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Just after Christmas we went to Hacienda Primavera, which is located about an hour and a half from Ibarra. The nearest settlement is called Gualchan, which is about five minutes down the road from the Hacienda. The Hacienda itself is located high in the cloud forest along a dirt road that supposedly ends some hours later in a remote spot on the border with Colombia. It’s a pristine area with violent muddy rivers, beautiful waterfalls, lots of jungle and few settlements.We arrived late in the afternoon and it was already raining. Unfortunately, this was to be the case for the two full days we did stay-we cut our stay short by a day since there seemed to be no end to the rain.From the website, Hacienda Primavera appears to have numerous activities to keep you busy despite its remoteness. However, due to its remote location and very laid back atmosphere, as well as constant rain during the winter season, it may be more difficult to find things to do than the website might imply.If you’re seeking a pristine, very mellow, isolated setting with no TV, Internet access, or other disturbances, this is the place to be. The nights are filled with the sound of rain, bugs, and little else. If it’s clear, which it was for a few hours each morning,  the views are spectacular.If you like to hike along tropical streams, get muddy, and see beautiful waterfalls, you can do it here. You can also ride horses into the hills, and then usually you have to leave the horses and go by foot to reach some of the more remote waterfalls and other places. They mention mountain biking on their website, but I didn’t see any mountain bikes. And they have a pool, but is was quite chilly and is probably only comfortable during the summer months when it doesn’t rain-and then the sun is surely scorching. The Autoferro, which is a bus adapted for rails, isn’t functioning because the rails have been damaged and have yet to be repaired. The food was decent and fresh, nothing spectacular, nothing to complain about. Usually typical Ecuadorian fare, french fries, fresh peas and carrots, rice, and tilapia or chicken served one way or another. Fresh juices, but microwaved and then toasted bread like slabs of rubber for breakfast, along with eggs and diced ham or bacon, as you desire.Well, check out the photos below.

Northern Ecuador Trip Dec 2007

Business to business sales are great, but getting paid sure can be difficult. I don’t mean getting people to pay me-the few companies I have done business with so far have been fairly prompt and regular with providing payment. Once again it’s the deep love of bureaucracy found here that creates all kinds of delays.

First, for reasons I have yet to be able to understand at even the most superficial level, reasons that I can only speculate about, most businesses only pay their vendors on Fridays between the hours of 3 and 4:30. You can’t show up earlier or later or on another day, and you have to call first to make sure your check is ready.

While there is a halfway decent mail system here, no one uses it. I guess that’s because when you do show up at the right time to pick up your check, you usually have to show some form of ID to prove you are who you say you are, then sign several forms in triplicate before the check is handed over to you. Even though when you bill, you have to bill on a receipt that has been authorized and approved by the equivalent of the IRS here, and it has your name, address, and business taxpayer number on it, that doesn’t seem to be enough to prove to anyone that you are a legitimate business, and therefore you could receive a check at that address made out to you or your company.

And you have to call first to make sure your check is ready, because, and I can only speculate hear, the level of distrust is such that only the owner of the business has authority to sign, and he or she just may not have been available on the Friday afternoon to sign your check.

If your check is signed and you miss the golden hour, well, you’ll just have to wait another week and head back again on Friday to pick it up.

We’ve got 72 hours to go before the 24th, which actually leaves us about 96 hours more of sales. I’ve already surpassed my sales goals for the first six months which I am quite pleased with. Just a bit uncomfortable about the remaining product I still have on hand; I’m not sure if it will all go, though there is still plenty of time left for the last minute rush. I will be supremely delighted if most of it goes, so I am crossing my fingers. We slowed down production quite a bit this week, as I believe I have enough to get me to Christmas eve. Most of my main sales have been large orders for corporate customers, which is a good sign that the product is getting known and recognized for its quality. I’ve also had quite a number of foreigners come; they’re the ones who can appreciate the chocolate and are willing to pay for quality. I’ve also had a number of people show up who saw us at one of the many Christmas Bazars we were at, so I know the publicity is paying off. I continue to record segments for one of the local TV cable channels, and am writing another article for a local magazine, so opportunities for collaboration and free publicity continue to abound. I’m a bit nervous about the slowdown in January but I think we are establishing ourselves as a quality brand with a product unlike anyone else’s here, so things generally look good.  Our goal for next year, however, is to get exporting underway. This includes finalizing packaging, labeling, and finding clients in the US, of which we may already have one. 

On the northern coast of Ecuador we have the province of Esmeraldas. It’s a poor part of the country, but there are some great characters, great food, and great places to see.One of the best places to have an ice cream or snack we just discovered is called Gabelo’s. They’ve got “Granizados”, which is a kind of snow cone thingy named after “Granizo” or hail-the idea is you take hail and add your fruit syrup to flavor it. This place has the best granizados, with fresh passion fruit, blackberry, coconut, or tamarind flavor. Great to have two or three of them a day when it’s about 90 degrees out.Speaking of ice cream, we have the “Pana”. This guy has been on the beach for decades, moving up from three wheel bike to three wheel with a pull cord and motor. We usually get the kids 4 or 5 ice creams a day. Pana sells on credit too.You can get great fresh ceviche on and off the beach. Here we have the Ceviche Maker’s Association. Great spelling in spanish.I don’t know how the Chinese arrive everywhere, or why they choose some of the places they do, but they are everywhere in Ecuador. And they don’t sell just food, but trinkets, souvenirs, shoes, clothing, cars, motorcycles, etc.Chines restaurants in Ecuador are called ¨Chifas.¨I don´t know where this word originated.And you don’t see wiring like this just in small towns. You can find it everywhere.Code enforcement anyone? Do you see a potential fire hazard? Sponge Bob is a favorite too.I haven’t tried this cola, but the message is clear.Litte black girl cola, a party of refreshing flavor. You think they might call this racist in some places?Safe roads and bridges will get you where you want to go. Especially ones with danger signs, stating only one heavy vehicle at a time.  

If you enjoy chocolate you may have no idea just what it takes to get it all the way from bean to bar. I’ve learned quite a bit about cocoa production in Ecuador, and it’s not an easy nor organized path that the raw cacao takes to get all the way to your pretty foil wrapped bar or boxed bonbon in your modern country.

In Ecuador cacao production is highly unorganized, lacks standards regarding quality, grading, and post-harvest practices, and while Ecuador produces most of the world’s highly coveted, high quality “fine aroma” cacao of the Arriba variety, much of this wonderful product is ruined or damaged before it even gets processed.

You often see cacao drying on the side of the road along the highways. It is being contaminated by diesel and gasoline fumes, smoke from cut and burn agriculture, animals, cars, and other factors. You sometimes see several square meters of it, or even hundreds, maybe spread out on a volleyball court just off the road, volleyball being Ecuadorians’ national sport and courts found even in the poorest roadside settlement. Or you may see just a few square feet drying out. As one researcher put it, most cacao in Ecuador is not really cultivated, just gathered by people. Most of the cacao here is produced by families who own less than ten hectares of land; small producers who often gather cacao among the other agricultural products they grow or gather on their plots.

Sometimes, the cacao has been fermented, like it should be before being dried. However, there are no standard procedures that all cacao producers use to ferment. Oftentimes, just due to ignorance, the cacao beans are dried without any fermentation at all. My cacao growing friend here says that one of the main problems with cacao is the post-harvest treatment; there are no standards and no regular procedures. No established standards to treat the cacao, nor any established standards by which to judge its quality.

So sellers are often cheated out of a fair price by buyers who may use unregulated scales, may grade the cacao as poorer than it really is to pay less for it, or grade it dishonestly for some other reasons. The lack of standards among producers, and the lack of any authority to enforce those standards, makes this all possible.

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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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