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)

 

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!

 

Ecuador’s Advances its Capacity for Dealing with Emergencies

Over the last couple of years, Ecuador has significantly advanced security measures to prevent and to better respond to crimes and other emergency situations.

As of October 2013, Ecuador has operated a nationwide 911 emergency call and response system, referred to as SIS-ECU 911.

An advanced, nationwide 911 emergency response system has been in operation since October 2013.

 

As in the US and elsewhere, all 911 calls are free. There are eight call centers throughout Ecuador, representing different regions of the country, with the closest to us in the nearby city of Portoviejo (40 minutes from San Clemente).

The ECU 911 service integrates a host of institutions including the national police, the armed forces, local fire departments, the National Transit System, Ministry of Health, Ecuador’s institute for social security, the Secretary of Risk Management, and the Red Cross as well as other local organizations.

The modern ECU 911 call center in Portoviejo

 

An integral component of the ECU 911 system is the “Transporte Seguro” (“Safe Transit”) program. This program was created in coordination with the National Transit System to reduce the number of road-related emergencies through monitoring and control of commercial transportation services. Part of this program was to install “Kits de Seguridad” (Security Kits) in all public buses and registered taxis in major cities across Ecuador.

Each of these security kits contains two video recording and infrared surveillance cameras and a panic button equipped with a GPS tracking device that immediately notifies 911 responders with the exact location of the vehicle. The system has a battery pack as a back up source of power. Buses are also equipped with sensors to remotely open and close the doors.

So far,  over 17,000 buses and 38,000 taxis have had security kits installed throughout Ecuador.

Schematic of the “Transporte Segura” program designed in part to reduce incidence of crime in public transportation.

 

Another innovative component of the ECU 911 system is a free smartphone app to quickly report emergencies utilizing a smartphone’s geo-referencing capabilities.  The app is called ECU 911 and is available for iPhones, Androids and Blackberries.

I discovered this app when doing research for this post and just installed it on Tom’s and my phone.  It can be programmed in English or Spanish. You do not have to be an Ecuadorian resident or citizen to use it so I would highly recommend visitors to set it up in advance of their trip.  To set it up, I had to input my name, passport or Ecuador cedula number, cell number, emergency contact name and number, select my blood type from a pull-down menu, and list any physical disabilities or allergies.  This app is an excellent option for residents and visitors who are not fluent in Spanish.

View of the new smartphone app to report categorized emergencies to ECU 911. The app is free, easy to use, and immediately sends your exact location to the appropriate emergency responders.

 

And another interesting security advancement I recently learned about was the programming of a panic button on any kind of cell phone. To do this, you take your phone into the nearest police station where they register your phone and your specific home address (well, as specific as possible, anyways). In the event of an emergency at or near where you live, you press a single digit on your phone and it immediately notifies the local police. The cost is a mere $0.05. A recent newspaper article reported an average response time of 3 minutes in Quito! So, in a small town like San Clemente, we should expect a rapid response time as well.

Police station located in San Jacinto with jurisdiction over the towns of San Jacinto and San Clemete.

 

Like in so many other sectors of Ecuador,  technological advances are being made rapidly. As Tom was saying today, some of these changes are taking place so quickly we don’t even find out about them until a few months after the fact! It truly has been fascinating to watch the development that’s taken place inEcuador since we first came in 2006 and we look forward to all that is surely still to come.

Ecuador Elections

February 23rd is election day throughout the country (referred to as “Elecciones Seccionales“).

Each of Ecuador’s 24 provinces will hold elections for the following political positions:

  • provincial governors and vice-governors (“prefectos y vice-prefectos”), 
  • mayors (“alcaldes”), 
  • aldermen (“consejales“), and
  • parish boards (“juntas parroquiales“). 

 

All are elected for 4-year terms without term restrictions.

Ecuador, with a geographic area equivalent to the US state of Colorado, has 24 provinces.

 

Each province is comprised of cantones (cantons) which are further subdivided into parroquias (parishes) that are classified as either urban or rural.

In our case, we live in the town of San Clemente, which is affiliated with the rural parish of Charapotó, located in the Cantón of Sucre, in the Province of Manabí. The county seat of Sucre is the city of Bahia de Caráquez. The provincial capital of Manabí is the city of Portoviejo.

The coastal province of Manabi is subdivided into 22 cantons.

 

In Manabí, there are nine candidates running for prefect (and thus nine political parties represented). The current prefect, Mariano Zambrano has been in office since 2005 and is up for re-election. In our canton of Sucre, there are six mayoral candidates, two of which are female.

Here is the breakdown for the number of candidates elected for each political position in the Province of Manabí:

  • 1 Prefect
  • 1 Vice-Prefect
  • 22 Mayors (1 per canton)
  • 100 Aldermen (urban)
  • 36 Aldermen (rural)
  • 53 Parish board presidents
  • 265 Parish board members

 

There are a LOT of political parties. There are 11 parties with seats in Parliament and 24 non-parliamentary parties. Each political party has a number and color scheme associated with it. For example, President Correa is affiliated with the Alianza PAIS party, with number 35 and its colors are lime green and dark blue.

The name, number and color scheme for President Correa´s political party.

 

Political campaigning is restricted to a total of 6 weeks (January 7- February 20) and consists of an onslaught of tv and radio commercials, posters and flags on vehicles, homes, and businesses, parades of honking vehicles with blaring music, as well as wide scale painting of public and private walls with candidates’ names and their party numbers. 

Walls are a primary way of political campaigning in Ecuador. This wall is located in San Clemente.

 

Voting is mandatory for Ecuadorian citizens between the ages of 18 and 65 residing in country. There is a monetary fine for not voting equivalent to 10% of the monthly minimum wage. After placing your vote you receive a “certificado de votación” or voting voucher that you are required to present for most kinds of applications such as opening a bank account, applying for marriage, etc.

Voting is optional for those aged 16 to 18 and over 65, for those serving in active military duty, for illiterate or disabled citizens, and for foreigners with legal residency.

Election results for the prefect and mayoral candidates will be determined the day of the election.

Also noteworthy is the fact that the sale and consumption of alcohol is prohibited 36 hours before the elections and 12 hours afterwards (starting at midnight on Feb 21 and ending at midnight on Feb 24). This law is called the “Ley Seca” or the Dry Law and is a real bummer to unsuspecting tourists and expats! …Sorry, Tom, guess we´ll be celebrating your birthday (Feb 22) this year at home! 

An Easy Way to Travel from Guayaquil

When flying to Ecuador from another country you have two airport options: Fly into either Quito (airport code UIO) or Guayaquil (GYE).

To get to the central coast where we are located, we normally recommend flying into Quito and then taking a short (25-30 min) domestic flight to Manta (MEC).  Unfortunately, there are no domestic flights between Guayaquil and Manta so Quito is your only option if you want to fly.

However, over the years, we’ve had a number of friends and clients have trouble with the altitude of Quito which sits at 9,350 ft or 2800 m above sea level; one client even required brief hospitalization. So, if you think you might be susceptible to altitude sickness, your best bet if possible is to fly to Guayaquil.

If you do arrive to Guayaquil and want a safe, reliable, and inexpensive means of traveling to the central coast there is an express van service called the “Manta Express” that runs between  Manta (and Portoviejo) and Guayaquil.

One of the Manta Express vans (photo from www.mantaexpress.com)

 

Here are the Manta Express “need to knows”:

  • The service offers multiple trips each way daily, beginning as early as 5am and ending at 7:30pm.
  • The trip takes between 3 – 3.5 hours.
  • The cost is $10 per person or $8 each if you are aged 65+ with Ecuadorian residency.
  • Reservations at least 1 day ahead are generally necessary. Note: the folks at Manta Express only speak Spanish. The bilingual representative at the information booth at the Guayaquil airport can assist you in making your reservation. Another option is to use Google translate to send them your translated reservation details via their contact form on their website.
  • The van is  air-conditioned.
  • The van seats ten people comfortably. Leg room for the taller guys may be a little tight. Luggage is strapped to the top of the van and covered with a tarp.
  • The van typically makes one brief stop where passengers can use the restroom and grab a snack.

The vans have AC and are comfortable. Photo from www.mantaexpress.com

 

Here are the Manta Express office locations and phone numbers as dialed within Ecuador (visit this post for more details about calling Ecuador from abroad):

Guayaquil:

  • Blvd 9 de Octubre and Del Ejercito (Avenida 4) (near the Hotel Oro Verde of Guayaquil).
  • Landline: (04)2532027,  Cell phone: 0996333061  or  0994200289

 

Manta:

  • Malecón y Calle 19 at the Central Comercial Plaza Jocay (just past the museum)
  • Landline: (05)261-1016 / 261-0567, FAX: 261-1763,,  Cell: 0999025094 or 0985147384 or  0991563000

 

Portoviejo:

  • Pedro Gual y Garcia Moreno (Hotel Cabrera).
  • Landline: (05)2656621 Cell: 0993852655

 

The service also offers transfers to and from the Guayaquil airport. In many cases, they would take you to your final destination in Manta or Portoviejo if it’s not far from their office location.

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