A former high school classmate and cherished old friend when reconnecting with Roger through Facebook quoted the old saying: "When God closes a door, he opens a window." The years have seen a number of life changes for us that make that adage ring true. After being blessed with good fortune, a wonderful son and great experiences, we decided to look out that window and prepare for more of what this wonderful life has to offer. We hope through our blog to share our journey from this point forward with family, with friends and with many others. Hopefully we'll make some new friends along the way. We hope you find our tales of some interest, even amusement and perhaps an inspiration for you to treat each and every day as an opportunity and an adventure to share with those who are an important part of your life.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Sun will come out Tomorrow!

"Manana":  "morning" or "tomorrow".   Those are the two definitions given for this Spanish word in the Merriam-Webster Dictionario: Espanol-Ingles.
We Expadorians have learned to add another definition of our own: 
"not today!". 

For us and our Ecuadorian counterparts, it's really looking at the same thing but interpreting it differently.  When discussing timetables, we will ask our Ecuadorian suppliers "when" and they may respond "manana".   From our point of view, we just got a firm committment for the very next day.  Without more specifics in the exchange above, this may not be the case.  The mananas that exist beyond today are numerous.  If you want a committment  from an Ecuadorian as to which "manana" you had better be asking some additional specific questions.  

In the above example, Let's assume the conversation took place on Monday: 
"Manana!" .... 
Our next statement becomes: 
"At what hour on Tuesday will you be at my house?"....
With that statement you just specifically defined what YOUR OWN expectation of "manana" is.  Don't be surprised if the vagueness continues. They may even agree to a specific time on Tuesday but might slip in a conditional clause that gives them a optional to choose a different "manana":
 "Senor, If we have all the materials on hand, we will at your house between the hours of ten and twelve on Tuesday!".  
 (This means that if something isn't on hand, they are well within their perogative to delay until say, Wedneday or Thursday, and to them, they have already duly informed you that this might happen!) 
In such a case you may be wise to respond:
 "Do you know for a fact that you DO have all materials on hand?". 
If they respond in the affirmative, you go on to reconfirm the day and time:  
" Good, then I will definitely be expecting you to be at my house between the hours of ten and twelve on Tuesday!".  
If any other answer occurs, you need to further qualify the what-ifs:
" Who can we call right now to determine if all your materials are on hand and if not, how do we determine when they will be on hand  so we may decide at what hour and what day you will definitely be at my house?

You get the picture, eliminate all contingencies you can and address all the potential problems and try to get a firm comittment.  Failure to do so invites the potential for a reasonable ( from the Ecuadorian perspective, though not necessarily yours) unannounced delay.  Even with all the qualification, you probably have only about an 80% chance of having the appointed time and day met as anticipated.  Be prepared for some sort of delay.

Displaying frustration or anger probably won't expedite the process either.  In fact, those you are attempting to influence may be perplexed, insulted or just plain resentful at your display of emotion over what to them is just a normal turn of events in the natural course of business. 

The key here is understanding perceptions on both sides.  You have to understand that they perceive the situation differently than you do and respect that difference.  Note that I suggested understanding and respect of their perceptions.  I DID NOT, however, suggest that you have to accept it as the proper way to conduct business.  What I DO suggest is that you clearly, politely and respectfully clarify your expectations in the transaction.   You must then both qualify and quantify your vendors consent to those expectations.  The verbal exchange listed above is an example of the process you may have to go through.  While it might seem tedious and redundant, it will be necessary if you want to get through the majority of your transactions in a sucessful and timely manner.

Through trial and error and the school of hard knocks, we've learned to ask many questions and to explain what we expect based on what we hear our vendors saying.  We have gone so far as to say that we understand many Ecuadorians, in an effort, to please their customers, will say what they believe the customer wants to hear and will avoid discussing potential problems and issues.   We go on to explain, however, that we come from a  different business culture.  For us, it is customary for the customer to be frankly informed of ALL the potential issues in order to conduct a proper business transaction.  We want our transaction to work well and fairly for both of us.  We hope they understand this is the reason for our many, many questions and our insistence upon being very clear and very committed to what we jointly agree to.   This process, when done with polite courtesy seems to have helped us.

 In those rare cases where our statement was treated with some hesitation and resentment, we thanked them for their time and patience and went on down the road.

 Meeting each other halfway is the key to happy outcomes in your business transactions here in Ecuador.

Rememember....if you don't think you are going to make be able to make it work, you can always tell them "Gracias" and

 "See you manana!"

Friday, March 23, 2012

Not to alarm anybody...but here's a story we had to tell!

The overwhelming majority of Expadorians we've met love living here.  However, almost everyone can relate an experience or two that would probably plant seeds of doubt in the average newcomer.

Here's a recent example from the Yazells:

We had been making steady progress in our new house despite being without 90 % of our furnishings (our container won't be here until May!)
Our bed is set up and we have appliances to cook on.  Meals were being taken in the stairwell, on the front stoop or utilizing an inverted appliance box as a table.   Phase I of our alarm system had been installed after two days of work but was causing some flickering in our lights.

The alarm company was due back on a Thursday for two more days of work installing our electric security fence on top of our wall.   It turned out that our deed was finally recorded and we had a bilingual facilitator available, so we also needed to transfer our utilities on that same day. Roger told Mark, our aide de camp in that project, to come to the house at ten so he could be there when the alarm guys arrived. He would then undertake the gauntlet of standing in the various lines for the utilities while Suzanne stayed at the house with the alarm installation crew.

Mark called at 10:20.....his car broke down, but not to worry. He had it towed and he was in a cab on his way.  We told him the alarm guys were late anyway.  When Mark arrived, they still weren't here so we gave Mark the number of our non-English speaking service rep at the empressa de alarmas.   It seemed some of the material wasn't ready yet so no hombres de alarma today....look for them manana....flickering lights?...  No problema...that's normal!!
O.K.  Nothing to be done about the alarm issues today....Suzanne decides to join Roger and Mark in the cab and we're off to insure we maintain water and power at Casa Yazell.   At ETAPA, the lady informs us one page of papers is missing we detour to the attorney's office, then back to ETAPA,   Mark goes in one line to get the lady's dominus wobis cum on our corrections and we go in another with a copy of the last bill to get the account current before it's transferred to our name.

We're making progress!

Off to get a number that will be called by an account rep who can transfer our account to our name.  OOOPS, Roger's cell phone is ringing.....this results in Roger being ejected from the office.  When he returns, he informs Mark the number showed it was our Ecuadorian friend Mario and he'll return the call when we get the task at hand done.  A short time later, receipts and transfer papers in hand, we head outside to return Mario's call.
Mario got a call from our architect Marcello asking him to call us because the alarm company had called him.  They had a crew at Casa Yazell wanting to start our fence installation and wondered why we weren't there...could we get there immediately???
We recruited Mario to call all concerned and explain the events of earlier today.  We hadn't returned the calls promptly because our phones had to be shut off while we were in line. 
No, we can't be there how about manana???

After these events, the electric company was rather uneventful (except for the guy who erroneously told Roger that the electricity was in danger of being shut off the next day because of several months non-payment...we think he put in a wrong meter number or something). Our task there mostly just took time and eventually our transfer was made.

Thank goodness all we had to do the next day was to wait for the alarm company.  Well, we did lots of that...we waited...we waited...and then we waited some more.  At 3:30 we called and got answering machine messages in rapid fire Espanol with some sort of instructions that Roger couldn't interpret.   Another call to friend Mario for help.  He called later to explain he finally got a secretary who promised to get ahold of our rep and have him call Mario back. (In case you lost track of time here, this is Friday afternoon)

Time to make a long story shorter here. (presuming that's possible).  Mario got his return call the following Thursday morning at 8:00am.  The message was that the crew would at Casa Yazell by 10:00.   By 11:15, the crew actually arrived and began to unload wiring, piping, insulators hardware, tools, ladders, power saws and all the implements of installation (and/or destruction) needed to begin our project.  A few things were missing so one of the guys headed back with the truck driver to retrieve those items. They must of had a good twenty minutes of work accomplished when it was time to break for almuerzo!

Promptly at 1:00, both crew members were back at running the metal saw and one running the arc welder.   By 1:10 it was 1:30 it was raining buckets!   We had fun watching the sparks fly as the guys attempted to run a power saw and an arc welder in the rain but finally suggested they and their equipment might be safer on some cardboard we had spread out on our empty living room floor.

There were at least three more attempts at installation work as the rain clouds broke and returned multiple times.   By four, everything was piled up the in the front room and the hombres de alarma were  headed back on the company truck after a promise to return manana. 

We have high hopes.  After all, we're holding their arc welder hostage in our living room!

As we said, nearly everyone has a similar unbelievable as they sound, they are all probably can't really make these things up!

They are not, however, as horrible as they sound and if you love Ecuador as we do, they become part of the fabric of legends you'll weave to entertain and awe your friends who come to visit.

We are blessed to be here as we continue our life's journey, "juntos en el camino de la vida!"

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Wine Guy looks for chardonnay in Cuenca.

Chardonnay is the number one white wine and the number three best selling varietal in the U.S.  However, here in Ecuador, you won't find dozens of Chardonnays to choose from.  In fact, in some stores, you may have to head to the sparkling wine section to even find Chardonnay represented.

As a result, if you have a superbly strong yen for a Sonoma Cutrer, Cakebread Cellars, Merryvale or even a Chateau St Jean, you may have to consider booking an airline ticket to satisfy your craving or beg a friend to come for a visit bearing a bottle or two.

Even with the popularity and preponderance of Chilean and Argentinean wines available, I haven't yet discovered one of the truly nice South American Chardonnays I've enjoyed in the past: Santa Ema from Chile. (I mention it here so my Ecuadorian friends can keep an eye out for it..let me know if you see it!).

Californian Chardonnays are almost non-existent and the mere mention of Montrachet or even Pouilly-Fuisse will result in some wildly incredulous stares from an Ecuadorian wine merchant.  If you manage to find even one of the more common Californian table Chardonnays, be prepared for $30 plus pricing.

So what's the retired Expadorian on a fixed income to do when he absolutely needs a Chardonnay fix? Here's a couple options in the $10 to $15 price range:

Santa Julia Chardonnay:  this organic Argentinian producer (from Mendoza) produces a light, crisp, naked chardonnay with a hint of mango and an almost barely detectable note of banana on the nose.  It reminds me of some unoaked French chardonnays minus the minerality.  Look for this wine in Supermaxi or one of the chain stores.

Casa Vieja Chardonnay Reserva:  This Chilean producer ages his chardonnay in oak so this is the one you want if you prefer oaky chardonnays.  The oak here, however, is definately young, so be prepared for a light touch  of greenness when you first uncork this otherwise nice little wine. A lot of white wine drinkers wouldn't think of decanting.  In this case,  however, some aeration will smooth out the rough edges from the young oak used to age this wine. That should give you a chardonnay with some of the stone fruit body, character and even a slight bit of the creaminess that you might enjoy from a barrel-aged chardonnay.  You should find this wine in Coral or Superstock.

Here's hoping that these hints help in your Ecuadorian wine search.  Remember, for other wine stories from The Wine Guy, visit

When wine shopping in Ecuador, remember to avoid those shops that display their wine in the front window. Happy sipping to you here in the land south of zero!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Going To The Bank!

Ecuador is pretty much a cash society, most people expect payment in cash and most people seem to prefer to deal that way. It's not to say your credit card can't be used can but not in a lot of places and it will probably mean you will be either charged more or not entitled to the "descuento" typically given to cash customers. Paying by check is also somewhat cumbersome and certainly time consuming (You definitely don't want to be next in line at the Supermaxi checkout with only a few items that are already unloaded on the conveyor belt and suddenly discover that the person ahead of you is paying with a check!).

Even though the overwhelming majority of everyday transactions are cash, nearly everyone has a bank account and nearly everyone spends a part of their week standing in line waiting for a bank teller. Opting to use an ATM simply means you will stand in line outside rather than in.

For our previous visit and for the overwhelming majority of the time since our return, we have relied on ATM cash withdrawals from our credit union account in the US for all our monetary needs. The few exceptions have been payment of some fees to our attorneys by check and handling payment of our real estate closing by wire transfer through our attorneys escrow account in a Panamanian bank.

Since buying a house and having to make a lot of purchases in, we decided we needed an Ecuadorian bank account. Armed with a bilingual facilitator we headed off on a mission to do just that. Thank goodness, we brought help, otherwise, we still might be stuck inside the bank in limbo never to return to the light of day. (remember the old Kingston Trio song about Charlie getting stuck on the MTA...something like that). We won't go into laborious details but despite having an Ecuadorian helper it took over three hours to open our account (it only took an hour and a half for our real estate closing!). We weren't eligible for a checking account so we opened a savings account with an ATM access. Oh, did I mention that we would have to wait three business days before we got our card. We were also instructed very specifically that I would have to be present and sign a permission form in order for Suzanne to get her card (despite the fact that it was a joint account). This additional trip was not included in the previously mentioned three-plus hours. We opened the account with $200 in cash and then gave the bank a check for what we thought we would need for the balance of upcoming house purchases. We already knew that clearing a check internationally would take about three weeks.

A few days later, new account cards in hand (another long wait in line and a few sworn affidavits later) we exited our new bank, congratulating ourselves on another job well done.

Ooopsie! Not so fast. After two weeks, we noticed no check had hit our credit union account (we can access that account readily online and knew the check should have been there in 10-12 days. A Skype call to our service center revealed that the check wasn't even enroute through the clearing system. Back to someone bilingual to call our Ecuadorian bank's service center who informed us that the check was bad and had bounced back. Say what??? A visit to the manager who had assisted in opening the account revealed that the check hadn't bounced. In fact, it had never reached the U.S. clearing center (we already knew that). The check had a bad date (2011 instead of 2012) and a branch of our Ecuadorian bank had sent the check back to our branch three days after it was written. Our branch then proceeded to charge us a service fee for writing a bad check! They claimed the service center had tried to call us but the phone number we had given them was invalid. It turned out they did have a valid number but service center personnel's phones are not permitted to call cell phones, only established land lines. Thus our first indication of any account problem was as a result of talking to our credit union in the US.

It took a couple visits and the help of another facilitator but we eventually (it was not the amount but the principle) got our bad check fee reversed.

However, we were now in need of some some heavy duty ATM withdrawals to meet our cash committments to all the various vendors supplying goods and services for our new home.

Enter boo-boo number two: We figured it would take a little over a week of maximum daily ATM withdrawals to meet our commitments. So we did something we normally avoided doing, withdrawing from an ATM on Sunday when the bank was closed. Of course, something bad receipt, no money but our account back in the US was debited (we discovered that by visiting another ATM which promptly informed us that no funds were available (we were maxed out!). That resulted in (you guessed it) more bank visitation time on Monday, more facilitation, etc, etc, etc. As of this posting, we have a provisional credit that I think will stick (note crossed fingers here!).

Two days later, while showing the ropes to some new arrivals, we did our daily stop at an ATM. Once again, we did something we normally try to avoid. We used an ATM that physically takes your card inside the machine as oppossed to one that slides it into a reader and allows you to keep a grip on the card. We DID get our money and receipt. But...UH OH... NO card was returned at the end of the transaction! Well,at least the bank was open. You guessed it...more quality time in line and more facilitating. This time we had to forgo a copy of my passport and wait in a holding area while a technician delved into the bowels of the mechanical monster outside. After a few anxious eternities, a teller emerged waving our retrieved card. A few affidavit signings later, (I think I promised to be a more cooperative customer in at least one of those!), we exited the bank, cash in hand and happy to be back on our way again: "juntos en el camino de la vida".

Friday, March 2, 2012

A Wine Guy Wine Pick From Ecuador

A lot of our new friends in Ecuador, both Expadorian and Ecuadorian, have discovered that one of the Yazells has a background in the wine industry.

As a result, it seems as though we are very frequently asked for reccommendations on how to buy a good affordable wine in Ecuador. It IS somewhat of a challenge here. The government imposes a 29% duty on imported alcoholic beverages and the number of domestic Ecuadorian wine producers are few. Ecuadorians, as a whole prefer beer or distilled alcoholic beverages so what few wines are produced here are limited in scope. I have written in the past about one Ecuadorian producer on my wine blog: Roger's Grapevine ( and will featuring some more there in the future.

As a service to our new found friends and community, I thought I would regularly post here on this blog, a short wine review of a single value priced wine available at retail here in Ecuador. I hope our readers will find this information useful and helpful. I'll try to keep the wine postings here brief and to the point. Fuller, more in depth stories on my Ecuadorian wine experiences and wine in general will continue to appear on Roger's Grapevine.

O.K. Here goes with The Ecuadorian Wine guy's first value pick:

Vine de table de France is the lowest wine classification in France. However you wouldn't guess that just by the taste of B&G's non-vintage "Partager Vin de France". It is not a knock your socks off wine. It is a fairly well balanced and smooth red blend of Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault. It does benefit from a little airing out as the nose is a litte sharp straight out of the bottle. It has nice red and black fruit flavors, some tannins that are mostly soft and smooth and just a hint of a finish. This red blend shows just enough of the Syrah that to have a little Character that might be accented with some grilled meat dishes. It's price tag is right at $10 which is slightly higher than what this wine would typically sell for in the US but a very reasonable price for any French wine here in Ecuador. The bottle I sampled was found on the wine shelves at Coral Centro. If you enjoy a lighter, smoother red blend that hints of Pinot Noir with a little more structure, this might be worth a try.

Happy wine shopping and enjoy!