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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We welcome your feedback, questions and suggestions and hope that you return often.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Amenity Migration

For decades, the retirement of the baby boom generation ( defined as post WW II babies born between 1946 and 1964 ) has been a looming economic threat. Now the unstoppable wave is well underway and every month over 2 million global citizens turn 65 years old. In 2010 there were 520 million folks worldwide aged 65 or over- in 16 years (2030) this number will surpass 1 billion ! 

Initially, this population bulge provided a tremendous boost to world economic growth.  As these folks, no longer contribute to the economy with  direct production, significantly reduce their spending, increase their dependance on others, their children, and government for entitlements and health care costs. This undisputable demographic wave has profound global economic consequences.

Within this tidal wave, global economic inequality has created a smaller trend known as  " amenity migration. "  Defined as - People living in a place, and altering it, without ever engaging in the new culture, or even considering how their choices affect people who already live there. Repeating previous colonial practices by visioning the new habitat as an empty place that migrants can inhabit, and alter at will, without having to concern themselves about the desires, aspirations or needs of those already living there. It is the northern perception of power and wealth  that continues to exploit a system that takes advantage of local poverty.  "I'm making a living on the U.S. economy and living on the Ecuadorian economy. It's a great formula" says one migrant.

This international migration ( emigration ), is characterized by retirees from the developed "North" moving to the developing "South" in search of preferred amenities. Lured by sun-dappled tropical paradise landscapes, lower living costs, and a gentler pace of life.  A lifestyle oriented to patterns of leisure and consumption,  in which work imperatives are minimal or non-existent. Who can resist the polished marketing fantasies of "living like a king in a tropical paradise" ?

Latin American governments are also luring retiring baby boomers with incentive programs. Panama's was among the first and most aggressive to target baby boomers.  Benefits such as duty exemptions on the importation of household goods, discounts on transportation, entertainment & admission fees, utility bills, medical services etc. However the newly transplanted folks are placing significant unrealistic expectations and strains on their new countries infrastructure systems, and with aging migrants on the health care systems. For example in the community hospital of Bahia de Caraquez we have no medical doctors working on weekends !

As the most educated, well-traveled, and adventurous generation in history, a growing number of retirement aged Americans & Europeans are voluntarily surrendering their rooted identities,  and physical ties to a stable home and community for a new beginning in a truly foreign and far away place. Leading first is Mexico, followed by Costa Rica, Central America (Belize, Honduras,
Nicaragua, Guatemala) Panama,  Europe, Thailand, Ecuador,  & Colombia.  Unfortunately they bring with them, wherever they go, the "unconscious privilege entitlement" from the Global North.

Cuenca a  UNESCO World Heritage City with a charming historic district, and a population of about 350,000 has seen the number of expats grow from about 300 six years ago to more than 3,500 today.

When traveling to these destinations, tourists are usually satisfied with their superficial experiences with the people and their destinations. However with relocation and residency the discrepancy between the exquisite scenery and landscapes, and the brutal living conditions, and poverty of their local surrounding neighbours becomes a stark reality. A lifestyle focused on consumption and leisure patterns does not fit. Obvious linguistic, racial, cultural, and socio-economic disparities quickly become problematic.

In Ecuador we are witnessing a proliferation, in both size and number, of foreign retirement-expatriate "gated communities ". These gated community developments are being constructed for the emerging rich class of international residential tourists alongside farming or fishing villages with indigenous who live in the harsh reality of poverty, institutionalized discrimination, and malnutrition.

These developments are isolated linguistically, have migrant dominated social activities, are physically separated by high walls, and have minimal engagement with the greater community. They are placing significant unrealistic expectations and strains on their new countries infrastructure systems, and with aging migrants on the health care systems. Western development should not be blindly imposing " modern improvements."   In fact industrialized nations could learn about building sustainable societies where a close relationship with nature can enrich human life far beyond that of material wealth or technology. These developments are controlled by no-one, yet propelled by the greed of many.

The " amenity migrants"  growing presence is dramatically altering the social, cultural, environmental and economic landscape of these areas. Most of these transplanted folks experience their new home as a " beautiful landscape "  void of its inhabitants. Assimilation with their new community is often superficial, with the majority of retired expatriates interacting primarily with other expatriates. By living in isolated gated communities and socializing almost exclusively with other migrants, they make themselves impermeable. Interaction with locals is limited to transactional exchanges for menial labour services,  groceries, or fruit & vegetables etc. Language barriers are usually cited as the main factor inhibiting their interaction with local populations. Without the language how can one reasonably expect to have any meaningful conversation or learn about their new country ?

After several years of turmoil, in October 2012 the small Andean community of Cotacachi, which hosts a foreign population with these unrealistic expectations and little understanding of what it means to live in a foreign country, outlawed new gated community developments.

The predatory real estate development practices have radically altered the rural community, and cultural insensitivity has created significant social tensions within the community. Commendably the municipal government seeks to effectively address infrastructure demands, and the escalating social unrest. The developers landscape erosion, lack of sufficient potable water for local community needs, disposing of raw sewage into natural mountain streams, escalating crime in the area, and cultural intolerances are just some examples of unrealistic expectations / demands.

There are over 182 proposed developments on the coast of Ecuador just between Manta and Esmeraldas. There are countless more along the Pacific coastline of Ecuador, Mexico, & Panama where little more exists than a faded sales promotional billboard, and perhaps some cleared land in anticipation of future sales. Faced with similar concerns of eroding landscapes, lack of sufficient potable water for local community needs, disposal of raw sewage, lack of electrical service and capacity, and escalating crime. Prudent caution is always required as sometimes an elaborate internet sales presence exists without any tangible physical development. Sometimes the project development does not yet even " own " the land for the proposed project.

These speculative developments rely on future sales to fund the land purchase & project infrastructure -effectively Ponzi schemes ! A residential development nearby, whose residents are now very alarmed about coastal erosion, was built closer to the ocean's edge than permitted by national law. Yet another purchasers have been waiting more than six years for their promised homes.

Real estate developers make claims of preserving natural resources, environmental sensitivity, and sustainable living which are fundamentally contradictory to the nature of their project -changing forest or agricultural land to the dense, infrastructured, resource intensive useage of the development !

This has become so problematic here that the government introduced legislation prohibiting developers to market their properties until infrastructure and all legal permitting is in place. While this may seem obvious from a North American perspective it is not here ! While the law is now in place there is little operational enforcement, and illegal sales continue. Buyer Beware ! 

From our experience, most developments that are successful are usually undertaken by local developers who have a solid understanding of their marketplace and the countries laws, not new foreigners swooping in seeking to make their fortune attracting naive and unwary gringos.

Retiring or living in a developing country certainly isn't for everyone – managing expectations is a simple yet major obstacle. Crime, drug violence, notoriously ineffective judicial systems, cultural differences, slower pace of life, and infrastructure / utilities expectations, notorious bureaucratic delays, poor signage, lack of lighting, uneven sidewalks, scheduled appointments that never happen, can be problematic. "Mañana doesn't mean tomorrow, it just means not today."

New or future foreign residents should realize that levels of resentment towards them are continuing to grow as we are increasingly seen as ignorant, arrogant, and culturally disrespectful.  Do we foreigners who choose to retire in other countries realize the negative economic, social, and environmental impacts of our presence? Do we care?

The articles purpose is not to dissuade you from choosing to live in Ecuador but rather ensure you fully consider, and assume responsibility for all of the impacts your decision will have on others. Learning the native tongue and local customs of your new country will take time, but it is well worth the effort ! Taking time to listen ( requires an understanding of the local language ), walk and wonder, learn about the realities and hardships of living with limited resources, participate in festivals, and contribute to your community by volunteering. Ecuador is a beautiful country which we enjoy and our sincere desire is to see and help its people flourish ! Happiness is not related to money.

For those interested in a more detailed examination of this highly controversial subject :

"The Amenity Migrants of Cotacachi" by Anisa Kline B.A. M.A.

Peter Shear  a concerned, dual citizenship American living, working and raising his children in Cotacachi since 1999

  documented interviews and concerns : 

The laws of this country specifically prohibit naming or discrediting unscrupulous persons, businesses, or developers which further exasperates the issue for the unwary consumer.

We welcome your candid thoughts, comments, and opinions.

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Classroom Without Walls - The Power of Outdoor Learning

Learning starts at very early ages when we are fascinated with the world around us. Here in Ecuador we continue to embrace learning in a classroom without walls daily.

The quality of public education in the traditional classroom is improving in Ecuador, and enhanced or supplemented with  rich outdoor experiences with nature, can become world class.  International exchange experiences are growing in popularity for both young and old.  These are invaluable experiences in shaping ones values and expanding horizons - how different our life would have been if we had had this type of opportunity much earlier in life ! 

Guest article by  Linda McGurk  with photos added from Ecuador

Linda is a writer and photographer who believes that the best childhood memories are created outside, while jumping in puddles, digging in dirt, catching frogs and climbing trees. She blogs about restoring the connection between children and nature at Rain or Shine Mamma, and hopes to inspire other parents to get outside with their children every day, regardless of the weather.

   Published in The Nature Conservancy - September 25, 2014

At the edge of a sprawling pine forest in southern Sweden, a blond boy who is just shy of his second birthday fearlessly scales some tall, moss-clad boulders like it was nobody's business. Below the rocks, three brothers wearing rain boots are wading around in a creek and building a habitat for a frog they just found. Nearby, I watch as a group of preschool-aged girls are busy racing pine cones down a repurposed waterspout.

There is no fence in sight and the boundaries mainly consist of natural features – the creek, the grove of birch trees, the wind break and so on. The adults in charge are supervising from a distance, while cutting up  some fresh pears and apples for a mid-morning snack. There is a building on the property – but it is used sparingly since the children play, learn and often eat outdoors every day – rain or shine.

Welcome to forest school, Scandinavian style!

I grew up in Sweden, where the first forest schools, or outdoor nurseries, started cropping up in the 1950s. Although I didn't attend one myself, my friends and I were raised in the same nature-loving culture that inspired the forest schools. My hometown is roughly on the same latitude as Juneau, Alaska, but we played outside all year round, cheered on by parents and teachers who would all respond with the old Scandinavian catch phrase "There is no bad weather, only bad clothes!" should we ever complain. (A phrase which, by the way, continues to guide my blog.)

After moving to the US and having children of my own, my interest in forest schools and their practices and principles started to grow. The main goal of outdoor nurseries/preschools in Scandinavia is to forge a bond between children and nature, so that the children will become knowledgeable about the environment and take good care of it as adults. As it turns out, there's plenty more to like about them.

"We've found that children at forest schools have significantly fewer sick days and better motor skills, and they're fitter and more attentive than children at traditional preschools,"says Patrik Grahn, a landscape architect and biologist at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) who conducted one of the first groundbreaking studies on forest schools back in 1997.

In nature, children's interactions also tend to become more imaginative and allow for elaborate role-playing games. "Play in itself has a therapeutical effect on children," says environmental psychologist Fredrika Mårtensson at SLU. "And they play differently outside. The games are more open and flexible, and it's easier for them to organize the situation in a way that's beneficial to them physically, socially and psychologically."

In Sweden, forest schools seem to be particularly popular among parents who themselves enjoy an outdoorsy lifestyle. "I think it's great that they're outside in the fresh air instead of inside with all the germs," says Malin Utter, whose three children (aged 1.5, 5 and 7) are all attending an outdoor nursery and after school program. "Plus, they run off a lot of excess energy."

Forest schools are common in Europe, especially in Germany, which according to Der Spiegel boasts over 1,500 so called waldkindergartens. They are also surging in popularity in countries like the UK, South Korea and Japan. In Sweden outdoor nurseries recently got a boost as the youngest member of the royal family, Princess Estelle, 2.5, enrolled for her first semester at a cooperative forest school. "For us it is very important that nature becomes a natural part of the children's everyday life," Estelle's mother, Crown Prince Victoria, told Radio Sweden as she accompanied her daughter to the first day of school.

Learning at forest schools is less focused on traditional academic subjects and is typically child-led, play-based and rooted in hands-on experience. It is also naturally interdisciplinary, according to Juliet Robertson, founder of Creative STAR Learning Company and a leading outdoor education consultant in Scotland. "I would argue that the experience is richer when it takes place outside," she said about outdoor classrooms.

For example, Robertson said, if children use leaves to learn how to count objects, they may learn to identify that type of leaf and the plant from which it came. They may also learn that on windy days, leaves blow away if you don't hold them tightly or put a stone on top, so they need to be more adaptable to environmental circumstances. They will have collected the leaves in order to count them. This means making a decision that directly impacts on the environment – do they pick leaves growing from a plant, and if so which one? Or, do they only collect leaves that have fallen on the ground?

"You learn none of these things in a classroom counting plastic elephants," Robertson said.

Compared with Europe, the forest school movement in North America has been slow to catch on, and in the U.S. there are only a couple of dozen nature preschools in operation. So what if you're not one of the fortunate few who live near one? Try to encourage your child's preschool or daycare provider to get outside more. And if your children are in grade school, promote the idea of an outdoor classroom to the parent teacher organization or administration. More importantly, "Make time outside of school for lots of outdoor experiences," Robertson advised.

If you're in need of ideas for outdoor learning, check out Nature Rocks, the Children and Nature Network and Be Out There, as they are all great resources for connecting children with nature.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Maquipucuna Reserve

Maquipucuna Reserve partners with local communities in conservation

 Rebeca Justcia and Rodrigo Ontaneda, environmental and social entrepreneurs, decided to take action against the damage that deforestation and human poachers were causing the environment of Ecuador. In 1987  they decided to create the Fundacion Maquipucuna. The following year they were recognized by the government as a non-profit nature conservation organization.

The non-profit Maquipucuna Foundation  raised money to buy and protect a large swath of the richly biodiverse cloud forest of the Choco Andean corridor just two hours outside of Quito.


It spans an area of fourteen thousand acres, which is between 3000 and 8800 feet above sea level.


The elevation range provides the reserve with an extremely diverse mix of plant species, birds, and animals, and the home to the rare spectacled bear.

The foundation has also had an important impact on local communities.


They operate an ecolodge and non-profit nature preserve, and have managed to incorporate the community in eco-tourism and sustainable projects. Former wildlife and lumber poachers are now gainfully employed as guides, lodge staff and organic farmers growing native bamboo, cacao, and organic coffee in fields that are bird friendly.




They also educate the local community on sustainable living while conserving nature.  They have received local and international awards for their efforts.

A visit here will provide you a unique bird and wildlife viewing experience and help support the local community efforts.

Photos provided by Pat Morrow

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Bahia de Caraquez, Manabi, Ecuador