April 06, 2012

Ecuador Bans Hazardous Pesticides

While doing some research about some of Ecuador's food, namely corn and hominy, which are staples here, I came upon some very good articles about Ecuador's farming practices that we think every single person who is thinking of moving to Ecuador will be glad to know.

Ecuador Bans Hazardous Pesticides
By Pesticide Action Network July, 30, 2010 

Ecuadorian Congress banned an entire category of highly toxic pesticides. Announced as an act of support for its constitutional commitment to food sovereignty, the Ecuadorian Congress banned an entire category of highly toxic pesticides, slated to take effect September 30, 2010. Ecuador cancelled the registration of all pesticides assessed by the World Health Organization to be extremely or highly hazardous (classes 1a and 1b), including many familiar and controversial pesticides that continue to be used in the U.S, such as the organophosphates and carbamates

These pesticides have recently been linked to increased rates of ADHD in levels found in the average diet of an American child, and have long been concerns of farmworkers and children's health advocates. As of September 2010, Ecuador will prohibit the manufacture, formulation, import, commercialization and use of these pesticides. The decision impacts pesticides used in agriculture; agents used for human disease control are exempt. Dr. Monserrathe Bejarano, Executive Director of AGROCALIDAD, the federal Ecuadorian agency that oversees food and agriculture, signed the public statement and official record of decision. 

Ecuador's constitution establishes food sovereignty (in U.S. terms, food democracy) as a strategic objective of their nation - legal language plainly states that it is the obligation of the government to guarantee people and communities ongoing self-sufficiency through access to nutritious and culturally-appropriate foods. Impervious to industry claims that industrial agriculture is needed to "feed the world," Ecuador sees the elimination of highly hazardous pesticides as key to secure and safe access to healthy, good food for the nation. 

UPDATE 2014: While we can safely say that Ecuador does not use harsh chemicals; they still do use some pesticides on some of the produce, which invariably are not good for your health. However, we asked a indigenous farmer who was spraying something on his cabbage plants about it and he said that the chemicals are watered down and used sparingly. He went on to tell us that most farmers cannot afford to buy expensive, heavy-duty chemicals.

So is the food at the Mercado's sprayed? Some are and some aren't. We've noticed that major stores such as Coral and Supermaxi sell organic foods all the time for the same price as non-organic, look on the labels. 

GM Foods: Global Policies July 21, 2011
By Robin Lane

Across the pond, the EU is considering giving countries the right to decide whether or not to grow GM crops in their individual countries. Will certain countries be allowed to sell their GM crops to countries that ban the growth of such crops? Do the rights of farmers -- to make decisions about which crops to grow -- outweigh the rights of consumers -- to be protected from potential risks of GM food? Currently, Ecuador bans the growing of GM crops, but allows imports. The law on food sovereignty was passed earlier this year stating that “raw materials containing transgenic inputs may only be imported and processed, provided they meet the requirements of health and safety, and their reproductive capacity is disabled by the breaking of grains.”

April 04, 2012

Riding the Bus in Cuenca Ecuador Is Not What You Might Think

What do you think riding the bus in Cuenca Ecuador is like?
Do you think the buses are reserved for the unfortunate folk who have to scrounge for $0.25 cents to ride the bus? Do you think the city bus is where hoodlums hangout and so it has lots of crime? Do you think the buses have rowdy and loud people who like to make a bunch of noise and bother people?
First of all, if you imagine riding the bus in Cuenca to be like any of the above you’re way off. Riding the city bus in Cuenca is nothing like what it’s like riding a city bus in North America. There is no segregation of any kind while riding the buses in Cuenca. Do you think the back of the bus is reserved for punks smoking and drinking?
There are Ecuadorians of all economic backgrounds that ride the bus system in Cuenca. We’ve seen business men with suits and indigenous women with a gunny sack full of chickens riding the bus and sitting down next to each other. There is no stigma or separation of the poor or wealthy Ecuadorians like there is in North America where only those less fortunate ride the bus, or where you have to be afraid to ride the bus because of hoodlums and crime. It’s not like that here.
The bus is for every one of every economic means and of all age groups. The bus is really just a way to get from point A to point B for a very reasonable price. The people you see walking around on the streets of Cuenca are the same people who get on the bus. They are the same people who own businesses or who work at banks. They are the same people who live downtown but work at the Mercado, Feria Libre.
There is no petty thievery on the buses during the day time hours here, at least none that we’ve seen. A few times we have seen some drunks get on the bus but never really bother anyone; just don’t look at him in the eye or he’ll start begging you for money. We have been told that when petty crime does happen it is after dark and some gringo gets their cell phone taken.
Amazingly, little children, by themselves get on the bus here! This is something never seen in North America, but here, it’s ok. No one bothers the children here.
Ecuadorian young adults respect the elderly (they are taught this in school) and if the bus is pretty full they will get up and let their elders sit down; it is the same with women who are holding or carrying small children and, or pregnant women; the men will give up their seat and let her sit down with her child or baby.
The buses are usually full on the weekends where you may have to stand up; hold on tight because some drivers stop suddenly and drive jerky. During the week day you’ll almost always find yourself a seat on the bus unless it’s rush hour. And some of the bus drivers like to play loud Latin music, which early in the morning seems even louder, but you get used to this.
On the weekends there is live entertainment and some panhandling. It works like this, if a panhandler wants to hand you something (candy, etc) just say, “No gracias” unless you want to pay for it, then accept it, and when he or she comes around for some money, usually a quarter or fifty cents, pay it. The live entertainment will also come around after they play their act and want you to donate some change; a dime, quarter, dollar; whatever you feel fit to donate.
So this is pretty much what it’s like riding the bus system in Cuenca. Curiously, we rarely, if ever, see a gringo riding the bus. They say there is about 2,500 gringo expats living in Cuenca full time; where are they? They aren’t taking the bus, that’s for sure. We take the bus all over the city of Cuenca on a daily basis and love it and so does our pocket book love it. Taxi travel does add up. And besides, the bus fare is fixed, there's no haggling, and that's great, especially on days you don't feel like it.
Many years ago, when I was more concerned with what people thought, I would not want to be seen shopping in a good will or thrift store. I know, it sounds crazy but the truth is some people are like this. It wasn’t until I met my husband and he talked sense into me, did I realize all that I was missing because of my own arrogance. Frank said to me, “Angie, if they see you shopping in good will then they are shopping here too, so you shouldn’t be uncomfortable about it".
And so I stopped worrying about what people thought of me shopping at thrift stores from that day forward; and I’m very glad that I did. I actually ended up being a thrift store junkie. So, why did I tell you about this story? Well, it could be the same riding the bus. Some people may have this notion that riding the bus makes them appear to be something that they themselves think they are not. Or maybe they are just fearful. There's nothing to fear but fear itself; you've heard that before. Get over it, and come on in, there's lots of room left.

April 03, 2012

Monay Shopping Mall in Cuenca Ecuador

This video is a quick walk through of the Monay Shopping Mall in Cuenca. Cuenca has two malls; Monay is the smaller mall but really nice with a lot of clothing shops and fast food, while Mall Del Rio is about four times as big. 

April 02, 2012

12 Ways to be Frugal and Go Local in Cuenca

Hi Frank and Angie;
After viewing your interview with lovely real estate agent in Cuenca I feel compelled to email the two of you. I believe we share the belief that when in Rome you should live as the Romans live. Your videos and website has convinced me that I can live comfortably in an apartment or home outside the city limits of Cuenca if I am willing to use the bus system, shop at the outdoor markets and do without the luxury items so many expats seem to need. I have not had a driver’s license in over 10 years and love using the public transportation here in Sweden. Shopping in the open air "farmer's market" is my idea of a good time. L. From Sweden
We’re glad you emailed us to let us know you’re ready to go local in Ecuador. We like helping those who want to retire in a new land and keep the cost of living affordable for everyone, not just the rich. 

The excellent rental deals are ALL unfurnished. The minute you add furniture to the mix, you’re entering the realm of tourist. Our long time readers know that one of our annoyances in our “12 annoyances video” about Ecuador is there are virtually no thrift stores. Funny thing is there are very few ads in the Cuenca papers or online Cuenca classifieds that advertise used furniture or appliances either.  

The demand for used items is very high within the expat community because many expats come for only several months and leave.  So, because of that when there is used furniture or appliances advertised they are pricey. 

So what can you do when renting an unfurnished home or apartment in Cuenca and prices of furniture and appliances are just out of your budget? First of all, do not panic because this just makes you go out and spend money unnecessarily. There are several ways to be frugal in Cuenca, or anywhere for that matter. Let’s start with furniture.

We built our own furniture. We know what you’re thinking, “You guys had your sons build your furniture and we don’t have our sons with us”. Yes, that’s true but that should not stop you, if you are able to and willing to learn how to build your own furniture perhaps you should just do it. We have made a step by step video on how to build your own couch in several easy steps. This video will be posted soon. 

update...here's the video on how to build your own couch. 

12 Ways to Be Frugal and Go Local in Cuenca 

1. Have Your Furniture Built: We’ve talked about this in the DIY Cuenca Landing Guide. You can buy cheap furniture in Cuenca but it is small, uncomfortable and will not last. Or, you can have your furniture custom built.There is furniture builders here. Tell them what you want and they will build it.

2. Ride the Bus: Ride the bus when you can (not after dark) instead of taking a taxi

3. Live outside the City Center: Rent a house or apartment outside of the city center. There are nice homes in nice neighborhoods at the local price in Cuenca. Keeping your rent under $300 to $400 is the way to stay frugal.  The DIY Landing guide lists some Ecuadorian rental resources. 

4. Choose Almuerzo: If you eat out during the day choose the almuerzo ($1.50 to $3) lunch. If you eat out for dinner, choose the Ecuadorian restaurant over the ones that cater to expats. The difference is a lot of money.

5. Shop at the Mercado: Buy fruit and some of your vegetables at the Mercado. Most fruits and some veggies are much better priced at the Mercado, probably fresher too. Cuenca boasts at least three Mercado’s so be sure to check them out during the day.

UPDATE 2015: After four years of living here we have noticed many of the prices at the Mercados have gone up and if you buy produce which is in season you can buy it at the grocery store called Coral Hypermercado for about the same price as at the Mercados. 

6. Appliance Comparison Shop: Do your due diligence when appliance shopping; it could mean the difference of several hundred dollars even within the same brand and size of refrigerator. Coral Centro does not have the cheapest appliances by the way. You would think they would but they do not.

For one or two people, if your budget does not permit a full-sized refrigerator when you first move here, opt for the half size at half price…later on down the road buy the full size refrigerator. Full sized name brand refrigerators here cost between $1,200 (not side by side doors) on up.

7. Wash your own Laundry without a washing machine: We know of several expats that come here for several months and make do without a washer and dryer. Once you see the prices of washers and dryers you’ll know why. It’s really kind of fun to wash your clothes by hand, and is how many of the Ecuadorians do it. Every house or apartment comes with a big laundry sink and they sell a special laundry soap that works great on clothes when washing them by hand.  Or, you can hire someone to do your laundry for you.  There are also service laundries but be sure to ask around for prices so you don’t get gringoed.

8. Make Your own Couch Cushions: If you have your furniture built or if you build your own furniture the next step is to make your own couch cushions. If you know how to sew than this is certainly the way to do it. Coral sells the couch cushion material and in Cuenca there are several, huge fabric shops with amazing amounts of different types of fabrics. 

Amazingly, Ecuadorian women still sew and love to sew so there is so much to offer in this department.  Making your own clothes and other household items such as curtains, throw pillows and cushions is not only fun but frugal, especially when you see the prices for fabric here! I’m taking sewing lessons so I can make my own couch cushions for our custom built furniture!  This is getting really exiting. Frank just bought me a sewing machine. We’ll post more about this later. Yes, we’re living frugal and local in Cuenca and it is so much fun!

9. Patronize the FREE Entertainment: Did you know that Cuenca has free concerts, orchestras, plays and other live entertainment? They do, and the concert hall and live theatre hall is located downtown Cuenca.

10. Don’t Be in a Hurry: Don’t be in a big hurry to have your home fully furnished with a lot of furniture and appliances. Who knows what is going to happen in two to six months down the road. Some expats have had to leave because of the altitude, others left because they decided Ecuador was not for them? Even if you love it here and decide to stay, what is the big rush? One thing you’ll learn about Ecuador: everything is much slower paced here no matter what it is you’re doing. So go with the flow and enjoy yourself in the process.

11. Buy a Fixer Upper or Build Yourself: If you decide you want to live in Ecuador full time you might want to buy or build your own. When we see advertisements in gringo geared newsletters and forums we just shake our heads and hope that the people looking to buy in Cuenca will not fall for the waaaay overpriced real-estate.

Doing research we know you can buy the same amount of house for 1/3 less and can build your own for ½ less!!! Retirees come down here and get caught up in the International Living and House Hunters International Hype and think these overpriced homes in Ecuador are an ok deal. But they are far from ok deals. Please, please, come here and get to know some locals and talk to them, don’t take the gringo advertisements as the last word, because they are not the last word. 

There are some people who loyally follow our blog and then send us these overpriced real estate scams. Periodically we list these overpriced scams on the blog; well, here’s a couple more.


Did you see another house for sale in yesterday's gringotree? This one is not even IN Cuenca, it is a 12 minute drive away. They want $150,000 for land with a "small rustic house". I'm picturing the house as being about 500 square feet, maybe one big open room with hardly any windows and what windows there are being not very functional. Why is this so expensive? Is it because it comes with land?

I saw another ad for land in Chaullabamba for 75K, JUST a lot to build on. Chaullabamba is just outside Cuenca and apparently an up and coming neighborhood.  

These ads were in Gringotree, but I have to say that we have friends who are Cuencano (ancestors from Cuenca as far back as they know) who know nothing of gringotree and they have a 3BR house they want to sell which we have seen. It is a nice house but pretty ordinary. I asked how much they want for it and they said $100,000 !!!! We have other Cuencano friends who tell us that prices have gone up so much in Cuenca that they are seeing the first generations of people (Cuencanos) who will never be able to buy their own homes. This is in families where it was never a problem before. Rightly or wrongly they blame the foreigners for this.


The word is out, the Gringos will pay and  Cuencanos are and will play on the hype and also try to sell their house for what it is not worth. We need to be smart buyers! We need to be smart expats and know a bad deal when we see one and a good deal when we see one. There may still be house bargains in Cuenca, but we may have to put some effort into finding them.  We have to get creative in order to overcome the gringo damage that has already been done.

12. Sign up to this Blog:  Be a part of the solution…embrace responsible expattingIf you haven’t already, it would be to your advantage to sign up to this blog. So sign up today to receive ways to live frugally in Cuenca Ecuador.

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