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IMG_0354Tomorrow I’ll be heading down to Guayaquil  to lead our second annual chocolate to her. Getting out of Quito is not as easy as it used to be, but fortunately I live near the airport which is only 20 minutes from my house. It’s not the same brief hop, skip, and jump to Guayaquil as it used to be, as getting to the airport from Quito can take anywhere from one to two or more hours. Keep this in mind when you come to Ecuador.

We have an internationjal group this year, consisting of three Americans, one person from the Netherlands, two South Koreans, and two people from Scotland. A lot less Americans this year, and more people from other places. Also, we don’t have anyone in the bean to bar business rather, they are all chocolatiers making bonbons and other products from finished chocolate.

The tour is not only a great opportunity to see Ecuador, but a great way to see something that most tourists never get to see or learn about. We don’t go to any of the “main attractions” that many people think of when they read about Ecuador or look at websites advertising tours. We won’t visit the Equator monument, we won’t see the animals in the Galapagos Islands, we won’t swim with pink river dolphins, and we won’t visit any volcanoes or mountains.

However, what we will see is how cocoa is grown, harvested, fermented, and commercialized in Ecuador. We will meet with cocoa farmers, growers cooperative’s, cocoa brokers, and chocolate makers in Ecuador. We’ll see how chocolate is transformed from bean to bar.

We start the trip in the hot, steamy city of Guayaquil. From there we head through the coastal low lands to the province of Los Rios, which is one of the main centers of cocoa activity for all of Ecuador. From here will continue on to window, a small town better known for its birdwatching activities than for its chocolate.

We pass briefly through Quito, stopping to see a chocolate factory before heading down to the Amazon. In the Amazon we’ll visit an island in the middle of the Napo river, where a farmer cultivates not only cocoa, but other tropical plants like bananas and annatto, and some exotic ones most of us have never heard of.

The tour concludes with the dinner in Quito and a chocolate tasting. You’ll never stop wanting to learn about chocolate once you’ve delved into Ecuador’s chocolate world, so join us as soon as you can, or contact me directly for an organized private tour.

I no longer know which way is up. Last week we went back to the Ministry of Health office, to double check that we had the correct information required to get our health permit. Maria talks to the inspector, and he tells her “No, no, no, you don't need all those documents. Just present the same documents as last year and I'll approve it.”

We were going to need an operations manual detailing our good manufacturing practices, and an on-staff food scientist to oversee our operations, among other ludicrous demands.

Then she went downtown this morning, to make another inquiry at the central Ministry of Health office. They told her, “Yes, you need all these documents and processes in place. We don't care how small you are, you have to comply with everything on this new list.” So we have no idea, when the moment of truth comes, if we'll really get our Health permit renewed or not. It appears that we'll be treated like a major food processor, whether we really are our not.

The right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing. Nobody gives you the same answer twice. It's almost impossible to know if what you're doing is correct, and to know if you're complying properly with the operating regulations. Before, it was sometimes a bit murky and ambiguous, and you weren't quite sure if you were doing the right things. Now, it's nearly impossible to tell if anyone even knows what the hell they're talking about, and it's glaringly obvious that there is no coordination between any of the regulatory agencies.

Then, to get our municipal permit renewed, this year they were requesting, for the first time, a zoning permit. So our site had to be evaluated for land use, becaue the Ministry of Production had categorized us as “industry.” However, Maria went and contested this categorization because we are by no means an industry. After getting the buck passed through over three people, she finally was able to corner somebody (during his only available office hours from 2 to 4 pm), who was willing to accept reason and help us get the business recategorized.

Of course, this meant jumping through a bunch of hoops all over again; back to the Municipality after getting our first application for renewal of our license canceled, then resubmitting all over again with the new categorization.

We're now preparing what we can and waiting for the moment of truth.

I no longer know which way is up. Last week we went back to the Ministry of Health office, to double check that we had the correct information required to get our health permit. Maria talks to the inspector, and he tells her “No, no, no, you don't need all those documents. Just present the same documents as last year and I'll approve it.”

We were going to need an operations manual detailing our good manufacturing practices, and an on-staff food scientist to oversee our operations, among other ludicrous demands.

Then she went downtown this morning, to make another inquiry at the central Ministry of Health office. They told her, “Yes, you need all these documents and processes in place. We don't care how small you are, you have to comply with everything on this new list.” So we have no idea, when the moment of truth comes, if we'll really get our Health permit renewed or not. It appears that we'll be treated like a major food processor, whether we really are our not.

The right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing. Nobody gives you the same answer twice. It's almost impossible to know if what you're doing is correct, and to know if you're complying properly with the operating regulations. Before, it was sometimes a bit murky and ambiguous, and you weren't quite sure if you were doing the right things. Now, it's nearly impossible to tell if anyone even knows what the hell they're talking about, and it's glaringly obvious that there is no coordination between any of the regulatory agencies.

Then, to get our municipal permit renewed, this year they were requesting, for the first time, a zoning permit. So our site had to be evaluated for land use, becaue the Ministry of Production had categorized us as “industry.” However, Maria went and contested this categorization because we are by no means an industry. After getting the buck passed through over three people, she finally was able to corner somebody (during his only available office hours from 2 to 4 pm), who was willing to accept reason and help us get the business recategorized.

Of course, this meant jumping through a bunch of hoops all over again; back to the Municipality after getting our first application for renewal of our license canceled, then resubmitting all over again with the new categorization.

We're now preparing what we can and waiting for the moment of truth.

We are now in the process of trying to get our health permit renewed. You never know when things are going to change, and this year the whole process, both with the municipality and with the Ministry of Health has changed. The municipality tells you one thing, you ask them for clarification, and they tell you another thing.

Maria called an office we were directed to yesterday, and talked to six different people without getting a clear answer. Now, we’re at the Ministry of health office miles away from our location, and Maria is trying to figure out if we can move ahead with the Ministry of Health permit even though we don’t have our municipal permit.

You see, before you can apply for your Ministry of Health permit, you have to get your municipal license renewed. But the municipality says but getting your municipal license renewed can take up to 180 work days. However, your Ministry of Health permit has to be renewed within the first six months of the year not later than July 15. So even if you started the renewal process for your municipal license on 1 January, it might not be ready until the September. That would mean there’s no way to get your Ministry of Health permit renewed in the legal time allowed.; therefore, we will be fined $1,500. Of course, no one seems to know or care what anyone else is doing, so you can never figure out if what you’re doing is correct or not.

The Ministry of Health says they might make an exception since the municipality is moving slowly on things, and the “might” accept proof that you have begun the renewal process. Big “might.”

Update soon.

After being dissed on, threatened to have my visa revoked for no apparent reason, and subject to all manner of arbitrary humiliation, I finally got my papers submitted to transfer my visa from my old passport to my new passport. Actually, it was the exact same process as originally applying for the visa, just to have it transferred.

When Maria and I went in Thursday to resubmit our papers, we carefully checked to see who was attending that day. The same guy that mistreated us on Wednesday was at the same window again on Thursday. But, it appeared, he was not dealing with the same procedures.

When our turn finally came up, we walked up this time to a different window. It was like night and day. The guy was extremely courteous, dare I say even cheerful. He chatted with us about the process, offered additional advice on applying for citizenship, and was just an overall pleasure to do business with. It’s too bad there’s so little to say about nice experiences, but I guess that’s the news for you. If it bleeds, it leads. And this doesn’t bleed, not even a little bit.

So, my papers are now submitted, and next week I’ll return to submit my passport, assuming that all is well and the papers are approved.

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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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