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, February 8, 2011

Medicinal Plants in Ecuador

When walking into a drugstore, you are surrounded by an abundance of medicines. Have you ever taken the time to think of how these medicines were created and are produced ? Herbal medicine is a dynamic phenomenon which is constantly evolving with the additional knowledge that has been acquired over the centuries.

Ecuador is known to have over 500 different species of medicinal plants. About 228 of the most common plants are endangered. Along the border regions of Ecuador and Peru we find one of the most biologically diverse regions in the world. In Southern Ecuador there are 215 plants registered that have medicinal properties. Some species could be used for various medical conditions. About 125 of the endangered medicinal plants are the most popular and the most commercially successful pulverized extract products and essential oils. Cat's Claw, Cascarilla, Inchi, Walnut, Cinnamon, Dragon Blood, Zaragotana, Balsam and Laurel are some of the examples of Ecuador's essential plants. The best known plants in the naturist medicine world as such plants as Chuchuhuasu, Yahuaticaspi, Leche de Oje, Sangre de Drago, Una de Gato, Cebolla del Monte, Guayusa, Liana de ajo, Chiriguayusa and Hierba Luisa.

Taking a look back into history the discovery of plants for medicinal purposes was by trial and error – ancient people started using specific plants for aches and pains. The knowledge of these plants grew over the centuries within the different cultures, and the knowledge of herbal medicines has been transferred down from one generation to the next by the shamans, traditional healers, or curanderos.

Curandero (or Curandera for females) are traditional folk healers or shamans in Latin America dedicated to curing physical or spiritual illnesses. The Role of a curandero (a) can also incorporate the roles of psychiatrist along with that of doctor and healer. Many curanderos (as) use Catholic elements, such as holy water and pictures of saints. The use of Catholic prayers and other borrowings are often found alongside native religious elements.

Most of the treatments are performed in the homes of the healer, where the healers have their "mesas" or "healing alters" set up. In Southern Ecuador a Western alter that is without many power objects is used. Until the constitutional change in 1998, traditional healing was illegal in Ecuador. Traditional cures are sometimes performed outdoors, close to waterfalls, special ceremonial sites or sacred lagoons.

Curing ceremonies involve purification of the patient, the patient is cleansed by spraying them with holy water that contain perfumes and or baths – banos de florecimiento (Spiritual Flowerings) which are important components of the healing tradition. The cleansing of the patient could also involve a nasal ingestion of tobacco juice and perfumes and also extracts of Jimson weed.

Leche de Oje – Ficus Insipida
The oje latex is a popular floral garden tree present in our garden. It is widely used as medicine for rheumatic problems. The oje latex is rubbed onto the rheumatic inflammations and it will ease the pain and discomfort.
When the bark of a Ficus Inspidida is cut, a white milky liquid wells. This liquid is called leche de oje and is used by the Quichua people for medicines. It is used against all kinds of intestinal parasites such as worms, parasites, amoebas and bacteria.
The milky liquid or latex can be taken with water, or pure. One can also drink one cup freshly mixed with orange juice and sugar.
The leaves of the Ficus can also be used as a substitute for plasters on fractures or bandages.

Chuchuhuasu – Maytenus Rkukovii - Celastraceae
Chuchuhuasi is commonly used in the treatments of bronchitis, rheumatism, fever, stomach ache and tuberculosis.
The Quijos Quichua Indians which live in the lowland rainforest of eastern Ecuador, use a mixture of chuchuhuasi for aching muscles, rheumatism, menstrual aches, general aching, and stomach aches.
The Indigenous of the Amazon use chuchuhuasi as a stimulant.
Chewing the chuchuhuasi bark is an effective treatment for upset stomach, diarrhea, menstrual irregularities and arthritis.
Chuchuhuasi is also used to help rejuvenate the system and revitalise nervous tissues.
The raw bark can also be used without liquid or any preparation to feel stronger and to also generally improve a person's physical condition.
The chuchuhuasi tree is relatively easy to recognize in the rainforest of the Amazon, as they have yellow bark and never grow straight like other species. This tree always looks a little gnarled and sits crooked. The truck shows many hollows where nocturnal animals find their shelter during the day. The leaves, roots and bark are well known ethno medicine and are used for traditional uses.
The roots are reduced to small pieces and used for medicine.
A piece of bark is cooked in water or inlayed in alcohol, with these methods you can extract the chemical substance tannin, which gives the liquid a red colour. As the bark is extremely bitter it is also often mixed with bee honey. The infusion is used for kidney and or bladder problems and muscle pain. The medicine is taken three times a day until the symptoms no longer exist.

Yahuaticaspi – Abuta Grandifolia - Menispermaceae
Yahualicaspi is a tree that reaches 2 – 5 meters in height and has yellow fruit that is edible. The medicinal usage for this tree is of the it's leaves, roots and bark. Each Indigenous Tribe of the Amazon Region knows and uses it against headaches, toothaches, colds, tuberculosis, stomach aces, sore throat, colic. The useful parts of the plant are cooked and one drinks it.

Sangre de drago – Croton Lechleri – Euphorbiaceae
Translated into English it means – Dragon's Blood. The leaves of the Sangre de Drago are shaped like a heart. This tree gets it's name from the red liquid which wells from the tree when you cut into the bark. The sangre de drago can be used both externally and internally. When applied on wounds it improves the healing process and also prevents infections. The Quichua use sangre de drago for toothaches, rashes, herpes and also mosquito bites. For these the fresh liquid is applied directly to the affected area. As sangre de drago is very sticky it is watered down for internal use. The large demand for sangre de drago gives the Quichua people additional income, they collect the liquid in large quantities and what they do not use for their own personal uses, they sell the rest.

Una de Gato – Uncaria Tomentosa - Rubiaceae
Also known as cat's claw or cat's nail. Cat's Claw is indigenous to the Amazon rainforest and other South and Central America tropical areas. The Una de Gato is a woody climbing plant and reached its name from the curved thorns at the bottom of the leaves. The trunk of the plant is cut into small pieces and the red wood is cooked in water, thus producing the medicine which is known to help with arthritis, allergies, general weakness, gonorrhoea, bladder/kidney diseases, stomach ulcers, diabetes, cancer, menstrual problems and asthma. The leaves are rarely used to make the tea.

Guayusa – Illex Guayusa - Aquifoliaceae
Guayusa has been used in Ecuador from ancient times to modern day and it increases physical and mental capacity, helps fight fatigue and restores youthful energy.
The Quichua people drink their typical tea de guayusa every morning. The tea is made from the leaves of the guayusa. The leaves contain caffeine and gives a waking up effect in the morning and is similar to Yerba Mate. The Quichua are convinced that the daily use of the guayusa tea protects against snakebites. The Ecuadorians enjoy a warm alcoholic drink which is guayusaso which is made with the guayusa tea and sugar cane liquor and this sometimes contains fruit juice.
Guayusa has been used in Ecuador from ancient times to modern day and it increases physical and mental capacity, helps fight fatigue and restores youthful energy.
The indigenous hunters drink guayusa to sharpen their instincts and to helpe them stay alert and awake all night.
The Kichwa say that drinking guayusa promotes restful sleep and good dreams.

Chiriguayusa – Brunfelsia Grandiflora - Solanaceae
The tea produced from the leaves of this plant is used as a medicine against fevers. It is also used for ritual cleansings, cleaning tea before bedtime and as a tranquillising. Taking a bath with the leaves helps against body pains and the leaves can be directly applied against swellings and muscle pains.

Hierba Lisa – Cymbopogon Citratus - Poaceae
Commonly known as Lemon Grass. Lemon grass is the herb that is always associated with Asian cooking – it has an aromatic citrus flavour with a trace of ginger. Lemon grass has antibacterial and antifungals properties mixed with pepper it is a home make therapy for menstrual problems and nausea. When drank as a tea it can be an effective diuretic. Lemon grass is also a good cleanser and helps the body detoxify the digestive tract, pancreas, kidney, liver and bladder. Lemon grass can also help improve the skin by acting as a muscle and tissue toner and reduces acne and pimples. Lemon grass can also reduce blood pressure. A lemon grass tea can be made by boiling some leaves in water and let it cool and drink the liquid.

Liana de ajo – Mansoa Alliaceae – Bignoniaceae
The garlic liana is used to alleviate fevers and colds after the bark has been cooked in water. The bark of this plant smells very strongly of garlic.Making a steam bath of the leaves of the liana de ajo also aids with fevers and arthritis pains.
The liana de ajo roots itself at ground level and then uses trees and other vegetation to climb to the canopy. Lemurs use the trees that the liana de ajo has wrapped itself around for nesting sites. Spider monkeys and sloths also use this plant to help them get from place to place, as the woody vines provide the mobility across the rain forest canopy.

Cebolla del monte – Eucharis Amazonica – Armaryllidaceae

The roots of the herb cebolla del monte look like those of an onion and for this reason it's name in English translates to wild onion. The daffodil like bulb or onion is dug up and cut into small pieces and the Quichua people prepare a tea which helps against influenza. Both the liana de ajo and the cebolla del monte work against cold, fever and influenza but together they have a synergetic effect. This herb's blossoms are white with fruit that are a bright orange when ripe and they have black seeds.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Crime & Corruption in Ecuador

Eyes Wide Open

Crime & Corruption are very extensive, and a severe problem in Ecuador. Dealing with increasing crime, and reducing corruption remain the Government's main challenge for 2011. Crimes in the past year ranged from petty theft to violent crimes, including armed robbery, home invasion, sexual assault and homicide. Low rates of apprehension and conviction of criminals – due to limited police and judicial resources – further contribute to Ecuador's high crime rate. While there has been some improvements over the last several years Ecuador ranks very low out of the 180 countries ranked in the Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index (CPI). 2010 Survey results

Denmark and Canada receive the strongest ratings. The polar opposite environments which we have experienced may explain why this has clearly being our most significant challenge/ adjustment to our life in Ecuador.

Crime is much worse in the large cities. Guayaquil is the largest city with about 2 million people and harbors the worst crime in the country ( also the poorest people - particularly on the south side) . Quito with about 1.3 million is the second largest and also has pretty high crime. Tourists, residents and club owners complain of rampant crime in La Mariscal, Quito's nightlife district where some bouncers are now Russian and many of the customers African and South Asian. The 3rd largest is Cuenca, a mountainous city of half a million that once was quite safe but is only 3 hours from Guayaquil and lately has been a weekend stopover for delinquents looking for easier, less wary prey. After over two years living here in Ecuador, and our tranquil coastal community of Bahia de Caraquez, we have first hand experience to increasing levels of crime and high levels of personal frustration with corruption.

Non-violent crimes, including pick-pocketing, purse-snatching, robbery, bag-slashing and hotel room theft, are the most common types of crimes committed against foreigners in Ecuador. They occur in all parts of Ecuador and incidents have increased in the past year. Pickpockets and other petty thieves are particularly active in airports, restaurants, public transportation, crowded streets, bus terminals and public markets and grocery stores. Backpackers are frequently targeted for robbery and "snatch and grabs;" business travelers carrying laptop computer bags are similarly targeted.

Almost everyone here ( including ourselves ) has experienced the theft of a wallet, cellphone, watch, laptop, bicycle, or chicken. Several of the boats in  the Bahia harbour have experienced thefts. In fact this type of theft is so common that theft of anything less than $ 500 in value is not even considered a crime or pursued in any way. Reporting petty crime to the police is useless. As these thefts are never reported they cannot be in any crime statistics you may find on this country. Statistics are also difficult to compare as crimes are classified in different ways, and cultural differences mean some crimes are less likely to be reported in one country than another.

What is significantly more disconcerting is the increase in violent crime in broad daylight. Armed robbery is a constant hazard throughout Ecuador. Throughout coastal Ecuador, the rate of violent crime against expats continues to rise. In the last several weeks there have been 6 occurrences of home invasion robberies in our coastal area. Friends of ours experienced an armed home invasion where at gunpoint they were tied up while thieves emptied their home of all valuables in front of their eyes. There have been several rapes and several local women were robbed at gunpoint in broad daylight while walking on a downtown street, and several reports of cameras and purses being snatched. These examples are not necessarily the " complete picture " - it is the incidents in the area that we know about.

We have a growing number of " middle-class " expats from around the world arriving to experience life in Ecuador. Many seemingly have made that decision after a " brief tour " or after doing their research on the internet ! In either case they have had no life exposure to these harsh realities in Latin America. Whenever there is such a wide divergence in income levels there is a corresponding increase in crime irregardless of where you are in the world.

Most expats seek the safety and security provided by an apartment, condominium, or gated community. Those few who venture out into the community to live in a house, will find the perimeter of their property is secured with a " glass sharded topped " wall. In addition most will employ " live on the premises 24 / 7 " armed guards and have guard dogs and guns.

"Secuestro express" or "Express kidnappings" are a common crime in Ecuador and are on the increase in Quito and Guayaquil. Both wealthy Ecuadorians and foreign visitors are targets.The kidnappings involve short-term opportunistic abductions aimed at extracting cash from victims who are selected at random. They are held while criminals empty their bank accounts using the victims' bank cards. Once the money has been taken the victim is usually released in an isolated area. However, criminals have started to force victims to take them to their homes once they have withdrawn the cash, and violence is becoming more common. From latest reports, these crimes have taken place especially at night in the Mariscal District in Quito and most of them have involved illegitimate taxis and complicit taxi drivers. Travelers should be particularly aware of the dangers in Guayaquil and in Quito, as well as in the south of Ecuador, including at the Ecuador/Peru border crossings of MacarĂ¡ and Huaquillas.

Ecuador has become a significant transit country for cocaine originating in Colombia and Peru, with reportedly over half of the US-bound cocaine passing through Ecuadorian Pacific waters; importer of precursor chemicals used in production of illicit narcotics; attractive location for cash-placement by drug traffickers laundering money because of dollarization and weak anti-money-laundering regime; increased activity on the northern frontier by trafficking groups and Colombian insurgents. Ecuador has become particularly attractive for money launderers because of its combination of weak laws and use of the American dollar as its currency. The International Assessment and Strategy Centre, reckons that it has become a hub for Russian and Chinese crime syndicates.

Crime is not the same everywhere. Certain types of crime that are common in the northern hemisphere can be rare in Latin America. That can put travelers at a disadvantage as they enter a new country where their safety habits are no longer sufficient to protect them and their property. This is certainly true for European, Canadian, or American travelers to Ecuador.

Unfortunately culturally it is accepted here. To illustrate here is an excerpt from an Ecuadorian lady who was recently robbed " it was traumatic to have a gun shoved against my cheek and a knife up to my neck. But, all the Ecuadorians are telling me that I´m ¨weak¨ for being upset about this situation. Further, I´ve heard ¨a veces te toca¨ so many times that I just can´t take it anymore. The police told me that it was my fault for traveling with a group of gringos. Other people have told me it´s a rite of passage in Latin America and I should just accept it. " There is a saying in Ecuador regarding things left unattended "I may as well take it because if I don't, the next person will. " It is a part of the culture here that is very uncomfortable.

This article is written to make you fully aware and enable you to properly prepare yourself to enjoy your visit, or enjoy life in this beautiful country. We have met wonderful, warm, hard working, trustworthy Ecuadorian people.

Here is a checklist of helpful tips when visiting Ecuador.

1.) Do not display your wealth by wearing gold jewelry, diamonds or other precious stones, designer handbags, expensive clothing, using your blackberry, or carrying an expensive camera in public. Simply being a " gringo " already makes you a target, blend in as best you can. Shorts are not normal here, and loud print tourist clothing will be very conspicuous.

2.) Do not carry large amounts of cash on your person at any time, carry only what you need for this outing. Billfolds or wallets should be in a front pocket. When paying for goods or services open your wallet discretely. It is a good idea to either carry a " throwaway " wallet or $ 20 in another location to provide your thief in the event of a robbery. This strategy may enable you to successful escape losing your primary billfold and identification. Count and inspect any change received to ensure it's accuracy and the bills are not counterfeit. Counterfeit bills are quite common. As a result large denomination bills are not readily accepted even at banks.

3.) Criminals often use drugs to subdue victims. Home-made versions of the drug 'scopolamine' or 'escopolamina' in Spanish, which can be administered in food or drink, cigarettes, aerosols, or powder. It will leave victims sedated, compliant, and cause amnesia, making you obey anything anyone tells you to do, further, you'll appear to be acting normal. In at least one incident the drug was administered through a chemical soaked into a leaflet handed to the victim on the street. Be wary of unsolicited approaches from strangers offering you food, drinks, leaflets, telephone cards or cigarettes, no matter how friendly or well dressed they appear.

4.) The number of reported attacks by drivers of unregistered taxis has risen. For your safety, use only authorized taxis (yellow cabs) that display their taxi registration sticker on the windscreen and doors, as well as the orange license plates.

5.) Unlike the Northern hemisphere countries, in Latin American countries you do not extend trust before knowing someone. You needn't be ashamed about it being insulting as it's a way of life here when dealing with strangers.

6.) Both Ecuadorians and foreigners are regularly robbed when leaving banks. Avoid isolated cash machines and/or ATM's in the street. Be vigilant when using ATM's . Be aware of your surroundings and make sure the machine has not been altered or tampered with.

7.) Be vigilant when traveling on buses at night throughout Latin America. Buses travel through remote areas and frequently stop for passengers enabling a thief ready access. Armed gunmen regularly hold up buses at night.

8.) If any polite young fellows on the street point out that you've got mustard on your jacket or backpack, be aware it could be the start of a trick to get you to drop whatever you're carrying. The next step is for a few accomplices to cause confusion during which one of them snatches your belongings. Yes, thieves don't just work alone here, they can work as a well organized team.

more details on these organized crimes of opportunity
9.) Scan all your important identification and credit cards for electronic storage and also make photocopies. Store each in independant secure locations.

10.) Carry your identity documents at all times. If driving, always ensure that you have your driving licence, vehicle insurance papers (SOAT) and registration card (matricula).

11.) Finally simply be aware that you often will be quoted a higher price for goods and services simply for being a rich foreigner. Prices are not posted here and bartering with vendors is common cultural practice. They know that you're used to higher prices so you may be charged the "gringo rate".

Corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. This definition encompasses corrupt practices in both the public and private sectors. There is a lot of bureaucracy here and the collective experience of many here would say most laws, and regulations can and will be different dependent on who you know, and what you pay !

Corruption clearly holds Ecuador's development back. A recent survey of business managers throughout the world showed in excess of 70 % ranked corruption, and the lack of confidence in courts to uphold property rights as major constraints for business here. A major business leader here has indicated this country is currently in major turmoil.

Throughout Ecuador, the Government has recognized the pervasive corruption that permeates this society, and recently passed legislation in an attempt to make change. There are laws in place to fight official corruption, but enforcement is lacking. This past year we have seen several high profile leaders removed from their office due to corruption. Bribery and theft of public funds is common. An inefficient and nontransparent judicial system adds to the problem.

Investigations into the abuse of public funds are at times politically motivated, and oversight of autonomous agencies is lacking. In December 2008, President Correa issued a decree that created the National Secretary for Transparency, to investigate and denounce acts of corruption in the public sector. Both entities can conduct investigations into alleged acts of corruption but responsibility for prosecution remains with the Office of the Prosecutor General.

Here in Ecuador, bribes paid to bureaucrats,( customs, airports, building, health, & fire inspectors ) judges and police happen regularly. Payments to bureaucrats arguably vary in moral standing as it could be made simply to get past some plainly unreasonable paperwork requirements, expedite a task that might take longer than desired, correct an administrative mistake made by the payer, or to obtain some kind of permit that otherwise would be denied.

Payments made to police would usually be to avoid some kind of official punishment or traffic violation, such as at a traffic stop where one's license or insurance has expired, or for the return of your stolen property. It could be considered an on-the-spot fine as far as the payer is concerned, but while the money would go to the officer, the government would not receive anything.

Court decisions are not necessarily correct or just, they can depend on your network of contacts and money. Payments made to judges are not uncommon as a way of having civil matters come into ones favor. This is clearly the worst form of corruption among those mentioned as it obviously adversely impacts a specific party. After using several lawyers to expedite a legal matter we have discovered that judicial bribes have been made to both delay and sway the final decision.

epic legal battle to hold oil giant Chevron (formerly Texaco) accountable for its systematic contamination of the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Real estate salespeople misrepresent the property, inflate the asking price, collect commissions from both buyer and seller, and often utilize the language barrier to manipulate the transaction.

Businessmen must compete on an uneven playing field when the competition has been provided a significant advantage with " free utilities, free water, or some other incentive " from corrupt community leaders.

Culturally integrity and trust are very foreign concepts here. Most people here will lie to save face, escape blame, or to " please you " Believe it or not, some people will try to sell property that they don’t own and once you give them the money – they’re gone. Common folks will pay to get ahead in a bank service, electoral, or common service line. When purchasing property you must ensure that all municipal, electrical, water, and other service fees have been paid to the current date or you will inherit these extra costs. Even after extensive investigation we had unpaid bills that were in another family member's name, and one agency that's records were not up to date when questioned. In the process of buying a used vehicle you will discover the previous owner's unpaid bank loan, traffic fines, police fines, annual inspection fees, municipal charges, Soat, and matricula for all prior years transfer to the new " registered owner." It is very common to inherit many hidden charges, in addition to whatever risks you will inherit with the condition of the used vehicle. Preventative maintenance is not common in this culture.

When we purchased our property here in Bahia the owners were supposed to be returning to the United States. It represented some convenience for us as the negotiated package included all of the furniture and domestic items which they would not be able to carry in their suitcase. After the transaction was signed they announced they were constructing a small house immediately adjacent to our new home. They did so without any municipal permissions or building permit, and proceeded to build on someone else's property ! For us this was incredible, but the locals say it is pretty common. The property dispute is in front of a judge who has received paola but apparently a resolution may be years away. These unscrupulous neighbours not only stole building materials from us to build their house, but transferred the furniture and other domestic items we had purchased from them to their new home ! In addition to many unanticipated costs and repairs, due to misrepresentation and lack of maintenance, and many other problems, we now have these devious folks as neighbours !

In order to successfully live, or do business in Ecuador, an individual is simply unable to refuse and stand on their moral grounds and survive successfully here. (it is pervasive at all levels and isn't going to change overnight – if in our lifetime ) Unfortunately it is a way of life here, and while it is abhorrent, it must be recognized and accommodated.

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Bahia de Caraquez, Manabi, Ecuador