ecuador

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A Chain-link fence locked with a rusty chain and a padlock

You expect to be able to get what you want when you want it. You go online, google around, find what you need, and order it. Or you get in your car, drive to the mall, and just buy it. You’re used to having the freedom to choose, to pay as much or as little as you can for whatever it is you need. You’re entitled to it, aren’t you? Nobody has the right to limit your choices.

The latest decree in Ecuador now limits individual importation of clothing to a total amount of $500 per year. This is the maximum you can bring in packed in your suitcase from a trip abroad, or through online ordering. And now couriers are expected to implement some kind of control system to make sure people are not violating the new customs laws.

This comes on top of a decree not long ago that limits imports of any type, by individuals, to a maximum of $400 value per shipment and a maximum of 4 kilos.

When you can’t get what you want-or maybe need for your business or personal use, it limits your opportunities. It limits your choices. It can make doing certain things more expensive, or just plain out of reach.

The motive behind this new regulation is supposedly to protect local industry and “formal” importers. Courier companies are mad because it’s going to hurt their business, and the public is mad too because it further limits the already limited choices in Ecuador.

It seems the government is going to stop at nothing to wall off the borders of Ecuador, limit trade, and reduce opportunities for people. Another disturbing sign that makes one wonder, where will it stop?

The last two months have been full of serious contemplation about what comes next. It’s not the first time since we’ve been here that we have considered returning to the US. Almost every year, we go through the same routine of evaluating the business and committing to staying here another year – or not.

I just got back from spending six weeks in the US. I spent a lot of time looking at basic cost of living items. This is also influenced my thinking. It was interesting to note that food and produce is generally not a whole lot higher and what it costs here in Ecuador. The two main costs are higher in the US are housing and health insurance. Other than that, I was pretty surprised to find that I could probably have a better standard of living in the US while only having to make not a lot more money than I make here.

If you’ve been a regular reader of the blog, you will know the last year in Ecuador has been fraught with more difficulty than ever before, not just specifically related to our business, but also related to our kids’ education, and the future outlook for Ecuador. We hear from people in all types of businesses about the difficulties they’re having, and the new challenges they are facing with doing business. We see the increase in crime and insecurity here in Quito. We deal with increasingly bad traffic. Exporting has gotten more and more bureaucratic and time-consuming.

With all of these negatives on top, there must be a few positives. First, I’ve seen a growing interest in Ecuadorian chocolate and cocoa products from abroad. This is brought us some opportunities for export. Second, within Ecuador I see a growing impetus in the cocoa and chocolate sector with increased efforts to reach out abroad. Third, I had strengthened several partnerships with local professionals and manufacturers in the cocoa sector, allowing me to provide an increasing range and sophistication of products for export.

So there’s both good and bad going on. But, we’re not sure we want to wait around and see just how difficult to do business and live here in Ecuador. The writing is on the wall for a business – either invest several tens of thousands of dollars over the next few years to comply with new government regulations, or close up. At this point, I’m more inclined to head back home. It doesn’t matter where I am as far as doing business with Ecuador; I have the contacts, the networks and the relationships established. We will be deciding in the next 4 to 6 months what comes next.

Today just got a major slap in the face. That is, another wake up call. Called on just how many hassles you can face in Ecuador-though many are, most of the time, avoidable, they sure are ugly when they hit you in the face.

First, Banco Pichincha, one of Ecuador’s major banks, has had its online transfer service, down for  the last 4 days. The service allows you to move money from one account in one bank to another account in another bank-great for making payments. Of course, they don’t announce this to anyone-I only figured it out by using the online chat service. I’m late on my homeowner’s association fees because of this.

So I figured I’d go to a cash machine and withdraw the cash, then go to Produbanco, another major Ecuadorian bank, to pay the dues. Well, the Banco de Pichincha cash machine was down. So I go to another bank’s cash machine. But it will only let me make withdrawls in $100 amounts, at $0.50 a pop. So I make two withdrawls-I needed $300 but the daily limit is $200. So someone else is going to get paid late.

We then go to a Produbanco branch at the Supermaxi-Ecuador’s chain of supermarkets. But, that branch, I learn, only accepts deposits for personal accounts, but not for business accounts. I head out to the other branch and the line is literally over 50 people or more long, and it’s already 4 p.m. I guess that payment will just have to wait too, that’s two people paid late…like so many things in Ecuador, you need a lot of patience to live here.

Broke my leg. You read it, broke my leg. I was pondering another post but decided to move this one up a notch, since it’s what’s at the forefront of my mind today.

Earlier this week we headed out to Hakuna Matata for 3 days and two nights. It was my son’s eighth birthday and we wanted to take him to the jungle, and he wanted to go. And more importantly, experiences will far outlast any gift we could have given him.

On our second day there, I made a misstep in the jungle mud, just feet away from our room, slipped and twisted my ankle brutally, and fell. My first reaction was “something’s broken.” I couldn’t feel  a thing, there was no pain, just the clarity of being…there-sitting-on-the-jungle-floor. One of the guides came and helped me up and my wife came immediately, but I couldn’t use my right leg. He helped me over to our room. As Maria, my wife, was opening the door and I was standing with an increasing fog around me, things just went black. It was only for a second or two, but before I knew it I was sitting on the ground, again. Maria and the guide got me into the room and onto the bed, and then the real pain started. It was the closest thing to shock I’ve experienced. Shivers and shakes, cold, trouble breathing normally, it lasted a good 30 minutes. By the hour, the ibuprofen had kicked in and the pain was bad, but not too bad.

The good people at the lodge,, which I’ll write about later, and my wife Maria, helped me out with anything I needed and two of the guides even schlepped me down to the restaurant area in the afternoon. I spent the rest of  it in recovery mode and stayed through dinner. During my wait, a doctor from Tena, the nearest town, came out to see me, gave me an analgesic, and thought it was probably just a major sprain. Well, I wasn’t so lucky.

We drove back to Quito the following day, and I had an x-ray this morning. Some minor fractures in the tibia and a fracture in the fibula, so I’ll be having a screw put in tomorrow morning. If there’s on thing I can’t complain about, it’s the lack of bureaucracy in medicine here. I got an x-ray of my ankle in the morning without a Dr. ordering it, saw the Dr. 30 minutes later. He ordered another x-ray of another part of my leg, which I had done in the next two hours,  and I saw the Dr. again at 4 when he read the 2nd x-ray . He said he could operate tonight or tomorrow, so tomorrow at 3 they’ll do the outpatient surgery. Talk about a lack of hoops to jump through!

Hopefully I’ll be patched up tomorrow and then on the 6 weeks to recovery with a cast. Meanwhile, I will work on the next post about Hakuna Matata Lodge, a great place to visit in the Amazon!

Most people head to Ecuador to see the Galapagos, the Amazon, to climb mountains, or perhaps to the coast. But one of Ecuador’s unexplored and most fascinating areas to visit are Ecuador’s cacao growing regions-which include the Amazon and the coastal lowlands both in the north, central, and south parts of the country. We are just a few days back from another tour of one of Ecuador´s prime cacao growing regions.

Before heading off, we spent day one in the workshop going over chocolate tempering basics, making bar molds and all the little details you need to know to get the bars to come out right, among many other things.

QuevedoJune 18, 2011

QuevedoJune 20, 2011-8

Accompanied by clients and now friends Dana Brewster and Mark Del Vecchio of Millcreek Cacao Roasters, we headed for an unexplored route. Heading south out of Quito for a little over an hour, we took a right and headed through the town of Pujili. I had been there just the week before, so though the turn off is unmarked on the main highway, it was easy enough to find. Pujili is a major market town and is a spectacle to see in and of itself-as you can see from last week’s posting. The scenery once you start the ascent into the highlands is spectacular, and we were fortunate enough to have a very clear day where you could see the Cotopaxi Volcano across the valley as well as the backside of the Corazon Volcano.

QuevedoJune 19, 2011-6

QuevedoJune 19, 2011-5

QuevedoJune 19, 2011-4

It is not at all clear where to head once you get through Pujili, so I made at least a half a dozen inquiries, stopping every five to ten miles, before I was sure I wouldn’t mistakenly turn off and head us in the wrong direction. The road heads, up, up and up into the highlands far above treeline. At one point there is the turnoff for another fantastic part of Ecuador well worth a visit-the Laguna Quilotoa, an emerald-green crater lake high in the mountains, but it was too far off the path to go, so we continued into the highlands.

QuevedoJune 19, 2011

The scenery in this part of the country is breathtaking. The day was gorgeous, some clouds in the sky, but the Cotopaxi Volcano, far across the valleys below us, stared back at us at what seemed like eye-level, we were so high up. Later, with Cotopaxi no longer in view among the rolling hills, mountain grasslands stretched out before us. As the road continued on this high mountain plateau, then began a mild descent into new, smaller valleys, the scenery continued to impress. High rock formations, steep, rolling hills with a patchwork of green and gold crops, and small towns were visible. Finally, the road began to descend.

It was impossible to tell where we were headed, though I knew it was becoming greener and greener as is typical once you leave the highlands and head down. The road was filled with hairpin turns, and it was obvious that the vegetation was changing, but you couldn’t see much. After a good hour of downhill descent, the clouds parted and we were in Ecuador’s lush, tropical lowlands. We were in a narrow valley with narrow roads, steep green slopes on either side. After another good hour of winding descent, we found ourselves passing through towns such as Siete Rios and California, headed for La Maná. Finally, after asking several times how much further La Maná was (always getting a vague response such as “Soon,” or “just a few more minutes,”) we arrived in the open, nearly flat coastal lowlands, that are also some of Ecuador’s prime cacao growing areas.

We arrived mid-afternoon, set out for lunch in Quevedo, then headed back to the farm for the preparation and tasting of some basic cacao liquors. We  hand-roasted beans in a clay pot first, peeling them by hand, then ground them in a lab grinder.

QuevedoJune 20, 2011-8

QuevedoJune 20, 2011-7

The following morning started with fresh fruit, coffee, and home baked bread, then out to check out the plantation, talk about and see difference between CCN-51 and Nacional varieties, and learn about the farm.

QuevedoJune 20, 2011-4

QuevedoJune 20, 2011-9

We set out before lunch to go check out several traders patios as well, see different quality beans, and learn more about how the cacao trade operates.

QuevedoJune 20, 2011-10

QuevedoJune 20, 2011-11

Here’s a shot of beans still in mucilage being fermented in plastic crates.

QuevedoJune 20, 2011-12

Talking to traders and others in the industry, it rapidly becomes apparent that there are not a whole lot of strict standards regarding grading beans for export. One of my contacts claimed “Sometimes I have an export shipment of beans and I call the Agriculture Ministry, and tell them I need the shipment to be graded. They say ‘we don’t have time to come out, what would you like me to put on it?’.” So basically, it’s easy to just get the rubber stamp you want as an exporter, step right up, pick a stamp, any stamp, just tell us which one you’d like!!! The brokers for beans just see them as another commodity, they don’t care where they came from or whether they’re good or bad, they’re just beans. All the more reason to come and buy from the farm, if you really want to know what it is you’re buying.

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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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