Travel and Live in Ecuador

I'm 34.
I'm married.
I have two children.
I live in Guayaquil, Ecuador.
I don't like Guayaquil and I'd rather be a fruit farmer in the country but I don't know anything about growing fruit.
And my wife won't live anywhere without a mall.
So I'm an English teacher.
Read about my adventures in Ecuador.
And check out my website http://www.travelandliveinecuador.com


Ask me anything  

Vinces

 We decided to go to Vinces on the back of buying some delicious chocolate produced from the Pepa de Oro cooperative stand at a food fair in Guayaquil. The other reason was that I wanted to see if it deserved the mantle of Little Paris that it has been given here. I didn´t think it would…and it doesn´t.

Ecuadorians seem to be heartbreakingly proud of whatever settlement they are from. I say heartbreaking because often it is really hard to work out why. I try to respect the lack of cynicism but sometimes I just end up disillusioned with the sense of unreality. One of the guys who used to work on my street fixing fridges is from Vinces and he was always inviting me to go back with him one weekend to visit his family and go drinking with his mates. He said everyone was friendly and Vinces was really nice. The people definitely seemed really friendly but on the other point I just don´t really get where he was coming from. Somewhere in my brain he´d planted this idea of sitting at a cool riverside bar drinking beer and listening to salsa but in Vinces that bar is still a dream.

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Anyway, Vinces is a small communal town on the Ecuadorian coastal plain, just inside the province of Los Rios, about 2 hours north of Guayaquil. No major highways pass through which is the main reason I´d never been there. However there is a more direct route by river and in the 19th Century this was the main route for exporting cacao, a trade which made some local plantation owners seriously rich.

I´ve read articles suggesting that Vinces still has some vestiges of this grand past in the form of attractive old buildings and a mini Eiffel Tower.  But as soon as we drew into town I knew it was just like any other in the region: busy, dusty and not very pretty. As we approached the main park I caught a glimpse of the mini Eiffel Tower – it looked even tinnier than I´d expected. MF made some told you so noises and I started to regret the 2 hour drive.

It didn´t help that it was one of these grey overcast days we get here which just seem to magnify and dust and grime. At least the little square was in good nick having recently been remodelled and all the beaches were filled with middling to aging Vinceños who looked on in amusement/bemusement at Naomi and I (we don´t fit in).

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Here´s a photo of the Eiffel Tower. It looks quite cool. Trust me, it´s not. I think I must have seen a similar shot in a magazine that had increased my expectations. Why have an Eiffel Tower at all? The plantation owners wanted a little bit of Paris to go with their wealth so why not build a library, a university, a nice boulevard or a big park. Vinces is still waiting.

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The town is located on a wide curve in the river. There are a couple of footbridges at different points so we did a little circular walk. There is even a beach of sorts (a sandbank) though I didn´t see anyone brave enough to bathe in the river. It could become a really nice place to go and relax with the following:

·         A lick of paint

·         Pedestrianisation

·         Plants and trees

·         Public toilets

·         Cafés

·         Imaginative play area for kids

·         Knowledge centre and public library

·         Civic space

Not beyond the realms of possibility.

We did see one nice building. Here it is.

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We didn´t see anywhere nice at all to have lunch so we drove off in search of a hotel called Hostería Señor de los Caballos. I kept asking direction until I was sure they were coinciding. We took a paved road out of town that passed banana plantations and ended up in a little village called Antonio Sotomayor, also on the east bank of the river. It seemed like most of the village were playing or watching football but we found someone to direct us along a stony track towards the hotel. We bumped along for 10 minutes and I started to wonder if the mission was really worth it. However the hotel is really nice – creative, attractive design to create a totally relaxing ambience. We convinced them to serve us lunch (usually reservation only) although it was pretty average and then enjoyed the boating lake, swimming pool and loungers. Didn´t have time for horse riding but normally there are a whole series of activities for guests.

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It looks like there are 2 equidistant routes to Vinces from Guayaquil. We went via Daule and Palestina and returned via Babahoyo. There is more traffic on the latter highway and subsequently it´s slower.

Is open pit mining going to benefit Ecuador?

On 5 March 2012 Rafael Correa signed a contract with Ecuacorriente S.A. to begin the Mirador mining project. The Chinese consortium aims to extract 4700m pounds of copper along with a bit of gold and silver. That means a lot of copper for the world and lots of money for Ecuacorriente and the Ecuadorian government who claim the state will receive $4.4 billion and are proudly declaring what a good deal they´ve got.

This is Ecuador´s first open pit mining project and has caused quite a lot of controversy and debate. A principal reason is that the location is in a range of hills covered in primary forest in the south-east of Ecuador. According to El Universo, (1 April 2012) 54,000 tonnes of rocks will be extracted every day in order to get 572 tonnes of copper. Another reason is that the government is declaring that there is an amazing plan to avoid any (negative) impact on the local community and environment (http://www.ambiente.gob.ec/?q=node/3522 retrieved 6 May 14:42). The Chinese don´t exactly have a reputation for letting people, worker´s rights or the environment come between them and some precious rocks. And the Ecuadorian Environment Ministry don´t have a good record for protecting the environment.

On the other hand it is clear that the project is going to create revenue and jobs as well as some remedial benefits for local people. When Correa was elected he tore up pretty much all existing mining concessions in order to conduct a review and negotiate better agreements (better for the Ecuadorian state). He accuses opponents of being infantile ecologists and argues that the country needs to exploit some of its mineral wealth.

He´s got a good point. The problem is that it has all been said before, by presidents, multinationals, the military, the World Bank, the IMF, foreign consultants etc. and yet none of it has ever worked out quite as planned. If you can´t trust the officials who are supposed to be regulating the mining activity and you can’t trust the ones who are supposed to be spending the revenues for the benefit of the country, it is hard to have confidence that the benefits will ever outweigh the costs.

 

Information on the project available from the government ministry websites :

http://www.mrnnr.gob.ec

http://www.ambiente.gob.ec

Ecuacorriente´s site looks like someone´s first attempt at web design. http://www.ecuacorriente.com/

Trees & Bears vs. Copper & Gold

Ecuador has been experiencing deforestation at a frightening rate for a number of decades now. There are various reasons: settlement, needs of the timber industry, agriculture and mining are the main ones. The case of the Intag region in Imbabura province is quite typical based on accounts I have read; companies want exploit the natural resources, some sections of the community are in favour, others firmly against it. In this case it is reserves of copper and gold which are attracting foreign companies and members of the Ecuadorian government who either see potential for personal or national gain (who knows which?).

I´ve been reading stuff about these issues since I got to Ecuador. It seems like the mainstream media couldn´t have given a xxxx until they started to see an opportunity for some anti-Correa articles. My main source is a website called upsidedownworld.org  It has a pretty strong left wing bias but has interesting perspectives on many Latin American issues. You can search for DECOIN which is the name of the organization set up to try and protect the current balance of cloud forest and small scale settlement. Alternatively just go straight to the website decoin.org/

Another organization which is active in Intag is Rainforest Rescue who have used donations to buy some of the forest. Here is a link to a recent article ( I appropriated the picture).

I can´t say I´m an expert on copper and how much a mine is going to help the world and the community but when mining companies have to resort to the practices previously reported in the Intag you know that they are really only interested in their shareholders and what they can get away with on their behalf. And one day maybe we will invent an alternative superior “political” system which avoids the need for people to be politicians and by nature corrupted by ambition/greed. Until then I´m on the side of the trees and bears (who have already got enough problems with the locals) in this case.

 

(Photo credit : Wallpapers-hq.ru/bankoboev.ru)

Look on the dark side

I came back to Ecuador resolved to be more positive about things ( or at least to be positive about the positive things). SO it probably wasn’t a good idea to start reading Galápagos by Kurt Vonnegut and watch the film Mejor No Hablar (de Ciertas Cosas) in the first week.  Both are laden with dark humour, cynicism and some pretty accurate observations about how screwed up people are (generally).

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Mejor No Hablar is set in Portoviejo. If you don’t know this town, it’s a sweltering and fairly nondescript place on the central coastal plain with an interesting local film scene. It’s always cool to see a film from Ecuador make it to the cinema because you know it will have been a struggle. The running footage of Manabi roadsides near the end made me feel quite nostalgic. This was probably Portoviejo’s blockbuster but I’m sure the budget was still tight and I got the impression that, apart from a smashed guitar, the money was used meticulously to create something memorable.

The story goes that two brothers, have a decent upbringing, stable family, a bit of money, but they just want to get wasted and rebel. That’s it really: class rebellion. Lots of funny scenes with sharp dialogue, especially from the younger brother who is bordering on schizophrenic and only feels happy playing guitar and smoking joints down to the stub. Pedro is older and spends the whole movie in the same T-shirt, apart from when he’s having sex or working in the bank which he jacks in half way through. He’s meant to be more responsible and it’s strange how he makes us relate to that, even though nothing he does is responsible.

This isn’t just a movie for stoners (though it might help to be one in terms of empathizing). It’s more about the struggle to do something that means something to someone. The film is really well shot and captures the drabness, desperation, joy and energy that the two main characters are supposed to be experiencing. By the end they both achieve something, though there’s nothing to leave you feeling satisfied. That’s the dark cynical heart that I could relate to.

Front Cover

It took me a little bit longer to read Galápagos. The story is pretty simple but there was plenty to reflect on. A group of people have gathered in Guayaquil in 1986 for the cruise of the century to the Galápagos Islands. Unfortunately it all goes wrong for most of the people that are planning to be on board and the rest of humanity. The story is narrated from a million years in the future which gives Vonnegut the freedom to jump backwards and forwards in time. One result was that although he makes some interesting points and the writing was entertaining, I felt that I knew the whole story and the message long before the end and getting to the last page felt like a matter of routine.

The story doesn’t really have that much to do with Ecuador. It was kind of interesting because I live in Guayaquil but in reality the place names could have been invented.

The central idea that Vonnegut is exploring is whether our brains just make life too complicated for us with our need to be entertained and stimulated and to meddle with the rhythm of life. It’s something I often reflect on in relation to promoting tourism: why do some of us think we have the need and right to travel and invade other societies, demanding instantaneous stimulation from people who usually have neither invited us nor have much comprehension of why we are in their region? If we all just had to look for food maybe there wouldn’t be people like Pedro and Luis. It’s confusing, in fact for me life’s pretty confusing but I’m still glad I have the brain power to contemplate it and be able to do more than hunt, reproduce and survive.

Update

It’s been a long time since I updated this blog, mainly because I went back to the UK for 6 weeks. Plus I’m doing a Master’s degree. As a result there wasn’t much travelling or living in Ecuador. I’ve been back during February which is all about getting to the beach. As car ownership increases the journey back on a Sunday night gets longer and more stressful. Cities should have a plan whereby people enjoy their weekend on different days. Mondays are the way forward for me.

We went to Punta Carnero for carnival and stayed in a sweltering little house in a private community owned by one of Maria Fernanda’s cousins. Nice to have a place to stay but the whole community was totally claustrophobic – it’s not only the tiny houses but the way they are built on the pavement so people have to sit on their kerb at night. In the afternoons the swimming pool was like the scene out of Caddyshack which was actually fun. Punta Carnero has a nice beach but when the tide comes in the waves get pretty immense – too much for a bodyboarding 5 year old or even 33 year old. Still it was fine all through the morning. What it is really lacking is some infrastructure behind the beach. We saw one restaurant which was basically a shack and totally overwhelmed. Some other entrepeneurs were serving lunch to people under their parasols, carried from their house. Now that more and more people have the means to leave Guayaquil ALL the beaches are getting crowded. So if I’m going to sit with 100s of people I’d at least like to find a toilet and a place to sit down and eat. At least in Ecuador you can always guarantee someone will be on hand with cold beers and coconuts, whatever beach you go to.

Rain

Just got back home after walking home in the pouring rain. After a long day at work and two injections in my butt it was the perfect way to recharge – every misstep into a deep puddle and passing car that sprayed me just released more adrenaline. When it rains like this then I can forget about the humidity and the dust until tomorrow.

On Sunday Barcelona won the Ecuadorian championship 2012. totally deserved - by the end they were playing relaly good football and managed to beat all the big teams in Quito and Emelec (who finished second) 5-0 at home in what was effctively the title decider. The stadium was totally packed on the final day and looked really impressive - at last I understood why people who had grown up watching Libertadores games in the 90s with that type of atmosphere had spent the last 15 years suffering and hoping. Hopefully they can go on and do well in the Libertadores next year.
http://www.hinchaamarillo.com/noticias-barcelona/item/marea-amarilla-en-la-9-de-octubre.html

On Sunday Barcelona won the Ecuadorian championship 2012. totally deserved - by the end they were playing relaly good football and managed to beat all the big teams in Quito and Emelec (who finished second) 5-0 at home in what was effctively the title decider. The stadium was totally packed on the final day and looked really impressive - at last I understood why people who had grown up watching Libertadores games in the 90s with that type of atmosphere had spent the last 15 years suffering and hoping. Hopefully they can go on and do well in the Libertadores next year.

http://www.hinchaamarillo.com/noticias-barcelona/item/marea-amarilla-en-la-9-de-octubre.html

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