Landscaping Your New Home in Ecuador

The year-round warm climate here on the coast makes for great opportunities for creating beautiful tropical gardens. However, there’s not exactly a plant nursery section in a big box store here in this part of Ecuador’s coast. There’s really not even a big box store, with the minor exception of Mi Comisariato at the El Paseo shopping center in Portoviejo. So, where can you buy palms, fruit trees, and flowers for your new home?

The place to go is the small town of Sosote, just outside of Portoviejo. Sosote is better known as the source of tagua jewelry for this part of Ecuador. Here as you pass through the town, bisected by the new four-lane highway to Portoviejo, you’ll see a dozen or more road-side stores selling tagua jewelry in addition to clay pots of all sizes, coconuts and  ropes of blood sausage. I should mention that the latter is not recommended. Poor Tom learned the hard way a few years back and still recoils at even the mention of sausage from Sosote.

In the midst of these numerous roadside establishments, you will to come a row of flowers, fruit trees and palms along with a sign saying “Vivero,” meaning nursery.

Plant nursery in coastal Ecuador

The plant nursery in Sosote offers a tremendous variety of plants for incredibly affordable prices.

 

Here you can find ornamental plants that you’ll no doubt recognize from back home. The only difference perhaps is the price where most flower varieties run between $0.50-$2.00 each.

sosote nursery (1)

sosote nursery (3)

sosote nursery (4)

sosote nursery (5)

 

I was treated to some fresh coconut water to sip as I wended by way through the maze of color during my plant shopping spree .

sosote nursery (10)

 

You will also have many varieties of palms to choose from, from coconuts to sago palms. I bought one of the papyrus plants on the right below for $8.

sosote nursery (2)

 

And of course fruit trees abound, many already bearing oranges, limes, etc.

sosote nursery (6)

 

And here’s a mango tree line-up for all you mango fans.

sosote nursery (8)

 

A final view of the nursery from the road to Portoviejo.

sosote nursery (9)

 

The nursery also sells large bags of mulch for $5 each and even will come do custom landscape work your property. I loaded up both the back seat and the bed of the truck with 4 bags of soil and LOTS and lots of plants and the bill came to $100. I also bought four large clay pots for $25 each (they wouldn’t budge below that price, even with buying four). So my final cost for the day was $200.

sosote nursery (11)

 

Ecuador’s Halftime Super Bowl Ad

Ecuador saw a 14% increase in international tourism between the years 2013 and 2014 and are hedging their bets that an expensive ad during the Super Bowl on February 1 will have big payoffs for even greater numbers of visitors in 2015.

Ecuador is the first foreign country to buy an advertising spot during the Super Bowl to promote tourism. According to Ecuador’s Ministry of Tourism, the 30 second Super Bowl ad that boasts, “All You Need is Ecuador,” cost $3.8 million (earlier news stories reporting lower amounts did not include taxes).

Ecuador's Super Bowl commercial boasts that "All You Need is Ecuador"

Ecuador’s ambitious Super Bowl halftime commercial boasts that “All You Need is Ecuador”

 

The Super Bowl advertisement will be featured during half time and will be aired in 13 major markets, including New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Seattle, L.A., San Francisco, Dallas, Houston, Denver, Atlanta and Miami. There will be an additional 8 commercials that will run during NBC’s “Today Show” leading up to the Super Bowl.

The focus of this bold campaign is to highlight Ecuador’s four unique tourist destinations: Galapagos, Coast, Andes and Amazon. Truly, this small country has a lot to be proud of!

The "All You Need is Ecuador" campaign highlights

The “All You Need is Ecuador” commercial is to be aired during the Super Bowl and highlights Ecuador’s four distinct regions

 

Inspired by The Beatles’ “All You Need is Love” tune, the first phase of the “All You Need is Ecuador” campaign was launched in April 2014 and was featured in 19 major cities throughout the world including NYC, Paris, Madrid, London, Berlin, and Amsterdam to name a few. The $19 million campaign lasted 10 days and consisted of displaying one giant letter in a major plaza of each participating city. Together the letters formed the words “All You Need is Ecuador.”  Each letter was covered with iconic images that show off Ecuador’s tremendous beauty and diversity, including giant tortoises, rare birds and orchids, colonial buildings and cathedrals, and spectacular natural landscapes.

Unique campaign strategy

The Ministry of Tourism’s unique campaign of placing giant letters from their slogan in key cities around the world.

 

In conjunction with the theme of “All You Need is Ecuador,” the government of Ecuador has adopted the slogan of Ecuador: Ama la Vida which can now be seen on buses, sides of government buildings, and even Ecuadorian product packaging. This upbeat reference to savoring life is reminiscent to me of Costa Rica’s famous “Pura Vida!

Ecuador's new slogan

Ecuador’s new upbeat slogan

 

While the first phase of the “All You Need” campaign focused on highlighting the richness and diversity that Ecuador has to offer, the airing of Ecuador’s Super Bowl commercial presents the second phase which aims to emphasize how all of these incredible experiences are concentrated into one tiny country. “One Country. Like Nowhere Else, All in One Place, So Close” is the motto.

Only the size of the state of Nevada, Ecuador offers much to explore.

Merely the size of the U.S. state of Nevada, Ecuador is a rich play land ready for exploration. A 30-minute domestic flight west from the snow capped Andean volcanoes transports you to the beautiful, warm Pacific coast. Thirty minutes to the east and you’ve arrived to one of the most biodiverse rainforests on the globe. Where else in the world is that possible?

 

Ecuador’s government increasingly recognizes the economic potential of tourism saying that it is the future of Ecuador. Last year, approximately $600 million dollars was generated by the tourist sector. The goal of Ecuador’s Super Bowl ad is to make the estimated 120 million spectators fall in love with this little known place and come visit.  Of the 1.5+ million tourists to Ecuador in 2014, twenty-one percent visited from the U.S. Officials say that  a 1% increase in U.S. visitors to Ecuador in 2015 will cover the money invested on the Super Bowl ad.

To wrap up this post, below is a playlist of eight promotional videos from the Ministry of Tourism that are definitely worth the watch.

 

It is no doubt an exciting time to be here in Ecuador watching a myriad of transformations taking place.  When we bought a house on the coast in 2006 we never could have imagined how quickly Ecuador would become a global destination for both tourists and expats alike.

 

**UPDATE (Feb 5): Here is the final advertisement that was run at halftime.

 

Annual Mango Festival

Yesterday was the city of Portoviejo’s 5th annual mango festival. The festival was hosted by the Universidad Técnica de Manabí, at the jardín botánico (botanical gardens), a beautiful and enjoyable place to visit in its own right.

Mango Festival poster

Poster for the Mango Festival, held at the botanical gardens in Portoviejo

 

The gardens, created in 1993, boast 10 hectares of tropical flora to explore and even includes a surprisingly challenging maze formed from tall hibiscus hedges. Other features include a nursery with plants for sale, food pavilion, open park area (see photo below) and a host of natural fauna that call the gardens and the surrounding 35 hectares of hillside reserve their home, including large iguanas, turtles, and many tropical birds (mot-mots, oropendula, and parrotlets to name just a few).

View towards the stage and food vendors

 

We are pretty serious about mangoes in our household, often consuming multiple mangoes in a single sitting, especially during mango season (Nov-Feb). During this season, mangoes are ridiculously plentiful and very inexpensive. Tom recently purchased a giant bag of  big, juicy mangoes for $15. The price per mango came to roughly $12 cents each. So far we’ve eaten about half of them, chopped and froze another quarter (mango smoothies, mango daiquiris!) and we still have so many left!

Remaining mangos

The remains of our disappearing bag of mangoes

 

We’ve even gone so far as to request a custom mango painting for our kitchen from our artist friend Kerri (the same artist who created our beautiful ceibo painting that we featured on our ceibo blog post).

mangoes

Mango painting made locally by our friend Kerri (feel free to contact us if you’d like to get in touch with the artist to see more of her artwork for sale)

 

So with this background it comes as no surprise to find our crew at the mango festival. There we enjoyed mango cupcakes, a meal of grilled chicken smothered in a mango sauce, and even sipped on a couple of mango mojitos.

Mango cupcakes and ice cream

Mango cupcakes and ice cream

 

There are a surprising variety of mangoes grown in Ecuador. At one booth they had 16 different kinds on display. Our favorite mango thus far is the “Reina” mango, a giant yellow-skinned mango that is pure juicy pulp with no stringy fibers that get stuck in between your teeth.

Many types of mangoes are grown in Ecuador

Many varieties of mangoes are grown in Ecuador

 

The festival also had the requisite, WAY-too-loud music which may be found at any public event in Ecuador but we actually enjoyed the live music and dance performances. There were also locally made goods for  sale, products for which the province of Manabí are known, such as hand-woven straw hats and bags,

Hats woven from straw

Hats and headbands woven from paja toquilla straw and banana leaves

 

tagua jewelry and bamboo knick knacks,

Hand crafted products made from bamboo and tagua

Hand crafted products made from bamboo and tagua

 

Plus fruits jams, chocolates, and assortments of ají (hot sauces) flavored with mango and other fruits.

Assortment of products from Manabi

Assortment of products from Manabi

 

While Kai got his face painted, adoring women took turns cuddling and taking photographs of Aiden.

babies

Aiden being treated like a local celebrity

 

Bellies full of mangoes we ventured back home to San Clemente and spent the remainder of our Sunday afternoon playing with on the beach…after which we came back in and somehow managed to eat MORE mango!

 

Ceibos and Palo Santo: Magical Trees of Coastal Ecuador

Without questuion, my favorite trees here on the coast are ceibos and palosanto. We’ll start this post with the ceibos since they are such a conspicuous tree and usually lead newcomers to ask, “What are THOSE??”

The province of Manabi is known for their ceibo trees

 

Ceibo trees (pronounced “SAY-bo”) are a striking feature of the coastal Ecuadorian landscape. Straight from a Tim Burton film or a page out of Dr. Seuss, these large trees feature bright green bulbous trunks, prominent buttresses and a disarray of heavy limbs extending in all directions.

Ceibo located on the hillside overlooking San Clemente

Ceibo trees have leaves only during the rainy season (or if they’re located in a well-irrigated piece of farmland)

 

Ecuadorian ceibos (Ceiba trichistandra) are one of 10 species of tropical and neotropical trees classified as ceibas or kapoks. Kapok is the universal name given to the silky fluff  produced by the ceibo fruits.

Ceibo tree full of kapok (from Gary Scott’s website)

 

Historically, the super soft kapok fibers were collected and used to fill pillows, mattresses, stuffed dolls, etc. In addition, the waxy coating found on the fibers make the fluff resistant to water and highly buoyant; thus, kapok was used worldwide until the mid 1900s in life preservers, life vests and seat cushions. Today, there are still a couple of small communities in Manabi that collect the cotton to make pillows and mattresses for sale.

Kapok cotton (taken from a site with other interesting ceibo information and photos)

 

Here in the dry coastal forests, ceibos spend much of the year without any leaves, a condition called drought-deciduousness.  They have adapted to this stress in a colorful way by photosynthesizing through its trunk (hence the trunk’s bright green pigments).

Shrek-green colored trunk of a giant ceibo

 

The wood of the ceibo is soft, light and brittle and therefore not useful for construction, making furniture, etc.  Tom and I often mused that ceibos would make an awesome tree house for when we had kids until one day we got up close to one and were surprised to find that its trunk was covered in large, intimidating spikes. This adaptation serves to protect the soft wood of young trees; as ceibos age and become less vulnerable to threats of being eaten or toppled, their bark tends to lose its thorns.

Close up of a ceibo’s spikes

 

Owing to their undeniable charisma, many artists are inspired to feature ceibos in their artwork. Below is a custom ceibo painting created for us by our artist friend Kerri who beautifully captured the vivid, whimsical nature of these magnificent trees.

Ceibo painting by Kerri of Boca Tintina (feel free to contact us if you’d like to get in touch with the artist to see more of her work for sale)

 

Palo Santo-Aromatic Gem of the Coast

Unlike ceibos, palosanto trees are all about subtlety. Their drab appearance makes them nearly impossible to distinguish from many of the other scraggly trees and bushes found in the dry coastal forests; however, what unmistakably sets them apart is their soothing, sweet, musky scent. One of my favorite olfactory pleasures is the aroma of palosanto wafting out of the hillsides after a light rain.

Palo santo trees are not beautiful to look at but possess a very pleasing, gentle aroma

 

In the same family as myrrh and frankincense, palo santo (Bursera graveolens) literally means “holy wood” and has been used by shamans since pre-Incan times for clearing negative energies and healing.

Today, locals frequently burn dry sticks of palo santo to produce a rich, aromatic smoke to keep mosquitoes away. The sticks are also used to produce a tea to help cure symptoms related to the flu and asthma.

Incense cones and burner that we purchased from the artesanal palo santo store located in Puerto Lopez

 

Use of essential oils of palo santo is becoming increasingly popular worldwide and is said to contain many healing properties to treat a plethora of maladies including arthritis, allergies, inflammation, cold and flu symptoms, depression, and anxiety to name a few. The oils are used directly on the skin in key areas (wrist, temples, soles of feet, etc.), can be diluted with other oils such as almond to produce massage oils or spritzers, and used in aromatic diffusers.

Palo santo products we’ve bought from the store in Puerto Lopez : incense cones, essential oil, and lotion

 

Palo santo trees themselves are relatively short-lived, approximately 40 years. The oils are extracted only from fallen, dead trees so it is important to buy products from sources who collect only naturally-fallen trees and who are involved in replanting efforts. Deltatau Palosanto in Puerto Lopez is one of those sources (we don’t have any affiliation with them–we just like their products).

 

Ceibos and palo santo trees represent just two of the incredible and diverse plant species found in this region. There are countless ideas for business niches left to be filled to promote greater education and appreciation of the dry coastal forest ecosystem. Examples might include leading hiking, mountain biking and birdwatching tours, the manufacture and sale of products directly using kapok fibers, or even photo-based souvenir products such as ceibo post cards and calendars, neither of which can be found here, at least to my knowledge. Like so many things in Ecuador, the possibilities are endless.