December 07, 2011

15 Days in Ecuador: Where and How Would You Spend Your Days?

I have a good friend who is going to be visiting Ecuador in January.  She is going with her husband, and they will be staying 15 days.  They want to see as much as possible, but as the date approaches, she is getting a little apprehensive as to how to make the most of their time in the 15 day stay.  She has seen ads where people offer “tours” for a large amount of money.  I told her that my thoughts on this, were that these tours were a big waste of money, and just a way to scalp a gringo.  LOL.  I realize I could be wrong, but the prices for these “tours” seem outrageous. 

It’s true, and we agree, that the fees are high, and we figure it’s because both the internet promoter and the local are sharing the fee.  When we came here we didn’t use any guides and did everything ourselves, it can be done but it does take longer to figure things out.  Your friends may not have the luxury of time.

I am thinking that there must be a more affordable way to hook up with someone local for a reasonable fee, but I’m not sure how one would go about doing this.  Of course, the first people I thought of were ya’ll.  I believe this couple would enjoy meeting some locals.  (BUT, they speak very little Spanish).

We’re in the process of writing a “DIY(do it yourself) Cuenca Landing Guide”, a how to manual for first time people to Cuenca with great detail on where everything is, a written guide, with email support, that would save you both time and money, maybe it will be done before they get here, check the blog frequently. 

We decided to write it because Frank figured out that if he would have had such a manual, as frugal as he is, being here for the first time, he still would have saved time and money had he had such a manual in hand.  It’s our way of keeping gringo inflation at bay. In the absence of that however, have them contact us directly, and we’ll help them as best we can. 

UPDATE: The Cuenca Guide is PUBLISHED! Here's a handy link to the DIY Cuenca Landing Guide. You can read the reviews here and all the chapters, and read the book up to page 11. 

My friends are in their early 50s, and they are basically going on this trip to check things out.  What they are wanting to see is “life in Ecuador”.  They want to visit some different areas, check out different places to stay, possibly look at the housing market, and then maybe even check out the Amazon Rainforest.  

Well, I think you’ll be cutting it very tight to see all that within fifteen days.  Having said that, there’s different ways to approach this.  One way is to make an area your base (Cuenca could be a good starting point) and then use it as a jumping off point, and do things leisurely at your own pace so as to enjoy the trip.

The other way would be to schedule everything in say three different areas, Cuenca, Quito and the Coast, in advance and adhere to a schedule, but this is not recommended as usually what can go wrong will go wrong, could be very stressful and not as enjoyable being on a tight itinerary, and it’s better to work locally anyhow. 

I am going to put her in touch with you, but she has just had carpal tunnel surgery, and it’s a lot easier for me to type.   What we are wondering, is:  Is it really worth it to pay these “tour” companies (or people) several hundred dollars to “show them around”.  Is there really any value in something like this?  I guess another question in this is:   Is there a better way to “see” Ecuador, if you are totally new to the area and on your own?
Well again, we favor the slow, leisurely do it yourself approach.  I for one would want to see the whole coast, and not just one town, and I think that in itself might take the whole fifteen days to get a real feel for it.  When we first got to Cuenca, the first week we were in wonderment and amazement just wandering around town and getting a feel for it.  Just remembering where all the markets and stores are and taking it all in can easily take a couple of weeks or longer just for Cuenca.  But then again, that’s our style, we like to slow down and smell the roses so to speak. 

If you have more money than time, hiring a bunch of guides might seem like the thing to do, but what’s the hurry? Are you really going to get the real feel of a place by just briefly viewing something you can see in a picture anyhow, and then moving on?  The essence of Ecuador is, live, and enjoy, go slow and don’t worry.

Remember that the guides don’t care whether you get the best or a low price on anything, so you will not be seeing the real Ecuador, only an overpriced artificial one in our opinion.  Everything will be higher.  Is that really what you want?

If you had 15 days to spend in Ecuador, where, according to you would you spend your time?  They want to be able to see several different areas and not knowing anything much about Ecuador, I guess they are wanting to know where their time would best be spent.

If you still want to see as much as you can in fifteen days I would choose the three areas above (Quito, Cuenca, and Coast) and ask around about best neighborhoods and places to stay and then get a quick five day glimpse of each?  Of course, contact us for the Cuenca area.

These are VERY sweet people, and if they come by your area, I’m sure they would love to meet ya’ll, as they will be totally on their own, and will be wandering around, wondering what to do.  I’m sure it would feel good to them to be able to make contact with other Americans while they are there.  I am hoping that ya’ll might be able to meet up somewhere during their stay.

Sure, no problem.  We love meeting sweet people. 

Have you got any suggestions along these lines?  Do you have any good recommendations of places to stay?

Have them Contact us.

December 06, 2011

Culture Shock: The USA vs. South America

The reason why we posted this article is the appreciation of what the author says about Ecuador. When he talks about the food differences and such we couldn’t agree more. It appears to have a veneer of anti-Americanism, which we do not agree with. North America clearly has its problems but we’re not anti-North American. We love North America and we even sometimes miss SC and other aspects of living in North America. We thought we’d share this article with our readers because we’re sure you will find it interesting and as informative as we did.

I recently spent a month in Ecuador, and when I returned, I couldn't get over the culture shock. Not the culture shock of being in Ecuador, mind you, but the shock of returning to the United States! In this article, I'll reveal the mind-warping weirdness of the United States of America that only becomes apparent when you go somewhere else for a while, then come back. And we'll start with the Department of Homeland Security, of course.

Upon returning to the U.S., I arrived at the Miami airport and proceeded to the immigration chamber where I and about a thousand other American citizens were told to wait for an hour and a half just to have our passports stamped for entry. The temperature in the hall was way too hot, and there was no water available anywhere. After about half an hour, the crowd grew unruly, and at one point they started shouting at one of the immigration officers who threatened to close a line. That's when an overweight cop appeared and pointedly said something to a few of the protestors. The message was clear: Shout again, and you might be hauled off to jail.

Welcome to Police State USA. This is how the United States treats its own citizens returning from abroad. Imagine how it treats non-citizens!

By comparison, the immigration line in Ecuador required no more than six minutes of waiting. It was an organized line, with a zigzag rope pattern so that you didn't have to worry about getting stuck in a "slow" line. But in the U.S., there was no such thing: You had to pick a line, and some immigration officers processed people three times as fast as others. At one point, they opened up a new line, and a mass of 100 people or more stampeded over to a new line. It reminded me of the airports in Peru.

I thought I had returned to a third-world country! The U.S. was starting to resemble Peru!

Ecuador was far more advanced than the United States in terms of processing passports and getting you through the airport in a timely manner.

Buying Food Indoors

The next culture shock element concerned the acquisition of food. In Ecuador, you see, I had been eating out of my garden for 30 days. I hadn't visited a grocery store once, and I got used to the idea of going OUTSIDE to get my food. That's where food really grows, after all. Outside, in nature.

In the U.S., you have to go INDOORS to get your food. Because food is sold in buildings, where it's old, dead, processed food wrapped in plastic or packaged in cardboard.

Even going to Whole Foods felt like a massive downgrade from eating fresh out of the garden, and the prices were outrageous: $2.50 for a head of cabbage. $4 for a bunch of beets. $2 for a few ounces of organic cilantro. I had been growing all these (and much more) in my garden in Vilcabamba for a fraction of that cost, and eating them fresh each day. Coming back to the U.S. and realizing I was going to have to pay top dollar for organic product that was DAYS OLD was downright depressing.

Whole Foods, which I used to think was a Mecca of fresh produce, now looked like a disturbing downgrade. Pay more, get less. Welcome to America.

In Vilcabamba, by comparison, I was drinking fresh greens juices, just minutes out of the garden, three times a day. It was all 100% organic, living food. The best in the world. By comparison, Whole Foods seems like a meal at Denny's.

Artificial Florida

Then there's the outdoors in Florida, where I'm staying at the moment. Compared to Ecuador, Florida is artificial and dead. On the San Joaquin ranch in Ecuador, life was abundant: The night sparkled with lightning bugs, the bamboo forests sang with crickets and insects, and taking a simple walk meant seeing a thousand different plants, all with their own flowers, leaves and seeds. It was an abundant, biodiverse ecosystem full of life.

Florida, by comparison, is homogeneous and dead. Everywhere is the same: Herbicide-treated grass and palm trees. Nothing is real, nothing is natural. Not even a single dandelion in the whole city. There are no lightning bugs, no crickets, no natural plants anywhere. It's like sleepwalking through a fabricated reality, invented by a moron with no imagination but lots of herbicide.

Compared to Ecuador, even the most pristine resort areas of Florida are dull, dead and boring. After just one day in Boca Raton, Florida, I longed for the natural environment of South America...

Living Indoors in America

Another thing took me by surprise: In America, everybody lives indoors. Almost nobody spends any real time OUTdoors. This is especially true in Florida, where I was driving through a neighborhood and saw a dozen cars parked at a neighborhood entrance. When I asked what they were doing, I was told they were moms waiting for their kids to arrive on the school bus.

Apparently, Florida moms are horrified at the idea that their children might breathe OUTdoor air for more than a few seconds. They must be shuttled from their air-conditioned schools to their air-conditioned busses, then to their parents' air-conditioned cars and into their air-conditioned homes. It's an indoor life for people who have completely lost touch with reality.

I actually saw a group of kids get off the bus and run to their parents' waiting cars. They were pale, unhealthy looking children, all of whom no doubt suffered from severe vitamin D deficiencies due to spending all their time indoors.

What's happened to America society today? Have parents become so overprotective of their children that they can't let them walk two hundred meters from the bus to their house? When I went to grade school, I walked a couple of miles every day, and in high school, I rode my bike five miles or so each way. Today's parents would be horrified at the idea that their children actually have to walk somewhere. It's all part of a society of laziness and artificiality, where the idea that a child might experience contact with nature is terrifying!

In Parkland, Florida, by the way, there's actually a sign near the road that points to a small forest and says, "Natural Area." Hilarious. The city is so artificial that they actually have to put up a sign reminding people what a "natural area" looks like. And in reality, the only reason it's still natural is because it was too swampy to build on.

Mindless Spending in the USA

The South American economy is run on cash. Nobody uses credit cards there, and most establishments don't even take credit cards. So when you buy something, you spend cash.

Surprisingly, this is a very good way to control your spending. If you have to buy a large water tank for $350 (as I did), you actually have to count out $350 in bills and hand it to someone. This is an important reminder of what you're really spending.

In America, on the other hand, there's no real money: It's all just numbers on a piece of paper where you sign away your future earnings to some dishonest credit card company. The American system of credit card spending encourages mindless spending. There's no reality check on how much money you're actually handing over to someone, and even worse, you can spend money you don't yet have!

That idea is considered ridiculous in South America. You only spend what you already have, not what you might have in the future. This encourages responsible consumption and spending.

But in America, the mindless credit card system encourages lifelong enslavement to the financial institutions. Trapped in hopeless credit card debt, many Americans try to spend their way to happiness, further deepening their financial woes and making them lifelong slaves to some big bank.

America's financial system is based on pure fiction. It's a complex network of leveraged debt, where consumers, banks, states and even the federal government are all limping along in a state of never-ending bankruptcy. Unrestrained spending combines with worthless paper currency to create a recipe for financial disaster, and that's exactly where the U.S. economy is headed.

Coming back to America made it immediately obvious to me how fake and fragile the whole system really was. Ecuador may be a lot less wealthy, but it's based on reality, not a fabricated delusion of wealth.

Disconnect with Reality

Speaking of reality, it became immediately clear to me upon returning to the United States that the American people have little connection with reality. They live in their fake particle-board-and-drywall homes, they spend money they don't have, they eat fake food made in a factory somewhere, they take fake chemical medicines; their lawns are fake, their neighborhoods are fake, their parks are fake and even their boobs are fake.

Ecuador, in contrast, is based on reality: The homes are made of mud or concrete blocks, the food is grown in gardens or small farms, the water comes out of the ground near your property, businesses buy and sell things using cash, the trees are wild, the grass is wild, the insects are wild, and the government gets thrown out of office every couple of years by the People, who make a habit of marching in the streets every time some political jerk tries to trample on their prosperity (try that in the U.S. and you'll get sent to Guantanamo Bay...).

In the U.S., your water comes out of a tap, and it's contaminated with fluoride and chlorine. In Ecuador, it comes out of the GROUND, and it's contaminated only with living microorganisms. That's LIVING water vs. DEAD water.

In the U.S., your cheese is pasteurized, homogenized and fabricated in a "cheese food" factory. In Ecuador, it's real cheese made from fresh milk taken from cows that roam the grasslands. I don't even eat dairy in the U.S., but I eat some cheese in Ecuador (and ONLY Ecuador!).

Even the poverty is real. In the U.S., you'll find obese people holding signs that say, "Need food." In Ecuador, the people who need food are skinny. That's because they really are starving, not like the "fake" starving people in the U.S. (We've done work to help many of these people, by the way, so I'm not making light of their situation, but I am pointing out that the whole idea of starving in the U.S. when you're obese is quite ridiculous.)

Even the physically-impaired beggars are more real in South America. In the U.S. a street corner beggar holds a sign claiming he's a veteran, and displaying the obligatory "God Bless America" message, but he's got shoes, a shirt, and most of his teeth. Beggars in South America have two teeth, one arm and no legs, and they've got a 7-year-old child with no shoes and deformed toes, blind in one eye and beating sticks on a dirty drum with his one good hand. That's REAL need. Beggars in the U.S. use most of their money for booze, drugs and hookers. But beggars in South America actually buy food.

By the way, there are relatively few homeless, crazy people roaming the streets in Ecuador. American cities, on the other hand, have thousands of crazy people running around. And if you go to Washington D.C., you'll find they're all gathered in one place: The White House!

Children Don't Know the Real World

A recent study in the U.K. revealed that children have virtually no connection with the real world. Astonishingly, most could not identify common plants, animals or insects native to their own country!

I suspect this is also true in the U.S., where kids have virtually no connection with the real world anymore. They don't know what lightning bugs are, they've never seen animals except in zoos, and they have no clue where food really comes from. (Taco Bell?)

In Ecuador, kids grow up close to nature. They know seeds, insects, animals and plant. They play in the dirt, and they walk in the rain.

In the United States, kids grow up in a fabricated, artificial reality. They know Xbox and Playstation. They would never even be allowed to play in the dirt or walk in the rain. They're over-protected, over-medicated and under-nourished. They lack sunshine and exposure to living microorganisms that might boost immune function. Instead, they're vaccinated with over a hundred vaccines by the time they reach age 13, at which point many are already obese and diabetic due to their consumption of factory-made processed foods.

In Ecuador, most families are too poor to buy McDonald's. (And there's hardly a fast food restaurant to be found anyway.) They eat rice, vegetables and free-range meat. Sure, they WANT more Pepsi and Coca-Cola, but most can't afford it, so they end up eating bland diets of unprocessed foods that are actually good for them.

I fear for future generations of Americans. Our nation's children are being brought up without any of the skills they might need if the real world descended upon them. In America, if the water stops, or the food stops, or the electricity stop, most people are absolutely clueless. They become instant victims who have no sense of what to do to survive outside their fabricated cities and complex supply lines.

But in Ecuador, losing water, food or electricity is no big deal. People are extraordinarily resourceful, and because they're already living close to the Earth, they can get by. They'll bathe in the river, eat the tropical fruits growing like weeds in their yards, and light candles at night. Getting back to basics is commonplace in Ecuador, and if the entire global infrastructure failed, they'd be fine. They can live much like the Incas did, and the Incas didn't need air conditioning.

Imagine what would happen in a typical U.S. city if the infrastructure failed: Total chaos! Without food, water, electricity and internet access, most Americans would freak out. They have no idea how to survive in the real world. (NaturalNews readers, of course, are the exception. You folks are already closer to the Earth than most people, and you have a lot more skills for living off the land, if needed.)

An Artificial World vs. the Real World

The bottom line to all this is that America has, in many ways, become an artificial world. It's not necessarily obvious if you live in America. You actually have to leave the country for a month or so and then come back. Only then will you notice just how fabricated American society really is.

North America is the land of living INdoors, isolated from nature, where you exist in a fabricated reality prone to collapse.

South America is the land of living OUTdoors, close to nature, where you have contact with the real world.

I'd rather live in the real world than a fabricated world. How about you? Of course, you give up the shopping malls, the Wal-Mart, the drive-through pharmacies, the live rock concerts and the fear-mongering cable news networks. If you're into fake food, fake elections and fake boobs, you'll miss the United States.

Of course, Ecuador runs the risk of falling for many of the same things if it chases American culture. Many Ecuadorian people strive to be more like North Americans, who they often perceive as being wealthy and cool. But in this, they can miss the bigger point: North American fashion, hamburgers and cosmetic surgery may look cool, but it's an illusion. Real abundance is found in the land, the sun, the water and the seeds. Ecuadorians already live in a genuine paradise, with sustainable food and a safety net in case things go wrong in the world. Many just don't realize it.

When crops fail in the U.S., or a pandemic is unleashed, or the water dries up in the American Southwest, the people of South America may come to realize just how wealthy they really are. It's not about the size of your home, or the make of your car, or the bling around your neck; it's about whether you can wake up to the sounds of nature, eat real food from your own land, and live in harmony with the symphony of life all around you. It's about being close to nature, finding peace and happiness in the land of plenty. Isn't that why our ancestors came to America in the first place? They looking for peace and abundance, too. They left Europe and came to America. Today, generations later, people are leaving America and heading to South America for the exact same reasons.

The soil is rich, the sun is abundant, the life is diverse and the world is real. Land is affordable and labor is low-cost. Medicines grow everywhere around you, and if you get into the right community, your neighbors are like-minded folks from first-world nations who are into natural health and natural living.

By the way, there's a lot to like about America. I still love America for lots of reasons. I love the creativity, the (relatively) free speech and the anti-smoking laws. I love the vehicle emissions controls (which don't exist in South America) and the convenience of buying books from America is a great place, but it just doesn't offer the connection with the real world that you'll find in South America. Hawaii may be the closest you'll come to that. Hawaii's great, but very, very expensive, and it's still part of the American empire (until it declares independence someday, of course). Ojai, California is another paradise in America, but it's also insanely expensive. Unless you're a multi-millionaire, you probably won't find a natural living paradise in America that you can really afford. South America is the obvious choice, and that's why so many people are heading there right now.

December 05, 2011

SuperStock Department Store in Cuenca: Bargain on Extra Virgin Olive oil

We came across another huge department store in Cuenca. SuperStock has been right under our noses the whole time we have lived here but never took notice until a few weeks ago. SuperStock has three stories and is stocked up with all your household needs. They have a lot of decor items and knick knacks upstairs. Some items are reasonably priced but other items seem to be a bit over board. We did find some great bargains on Extra Virgin Olive oil and that was a pleasant surprise. They also make whole wheat (integral) bread and we call it in a day ahead and they bake it the morning we arrive so the bread is fresh!

December 04, 2011

Ecuadorian Culture is Very Resourceful

Ecuador is one of the most resourceful cultures we have seen. We’re sure that most of Latin America is much the same way. One reason there are no thrift stores in Ecuador is because the locals do not throw anything away. When something breaks they fix it, or if they can’t fix it, they get it fixed by someone who can fix or repair it.

Refrigerator Repair 

We read that only about 50% of Ecuadorians own a refrigerator.  Refrigerators are not cheap here. If you want to buy a refrigerator that is taller than you, you’ll spend at least $900 and if you’re taller than 6’ you’ll still be taller than that $900 refrigerator. When a refrigerator stops running, they take it down to the appliance repair shop and get it fixed. We’ve gone into some used appliance stores to check out prices and what you see in there is 60’s and 70’s used refrigerators for $300 on up.

Television Repair

Since living here we have noticed many different kinds of repair shops; from appliance repair to clothing repair. There are several TV repair shops in downtown Cuenca and we took a peek inside one of them and there are a bunch of 70 style televisions waiting to get picked up by their owners. And for good reason, flat screen HDTV’s cost 2 to 3 times more here.  They are asking $200 for a 19 inch analogue “new” TV here. So it makes sense they would have their televisions repaired rather than buy a brand new TV. Even the Ecuadorians complain about the price of electronics here.

Shoe Repair

If a heel breaks on your shoes or if the treads get worn out many Ecuadorians take their shoes to the cobbler. We’ve seen about three shoe repair shops just downtown alone. They have Payless shoes here where you can buy one pair get the second pair half off, but they cost about twice as much here as they do in the US and about 90% of them have a inch or taller heel! So if you like high heels this is a good place to buy your shoes. Shoes stores are everywhere in downtown Cuenca. Ecuadorians love shoes. Quality tennis shoes start at about $39.

Multipurpose Repair Shops

We bought my back pack here at Feria Libre Mercado. It is not a cheapy back pack but it is not the most durable pack on the market either. She was asking $23 for it and Frank bargained her down to $18. Well, wouldn’t you know it, after about a month of using it one of the zippers started coming apart and it wouldn’t stay zipped.  We ended up taking it down to a multi-purpose repair shop where they fix, mend and repair just about anything that exists.

These multipurpose fix-it shops shops are amazing, by the way. They fixed my zipper for $3! Beats spending $18 on a new pack! About a month later another zipper started acting up and so they replaced the whole zipper this time for just $5. We’re happy they have these kinds of repair shops here.  Whatever you need repaired, take it to one of these shops and they will do whatever they can to mend it, whether it is clothing, packs, shoes, purses, gadgets, what have you.

Old Datsuns and Toyotas

There are a lot of older model cars, especially Datsuns and Toyotas here in Cuenca. These 60’s and 70’s cars are well taken care of with new paint jobs, nice rims and tires and some are even hopped up. Frank had a 1980 Toyota pickup with over 400,000 miles on it and he was still driving it before we came here. He said if he could have had it shipped down here he would have kept it, but they do not allow used vehicles to be shipped into Ecuador.  Prices for an older well-kept Toyota or Datsun go for around $4K here, so they are not cheap.

It is amazing how resourceful and industrious Ecuadorians are. When you come from a culture where waste is normal and throwing out what one does not want anymore, or buying new when something breaks rather than fixing it, makes coming to a Latin American culture where everyone is so resourceful, simply Amazing!  At first, for some, it can be a culture shock. But we were already like this, more or less, and so it is actually more amazing to us than a shock. It’s pretty neat here.

December 02, 2011

Tarantula Spider in our Home in Cuenca, Again!

What's going on? I mean there must be a nest under the porch outside. It was about 11pm when we hear the boys in the kitchen talking about another hairy tarantula spider they found. This time the spider was right outside the kitchen door that goes out onto the patio and garden into the back yard. This time we let the little guy go.

Little my foot! LOL.  According to Brandon and Frank this one is just a baby. The first one we found in the kitchen was bigger.

FYI, Cuenca surprisingly does not have that many bugs and insects. We rarely see mosquito's. We had more creepy crawlies living in Anderson, SC than we do here in Cuenca! But we're sure there are lots of insects at the coast. Anyway, enjoy the video of us catching the spider and then letting it go.

December 01, 2011

Visiting the Children's Home in Cuenca

On Saturdays we like to go to the children's home and play ball and other games with the 25 children there. We have become attached to all the kids there. They are precious children and are very dear to our heart.  We also have met some great friends at the children's home. The boys learned to dance and I cooked for everyone!

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