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, 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. 


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Bahia de Caraquez, Manabi, Ecuador