Saturday, December 27, 2014

Saturday, April 19, 2014

A Lesson in Lettuce

One of the best things about life in Ecuador is the ability to benefit both ourselves and the locals at the same time. My new favorite way to do this is by patronizing Tambo Jatarishun, a small center not far from our house. On weekends, the little restaurant serves tilapia and sometimes trout while families engage in games of EcuaVolley and soccer. I'm not a huge fan of farmed fish, so I've never gone to the restaurant, though I might head over some weekend just to meet a few more locals.

Recently, though they have begun offering organic lettuce for sale. I've been twice now and am extremely impressed with the quality of the food. It is crisp, delicious, and in very good condition. Since the lettuce is organic I expected to pay a premium, but I received three huge heads of greens for one dollar. Yep, one dollar. Last week I bought another 3 heads of lettuce and a good bunch of chard and was charged an entire $1.25. Unbelievable.

The little farm also grows onions, zucchini, and basil. I'm hoping they will expand not only their selection but their gardens as well as I can see them running out of lettuce quickly once the other expats in the area get wind of how great this is.

So...I get fresh healthy produce for a great deal and I'm able to help support a local business in my community get started. I've already introduced a couple of friends to the farm and I'm sure I'll be bringing more. It's a win/win for everyone.

Here's another cool aspect of Tambo Jatarishun: They are nearly finished with the constructing of several little guest cabins for tourists to stay in. Each brick cabin has a private bathroom and hot water (which is not always standard in this country) for $12/night. The grounds are large, parked out, and very quiet. They would be an ideal spot for backpackers or younger travelers who don't mind the scenic walk into Cotacachi.

The staff is extremely friendly and helpful. Rodrigo Flores heads up the project here and speaks English, but is always willing to let me practice my Spanish on him. He's been patient and willing to show me the grounds and answer all my questions in detail. I truly hope this little project succeeds as we could all benefit from some organically grown produce and it's a great way to help out our neighbors!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

5 Day Intermediate Intensive at Casa Punta Bikini Hostel

I just returned from a 5 day intensive course at Casa Punta Bikini Hostel in San Clemente.  We had a class of 10 people and things went exceptionally well from my perspective.  Everyone said that they felt challenged but that they learned a lot.  We broke things up with some good listening comprehension videos and other material that allowed folks to see how the language works and then hear it in use. 

Thanks to David Hitchcock and his mom Libby Rush for all the help they provided.  I couldn't have done without their help.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Spanish Lessons in Ecuador

Greetings from Cotacachi, Ecuador.  As many of you know I have been offering basic Spanish lessons to residents of Cotacachi now for about 3 months.  The basic course has been even more successful than I had imagined and I have had lots of good feedback and even offers to travel to other communities in Ecuador to offer the course.  Thank you to all the people that have provided positive feedback and referrals.

I was a Spanish linguist in the U.S. Navy from 1984 - 1989 and during my enlistment I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with native speakers from almost every Spanish speaking country you can name.  After I got out of the Navy I moved to Alaska, where there wasn't a great deal of opportunity to maintain my language skills.  However, when we moved to Bonners Ferry, Idaho in 2008 we met a Mexican lady who ran a restaurant who rekindled my interest in the language.  I found that it came back to me pretty quickly as I conversed with her during our frequent visits to her restaurant.

Wendy and I took a trip to Costa Rica in 2010 where we traveled around the less touristy areas of the country, visiting remote villages like Boruca and talking with the artisan residents, allowing me the opportunity to really use my Spanish skills to talk to them about their art and way of life.  It was then that I realized I really loved the Spanish language and having the ability to communicate with the local residents in Costa Rica made the experience so much richer and more interesting.

When we decided to move to Ecuador in late 2011 I again found that I thoroughly enjoyed talking with the locals and learning about their customs, culture, and viewpoints.  We've been here now for almost two years and I recently realized that there are lots of other expatriates visiting or living here in Ecuador that have a similar desire to communicate and connect with the local Ecuadorian people.

For all these reasons, I decided to start offering Spanish lessons to expats here in Cotacachi and I have found the experience to be very rewarding and enjoyable.  I have also found that sharing experiences and resources with my students has allowed me to grow and improve my own Spanish as well.  I am looking forward to continuing to offer the classes and expanding my services to include a more advanced course and interpretation services to help expatriates more fully integrate into the Ecuadorian culture and society and more effectively communicate with the Ecuadorian people.

Up to this point I have used e-mail to communicate with course participants, but I quickly realized that e-mail is not the most efficient or effective means of sharing information.  For that reason I have created a new page on this blog called "Spanish Lessons in Ecuador" where I will share valuable links and resources and other information about the Spanish languange, especially as it relates to living in Ecuador.

Watch for updates as I continue to add new information and resources and feel free to contact me to schedule your own personal lessons at your home or to schedule a five day intensive course at your hostel or other location of your choice.

Hasta luego amigos y que les vaya bien.  

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

4 Types of Internet Expats (and why they should be avoided)

I originally posted this on my other blog Life Unmapped, but felt it would be of value here also since many of our readers are potential expats. Please note that most expats are friendly, helpful, and more than happy with their new location. The following are simply a few of the people who tend to make getting a clear picture of a country difficult.

If you’ve ever considered moving abroad and turned to internet message boards for advice, you may have been shocked to find a few less than helpful folks. In fact many potential expats have been turned off by the attitudes projected online and seriously rethink their plans of migration. Unfortunately the internet has become a place where people can hide behind a computer screen and express themselves in ways they would never dare to in reality. And many of these people who have nothing better to do than haunt chat rooms and Facebook groups are the most bitter about life in general and are more than willing to spread the misery.

The good news is that one person’s experience of perception of expat life is rarely the reality for the majority. Just because Hemmingway’s The Sun Also Rises centers around his clique of binge-drinking narcissistic tortured-artists does not mean this was a true reflection of all Americans in Paris during the 1920s. In kind, just because a few very vocal expats choose to portray their perception of life abroad all over the internet does not mean it is so. Here are some of the types of online expats you might encounter and why you should ignore them.

The Know-It-All/Braggart
The know-it-all loves to tell you how long they have lived in the country, how well they speak the language, and how involved they are in the community. They don’t simply hand out this information when it is relevant to a question or topic, but they find ways to work it into every conversation. They’re also big name droppers, jumping at the chance to mention the time they spoke with the mayor so as to imply they are buddies and maybe you’ll even start to believe they are some sort of spokesperson for the expat community. You will hear so much about the countless good deeds they have done in feeding the homeless, clothing the orphans, and raising money for public betterment projects that you will soon wonder if maybe Mother Theresa’s sainthood was misspent. 

The truth: Chances are much of what this person has to say is exaggerated or just plain false. Like a pufferfish their online persona is inflated to several times what their true image is or should be. If there is a very knowledgeable do-gooder expat in town, you’ll know about it. From other expats. Anyone with real value will not need to promote themselves and shouldn’t.

 The Pessimist
This is the expat with the Chicken Little complex. The pessimist can turn a conversation about where to buy socks into a rant on why we’re all going to die. Posting links to articles about criminal activity in their adopted country is a favorite pastime, while of course ignoring the floodgate of crime-related reports from their original country of residence. Tales of expats being taken advantage of in business dealings or worse become repeated and regurgitated until they no longer resemble the actual facts. Even minor events cause a frantic cry of “the sky is falling!”

The truth: When living in a new country it is absolutely true that you must be cautious and get a feel for your new home. The world for the most part is buyer beware. However, there are very few countries where the majority of people are not welcoming, friendly, and happy. Crime exists everywhere – the real question should be “is the crime disproportionate?” Moreover, if this country or town is so dangerous, ask yourself why the pessimist is living there themselves. 

Rose Colored Glasses Only
The extreme antithesis to the Pessimist, is the expat who only sees their new country through rosy shades of pink. Their world consists of rainbows, ponies, and lollipops and anything less will be ignored or altogether shunned as false. Nothing in this country can be wrong and no one had better say otherwise. I have heard these people actually say that by moving abroad you are a guest in your new country and therefore must accept all aspects of the nation: good or bad. This makes for some fun discussions between Rosy’s and Pessimists on online forums. This also makes me question the morality of people who will not even listen to those who speak out against rampant animal or domestic abuse and racism. 

The truth: It should be obvious to most of us that the world is not perfect and sometimes negative experiences need to be shared in a calm manner. Convincing potential expats that any place is heaven on earth is just wrong. Not only is it misleading, but it makes the inevitable culture shock all that much worse. 

This is the guy who finds the ideal place to relocate and immediately wants the doors shut to all future immigrants. Sometimes he will masquerade as a pessimist, posting horror stories so as to discourage newbies from checking out his new town. Other times he might come right out and rudely tell people that no new outsiders are welcome here.

The truth: There’s not much to say here other than these guys are simply selfish. The good news is that if you do move, you’re unlikely to run into them as they are often anti-expat in general (despite the fact that they are expats themselves).

Monday, September 9, 2013

Paseo del Chagra in Cotacachi

 The beginning of September marks the beginning of the Jora Festival in Cotacachi, Ecuador. Jora de Chicha is a traditional Andean drink made from fermented corn and this celebration honors Cotacachi's own unique take on this beverage. Friday night kicked off the big celebration with a five hour televised parade snaking its way through town.

The party continued all weekend with various events and entertainment and one of the most eagerly awaited parts was Sunday's horse parade, known as the Paseo del Chagra. Cowboys, cowgirls, and cowkids proudly ride their horses through Cotacachi's main street, 10 de Agosto, until they reach the bullring on the edge of town. Later in the afternoon, a "humane" bullfight is held. I can't give you details on that because I skipped it, though I hope that it indeed was humane.

I can however, provide a few shots of what you missed if you weren't able to make it to this year's Paseo del Chagra.

See you at next year's Paseo del Chagra in Cotacachi!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Living Healthy in Cotacachi

Most people who have considered a move to Ecuador already know about some of the health benefits that come with relocating. Fresh fruits and veggies are so abundant and affordable that it’s tough not to eat more healthy produce while you’re here. Far less time is spent in a vehicle and all that extra walking or biking is sure to make improvements in your overall well-being. And if you choose to live in a larger city like Quito or Cuenca you’ll find many businesses that cater to your health.

But what about those of us who have opted to live in the small town of Cotacachi? What are the amenities here in regards to staying in good physical condition? The answer might surprise you. For a small town Cotacachi is quickly developing into a health mecca at a reasonable price.
Want to avoid meat, GMO foods, and chemical preservatives yet still eat out? Try Bhakti, Cotacachi’s very own Vegetarian/Vegan restaurant. The menu offers such goodies as “hamburgers” made from seitan, veggie spaghetti, and a variety of sandwiches. A cheap and tasty option is to order an almuerzo for $3.50. On a recent Saturday our family enjoyed a set lunch of cold tea with ginger, a large bowl of vegetable soup, a black bean burrito, salad, and a tofu fritter. Tasty, super filling, and only $3.50. Hard to beat!

Looking for healthy food that you can use at home? Prana is a specialty foods store that provides locally made breads, fresh yogurt, and raw milk among other things. In addition to their natural foods, they also offer artisan chocolate, fine wine, and gourmet cheese. The friendly owner speaks English and is eager to assist.

Several businesses near the main town square (La Matriz) cater to a healthy lifestyle. Circles on the Square is a relatively new yoga studio for those who are looking to maintain both their physical and mental health. Hielo de Montaña sells ultra-purified water, ice made from that water, and colloidal silver. You can also find more elusive items like chia seeds and molasses at the small health food store just down the street.

Beyond these businesses, there is a growing list of alternative health care providers in the areas. Stem cell treatments, chiropractic adjustments, magnetic healing, therapeutic massage, and much more are practiced in and near Cotacachi. If you prefer ancient healing methods, Shamans abound, though you would do well to thoroughly investigate which one to visit. 

No matter what your preferences, there is no excuse for an unhealthy lifestyle in Cotacachi!