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Ecuador impressions
Old 04-22-2010, 01:35 PM   #1
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Ecuador impressions

Today is my third day in Quito, Ecuador. I´ve come down here to see the country and get a feel for it as a retirement destination. I plan to move around, so I should be able to report on various places in the mountains, on the coast, and even in the Amazon basin.

Here are some impressions so far. I´m new in Quito, so please don´t take these as once-and-for-all statements about this place.

Quito is big and bustling. You would have to be a city person to want to settle here.

You need Spanish, but my rudimentary Spanish has been sufficient so far. I certainly would not be able to conduct transactions like buying a house, though.

The colonial center of the city is old, ornate, and beautiful. If I were to live here, I would consider that area.

Public transportation is very good. Lots of buses and taxis going anywhere you want to go. Sometimes the buses get very crowded though.

It is really inexpensive here. Yesterday I had breakfast out (two eggs, bread, cheese, juice) for $1.25. Dinners can be had for a bit more. I´ve been having dinner in fancy restaurants for around $12, including tax and tip. I know you could eat well for a lot less. A 30-minute taxi ride across town cost me $6, and I think I overpaid.

The food so far is great. The local dishes I´ve tried have been incredibly tasty. The exception is cuy (guinea pig), which I didn´t care for. It was fatty and tasted a bit fishy. Maybe the preparation?

The weather is perfect. High 70s (fahrenheit, of course!) during the day and maybe low 60s at night. No rain yet. Equatorial sun is strong, I sunburned quickly.

I feel as though you have to be somewhat on your guard here. Petty theft is a reality in some places, especially the buses and bus stations. I´ve been told not to walk after 9pm. I´ve followed that rule and so far had no problems.

By far the biggest highlight so far is the locals. Despite their hardships they are very, very friendly. In three days I´ve gotten more big, genuine grins from people than I´ve had in the past six months.

I´m headed to the mountain town of Otavalo tomorrow, and then I plan to see the coast. I´ve heard good things about those coastal towns. Some have a contingent of gringo expats already.

More to come....
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Old 04-22-2010, 01:56 PM   #2
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We were in Quito for a few days last year and enjoyed the stay. As a (soon to be retired) sewer district commissioner I noticed that their systems are rudimentary. As in most developing nations do not take sanitation for granted even in the finest places.
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Old 04-22-2010, 04:01 PM   #3
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Hello Onward,

If I remember correctly, the wealth orientation of the city is from north to south, the further north, the wealthier. I agree that the buses are pretty decent.

The average high year around is about 67 and low of about 51. It does not vary much. Dry season is the north American summer. April is the wettest month (about 7 inches). Elevation is just over 9000 feet. Cuenca is about 1000 feet lower.

I found Quito too unsafe and too polluted for my tastes. While I did not have much experience traveling in developing countries when I went there (which makes me question my memories), it is one of the few places that I remember where the pollution bothered me. Just wondering what your take on this is.

There is a lot for a tourist to do in Quito, and a number of great day trips. It also just about the best place in the world to go to a Spanish school, if you are so inclined. There really is not much of an expat community there at all.

Ecuador is definitely a cheaper country than Colombia. Also, because they use the dollar as their currency, one is less susceptible to currency valuations (President (for life?) Correa wanted to end this but the population said forget it up to this point since they remember the horrible inflation of the past with the sucre). Just make sure to get rid of your coins when you leave which are not USA valid currency

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Old 04-22-2010, 04:23 PM   #4
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Thanks for the report from Quito.

Ecuador is headed down the same ruinous socialist/populist path Venezuela has been down, but without the oil wealth that provided some cushion for the bad decisions made in Caracas. President Correa forced a constitutional crisis, dissolved the parliament, and now effectively rules by decree. If I were looking for a place to retire, I'd be sure to look for a place where property rights were respected, and where the government wasn't inciting mob violence against "the rich," especially since "rich" is a fairly low bar in Ecuador.

This likely doesn't apply to you, but I get the feeling that a lot of Americans take for granted a degree of stability and respect for individual rights that is actually very rare outside our borders. Even in developed Europe, one only needs to go back a few generations to see wars and economic privation unlike any seen in the US in over 100 years. The situation is far more tenuous in most of the developing world were there's little history of a developed civil society and rule of law. Life in these places is not just a "cheap" version of the US, it's often fundamentally different in ways that can be very attention-getting.

Edited to add: Here's a little background on the recent political shenanigans in Ecuador. This kind of thing never ends well.
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Old 04-22-2010, 05:06 PM   #5
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I spent about 2 1/2 weeks in Ecuador last year on vacation, with an emphasis on birding. While I wouldn't consider retiring there (or anywhere outside the good ole USA), I really enjoyed my visit. There is still a lot of pristine nature readily available in a short hop from Quito. Indeed, the whole country is only the size of Nevada, but ranges from the ocean (including the Galapagos islands) to Andes peaks to Amazon forests. I didn't see the kind of poverty that I've seen in other third world countries, but my experience there was pretty narrow.
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Old 04-22-2010, 07:08 PM   #6
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Latest updates:

1. I just had a huge, dizzyingly lovely heap of prawns in some kind of magical coconut & crab sauce, with salad and nice fried yucca thingies. Very clean, upscale restaurant. Cost of the dish was $6.

2. An aquaintance had his day-bag sliced open on a crowded bus today. Nothing stolen.

So ... draw your own conclusions!

Quote:
Originally Posted by kramer View Post
I found Quito too unsafe and too polluted for my tastes. Just wondering what your take on this is.
I think you mean air polution? The air here, to my lungs at least, is pretty good. It actually smells like fresh mountain air, unless you´re walking next to a bus.

Quote:
Originally Posted by samclem View Post
If I were looking for a place to retire, I'd be sure to look for a place where property rights were respected, and where the government wasn't inciting mob violence
Personally, my rules for expat living in places like this are:

1. Enjoy every day
2. Rent a place; don´t buy
3. Be ready to leave if political situation de-stabilizes

Disclaimer: I´ve never truly resided in a developing country, though I´ve visted many, sometimes for months at a time.

Quote:
Originally Posted by samclem View Post
This likely doesn't apply to you, but I get the feeling that a lot of Americans take for granted a degree of stability and respect for individual rights that is actually very rare outside our borders.
I´d agree with that 100%. IMO there really are some things that are hard to find, or match, outside the US. But there are also things that the US has lost, or never had. That´s what keeps me wandering....
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Old 04-22-2010, 07:35 PM   #7
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I just had . . . magical coconut & crab sauce
About one in six times my OCONUS dining experiences with mystery sauces ends up with me taking huge quantities of Imodium and praying for death to come quickly. But maybe you'll be fine. If not, can I have your Hot Wheels cars?
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Old 04-23-2010, 01:43 PM   #8
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Thanks for the report from Quito.

Ecuador is headed down the same ruinous socialist/populist path Venezuela has been down, but without the oil wealth that provided some cushion for the bad decisions made in Caracas. President Correa forced a constitutional crisis, dissolved the parliament, and now effectively rules by decree. If I were looking for a place to retire, I'd be sure to look for a place where property rights were respected, and where the government wasn't inciting mob violence against "the rich," especially since "rich" is a fairly low bar in Ecuador.

This likely doesn't apply to you, but I get the feeling that a lot of Americans take for granted a degree of stability and respect for individual rights that is actually very rare outside our borders. Even in developed Europe, one only needs to go back a few generations to see wars and economic privation unlike any seen in the US in over 100 years. The situation is far more tenuous in most of the developing world were there's little history of a developed civil society and rule of law. Life in these places is not just a "cheap" version of the US, it's often fundamentally different in ways that can be very attention-getting.

Edited to add: Here's a little background on the recent political shenanigans in Ecuador. This kind of thing never ends well.
I was in Quito for a month for Spanish immersion a few years ago - we learned Ecuadoran history in the classes - very sad, they dollarized and then a few of their presidents raided the treasury and ran off. The middle class had been severely hit such that there was a much larger divide between haves/have nots.

Other interesting fact - Ecuador left OPEC in the 70s; they changed many of their coffee plantations to bananas - however, I bought some of their coffee in a gorcery store and took it back with home - awesome stuff.

I noticed a very distinct leftward slant in their news and many of the population had poor opinions of the USA - I attribute some of that to American foreign policy at times and the other half to a distinct dislike for governments (see presidents' behavior above). Also, they weren't too enamored of the Colombians at the time - they would come to party in Quito - but were told to leave their brand of 'revolution' on the other side of the border.

I did visit a housing area near the equator - houses were huge, guarded and the owners professionals - houses were larger than many I'd seen in the US.

Food was awesome - fresh fruits and vegetables. Great soups - hygiene was good as I was with a family that had to be certified to have foreign guests living in their home (I was at an immersion school). Best juice I had was Moro juice - homemade blackberry juice - great stuff! Also, learned about quinoa there.

Wouldn't want to live in Ecuador - right now I prefer Chile.
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Old 04-23-2010, 05:57 PM   #9
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dining experiences with mystery sauces
I escaped any problems this time! [crosses himself]

I´m in the town of Otavalo now. It´s north of Quito and high in Andes, surrounded by volcanoes and lakes. This place is a lot more my speed--small town feel, much less hustle and bustle than Quito. It feels safer here too. I have a (simple but clean) private room with private bathroom for $12/night, including breakfast.

Interesting chat with the owner of my B&B here. He´s an American who relocated to Ecuador from Ohio in the 70s. I asked him about all the changes of regimes he has seeen, and how they´ve affected him. He said they´ve had no affect on him. What does have some affect on him are the occasional protests by Ecuador´s Indian population. Apparently they are able to shut down all roads and ground transportation within the country. So he occasionally can´t get supplies for a week or two. Overall he seems happy he´s here.

As far as Otavalo as an expat destination: IMO it has possibilities, especially if you like mountain settings. It is fairly touristy but retains a certain charm. In that way I´d compare it to Chiang Mai, Thailand, which it reminds me of. The weather here today is just perfect. High 70s with a wonderful mountain breeze and no humidity.

There aren´t many gringo expats in Otavalo. But in the town of Cotacachi, ten miles north of here, there are apparently a lot of expats. I don´t know whether I´ll make it up there, but anyone interested in retiring to this area should definitely check out Cotacachi.
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Old 04-30-2010, 01:15 PM   #10
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Onward;

Thank you so much for your updates and life experiences - keep them coming!
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Old 04-30-2010, 02:33 PM   #11
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I escaped any problems this time! [crosses himself]

I´m in the town of Otavalo now. It´s north of Quito and high in Andes, surrounded by volcanoes and lakes. This place is a lot more my speed--small town feel, much less hustle and bustle than Quito. It feels safer here too. I have a (simple but clean) private room with private bathroom for $12/night, including breakfast.

Interesting chat with the owner of my B&B here. He´s an American who relocated to Ecuador from Ohio in the 70s. I asked him about all the changes of regimes he has seeen, and how they´ve affected him. He said they´ve had no affect on him. What does have some affect on him are the occasional protests by Ecuador´s Indian population. Apparently they are able to shut down all roads and ground transportation within the country. So he occasionally can´t get supplies for a week or two. Overall he seems happy he´s here.

As far as Otavalo as an expat destination: IMO it has possibilities, especially if you like mountain settings. It is fairly touristy but retains a certain charm. In that way I´d compare it to Chiang Mai, Thailand, which it reminds me of. The weather here today is just perfect. High 70s with a wonderful mountain breeze and no humidity.

There aren´t many gringo expats in Otavalo. But in the town of Cotacachi, ten miles north of here, there are apparently a lot of expats. I don´t know whether I´ll make it up there, but anyone interested in retiring to this area should definitely check out Cotacachi.
Thanks for the updates. I have recently been reading about this as a possible early retirement location. I think it was in International Living that I read very good things about Cotacachi.

Have you every been to Belize? If so, how would you compare Ecuador as a place for a gringo to live?
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Old 04-30-2010, 02:48 PM   #12
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Thanks for the report from Quito.

Ecuador is headed down the same ruinous socialist/populist path Venezuela has been down, but without the oil wealth that provided some cushion for the bad decisions made in Caracas. President Correa forced a constitutional crisis, dissolved the parliament, and now effectively rules by decree. If I were looking for a place to retire, I'd be sure to look for a place where property rights were respected, and where the government wasn't inciting mob violence against "the rich," especially since "rich" is a fairly low bar in Ecuador.

This likely doesn't apply to you, but I get the feeling that a lot of Americans take for granted a degree of stability and respect for individual rights that is actually very rare outside our borders. Even in developed Europe, one only needs to go back a few generations to see wars and economic privation unlike any seen in the US in over 100 years. The situation is far more tenuous in most of the developing world were there's little history of a developed civil society and rule of law. Life in these places is not just a "cheap" version of the US, it's often fundamentally different in ways that can be very attention-getting.

Edited to add: Here's a little background on the recent political shenanigans in Ecuador. This kind of thing never ends well.
If your an American expat living there and renting as proposed, how much harm can a socialist government really do to you? (Assumption is the majority of your assets would remain in American banks/investments)
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Old 04-30-2010, 03:44 PM   #13
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onward,
I checked the article and it was actually Cuenca that International Living was raving about. Will you be visiting there during your travels?
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Old 04-30-2010, 05:30 PM   #14
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If your an American expat living there and renting as proposed, how much harm can a socialist government really do to you? (Assumption is the majority of your assets would remain in American banks/investments)
How much damage can a riot or mob, egged on by the government for internal political reasons, do? Regarding the legal system: How much fairness should an American expat living in a country hostile to the US, and to individual wealth in general, expect? There are lots of great places to retire, it makes sense to pick one where the rule of law and individual property rights are respected..
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Old 04-30-2010, 11:36 PM   #15
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When you decide to retire somewhere, you are making a huge investment in time and effort, irrespective of money. It is a big investment to research a place, settle there, make friends, learn the language, the culture, the food, etc. So you want to be places where that investment has the best chance of succeeding.

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Old 05-01-2010, 09:57 AM   #16
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Next stop: Canoa, Ecuador. It´s a sleepy, surfing village on the Pacific coast. Been here a few days now, and time is really s-l-o-w-i-n-g doowwwwn.... BTW, I´m told there are quite a few gringo expats here. Haven´t met any yet, but I´m guessing they spend most of the time in their hammocks.

So: Canoa is a long strip of mostly deserted beach. Not super-tropical looking. Looks more like Southern California beaches than Aruba. Still, nice. On and off the beach are some palapa-covered restaurants and guest houses. Very small-scaled and chilled out. Streets are mostly unpaved and got really muddy after rains yesterday night. Locals have been very friendly, and I feel 99.9% safe--best since I got to Ecuador. Seafood is fresh and has been excellent.

A few cons: it´s been cloudy every day. I hear it´s normal this time of year. It´s fairly buggy, though nothing like the jungle. I´m sleeping under a mosquito net at my hotel, however. Lots of "free agent" dogs wandering around here. None vicious here, though I did get attacked in Quito. (Beat him off with my day pack. Sheesh)

A few prices:

Simple private room with shared bathroom: $9/night

Prepared breakfast of eggs, toast, roll, fruit, & coffee: $2.95

Dinner of fresh shrimp, rice, salad, drink, tax, and tip: $7

Bus to nearest town (which also has the nearest ATM): 0.25

Overall, Canoa is a very remote, seductive little place! My favorite spot in Ecuador so far. Definitely has possibilities as expat destination, especially if what you´re after is ultimate tranquillo. Sorry, haven´t been to Belize, so I can´t compare. I am going to Quenca, so I´ll give you a report when I´m there. A couple of more spots on the coast to visit first.

Here are a couple of pix of Canoa. First is the beach. Second is the hotel I´m staying at.



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Old 05-01-2010, 10:07 AM   #17
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Have you every been to Belize? If so, how would you compare Ecuador as a place for a gringo to live?


Billy and I just returned from traveling through Belize. We bussed from the south to the north and stayed in several locations.

Our impressions were that Belize definitely has a trash/garbage problem all throughout the country which is a mystery to us, since it is advertised as a green destination.

In Ambergris, the windward side of the caye is pristine with million dollar homes right on the beach with their private docks and yachts. But just behind those homes on the other side of the narrow dirt road that connects the island is putrid water, plastic buckets, bags, cans, rusted appliances, and decaying debris. We bicycled through this area to take a look at some of the condos that were for sale. It was like bicycling through a garbage dump… very sad, surprising and disappointing. Bussing through the length of the country we saw garbage as described above all along the roadside, including the rusted out appliances and rusted cars over turned or on blocks.

We spoke with several Belizeans and some Expats about the medical care and were told that in the small local towns they will have a GP and a dentist, but if you need something more or if an accident happens you must fly to Belize City which also has limited health care. The option after that is to go to Chetumal in Mexico, or to the US. One Expat said she uses private doctors for anything of consequence.

The variety and freshness of fruits and vegetables were paltry and more expensive than we were used to in locations such as Mexico, Guatemala and in our experience in Ecuador. 90+% of the meats we saw in Belize were frozen. We did not visit Belize City, so maybe things were better there, food wise.

Another Expat informed us that she prefers to import her food and put things in her freezer for a later date.

We think as a vacation destination, the diving and snorkeling is extraordinary. But to live there full time, we would recommend a long term visit first to see if these ‘limitations’ would bother you. Obviously, many Expats choose to live there, so if fishing, diving and snorkeling is your thing… you have found your spot. English speaking natives and English banking laws also make it attractive.
 
We were in Ecuador in 2004. We didn’t visit the beaches, but rather bussed up and down the Andes. We loved Cuenca since it was more manageable than Quito in size, had international restaurants, concerts, colonial buildings, and friendly people. Costs for hotels, food, taxis, entertainment, etc. was very affordable at that time.

If you get the chance, go to Vilcabamba, a place the Incas called The Sacred Valley. It is an old hippie settlement where they have integrated into the native lifestyle, marrying in to the families there. Retro restaurants with music playing by Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin was common. Lots of massage shops and all of that, horseback riding trails, hiking - gorgeous scenery. Real estate sales were hopping at that time.

Stay at Le Rendez-Vous
a guesthouse gated and privately run by a charming young French couple, Isabel and Sergio. Definitely worth a stop.


And Kramer? Excellent advice as usual.

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Old 05-01-2010, 10:24 AM   #18
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...
We were in Ecuador in 2004. We didn’t visit the beaches, but rather bussed up and down the Andes. We loved Cuenca since it was more manageable than Quito in size, had international restaurants, concerts, colonial buildings, and friendly people. Costs for hotels, food, taxis, entertainment, etc. was very affordable at that time.

If you get the chance, go to Vilcabamba, a place the Incas called The Sacred Valley. It is an old hippie settlement where they have integrated into the native lifestyle, marrying in to the families there. Retro restaurants with music playing by Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin was common. Lots of massage shops and all of that, horseback riding trails, hiking - gorgeous scenery. Real estate sales were hopping at that time...

Did you get to The Galapagos?
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Old 05-01-2010, 04:07 PM   #19
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Did you get to The Galapagos?
Funny you bring it up, we were just speaking about this to a friend in Montana just yesterday.

I know it sounds heretical, but no… we chose not to go.

Billy and I have spent a great deal of time on exotic islands and in tropical places. We have seen rare animals, strikingly unusual reptiles, stunning birds and spectacular scenery. When we were in Ecuador, we priced the sailing vessel tour trips to the Galapagos, and - of course - there were two pricing systems; one for the local Ecuadorians and one for tourists.

The sailing ships that would have taken us (tourists) to the farthest islands to see anything we considered remarkable would have cost us several thousand dollars each (at that time). We would have been restricted to certain areas to walk (sidewalks or something), not been able to walk around or touch any animal, and would not have seen anything different than what we have already seen…other than maybe the blue footed booby - which we have never seen.

Again, I know it sounds abominable to most people, but for the thousands of dollars for the week or 10 day trip we would have taken just so we could say we were there, we chose not to go, and decided to spend that money to fund our entire trip through Ecuador instead. We were both very ok with our decision.

Life is filled with choices… ;-) and that one was ours! Not that I would discourage someone else to go if they wanted to do that.

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Old 05-01-2010, 04:41 PM   #20
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Thanks Akaisha for adding so much to this thread. Your thoughtful choice to not visit the Galapagos speaks volumes about how your and Billy have been able to live such an adventurous lifestyle and blaze a trail for so many others. Being smart about value for money spent without being miserly or joyless is a skill you two have long since mastered. That you can do so when on the road for months at a time impresses me even more than your ability to do so when in your preferred mode of renting a place for ~6-12 months as home base. Anyone who hasn't seen your recent web site post on this is really missing out, and since you're doubtless too humble to do anything that smacks of such self-promotion I'll happily do it for you:

Road Trip Travel Expenses

I look at those numbers and say, "how can anyone afford to stay home?"
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