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.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Buying property in Ecuador - " Eyes Wide Open "

Buying property in any foreign country comes with considerable risks. Ecuador is no exception - just look at the devastation of coastal property caused by the earthquake of April 16, 2016.  You should not be buying property in any market which you don't fully understand.  Because there is no multiple listing services here any given "realtor" will only be aware of the few properties available to which they are personally connected. Prices can and will vary significantly from buyer to buyer.   No one person can show you everything available at any given time.  As a result, to really understand this market takes significantly more time, and effort, than in your home country.

Lured by sun-dappled tropical paradise landscapes, lower living costs, and a gentler pace of life.  Who can resist the polished marketing fantasies of "living like a king in a tropical paradise" ?  Ensure your " foreign living abroad dream home" doesn't become your worst nightmare. 

We have almost a decade of experiences here and have bought and sold several properties in different areas.  During our time here many foreign purchasers have experienced: 

A significant loss of money due to: 

  - being unaware of local market values and significantly overpaying
  - purchasing in a "new development" which never materializes beyond a conceptual                   drawing and website  

  - unaware of legal encumbrances that transfer with property title 
  - purchasing property with significant undisclosed problems, poor quality materials or construction, pending lawsuits, or in the path of future government expropriation
  - entrusted power was abused for one's private gain

Loss of property due to:           

 - developments illegally situated within the beaches protected tidal line
 - natural disasters  earthquakes, tidal surges, mudslides, and volcanoes
 - the seller misrepresented the property and never held legal title. 

 - theft

Buying a " romantic notion "quickly, while enjoying a vacation, or perhaps through internet photos and then subsequently regretting the purchase altogether. With 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.  They discover their lifestyle focused on consumption and leisure patterns does not fit. Obvious linguistic, racial, cultural, and socioeconomic disparities quickly become problematic.  Crime, drug violence, notoriously ineffective judicial systems, slower pace of life, and infrastructure / utilities expectations, notorious bureaucratic delays, poor signage, lack of lighting,  uneven sidewalks, scheduled appointments that never happen, confirm that the reality does not match their dreams.

Here is a Checklist to help prevent your dream from becoming a disaster.

* DO NOT BUY anything sight unseen, or based on future development promises. 

* Invest in a thorough, unbiased, professional inspection of your prospective property. 

* Review the experience, track record and past projects in this country and obtain testimonials from previous clients.  Be wary of current clients of this project who are already invested, and have a heavy bias to see the project move forward in order to preserve their investment. 

* Search for outstanding lawsuits and actions, or settled claims against the developer or administrator both in Ecuador and in their home country.

* Be aware that any legal contracts written in English have no legal validity in Ecuador. Spanish documents missing information or not publicly signed before a notary in Ecuador have no legal value. Have your Spanish language contract thoroughly reviewed by a competent, trustworthy professional. ( these are hard to find )

* Understand your potable water source, electrical system & provider, sewer system, and infrastructure for internet service, television, and telephone. Service quality, reliability and cost vary widely.  What is your proximity to medical, education, and retail shopping services.   Unserviced, off-grid property in a remote location is cheap anywhere in the world - why are you paying a premium ? 

* Review the security plan, systems and protocols. Here, you simply cannot leave your house and property unattended.

* Review the turnover of key staff.  When employee turnover is high, with little continuity it raises another significant warning flag.   

* Obtain a copy and review the escritura ( property deed ). Undertake a current title search at the Property Registry to ensure its current owner and no liens or encumbrances have been registered.  Review all legal permits, permissions, & documentation. Review current property tax receipt, and utility bill receipts are current. In a developing country you cannot take any of this for granted like you might in your home country. Permissions and permits are obtained from a variety of authorities, and levels of government. " Development permission " is obtained at the local community level and is often obtained illegally with a bribe. One coastal residential development now plagued with coastal erosion was built closer to the ocean's edge than permitted by federal law. Look for the Ministry of Environment's development permission, and the federal government's permission to sell a legal " condominium development. "  This law was enacted several years ago to prevent the " ponzi schemes. " It requires that developers have all legal permissions, sufficient funding for infrastructure, and that it is all approved and in place prior to starting to sell any units. This is when you may discover that are " buying a future promise " from an unregulated offshore company. Ensure the company is in compliance with all its obligations with the " Superintentencia de Compañías. "

* Speak with, ask questions, and observe the site and as many owners, & neighbours as you can, to get unbiased and fundamental information.

* For any condominium or new developments request financial statements to ensure financial future viability, and sufficient reserves to cover long term employee obligations, and major repair costs. Developments that rely on future sales to fund the project are effectively Ponzi schemes !

* When did sales and marketing start ?  Although development here is slow, and the promoters will usually slide this date forward, caution is warranted when it has been over 5 or 6 years and infrastructure is still minimal.

* Immediately be cautious when promoters make many luxury amenity promises, or "trendy claims"  of sustainable living, preserving natural resources, and environmental sensitivity, all of which are fundamentally contradictory to the nature of their project -changing forest or agricultural land to densely populated, infra structured, resource intensive usage of the development !

* Escrowed funds are not a common practice here.

* Be aware that culturally integrity and trust are very foreign concepts here. If you have a language barrier you are easily manipulated.  Do not trust or take anything for granted - it is buyer beware !

* Ensure your real estate agent is professionally licensed in Ecuador. Many, especially transplanted english speaking gringos, are not.   

* Preventative maintenance is not common in this culture. In coastal areas huge costs are incurred to combat the effects of the corrosive salt air, swirling abrasive sand particles,  and blazing sun. Take note of the condition of common areas and facilities. HOA fees can be a soaring future cost and a potentially unlimited liability.  

* Review operational rules, regulations, and bylaws that you will become obligated to follow.

* And if your decision is to " build " here please ensure you are consistently on site.  There are many cultural differences when building such as windows for natural light- they prefer solid walls and darkness for security and privacy; heights - Ecuadorians are smaller stature; we prefer generous room sizes and open space concepts - they have larger families and have more and smaller room sizes;  the range of stairs steepness, width, and safety railings vary widely,  hot water plumbing not necessary, kitchen sinks, availability of electrical outlets, artificial lighting etc etc  Being present also ensures unforeseen circumstances are addressed to your liking, the quality of materials is not substituted, nor compromises in construction quality which are very common here.
* Finally understand your future resale ( exit strategy ) it will take significant time as there is significant inventory for sale, and this is a cash market where there is a lack of mortgage financing. This limits your potential buyers to those scarce few who have the excess cash to invest.

Even after completing your due diligence foreign investors are warned that because of problems with corruption, gaining protection for property rights from the local court system is complicated and often unsatisfactory.

Purchasing real estate consists of a down payment along with a signed contractual promise to purchase. Final payment, and transfer of the property deed  once the property is ready to be delivered to the buyer.

Six years ago there were over 182 proposed developments on the coast of Ecuador just between Manta and Esmeraldas. To date, only two have shown signs they may be successful.  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 and an entrance gate in anticipation of future sales.  Prudent caution is always required where an elaborate internet sales presence exists without any tangible physical 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 !

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Coffee - "from bean to cup" - Vilcabamba Coffee Tour

Today, October 1, 2016 is International Coffee Day !  When we are drinking coffee we are actually drinking the seed / cherry from the coffee plant. The world drinks over 2.25 billion cups of coffee every day ! Do you know what is involved to get you your simple cup of morning goodness? Take a few minutes to read this article and find out, or better yet take a trip to a coffee country.

The coffee industry is worth over $ 100 billion world wide ( more than gold ) employing over 120 million people throughout the world. It is the most sought after commodity after oil.  Coffee was introduced in Ecuador early in the 19th century, and remained one of Ecuador's top export crops into the 1970s. Today it has been replaced  by oil, shrimp and bananas.

Quality of coffee varies with genetic variety, altitude, weather, air, and soil - similar to wines and cacao. The varied ecosystems in Ecuador provide different coffee growing cultures, which creates complex and varied  flavours. 

Additionally growing, processing, roasting, and finally the method of extraction all impact the coffee's flavour.  This is why Ecuadorean coffee beans make some of the most interesting and unique cups of joe on our planet. 

Until recently our premium coffees, as with most agricultural products, are exported. Over 30 countries worldwide. Russia, Poland, Germany, Colombia, Italy, and the Netherlands buy over 80 percent of our total export volume. In 2015 Ecuador's total annual coffee production was about 42,600 tons ( 644,000 - 60 kg bags ) from 200,000 hectares under cultivation. World coffee production is 9.7 million tons annually - so Ecuador is a very small player producing less than .5 % of world production.  


However there is some recognition, and growing local demand for our home grown quality coffee.  It is still fairly rare as Ecuadorians prefer, and most cafes and restaurants here use instant coffee. Actually 86 % of Ecuador's coffee production is high yield, low quality instant coffee. Most coffee is grown on small several hectare fincas, where it is co-planted with cacao, citrus fruits, bananas, and or mangoes to provide interesting flavoured beans.


Today's educational coffee  tour is to southern Ecuador's Loja, one of the most important coffee growing regions.  About 5.5 hours south of Cuenca we arrive at a coffee farm in Vilcabamba. 


The coffee plants seem randomly scattered, and grow on steep very irregular misty hillsides where the morning sun gains momentum in drying the overnight dew. 


This high altitude is close to the sun for hotter days, colder nights, and less oxygen causing the plant more stress, which forces it to send most of its nutrients to its seed. From a North American agriculture perspective the organic farms are very natural, primitive, and poorly maintained, and as a result provide marginal yields. Protected by the haughty spirit of Saraguro's indigenous people, these 100 % arabica beans that are grown at an elevation of 1,500 meters are of high quality.

Arabica beans taste and smell better, however, they are much more susceptible to diseases and harsh weather. The primary growing regions in Ecuador for Arabica and Robusta coffee beans are: 
   Loja is one of the most important regions for quality-growing altitude between 1,000 and 2,000 meters; 
   Pichincha a newer region-growing altitude between 1,000 and 1,800 meters;
   Zamora - Chinchipe - growing altitude between 800 and 1,800 meters;
   Carchi-growing altitude between 1,200 and 1,800 meters;
   Manabi oldest region with higher yields of poorer quality- growing altitude between 200 and 700 meters;
   Galapagos - growing altitude between 300 and 400 meters;
   El Oro growing altitude between 500 and 1,300 meters;

The " bean belt " for growing coffee is between the latitudes of 25 degrees North and 30 degrees South. Coffee plants can live for up to 100 years, but risk of diseases such as leaf rust and roya increases with plant age. Prices fluctuate and when too low to justify harvesting the beans are left to rot on the bushes which causes problems with pests. On this finca the soil is rich and dark, the steep mountainside provides altitude, varying climate, and fresh air. Pigs and chickens are raised to " weed and aerate the soil " and contribute organic matter. 


Plants are usually about five years old when they first flower ( twice annually ) and set a green cherry.  After about 8 months the cherry ripens and turns red.  When the berries are red and ready for harvesting they are hand picked - a difficult and labour intensive process. Selectively harvesting only the ripe cherries a typical worker will collect 50 kilos daily. Red berries, with their higher aromatic oil and lower organic acid content, are more fragrant, smooth, and mellow. Coffee picking is one of the most important stages in coffee production.

Farmers deliver their daily harvests to a local cooperativa for processing. Processing production encompasses the drying (wet milling) process, threshing / dry milling, classification, and roasting of the coffee beans. All green coffee is processed however the methods vary and have a significant effect on the flavor.

First is the wet milling process of which there are two main ways to dry the coffee.

i.) The wet process immediately depulps the bean. After the pulp has been removed the bean still has two additional layers a silver skin and the parchment. It is then left to sit overnight so that a sugar layer called the mucilage can break down and then the coffee is washed.  Once all the sugars are washed off to eliminate the risk of fermentation, the coffee in parchment is placed on elevated beds to dry for about a week. This process is used for exported coffee.

ii.)  The dry or natural process spreads the beans out to dry in the sunshine on cement patios. They are regularly raked to prevent mold and ensure uniform drying. When coffee is dried in the fruit, the sugars of the fruit ferment and seep into the bean, if done properly these can give exotic fruity undertones and even wine notes to the coffee, but if done wrong the coffee can have a strong taste of rotten fruit.  It is much less labour intensive and no water is required.  It is used primarily for domestic consumption known as bola.

The beans must be dried to a water content of about 10% before they are stable.


Next in the threshing, or hulling process, a rustic machine removes the dry husk parchment from the green bean and sorts the beans according to size. The smallest beans are the sweetest. 

These cleaned and sorted beans then fill sacks which are then sent to a cooperativa roaster for the final processes of tostión or roasting. 



The beans are now officially considered coffee. The aroma experienced from grinding the beans was heavenly. 


Coffee is not a formula like Coca Cola or Sunkist orange juice. The coffee flavour changes depending on many different factors. There are four points in a coffee´s lifespan where its flavour can drastically be changed.  


The first being its genetics: altitude, micro region and varietal. The coffee cherry's quality is at its peak when harvested deep red. 


The second being how it is processed can showcase the inherent flavour attributes of the bean. The third being the roast level, whether light, medium or dark.  And finally the fourth being how we extract the coffee, whether espresso, pour over, French press or simply cowboy style.   

It is because of these nuances that people developed a system to classify coffee.  In recent years experts have even begun to borrow tools from the wine industry, most importantly the wine flavor wheel.  


The flavor wheel describes different aromas and flavors in your cup of Joe. The quality is determined by several characteristics:  flavour,  fragrance and aroma, residual taste, acidity, body, uniformity, and clarity. 

Now it's time to test your taste buds with a coffee challenge. You can identify fresh aromas ranging from ripe fruits and spices to chocolate and even a garlic/onion combination in different roasts of coffee beans before, and after grinding. Contrary to popular belief, the lighter the roast the higher the caffeine content. Also in lighter roasted coffees you can detect more unique aromas and flavors. 

Finally, hot water is added to the ground coffee to enable you to taste each variety. This tasting portion of the tour focuses on immersing the senses in the characteristics of the coffee. Guests learned to identify different coffees by aroma, flavor, body, and acidity. This allows them to differentiate between different types and qualities of coffee. It was an overwhelming sensory experience, though the professionals make it look easy.

Ecuadorian barista 2014 & 2015 champion Diego Felipe Mejia has been invited to compete in the Third Global Barista Championship, December 2, 3 and 4, in Harbin, China.  He will use San Lorenzo brand coffee grown at Hacienda La Papaya in Loja Province.

Ecuadorian coffee has gained international recognition in recent years, Mejia says one of his missions is to promote Ecuadorian coffee around the world. “We have some of the best anywhere,” he says. “It has an excellent balance, is bright and rich, and has a smooth, clean taste.”

There is still some controversy about health benefits or side effects from caffeine.  It is mood enhancing, increases alertness and performance, and has antibacterial properties for prevention of dental cavities.  The negative side effects include insomnia, and diuretic effects - in excess nervousness, and accelerating heartbeat. 


The Consejo Cafetalero Nacional is one of the institutions in Ecuador which promote the development of the industry. However, government COFENAC, CORPEI, are primarily interested in high-yield production and sales, not quality. Most government funds are going into Robusta plantations and low quality Arabica plantations and very few make it to high quality regions. In 2014, 86% of their coffee exports were instant coffee and only 14% green coffee.  and ANCAFE (Asociación Nacional de Exportadores de Café) are amongst Ecuador's leading coffee companies.

The country lacks a solid coffee agency to promote good practices and give technical assistance to farmers, such as the Federation of Coffee Growers (FNC) in Colombia. This is due to lack of funding, and the fact that coffee is not considered a primary agricultural activity in Ecuador like it is in Colombia. Focus has been on production volumes and lower quality coffees.


Remember fair trade coffee purchases allow you to make a direct impact on the lives of small-scale coffee producers and their families. Or even better plan your next vacation around a coffee country tour.  We hope that you learned something new today and enjoyed

Monday, September 26, 2016

Challenges of Expatriating

The current trend of retirees that are expatriating, or migrating for preferred amenities is known as " amenity migration. "

Currently there are over 4 million Ecuadorians ( 20% of the country's entire population ) who have expatriated to live in Spain, U.S., & Italy. Limited employment opportunities, discrimination, and social advancement are the primary factors behind their departure. Volatile environmental hardships such as earthquakes, tsunamis, active volcanoes, the lack of water and droughts currently being experienced in some areas while other communities are receiving torrential downpours, flooding and mudslides devouring homes and lives   also contribute. These high emigration rates would normally be a warning signal to potential immigrants to Ecuador, however  a migration trend to Ecuador continues. There is a major disconnect when these " paradise seekers " fail to realize their lives here can change in an instant with a stroke of nature, where their ability to survive becomes paramount and redefines their " perceived needs " in an instant. Amazingly we find that many expats currently relocating have never even visited the country, nor have any experience living in a Latin American country.


As foreigners who choose to retire here we want to be very aware and sensitive to the economic, social, and environmental impacts and changes our presence creates !

Retiring or living in a foreign developing country certainly isn't for everyone. New or future foreign residents should realize that levels of resentment towards them are continuing to grow as gringos are increasingly seen as ignorant, arrogant, and culturally disrespectful.  Recently it was very disappointing to witness the level of anger, resistance, & frustration expats expressed over a controversial  April Fool's article indicating mandatory Spanish language requirements.  Also managing your expectations regarding 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."

Currently we are witnessing, and there have been several articles written recently about, increasing numbers of dissatisfied expats leaving Ecuador to seek happiness elsewhere. Interestingly enough several of the most popular websites attracting foreigners to Ecuador are operated as businesses by folks who are not residents here, or have also recently left Ecuador.

The primary reasons for leaving seem to be :

Their perception of an artificial utopia void of existing inhabitants creates an inability to adapt to the significant cultural differences which exist, including learning a new language.

Those arriving as " economic refugees " find that the cost of living to their expectations is much higher than they expected. A very basic & simple lifestyle doesn't cost that much in North America either ! Import duties, new taxes, and removing the government subsidy on cooking gas & fuel are causing rapid & significant increases in the cost of living here.  Also many of the enticing " tercera edad " benefits which were originally meant for those elderly who have worked & contributed to the country for many years are now being restricted or withdrawn from foreigners.

Not being insensitive , many Cuencanos ask why seriously sick, elderly and handicapped gringos come to Ecuador ?  Although health care, and infrastructure has improved it does not yet approach European or North American standards.  With very strong family values they simply don't understand, and find it  very sad that these people have left behind their familiar environment, friends and family.    

" Homesickness "  missing family, friends, social groups, and loved ones, and the comforts and familiarity of their previous home environment.

Finally the constantly changing, and increasing restrictions on freedoms of personal choice. Many were ordering " on-line " their favourite products or items from their home countries - the government introduced a $ 42 tax per shipment irregardless of the value of item, effectively eliminating the importation flow of these personal goods .  Increasing time restrictions on one's ability to travel out of Ecuador.  Growing restrictions for foreigners in accessing a variety of benefits.  

To help determine your success with the challenges of expatriating, honestly assess your willingness / ability to:

* adapt and accept differences
* learn the new language and new customs
* let go of your entitlement culture / attitude
* assume sole responsibility for your own safety 
* engage in your new community and learn about the culture
* be without your lifestyle norm patterns of comfort, leisure, and   consumption 
* become comfortable with drastic socio-economic disparities
* have patience and realistic expectations
* ensure your prime motivation in not economic where you plan to enhance your wealth by exploiting local poverty
* expand your horizons and embrace adventure
* ability to accept making mistakes and learn from them

This 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.

Richard Ingle, describes himself as a " student of expatriation." Originally from California he has lived overseas since 1984 in the Philippines, Singapore, Spain, Panama, and now Cuenca, Ecuador since 2010.  His recent article reads

" Being an expat is hard.

Somehow, that fact is lost in the media hype that seems to suggest that living in a foreign country is easy, cheap, and romantic. As someone who has spent almost half of his life overseas and happily so, for the most part  I can tell you that the hype paints an unrealistic and incomplete picture.  "

To read the full article along with comments from expats interviewed.

Another article originally posted on SouthofZero.com " Why are so many expats leaving Ecuador ?  "  was authored by Dr. Lee Dubs and is reprinted below with his permission.

Lee Dubs first came to Ecuador as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the 1960s. Following his service, he was a Language Professor  Professor in an North Carolina University. He moved with his wife to Cuenca in 2003 and established Carolina Bookstore.

" You can find a lot of articles that tell you that Ecuador is the perfect place to retire. Plenty of writers encourage you to move to Ecuador, and many want you to make that move for reasons of their own. Some even use words like "thousands" when wanting you to believe how many English speakers live in particular areas, implying that language and culture will present no problems. Astute readers recognize a sales pitch by those who intend to make a profit from their move. One fact that few writers reveal is that not everyone is happy and that large numbers of English speakers have left and are continuing to leave Ecuador.

Starting in late 2008 and early 2009 international travel readers encountered a plethora of articles extolling the virtues of moving to Ecuador, and North Americans by the hundreds heeded the siren's call. By 2012, some profit-driven organizations and paid writers were claiming that there were over four thousand expat English speakers living in the city of Cuenca alone. They cited figures from government agencies, not explaining and sometimes not even knowing  that government figures only show how many temporary and permanent visas, as well as national I.D. cards, were issued over the years, not how many expats are actually living in the country or in any given city. While some Latin countries such as Mexico and Panama do have large English-speaking colonies, any purported massive English-speaking communities in Ecuador is a myth. Numbers are much smaller than those extolled by the profit seekers and the ill-informed.

It is a fact that there is significant emigration (departure) by North Americans from Ecuador. Although there are no statistics to reveal how many expats have left the country for good, there is a growing belief that the number of English speakers who are leaving Ecuador is growing, while the number arriving had been shrinking by late 2014. One official from the Ecuadorian Ministry of Foreign Relations confirmed to this writer last year that applications by North Americans for resident visas were declining.

One indicator of the drop in immigration into Cuenca by foreigners and also by returning Ecuadorians has been a dramatic slowdown in new construction. Multi-unit buildings sit unfinished and buildings that were scheduled to be constructed are on hold. In some cases, houses were demolished to make way for high-rise buildings, but only rubble sits on the lots.

A second barometer of continuous emigration is the almost daily list of sales on English websites of furniture, appliances, cars, and other goods by those who are leaving the country for good. Expats who have lived in Ecuador a few years or even a few months are saying adiós.

Why are so many Americans and Canadians who came to make Ecuador their home pulling out? What has changed their minds? What are the causes of the accelerating emigration? Reasons vary with individuals, but there are some factors that have been cited frequently by emigrants.

Cost. Many North Americans moved to Ecuador without first making an exploratory trip or doing their homework, choosing to believe often exaggerated figures they had read. Large numbers of immigrants were surprised to find the cost of living higher than they expected, and their budgets were not prepared for reality. Ecuador requires individuals to show proof of a minimum of $800 per month of steady income to acquire a resident visa, a figure that was unrealistically low when it was established in 2003 and which has never been adjusted, even for inflation. Immigrants soon realize that living well requires more than $800 per month. There are different ways to describe how one goes about one's economic life abroad: living comfortably, subsisting, or surviving. Numerous immigrants have sought methods to create in-country income to supplement their budgets. Most have discovered the complications and expenses of operating a business abroad. Those who operate under the radar run the risk of heavy fines and deportation.

Insufficient income is one reason a lot of expats either find a cheaper place to live, go back home with reduced expectations, or stay and maintain a lowered standard of living. It is cheaper to live here than in North America, but it is not as cheap as many were led to believe.

Culture. This is the most common reason for leaving. The pitches that encourage a move to Ecuador focus on cost and are generally scripted to appeal to those with no significant foreign experience. The presentations make it sound as if living in a place such as Ecuador is like a cheap combination of Shangri-La and Utopia rolled into one. To entice foreigners to head to Ecuador, promoters paint warm impressions and often include photographs of beautiful architecture, sandy beaches, and smiling people, where foreigners walk hand in hand with faces aglow. It's the rose-colored glasses approach. Who doesn't want a perfect and affordable retirement?

Many people who never even experienced another culture in their own country believe they are ready to live abroad. After their move to Ecuador, they quickly discover that having lived where there were Spanish speakers in one's own country is not the same as living in their country and experiencing their culture 24/7. Even trying to avoid the locals and immersing yourself exclusively with fellow expats ( as some attempt ) cannot protect you from the challenges and frustrations of living in a foreign culture day after day after day.

Some expats suffer culture stress from the lack of certain amenities they were used to in their home country. Some emigrants have said that they could not live where there was not a Wal-Mart, for example. Ecuador's growing list of bans on imported products cuts deep with many expats who can no longer get the "right" brands of mayonnaise, cat food, ketchup, sauces, and a lot of other products. They must buy local brands and often have to adjust to different tastes.

Living in a country whose language is different presents daily frustrations. One writer implied that most Ecuadorians speak English because they almost all study English in school. How are you with the French you studied in high school? Are you ready to chat in French? After all, you studied it. No, most Ecuadorians do not speak English, and foreigners who know little or no Spanish are at a disadvantage and must deal with never-ending frustration.

It is not unusual to encounter expats who cannot or will not accept the changes that face them. They resist their host culture as long as they can, finally realizing they cannot change it and that they will never be happy there. Such realists leave, usually returning to the comforts of their real home. Some continue to stay in spite of their growing misery, and anyone within earshot knows how unhappy they are. Fortunately for everyone, most of those finally give up and depart, too.

The daily challenges of living in a foreign culture lead many immigrants to experience culture tension, culture stress, and even culture shock. A remedy for many is simply to get out.

Health. Even with good health care, some immigrants simply get sick and stay sick. Test after test and medication after medication do not provide solutions to their chronic condition. Continuous nausea, diarrhea, weight loss, and other symptoms make for miserable living. Even those who love their new country have to give up and leave.

Homesickness. There are a lot of expats who leave for a fourth reason. They may enjoy life in the new country, but they miss their friends, their children, and their grandchildren too much. Daily contact through email, Skype, and phone calls is not enough. South America, in particular, is too far from home, and they finally decide to return in order to be with their loved ones. They thought the distance would not trouble them a lot, but it did.

Note: Homesickness is sometimes the reason given for leaving, when the underlying issue is culture stress. People do not want to return to their native country and hear, "I told you so."

Crime. In spite of denials by some writers, the types of crime that affect expats are increasing. A representative of one for-profit group answered a question about all the bars and gratings on windows by explaining (presumably with a straight face) that they have nothing to do with crime; they are there to prevent broken windows from all the soccer balls the children kick in the streets. Many expat residents have suffered various degrees of crime, some violent; and it sent them packing. There have been increasing reports of everything from "grab and run" thefts and daylight assaults to home invasions in which people were terrorized, sometimes tied up, and threatened with weapons. Even coming home to find their place ransacked can be the final straw to anyone who is already feeling stressed. Who can blame those who suffer such trauma for leaving?

What is the common denominator to all of the above? Choice. Every North American immigrant in any country chose to move there, in spite of occasional excuses about having to leave for economic or political reasons. Every immigrant who arrives voluntarily in someone else's country chooses to stay or leave. The point of this article is to inform readers that more and more are choosing to leave Ecuador for various reasons. Think before you move.

Living in a foreign country is not for everyone, regardless of how rosy a picture is painted from outside. People who finally admit to themselves that they are not happy in another country choose what to do about their dilemma. Increasing numbers are deciding to leave and to seek happiness elsewhere. Some of us who are happy to live abroad have chosen to write about the realities of life in another country. We want to help people arrive prepared. We do not wear rose-colored glasses. "

Credit: Article was originally posted on SouthofZero.com,

Friday, September 23, 2016

Ghiradelli Chocolate Story - San Francisco

Ghiradelli Chocolate is known throughout the world for its rich, premium chocolate made in San Francisco. San Francisco has always had a special place in our hearts ! The success story of Ghirardelli Chocolate is an interesting story originating from South American & European roots. 

Domenico Ghirardelli was born in 1817 in Rapallo, Italy. His father was an exotic foods importer and introduced his son to chocolate when he was very young. Domenico grew to love chocolate and apprenticed at a local candy maker. 

At the age of 20 he set sail with his wife to Uruguay to play an active role in the chocolate trade. He took a job in a coffee and chocolate establishment. A year later, attracted by opportunities in Lima, he sailed around Cape Horn to Peru. In Peru he opened his own confectionery store and changed his name to the Spanish equivalent Domingo.

Enticed by stories of prosperity from the gold rush in California he left for San Francisco taking 600 lbs of chocolate with him. He tried mining but was unsuccessful, so he set up a tent and sold supplies & confections to fellow miners. With his new business proving successful, Domingo decides to open a store and hotel in San Francisco. With his success he went on to open a second store in San Francisco 

In May of 1851 a major fire destroyed 1,500 buildings including his businesses. He begins to rebuild immediately starting with a coffee house then in 1852, he forms a new confectionery company that becomes the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company. By 1866 they were importing over 1000 lbs annually.  

Some of the best cocao beans in the world are grown in the rich fertile soils of Ecuador.  

By 1884, 3 out of 4 of Domingo's sons were active business partners. The company was now importing over 450,000 lbs annually, had 30 employees and sold their products across the U.S. & to China, Japan, and Mexico. In 1893 the manufacturing facility required more space and they moved to the Pioneer Woolen Mill building and their present northern waterfront location.

Their success in transforming the cocoa bean into chocolate can be attributed to consistency in six important steps :

      1. Selection of the best quality & flavour cocoa beans
      2. Deep roasting process of the nibs
      3. Milling and pressing the butter and liquor from the roasted nibs
      4. Proprietary mixing & refining
      5. Developing the flavour through paddles agitating the chocolate known as " conching"
      6. Cooling and placing in molds



Over time new apartment, office, and production buildings were constructed with Victorian design to meet their emerging needs, a prominent Clock Tower and in 1923 the 15 ft high illuminated letters "Ghirardelli" were placed atop the roof which became an official city landmark and icon. 


Visible for miles the sign has become a welcoming site for arriving ships. Expansion caused the manufacturing facilities to move across the bay to San Leandro.

Today, Ghirardelli Chocolate Company has built on its signature taste and 150 years of traditional manufacturing processes to become America's premium chocolate company.  Chocolate - historically the " food of the gods. "

San Francisco has always had a special place in our hearts ! The culinary scene is extensive and ethnically varied. 


The sophisticated arts & music scene with theater, ballet, opera, will awaken your senses. 


Hanging on the outside of the famous cable cars ascending and descending the steep hills with bells merrily clanging, and the pungent smell of wood brakes working on a crisp autumn morning, providing spectacular vistas from Nob Hill.


Noisy bustle, bright neon lights, and distinct aromas from Chinatown. 


Fresh steaming seafood chowder served in fresh sourdough bread bowls on Fishermen's Wharf to the delicious aromas of fresh roasted coffee, and roasting cocoa beans from Ghirardelli Chocolate. 


Or the lazy sunny afternoons with " woodstock like" concerts in Golden Gate Park. Golden Gate Bridge crossing the San Fransisco Bay overlooking Alcatraz, and linking the scenic coastal route, and the famous Napa valley wineries with Golden Gate park.  

On Lombard street " the crookedest street in the world "  Virginia and her family proudly provide fresh, generous portion breakfasts, featuring signature omelets in the unpretentious local Lombard Street Cafe. 


Or after the sun sets, on Columbus Ave in little Italy, the memorable meals enjoyed at "the Stinking Rose" a world famous garlic restaurant where " they season the garlic with food " - not for the timid. Or visit the nearby annual Gilroy Garlic Festival. 


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Exotic Fruits of Ecuador

Natural fruit , low fat, heartsmart, and very good for you.  For centuries coconuts have floated across the seas,  mangos fallen from the trees,  and Andean children tug a sweet cherimoya apart enjoying its delicious flavour.  " Exotic Fruit - mother nature's second best reason to get a little sticky " - Norman Van Aken 

Ecuador features many different geographies, from snow capped active volcanoes, lush jungles, to coastal plains.  These varied conditions provide a fantastic place for growing many types of fruit. Fruit lovers will discover, along with all the common tropical fruits, many new varieties of fruit not imported or found in North American stores.    We have expanded our original article c 2009 on exotic fruits as we have discovered and become familiar with more types of exotic fruit grown here.  We have now personally grown many of these different exotic tropical fruits. 

Ecuador is the largest exporter of maracuya (passion fruit) concentrate in the world and of course the world's largest exporter of bananas. Here is an alphabetized list of the many more exotic fruits grown here, and very often unique to this part of the world.


A member of the cucumber family, this vigorous climber is grown and popular with the Incas. Best eaten when they are under 2 cm long as they will be soft and tender. Eaten raw it tastes somewhat like a cucumber and if stir fried it tastes like a sweet green pepper. 

Achotillo / Rambutan  -   Lychee

Native to southeastern Asia, the Dutch introduced this fruit to South America.  Grown in the coastal areas this evergreen tree grows to a height of 20 meters. The aromatic flowers of the achotillo are very attractive to many insects and especially bees.  The skin is reddish and leathery and is covered with fleshy pliable spines. The fruit is an oval single seeded berry which grow in a cluster of about 10 - 20.    The flesh of the fruit is translucent, whitish or very pale pink in colour, with a sweet mild acidic taste something like that of a grape. Achotillo fruit contains modest amounts of diverse nutrients.


This fruit tree is native to the Amazon Rainforest vegetation of Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador. It is yellow and the size of a softball. The fruit is very acidic, sour and is processed into juices, nectars, jams/jellies/marmalades, preserves, desserts, and ice cream and has an exotic refreshing flavour. Due to its thin skin it is not exported.

Babaco – Mountain Papaya 

The babaco fruit is a bright yellow smooth skin, pentagonal shape, with five distinctive sides, rounded at the stem end and pointed at the apex. The fruit reaches a length of about 12 inches long and 8 inches wide. The fruit is seedless with flesh that is very juicy, slightly acidic, and low in sugar. Its flavour is a combination of strawberry, papaya, kiwi and pineapple. It is popular not only for the fruit & juice but also to make a dessert called Dulce de Babaco. It  makes a wonderful pie filling and goes great with apples or strawberries in a pie.


Found in Ecuador's Esmeraldas Province this fruit tree requires high rainfall and shade. The round tennis ball size fruit has a green exterior shell with dense brown pulp and lots of seeds.  The fruit is used in juices, ice cream, jams & jellies, wine, desserts and traditional medicines that have supposed aphrodisiac effects.  The borojo fruit contains high levels of protein, calcium, iron and ascorbic acid with very high levels of phosphorus.

Caimito  -  Star Apple

This tropical fruit is round, measures about 2 to 3 inches in diameter, and exists in three colours yellow, greenish brown and dark purple. The purple fruit tends to have denser skin and texture, the greenish brown fruit has a thin skin with a more liquid pulp, and the yellow fruit is less commonly found.
The fruit is delicious dessert fruit and is sweet when served chilled.

Capuli Cherry - Choke Cherry

This small maroon-black cherry is common in the Andean and Central American regions. These cherries are an aromatic, round fruit, red coloured with a green tint to nearly maroon-black, with smooth and tender skin. The juicy, light green, firm pulp is typically sweet with some astringency similar to wild cherries. The pit is proportionately large compared to the small fruit. Thus while it can be eaten raw, it is more commonly stewed, preserved whole or cooked down into jam. It also makes a unique filling for tamales. When these cherries are peeled, seeded, and cooked they can be mixed with milk or heavy cream flavoured with vanilla and cinnamon as a dessert. These cherries can also be fermented into a tangy wine-like alcoholic beverage.

Carambola / Fruta China - Starfruit

This bright yellow smooth skinned fruit is named for its 5 distinctive ridges whereby the cross section resembles a star. The flesh is crunchy, firm, and extremely juicy. It is edible raw, and used in salads, relishes, and preserves.

Cherimoya - Custard Apple

The cherimoya is related to the guanabana/soursop.  A cherimoya has a intense, delicious white vanilla, mango, pineapple flavoured pulp that is in a green mottled skin and can be the size of a small melon.  The white pulpy flesh is full of black seeds which are large and smooth and are easily removed.

Chontaduro  -  Peach

The chontaduro fruit or "palm peach" grows in clusters on a palm tree. Similar in colour only to the traditional peach, the chontaduro must be cooked before it is eaten. It is high in nutrients. 

Granada - pomegranate

This round red, thick-skinned fruit, about the size of a grapefruit is full of hundreds of seeds. Dried seeds can be used in many culinary applications, such as trail mix, granola bars, or as a topping for salad, yogurt, or ice cream. Pomegranate juice is used in cooking, baking, meal garnishes, juice blends, smoothies, and alcoholic beverages, such as cocktails and wine. Its most notable use was thickening the juice into the well known syrup grenadine.  It is grown on a shrub or tree that can reach 5 meters in height.

Granadilla - Granadila 

The granadilla fruit is small, pinkish-orange colour, and shaped like an egg.  The fruit inside has dozens of black seeds which are enclosed in a gray pulp that is semi transparent.  The pulp and seeds can be eaten whole without the skin. Granadillas have a fruity flavour and are very mild. They are a popular fruit here in Ecuador.   This fruit is too mild for making juice and is usually eaten fresh.


The Guaba Fruit is known as "Ecuador's "Ice Cream Bean" very popular among Ecuadorians for its vanilla flavour. The Guaba ( actually a legume )  is about a foot long, flat, 1.5 inches wide seedpod. When the pod is cracked open a trail of white, cotton candy like fibre surrounds black seeds.  This pulp is eaten and the seed spit out, or subsequently roasted.  Guaba trees are often used in plantations for shade crops such as coffee or cocao.

Guayabilla -  Sundrop

The fruit is a large spheroid about 7 to 10 cm with a shiny thin orange skin.  The pulp is bright orange, very aromatic passion fruit aroma and very sour. This fruit makes a very delicious juice, blended with water and sweetened which is very aromatic, bright orange in colour and tastes very much like passion fruit juice.

Guanabana - Soursop

The guanabana's is a large football size fruit with a rough, leathery green outer skin. The inside of this fruit is white with pulp, and is full of many cherry like seeds.  The flesh inside the guanabana can be eaten fresh,  has the taste of a strawberry and is mild and quite sweet.  The Ecuadorian people make this fruit into juice, as they can be very messy to eat. This fruit is widely promoted as a natural cancer treatment.

Jamaica - Hibiscus flower

Tea is made from the dried hibiscus flower buds which is high in minerals and has many medicinal properties including reducing high blood pressure. Its flavour is rather tart with a cranberry flavour. Sugar, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg or rum can be added to taste.

Kaki  -  Persimmon

Kaki a small orange fruit  can be eaten fresh, dried, raw, or cooked. When this fruit is eaten fresh, they are usually eaten whole like an apple or cut into quarters, but it may be best to peel the skin first. This fruit is used in pies, cookies, cakes, puddings, salads, curries, and also as a topping for breakfast cereal.

Maracuya - Passion fruit

The maracuya fruit is brilliant yellow with an oval or round shape.  The thick skinned fruit is hollow and filled with dozens of seeds inside which are covered with the pulp.  The maracuya can be eaten fresh off the vine and has a very tart flavour.  The people in Ecuador put the pulp with the seeds in a blender for a few seconds to make juice and add a bit of sugar (panella is nicer) to sweeten the juice.

Mora - Blackberry

Blackberries from Ecuador are larger, and stronger flavour than the blackberries that we would see in North America and are grown all year round.  In most parts of the country blackberry bushes grow like weeds.  Although the blackberries can be eaten fresh, the Ecuadorian people blend them with water and some sugar and make a very tasty juice.


A small, sweet, strongly scented yellow fruit with a pungent and distinct flavour and smell. The taste is not comparable to any other fruits. The nance fruit can be eaten raw or cooked as a dessert. The fruits are often used to prepare carbonated beverages, ice cream and juice.

Naranjilla -  "little orange"

Naranjilla's are a bright orange fruit which is a bit smaller than a tennis ball. The inside of an naranjilla is full of pulp with tiny seeds when strained and sweetened can make a orange-greenish juice that is tangy and leaves an aftertaste that is almost perfumey. Grown on a vine with long and sharp spines it is native to Ecuador and Columbia, and is rarely found anywhere else.

Noni  -  cheese fruit

Noni, a member of the coffee family, flowers and produces fruit all year round. The green fruit is irregular pear shape. It turns to yellow and then white when ripe with a pungent odour. The juice from the noni fruit is promoted as a cure for a number of human diseases including HIV, cancer and heart disease.  It is sold in capsule form and  pulp powder.

Oboes / Ciruelas

A member of the cashew family oboes are oval in shape and when ripened turn red in colour.  They contain a large single seed and are very sweet when ripe.  They are often eaten green with salt - almost like an olive. The fruit contains many nutrients and is widely grown throughout the world. Trees are easily propagated with cuttings and are often used to make a " living fence. "

Orito - Finger Bananas

Many different varieties of bananas are grown in Ecuador but the Orito banana is the smallest banana and has a much sweeter, richer, honey like flavour over the other bananas.

Pepino dulce -  tree melon, sweet cucumber, or pear melon

Pepino dulce is an exotic fruit that has a taste that is like a cucumber, cantaloupe, and a honeydew melon. The pepino has a smooth round or oval shape and its colourful skin is light yellow with purple lines. The fruit of the pepino is an orange/yellow colour with juicy flesh. There are also seeds which can be eaten. The pepino is commonly used as a dessert fruit, and combined with other exotic fruits in fruit salads and platters. The pepino can also be eaten raw, provided that the outer skin is removed.

Pitahaya - Dragon Fruit

The pitahaya fruit, one of our favourite,  grows on a cactus. Grown on the coast and in the amazon it can be bright yellow or pink coloured bumpy fruit.  When The fruit is cut opened, the flesh is a transparent and whitish gray in colour and full of small black seeds.  The pitahaya tastes a bit like a kiwi.  The pitahaya can be eaten the same way as a kiwi but can also be made into a juice.  The pitahaya is said to have mild laxative properties

Pomarosa  -  rose apple

The pomarrosa tree reaching  heights of 25 to 40 ft, has wide spreading branches which often exceed the height of the tree.  The pomarrosa fruit is almost round, oval or pear shaped, almost 2 inches long with smooth thin pale yellow or white skin which covers a crisp mealy dry to juicy layer of yellowish flesh, which is sweet and resembles the scent of a rose in flavour.  In the hollow centre of the fruit there are 1 to 4 brown roughly coated seeds which loosen and will rattle when the fruit is shaken.

Sapote - Canistel

The sapote is a small fruit with a smooth brown "suede like" tough exterior, when peeled the fruit is a brilliant orange colour.  The taste of the sapote is like a fig for sweetness and the texture is more like an avocado and can be a bit stringy.  There are 2 - 5 seeds which are inedible in the centre of the fruit. 

The fruit can be eaten fresh, blended with milk & ice & sugar or water to make a refreshing beverage, can be mashed and used to make custards or smoothies, the sapote freezes very well and can also be used for pie fillings, crumbles and ice cream.


An edible brown pod like fruit which is very popular in cuisines around the world. The tamarind fruit is fleshy, juicy with acidulous pulp, described as sweet and sour in taste. The main ingredient in Worcestershire sauce, its extract is used to flavour meats,  chutneys, pickles, jellies, and ice cream.  Other uses for the tamarind fruit is metal polish and traditional medicines.

Taxo - Banana Passion Fruit 

The taxo is a long soft fruit that looks like a small orange banana but straight.  The fruit has many seeds that are covered with pulp which when separated can be made into ice cream or juice.  This fruit has a tart tangy taste and is not usually eaten fresh.

Tomate de Arbol  - Tamarillo  -Tree Tomato

This fruit if eaten fresh can be very sour. The tree tomato's color ranges from hues of  yellow / orange to reddish purple and is shaped like an egg. A bit like passion fruit it is full of seeds that are covered by the pulp of this fruit. The tree tomato fruit is commonly used for juice and can be used for a dessert if boiled with sugar. 

Tuna - Prickly Pear 

Not be confused with the fish ( atun ) – the tuna fruit is from a  cactus which grows all around South America. The tuna fruit's outer skin is green resembling a small cactus with fine spines. When opened there is reddish orange pulp and small seeds inside the fruit.  The seeds are crunchy, can be eaten, and are tasteless.  This fruit has a very delicate flavour that is fruity, although bland when compared to other fruits from Ecuador.

Uvilla - gooseberry, husk tomato, ground cherry

The uvilla is bright orange and grows inside a husk that is shaped like a small thin lantern. Although cherry like in both shape and size, the uvilla has nothing else in common with cherries as there is no stone, nor do they taste like cherries.  The flavours of the uvilla are something like a pineapple and they are eaten raw.

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Bahia de Caraquez, Manabi, Ecuador