of visitors to the cemetery is significantly lower with each passing year.
A series of week-long celebrations culminate in commemorating the 136th anniversary of Canton Sucre ( 1875 ) in Manabi. On November 3rd a series of commemorative ceremonies was held for the inauguration of a military memorial and several other parks and monuments were unveiled.
The major canton parade of colourful floats, costumed dance troops, and marching bands.
Civic ceremonies, cultural events, dances, soccer games, and a competition for swimming across the bay filled the remainder of the afternoon. The evening festivities marked the first anniversary celebration of the opening of the bridge.
The Blue Parrot has recently opened providing B & B type accommodation for travelers and a new alternative for breakfast.
Bahia and surrounding areas continue to experience regular water shortages and an increasing frequency of power outages.
Overseas visitors will fly in to Quito or Guayaquil with Continental, Delta, American, & LAN airlines. Visiting Bahía de Caráquez, Ecuador, requires a short 30 minute flight from either Quito ( UIO ) or Guayaquil ( GYE ) into either the coastal city of Manta (MEC), or the provincial capital Portoviejo (PVO), and then a one hour drive or bus ride to Bahia de Caraquez. Icaro & AeroGal are the domestic airlines into Manta and TAME flies into Portoviejo. It is also possible, though much less convenient, to drive from Quito (5.5 hours) or Guayaquil ( 4.0 hours ), or to take a bus. The San Vicente airport has been recently expanded - while it has been open for years it only receives charter plane traffic. Promoters have been announcing " the opening of this airport " now for many years !
The number of opportunistic expats undertaking property development schemes, or selling real estate here is rising quickly. Most have no track record or previous experience in developing, sales, or construction , have minimal personal funds invested, do not understand how difficult it is to do business here in a " lawless " environment, are new to the culture and language, and attempt to juggle multiple projects. We know of professionally developed websites " selling the dream " or a future concept where in two cases the actual land has yet to be acquired. These promoters are not creating real value rather greedily seeking something for nothing. While we know Ecuador is receiving a higher percentage of eccentric people & dreamers we fail to understand what causes experienced folks to become so naive when they are so easily parted from their hard earned money for a concept that simply never materializes, or a project that is significantly different from expectations.
In summary in Latin America you buy only what you can see.
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Montecristi, Ecuador founded in 1741 is a small village and canton that lies at the base of the enormous foggy hill Montecristi. The area is full of history and tradition and the hill is said to resemble the guardian of manabita traditions. It is in the province of Manabi about 12 miles inland from the port of Manta.
Along the main street of nueve de Julio the village of about 15,000 residents proudly displays it's handmade artisan crafts of wicker, straw, wood and iron and is internationally renowned for their production of high quality "Panama Hats." In fact there is strong rivalry between Cuenca and Montecristi in the production of Panama Hats.
We have aquired Panama Hats, lounge chairs, hammocks, custom made rattan or wicker furniture, custom made Bar-b-Que, and a variety of hand-embroidered clothing all locally handmade from the artisans in Montecristi.
Henri the propietario from Taller Artesanal Creativo muebles de acero y mimbre
Mila and her family operate several successful outlets on the main street selling handmade crafts and clothing from Otavalo and other areas in Ecuador.
For adventurers a two hour hike up the mountain to the peak at 1,400 feet presents wonderful vistas, and interesting dry cactus vegetation.
In the canton of Montecrisit is the 1,200 hectare La Isla de la Plata, the main attraction in Machalilla National Park, lying 23 miles west of the southern coast of Manabi. The island is known as the poor man's Galapagos.
The island has two routes or hiking trails, both with spectacular views, where you will find interesting colonies of blue footed boobies, masked boobies,
frigate birds and albatrosses found in the Galapagos Islands.
It is surrounded by coral reefs, dolphins, sea lions, and a variety of marine life, make it an ideal place for those who enjoy the nature. Between July and November you can easily spot the migrating whales.
Recent studies have uncovered the importance of this area as it was used as a port of exploitation and trafficking of poring Spondylus princeps shells, precious ornament for ritual use in the Amerindian peoples.
Montecristi has beautiful beaches of which Playa de San José is very popular.
Nearby is the small village of La Pila famous for it's ceramic and pottery artesanias who make a variety of sculptures and replicas of Pre-Colombian ceramics.
Montecristi is said to have formed during the early years of the Spanish conquest, possibly between 1536 and 1537, with settlers who left their coastal village of Manta fleeing from pirates. Among the first settlers was a man called "Criste", who built his house on the top of the mountain. It is believed that the village is named after this early settler. Originally it was the capital of Manabi but after the destruction from a terrible fire in July of 1866 Portoviejo became the provincial capital.
Ciudad Alfaro is located in the heights of the Montecristi Hill. From this strategic vantage point you can view the village below and the nearby port of Manta. The building contains three main components: National Constitutional Assembly & event hall, historical museum, and the mausoleo for General Eloy Alfaro.
It is made from native manteños materials of 2,500 years ago and resembles the shape of a condor. Reflecting Manta culture the artisans from La Pila produced the clay and other local artisans incorporated art and ceramic historic features.
Montecrisit is the birthplace of General Eloy Alfaro Delgado ( 1842 - 1912 ) , one of the biggest revolutionaries in the country. During his time as President of Ecuador he built the railway lines from the coast to the Andes. His home in the central area ( now a museum ) has been restored and can be visited, and his remains are in the Mausoleo. In the Mausoleo is a huge clay pot to pay tribute to the song named earthen vessel, which says: "I want you to bury me, as my ancestors, in the cool, dark belly of a vessel of clay. "
The museum pays tribute to the construction and operation of the railway lines,
with a restored steam engine and historic tools and equipment, and has the national collection of legal seals and stamps.
Once you understand the bureaucracy of paperwork in Latin America you will find a new appreciation for the extensive national historical collection of government and official seals and stamps.
Monserratte Basilica and the Virgin of Carmen Monastery of Christ was built 17 years ago and is home to the cloistered nuns. Montecristi is considered the religious capital of Manabi and houses the shrine of Our Lady of Monserrate.
The Vatican decision of His Holiness John Paul II consecrated the Basilica of World. In November thousands of Ecuadorian and foreign pilgrims traditionally have an annual pilgrimage and feast in the Basilica of the Virgin of Monserrate.
Featured in a recent article in " This is Ecuador " Montecristi and surrounding areas are home to a handful of Ecuador's master weavers, the creators of the finest straw hats in the world "Montecristi Panama Hats".
One of the world's classic ironies is that Panama hats are, and have always been, made in Ecuador. Jipijapa and Montecristi have been at the center of the toquilla-straw-hat trade since the 17th century. In the 1830s, Ecuador's sombreros de paja toquilla, or "hats of toquilla straw," were originally marketed in Panama. This was the main route for travelers between the coasts of North America. When gold was discovered in California, these strong, lightweight, straw hats became popular. They were highly prized for their ability to deflect the tropical sun, allow ventilation, fold for compact storage, and accessorize summer-weight silk suits.
In the early 1900s the hats gained more exposure when the Panama Canal was under construction. Originally Ecuador gave every worker on the project a finely woven hat to keep the sun off in respect and gratitude for the Panama Canal. Then a widely published photograph of U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt wearing a "Panama hat" as he operated a 95-ton steam shovel. These two reasons are credited with the origin of the mistaken name.
Montecristi panama hats are made from toquilla straw. The paja toquilla forests are found in the nearby coastal areas. A paja toquilla forest takes three years to mature. The plant is cut with machetes using the tender core of the leaves (cogollos). The straw fibers are stripped and then hand-split into strands not much thicker than thin thread, boiled to remove the green color, and hung up to dry for around a week. Next, the straw is woven into the rough hat. They are woven so finely, that at first a panama hat appears to be made from silk or linen. The hats are smoked in sulfur fumes in a closed wooden box and dried. The brim is ironed and trimmed of excess straw. Then the crown is shaped, using different-sized forms that combine the optimal heat, humidity, and pressure to provide the desired shape and feel. The brim is finished by cutting it to the desired width and reinforcing it, then a band is stitched inside the hat and another is placed around the hat on the outside.
The quality is in the tightness of the weave and the skill of the weaver. A hundred weaves per square inch are considered minimal; the highest quality and most expensive hats have as many as 2,000 weaves per square inch. Even then, the superfino Panamas are so expertly woven that, reportedly, they can hold water. They can be rolled up so small for storage or traveling that they can pass through a wedding ring. These hats can sell for thousands of dollars, though you can also buy pedestrian Panamas, like mine for as low as $15.
Each quality panama hat is woven by a single artisan, hand-blocked, and takes months to complete. Because there are so few master weavers of panama hats left (two generations ago there were 2000 panama hat weavers; today there are only about 20 weavers of panama hats) these works of woven art are becoming endangered to the point of disappearing.
Years ago Cuenca noticed the growing export demand for the hats and seized the opportunity to boost its economy. It opened a straw-hat factory, trained weavers, established supply lines for the paja toquilla from the coast, automated the process with hydraulic presses and hat forms, and hired master weavers.
The marketing and exporting business is primarily in Cuenca. The rivalry for the market between the cities continues today.
The latitude, humidity, rainfall and soil properties of Montecristi, create conditions that yield the smoothest, longest and strongest fiber of paja toquilla plants of any location in Ecuador. Cuenca is a higher altitude and drier conditiond for the toquilla plants. Montecristi's hats are essentially " handmade " whereas Cuenca automated some processes. Chemically bleaching hats in Cuenca damages the fibres verses the sulfur treatment process of Montecristi which is longer and slower. Montecristi claims handmade hats yield a much longer life expectancy than those made in Cuenca.
June - celebration festivals of the apostles St. Peter and St. Paul.
June 5 - The Revolution Alfarista,
June 25 - Cantonización and Alfaro's Birthday,
October 23 - Independence Party-Civic,
October 29 - San Andrés Aníbal Parroquialización-Robledo,
November 21 - Virgin de Monserrate
Municipality of Montecristi
In Bahia all the school bands for miles around have begun daily practicing for our cantonization celebrations, and parades on November 3rd. In addition to our neighbourhood finally receiving running water after waiting for over 6 months, other new developments in Bahia include large rocks being brought in to re-inforce the existing rock birm along the northern ciudela seawall; construction hoarding is in place for both the central mercado and the new shopping mall; 3 condominium buildings are under construction; 2 new hotels are being built, several smaller B & B's are being established, and several new hostels.