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As a writer, I am also an avid reader of others’ blogs, among other sources of all things literary. And when it comes to travel blogs, expat blogs, and specifically living-in-Ecuador blogs (this being my specialty), I get tired of the over-romanticized, all positive blogs that lack the ugly details and hardships of life abroad, and put a sucrose-coated patina over the everyday realities. I like to tell it like it is and hard as it is to find these days, someone’s got to do it. We all like to hear the good stuff, but it’s nice to have a heads-up  once in a while as well.

As a Gemini, I have both a very positive side and another that is prone to depression and negative thinking. However, the negative side is one  that also aids in a pragmatist/realist view of things, a side that helps to not gloss things over, to see reality for what it really is. I’ve done several entries, like the one about getting a driver’s license or others about doing business in Ecuador, detailing some of the trials and tribulations you’ll face if you come to live here, and especially if you plan to do any kind of business here. I’m not making any attempt to disrespect Ecuador or deny that there are many, many positive aspects of living in Ecuador; but I am trying, as the title suggests, to not only dispel the myths inherent in the dominant discourse of so many blogs that paint a tropical paradise that is idyllic, cheap, and easy, but to illustrate that there are also a number of frustrating things you should be aware of if you plan to spend any substantial amount of time here.

Now that being said, if you come as a retiree or have some foreign-based, external source of fixed income, you’ll be able to avoid many, many hassles-hassles that you will face if you come to live here or do business here. But nonetheless, there are a lot of hoops to jump through that you’ll find entertaining, frustrating, ridiculous, silly, downright illogical, or a bit of all these things, depending on your attitude. And none of them will make your life any easier. But i Digress…back to the details.

Yes, the cost of living is relatively “low” here compared to other places. However, there are some major caveats. Most cars are priced 60 to 80% over what you’d pay in the US due to high import tariffs. There’s no haggling at the dealer. And you’re going to pay easily upwards of 10% on a 5 year note if you want to finance it. So the car you might have in the states for a $200 monthly payment would easily cost you here $400+ monthly if you’re not paying cash.

Utilities are cheap, but the cost of housing isn’t always so. If you want to live in a decent middle class part of Quito, on top of utilities you’ll probably be paying high condominium fees, as most good neighborhoods have either a caretaker or guard service. If there are common areas that need maintenance, you’ll also be paying for that. So you can easily pay $75, $100, or $200 per month in homeowner’s/condo fees in many neighborhoods.

Fruits and vegetables are cheap and abundant, but unlike the Quito (and rest of Ecuador) of ten to fifteen years ago-especially before the country’s economy was dollarized-eating out and eating well are not cheap. Sure, cheap hole-in-the-wall restaurants abound, often called “comedores,” where average every day workers eat and you can get a meal for under $3. But you might also leave with amoebic dysentery, giardia, or some other lovely bug, and end up spending on a doctor’s visit and medicine to cure the indigestion! If you want to eat out in an upper end place, long gone are the days of a grand meal for 6 people for under $150, wine included. You can now easily spend $50-$100 dining for two. Sure, the food can be excellent, but the price is no longer so cheap.

Quito and Ecuador is still relatively peaceful, but it’s not as safe as it used to be. Not only does this cost you money, but peace of mind has its own price. “Express” kidnappings have been known to occur fairly regularly nowadays in Quito and especially Guayaquil-where you’ll be whisked off into a passing vehicle (or in a taxi you innocently stepped unknowingly into, where an accomplice might jump in beside you), and then be forced to withdraw money from an ATM or relieved of whatever valuables you might have on you. It’s not uncommon to hear of people’s houses, especially in Quito, being cleaned out by thieves in broad daylight. While muggings and armed robbery on the street are not that common, they do happen regularly if you’re not careful.

Finally, doing business here may have certain benefits such as low cost of labor-but there are a lot of costly bureaucratic hurdles that eat up time when time is money. Just last week, I had to give my employee 1.5 days off so that she could spend 10 of those 12 hours waiting in line to get her occupational permit for work. This included getting blood, urine, and stool samples taken and analyzed at a laboratory, and then visiting the official Dr. from the health ministry to get her permit approved. In addition to the cost of her absence, there were all the fees involved. Imagine if you had a dozen employees! We have spent at least another 3-4 days getting our municipal permit approved, which involves going through a Kafkaesque maze of offices and forms. Fortunately, if you do live here and have family or at least a good understanding of how things work, there are people who can help you out-for a fee. Perhaps for the better, the system of paying off people to do things for you is gradually being eliminated-however, the bureaucratic maze one has to go through by oneself is just replacing one costly system for another.

Just over two weeks ago we had a visit with the members of the Go Now Be Free Tour. Jody Treter, the guide, wrote about it here. Jody and I met up through a visit over a year ago to our shop by Mimi Wheeler, of Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate in Michigan. Mimi had come down to visit Ecuador and meet with Miriam, the recipient of GoBe’s first microloan. I also helped Mimi arrange a visit to the plantations belonging to my friend, and connoisseur/grower of some of Ecuador’s finest Nacional cocoa beans.

The group came over to the workshop in the morning, and I gave them a brief but thorough introduction to cacao in Ecuador, discussing most of what you’ve read here on this blog. We got into CCN-51, Nacional, and other arcane topics surrounding Ecuadorian chocolate.

In the afternoon, I took them over to Fundacion y Desarrollo, a major NGO here in Ecuador involved in Fair Trade Certification as well as promoting “Super” cacao. I hadn’t really known they were so involved in this project, but learned a great deal about it.

Two North American acquaintances of mine have been the pioneers in the “super cacao” project. They began by selecting the very best cacao trees they could-by best I mean those that are most disease resistant and with the highest yields. The project started through the observation that in any area where cacao is grown widely, there always seem to be a few trees, out of many, that produce more cacao than usual and also are more disease resistant. These two men began by propagating these high yield trees and planing them. It turns out that they are getting absolutely incredible yields in the very first years.

Conservacion y Desarrollo has been working with farmers throughout the country to not only gather and propagate seedlings from “super cacao” trees, but to then take the trees and study their genotypes closely. Instead of a costly, multi-year project whereby scientists could be sent into the field to search out and study the trees, C&D has recruited thousands of farmers to select their best trees, and then turn them over to be studied and analyzed. The ultimate aim of the project, through identifying and propagating high-yielding cacao trees, is to combat poverty by helping farmers increase their income and produce better cacao, and ultimately, better chocolate.

I have it from a reliable source, a close family member who has lived in Cotacachi regularly for over 50 years, that there is growing anti-gringo (this means not just North Americans, but anyone foreign) sentiment from the indigenous population in the area. It seems that the indigenous of the area are beginning to feel that their land is being unfairly exploited, to the advantage of the developers, leaving them out in the cold. They see that their land is being bought up at low, low prices, and then sold for an enormous profit to foreigners.  As well, hearsay has it that the locals are resentful of the increasing presence of foreigners in the area and are fearful and/or resentful of the cultural changes a large foreign population might bring.

As a longtime observer of Ecuador, I don’t find this surprising. The indigenous groups of Ecuador are a rightly proud lot, and their political and economic power has been growing over the last decade. As well, with the populist triumphs of President Correa during the last four years, increasingly populist and nationalistic rhetoric has become more and more of the norm, adding fuel to this kind of sentiment. With the increasing prosperity that the tourism business and leather industry has brought to Cotacachi, and the draw for foreigners, it was inevitable that economic “progress” was going to sooner or later clash with the indigenous culture of the area. Finally, if the unrest in Cotacachi is true, it’s a perfect microcosm of the larger socio-political and economic situation of Ecuador that has been, is, and likely will be for the foreseeable future-one characterized by volatility, instability, and general unpredictability.

If you have followed my blog and read much about living in Ecuador, you are probably aware that Cotacachi has been growing in popularity among gringos as a retirement destination. Cuenca has been the other destination that has received lots of attention from bloggers, the retirement destination press, and tourism blogs. Cotacachi’s idyllic climate, small town feel, low cost of living, and close proximity to Quito and other major towns have made it a desirable spot to hang your hat. Also, land was relatively cheap there, until…

With the increasing purchase of land by both foreigners and Ecuadorians-who are/were building small housing developments for foreigners, the local population was seeing its former properties being exploited. There is a range of options for foreigners interested in buying a home, condo, or apartment in the area. You can purchase a home, depending on size, finishes, and location, for anywhere from $40,000 to $150,000 or more. Just about a decade ago, we purchased over 2 hectares of land for under $45,000. And here begins my anecdote.

We sold this property a few years ago to a close family member-the same one who’s been living in Cotacachi for decades. In turn, he went on and sold it just over a year ago, to a local who was going to break it up into several lots and build houses for foreigners on the land.

Most of the housing developments work like this: the buyer buys a parcel or several adjoining parcels of land, divides up the land, and begins to sell the houses on paper only. Construction begins when the buyer has made a 20% or greater down payment.

Allegedly, like other Ecuadorian investors in the area who were planning to or have already built housing development aimed at the foreign markets, the buyer of the land has ceased construction on the land due to a lack of buyers.

The indigenous population, it sounds, is tired of seeing their land exploited and the increasing population of foreigners coming in and diluting or affecting their cultural traditions. The developers, supposedly, have begun to leave due to a lack of buyers and are heading to Cuenca. I don’t have specific details on what the indigenous population may be doing to discourage foreigners from coming to the area; but it does sound like they are no longer selling their land at what were probably “firesale” prices to land developers, a sign of rejection of the developers and the foreigners they were attracting.

If any of my readers are aware of more details of the situation, I’d love to hear from you. I have this only on anecdotal evidence, though from a very good source, so if there’s anyone up in Cotacachi with direct knowledge of the situation, I look forward to your contributions.

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Disclaimer: We do not take responsibility for nor can we verify the accuracy of this information. We are providing it here simply as a public service announcement for our readers. We have investigated and done our own due diligence regarding this info on the web, but highly recommend you do your own before further action.

 

Leslie Aldredge (a.k.a. “Leslie Carson”) in Cuenca Ecuador
Tuesday, September 23 2008 @ 08:56 AM EST
Contributed by: Don Winner <http://www.panama-guide.com/users.php?mode=profile&uid=4>
 
 <http://www.panama-guide.com/index.php?topic=essay>

 By DON WINNER for Panama-Guide.com <http://www.panama-guide.com/>  – You’ll be happy to know that Leslie Aldredge, the fugitive from justice who hauled ass to Cuenca, Ecuador after ripping off members of the expatriate community in Panama, is alive and well and living under the alias “Leslie Carson” or “DL Carson.” Her website,movetoecuador.com <http://movetoecuador.com/>  lists the owner as “DL Carson” (that’s Leslie.) Leslie is pulling a repeat of the same crap she pulled here in Panama, using her Ecuador Forum email group to cruise for potential real estate clients, who she then sucks in with promises of helping them to avoid (other) unscrupulous real estate agents in Ecuador. Of course, the person most likely to rip you off is Leslie herself. (more)
 

Google Leslie Carson: Hopefully anyone considering doing business with this con artist will do a quick Internet Google search on her assumed name and hit on this article. Once you’ve found this one, please go to the Panama-Guide.com homepage and search our database for “Leslie Aldredge.” You will find the complete story of how she took advantage of the trust people placed in her, ripped people off here in Panama, then hauled ass for Ecuador when the authorities started closing in. While we here in Panama are very happy that she’s gone, we are simultaneously worried that she’s currently the biggest shark in the waters around Cuenca, Ecuador. Most importantly – DO NOT TRUST THIS WOMAN UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES! She drips “nice”, she will lure you in, and then once you’re all warm and fuzzy she will turn on you and bite you, hard. Many people here in Panama learned this the hard way.

This has been a community service announcement. Have a great day, Leslie Aldredge (a.k.a. Leslie Carson a.k.a. DL Carson).

Copyright 2008 by Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com <http://www.panama-guide.com/> . Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.

Ecuadorians are inherently distrustful of one another. When it comes to doing business, my biggest advantage is being a foreigner. People believe I will pay on time, deliver what I promise when I promise it as I promised it, and generally act with integrity, fairness, and honor. However, they don’t seem to believe any of these things about each other. They seem to hold the implicit assumption that no one should be trusted, every is trying to get the better of you, and that the most likely outcome will not be a good one. In sum, everything is seen from a win-lose perspective; how do I win, how do I come out ahead of you? rather than seeking a win-win outcome.

So when it comes to sharing information with other businesses, be it for discussing a potential product, business deal, or just because it’s interesting, at least personally and culturally, I am not afraid of sharing information. In the US, most information is free unless it’s very arcane or highly specialized.

Why is everyone here afraid of sharing information? Because they think someone else is going to steal their idea, copy their business, do it different and better, or different and cheaper, and put you out of business? Do they feel threatened? Could this be a reflection of a lack of self-esteem, a fear that someone else can and will do it better? Perhaps it is because this is still a society of scarcity; just getting enough to eat and making enough to have shelter and food is the daily concern of most people here, for that matter, worldwide. So any information that will put you ahead of anyone else must be kept secret.

If you examine the perspective and the impicit assumptions here, they are based on the paradigm of scarcity and not abundance. If you share knowledge, you are losing your unique advantage. Rather than the idea that you might perhaps be sharing knowledge and spreading abundance.

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Welcome to Destination Ecuador!

Welcome to Destination Ecuador! My family and I have been living in Ecuador for the last four and a half years. We’ve dealt with the worst kinds of red-tape, searched out or ended up making hard-to-find ingredients ourselves, imported equipment for making chocolate confections, learned the import-export business...Continue >>

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