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I just went to submit my visa transfer form to the MInistry of Foreign Relations. My old passport expires in May, so I have a new one and need to get my residency visa transferred over.

After getting 7 documents notarized as required for the transfer (copy of marriage certificate, copy of the old visa, copy of the old and new passports, copy of my Ecuadorian ID card) and preparing a letter to the current director of foreign affairs, whatever that is, I got my number and waited in line.

Maria accompanied me to see the “gentleman” who is supposedly there to receive the documents and enter them into the system. Immediately, he said, “Well, this letter is not written to the proper person.”

We pointed out that we had gotten the name on the letter from the MInistry Offices. He said “He's due to go abroad as Ambassador and if the letter is not directed to the proper person your visa could be annulled.” He then went on to tell us that if, for any reason, they (they being the “judicial department”) decided that the original visa was improperly issued in the first instance, it could be cancelled.

We asked, how are we supposed to know who the proper person is when we have called and called here and gotten no answer, and finally did get an answer at the Ministry. He said, “We don't take phone calls or give out any information here.” So we asked, well how are we supposed to know who the right name is? “Well, you should have come here and asked.”

“You just said you don't give out any information here.” He didn't know where to hide.

He went through each page one by one, slowly, looking for an error or something to call us on. It was painfully obvious he was just looking to trip us up so he wouldn't have to accept the papers. Who knows if this is plain laziness, plain meanness, incompetence, that they've been instructed as bureaucrats to make the process as slow and agonizingly painful as possible, or maybe he was just having a bad day? Who knows? But it's hard not to ask what is wrong in this country when nearly every public transaction is similar to this one.

Finally, he said, this paper needs notarization-the copy of Maria's ID card. Maria pointed out that nowhere on the web page does it say that the ID needs notarization. “Yes, but according to article 22 as a public employee I can ask for any additional documentation I deem necessary.” Ok, so that opens it up to the fact that you can make this process as arbitrary, arduous, and long as you wish! Great.

I haven't even filled in all the details of the ridiculous back and forth that went on between Maria and this guy, but it was obvious he was not looking to help us out. I don't know where these people get their knack for finding ways to vaingloriously waste their own and other people's time, but it's a notorious trait in this country. Welcome to Ecuador! Stay tuned for the update tomorrow!

Finally, professionally organized tours to learn about chocolate and cacao in Ecuador are up and running. We have two itineraries, one more intense than the other. Come during Ecuador’s peak cacao harvesting season in April and May and you will see all the amazing activities that go into making chocolate. Visit Ecuatoriana de Chocolate factory in Quito, the Kallara cooperative, and other amazing sites.

We now have 3 tours scheduled this year to take you to Ecuador´s chocolate country. In addition, we have a fourth tour with Ecole Chocolat in April, which is the professional chocolate tour in Ecuador led by me and Steve Devries.

Our current Ecuadorian Chocolate Tours are scheduled for Saturday, April 6 to 13, and Saturday, May 4 to Saturday May 11. Finally, we have an eleven day, intensive tour to see cacao related activities in two areas of Ecuador, including the remote Esmeraldas province, from July  6 to July 17th.

For more information and pre-registration for these tours in Ecuador’s chocolate country, please click here.

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The last few days I began noticing these pink billboards in Quito with slogans on them. Not great slogans-more like phrases commonly used here by many people. Phrases that shirk responsibility, show little respect, deny accountability.

The billboards were like the one shown in the photo above, except only the slogan was visible, not the new slogan slapped on top, nor the “Yo Soy Hecho En Ecuador” phrase down in the lower right=hand corner.

This one originally said only “Culpa Mia No Es.” It’s hard to make out underneath the new slogan on top, but it’s there. “It’s Not My Fault,” is what the original slogan said.

Then, in the last week or so, they slapped on top the new phrase “Assume your responsibility.” Or “Take responsibilty.”

Below the “Yo Soy Hecho En Ecuador” phrase, if you click on the photo, it says “No a la Mediocridad,” or “No to Mediocrity.”

This is wonderful. This is awesome. It shows that at some higher level in the government, someone has realized the need for a campaign emphasizing accountability and personal responsibility. It shows a self-awareness and cultural recognition that was not present until only recently. It shows that someone thinks it’s important enough that there should be a campaign to change some of the negative cultural idiosyncracies here.

It may take years to change this, but it’s a huge step forward, and I applaud the anonymous genius behind it.

I spotted this Chinese made car yesterday. Would you drive a car named a Relic?

Jeff Stern, Ecuador, Produce

Produce from Ecuador

One thing I will always appreciate about Ecuador is the low cost of high quality fruits and vegetables, plus the fact that everything is local.

Nonetheless, in the five and half years we've lived here, the cost of living has risen substantially. Despite heavy press coverage about Ecuador as a cheap destination for living abroad, well, let's just say I have to pop that bubble. It's not that cheap and it's not always that safe.

One thing that does always get me is the lack of products. One week you'll find something on the shelf, the next week it will be gone. Sometimes it won't reappear for months, other times it won't ever reappear. So if you really want something and you see it, it behooves you to stock up.

I'm talking mostly about imported goods-things like Tahini, Heinz 57 Ketchup, certain spices. But sometimes fresh produce too-for years there were jalapeños on the produce shelves-then they were gone. The basic fresh fruits and vegetables and other staples like salt, oils, vinegars, they´re always around. Exotic ingredients come and go, and the imported ones especially have slowly been going extinct in the last few years.

Here's a few basic items and their cost at the local Supermaxi-Ecuador's only sort-of upscale supermarket. The tiems would be a little cheaper at Santa Maria, the more mass market super market, and even cheaper at one of the local open air markets, but not by a whole lot.

1 Dozen Extra Large Eggs-$2.15

Standard Can of Tuna-$1.22

Cherry Tomatos-$1.60

Hearts of Palm-$1.82

Kilo of Strawberries-$3.44

1 kilo Bananas-$0.95

Lentils 500g-$0.99

700g Limes-$1.38

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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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