Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Touring Ecuador? Things to consider.

Being that I am a Travel Agency and I specialize in Ecuador, I wanted to share this information with you.  I felt it was important to share these vital tips for planning a successful trip to Ecuador.  People should come prepared especially if this is your first time leaving your native country and DOUBLE especially if you do not speak any Spanish.  I want you to enjoy your trip to Ecuador, (no matter who you book with) so take these tips into consideration when planning your escape here.

1.  Bring a WARM Jacket, SHORTS, and Mosquito repellent. 

Yes, Ecuador is located on the equator and is considered a tropical country, however, it is also cut in half by the Andes Mountains.  Chimborazo, Ecuador's largest Mountain is 6,268 meters (20,564 feet for you guys from the states), and is covered year round in snow.  Last time I checked snow is cold, so if you want to truly experience ALL of Ecuador, cold weather will be included in the higher elevations of the Sierra.  Popular Sierra destinations include Quito, Cotopaxi, Cuenca, Cayambe, and Papallacta.  Also, bringing Mosquito repellent of some sort (whether natural or chemical is up to you) is a MUST for the other three regions and even many parts of the Sierra.  Don't forget swimming shorts for when you visit our stunning beaches!    

2.  Do not bring your expensive Jewelry and other unnecessary valuables.

Ecuador has seen much progress economically but you still need to be quite careful in what you flash as far as cash and riches.  Understand that flaunting your riches here is not culturally acceptable and could also get you in trouble with petty thieves and pickpockets looking for an easy come up.  Yes you can bring your camera's, smart phones, and tablets, but keep a good eye on them.  Your 12 carat diamond necklace can stay at home.  Most tour operators are not responsible for lost or stolen items.  

BOOK your Ecuador Tour now:

Travel to Ecuador


This is especially true when coming to Latin America that you will need to arrive with an open mind.  Things are done a lot differently here than in the United States, and you will need to prepare your mind with this thought.  "You are not at home".  

 People may pee in the streets when its party time.  You may see a lot more graffiti (some of it amazing!).  It may take 30 minutes to get your food at a restaurant, and your drink may come after your food does.

 There is absolutely nothing you can do to change this.  Just be patient, and remember you are on vacation and that there is no rush.  Also, please do not expect people to understand or speak English here.  Although a decent percentage of people do speak English, Spanish is the primary language here so do not be offended if you are not understood.  Your guide however (if you book with us) will speak English. 

If you are looking more information about Ecuador feel free to go to  and contact us!


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Sketches of Cuenca #8 - New Gringo in Cuenca

Its been a sport in the USA for years to beatup McDonald's. Their sin?, offering food which generates repeat business. No enterprise can do otherwise and survive. Ronald's employer thrives with 33,000 stores
around the world. Blamed for the millions of excess pounds on gringo frames in North America, McD began offering fruit and salad. Critics continued to hammer the chain, so it offered detailed nutritional information.
Critics remained unhappy. But the criticism is misdirected. Its the public, the heavy and thin, who buy the burgers. Behavior and lifestyle are the cause, not the availability of addictive and fattening fare. Ron can sit
out in front of the store (see location on map) but its up to me to resist.

I can walk several miles a day. I can choose a route that takes me past a market or two. When I get home again I've got that evening's dinner and breakfast for the following day. Somehow Cuenca makes this easy
and normal. Well, it is for the locals and has been since Inca times.  Here it just happens, unless one forces the old lifestyle into the new environment. If an expat takes a cab instead of walking, they are passing
up a great opportunity, one built into their new lives. What and where we eat and how we get to our source of food is a personal decision. So lets give Ron a break, it is not his fault.

-Glen Birbeck

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Ecuador Travel Tales - Glen Bruno and the Other Side of Cotopaxi

Ecuador Travel Tales - Bruno's search for the Toucan and the other side of Cotopaxi.

Meet Bruno, Ecuador's latest adventurer taken on a guided tour of Ecuador, around the Northern Sierra by us.

Bruno is a Canadian based in Newfoundland, and has been to Ecuador a few times.  This time he came with a specific mission and he came prepared.  He came fully equipped with a Canon 6D, with an 17-40mm, f4.0L, IS, USM, and a 24-70mm, f2.8L, Mark ii, IS, USM. The big lens is 70-200mm, f2,8L, Mark ii, IS, USM with a 2x Mark iii multiplier. Main filter used was Hoya circular polarizer. 

Am I speaking Jibberish to you?  Well, in camera tech talk that is a pretty good set up.  

THE MISSION:  He wanted to shoot the Cotopaxi volcano, which can be quite tricky to accomplish.  The Cotopaxi volcano is often covered in clouds so you have to time your trip perfectly.  Being that an organized group itinerary would significantly lower his chances of being able to spontaneously wake up and go in the morning when the Cotopaxi is not covered in clouds, Glen elected to use Middle of the World to support his mission.

This way, Glen was not bonded to any specific itinerary and simply contracted us on an hourly basis to be at his service whenever the timing seemed right.  Of course we helped him create a last minute itinerary to help in his other needs (visiting Cotocachi, Birdwatching in Mindo etc), but Cotopaxi needed to be done on the right day for best results.

And while he was here, that day came.  He shot me an email and I was off to pick him up at his hotel in the Centro Historico.  (he shot some amazing night shots of the Centro Historico Quito that I must share).

Beautiful Quito Skyline
I got there about 9:00 AM (normally you want to leave for Cotopaxi a lot earlier but hey it is his call right?  While we headed south and we could see Cotopaxi's massive glacier peaking above the Quito skyline teasing us.  We could also see small clouds forming over her head, warning us to hurry up.  I knew in my mind we were already too late BUT Glen with his positive mental attitude and meteorologic knowledge recommended I push on south.

We didn't make it to the Cotopaxi National Park until about 11:00 AM and boy was it packed with tourists from all over the world!  I don't think I have ever seen it so "lleno de turistas".  However, there was not a peep of sun peaking through the clouds at this point so I already warned Glen we could have missed the shot he wanted to get.  Our only chance was to go to the other side of the Cotopaxi and see if we could find a break in the clouds that the glaciers were creating.

I shoved on up the paved road that turns into a dirt road, that turns into an uphill gravel mixed with pulverized sand road.  Now this mission was just as much my mission as it was his.  My adrenaline was pumping and I kept hoping for a break in the clouds.  After about 25 minutes going up and around her she finally showed herself!  Boy was it worth the journey~

Glen Bruno snapped this awesome picture of "the other side of Cotopaxi". 

Glen hopped out of the car in a hurry to make the most of his opportunity, and the results impressed me.

I took this pic of Glen but he taught me how to do it.

Cotopaxi's glaciers

great close up of Cotopaxi

Victory could not be celebrated for long because the rain came quick.  Timing is everything when it comes to taking amazing shots.  Great job Glen Bruno!

Mike Bruner

Friday, April 11, 2014

Sketches of Cuenca #7 -Street Car for Cuenca - Glen Birbeck

SOC #7 Street Car for Cuenca

One hundred twenty years ago they were called street cars or trolleys. As the innovation was introduced throughout the developed world it evolved. It was elevated in places (the "L" in Chicago) and depressed in other places, (the subway), where the streets were too crowded. It served the needs of cities experiencing explosive growth.  The automobile didn't kill the street car but it put a serious dent in its expansion.

Today there is a new reason for adding this century old mode of travel to a city. In a word, pollution. The train, the LRV (light rail vehicle) is clean. With hydroelectric as its energy source its pollution footprint is zero. In Cuenca it is a partial solution to a major problem - bus diesel engine exhaust.

Nothing in life is totally good or bad. As the cartoon suggests, the Cuenca bus system is good, on balance, Not perfect. The fly in the ointment is sooty, unburned hydrocarbon in black or grey cough inducing clouds. I do not exaggerate.

Note to folks new to Cuenca: Do NOT rent (or dios forbid, buy) a property at a corner where a bus line turns or stops. The nasty clouds of exhaust, even several stories up, will prove unacceptable. This is the voice of experience.

The solution, or beginnings of a solution, is called Tranvia.

Light rail street cars for Cuenca. The first line, from just past the airport to Control Sur, is two years out. Control Sur is the southern gateway to Cuenca. But, this line will only displace a small percentage of the bus traffic in the city. A few percent reduction in pollution. But, it's a start and a serious attempt to address the problem.

Technically the diesel engine is very difficult to match for power, endurance and cost of operation. Keeping these engines tuned up would reduce the pollution greatly but the operators can not, or will not do this consistently. As in many areas, the authorities lay down the law, things improve some, then when the spotlight moves, things degrade back to where they were. But, all things considered, Tranvia is a major step in the right direction.

Glen Birbeck

Monday, April 7, 2014

Sketches of Cuenca #6 Bill and Learning Spanish

A great deal of the apprehension and mystery potential expats face is that of a new language. There is no single point as important as speaking the language. 

No, I did NOT say you must speak Spanish to live here. An Ecuadorian doesn't need to speak English to live in the USA, but think about their isolation if they don't. They can't communicate with 99% of the people around them. They can't 
easily deal with the various bureaucracies, everything from immigration to the cable company. They live in barrios, large or small, for economic and cultural (language) reasons. Some move out, some never do. As I see it, this analogy is unbalanced because the gringo here in Ecuador has money. The Ecuadorian in NJ is working and sleeping and not much more.  He is sending money home. 

The money advantage gringos have when they move south only goes so far.  Money doesn't buy the ability to communicate with the people around you.  IT DOES!, you say, you pay for lessons and learn Spanish. Not quite that simple. 

The teacher teaches and the student learns but the linkage between those two things is tenuous. I know many people who have been in classes here for years.  Often the cost benefit ratio is not very good. The key is surprisingly simple....have conversations in Spanish. Buying onions in the market is not enough 
conversation, but it is a start. Buying veggies takes a few seconds. 

Sitting at the kitchen table with your Cuencana neighbor talking about your kids you might pass an hour every day. Being a regular at a Cuenca cafe or bar will get you hours of practice. From my own experience, the topics can range from history to pop music to motorcycles, anything and everything. But as you are learning about your new friends, and they about you, you are learning verb forms, vocabulary and slang. 

Have one rule, NEVER give up, never hang up the towel.  If you learn one word a day, only that, in three years you've learned nearly a thousand. 

So who is this Bill? He is a gringo and my new teacher. Everyone has their own best way of learning and "one on one" is best for me. A native of California, Bill has lived in LA for many years and taught both English and Spanish. At my ability level we do the class 85% in Spanish, only dropping into English to fix a fine distinction in Spanish grammar. It is up to me to hit the books and exercise the new knowledge. The hour with Bill needs many hours of reinforcement...that's learning - that's my part of the process. If you are in 
Cuenca and want to try receiving instruction this way, email me. I'll put you in touch with Bill.

Glen Birbeck -

Friday, March 28, 2014

Sketches of Cuenca #5 - Buddy Winston

 Born in Brooklyn NY, Buddy Winston worked in Hollywood for years. He wrote the monologs for Jay Leno. He resides now in Cuenca but is another expat from Santa Barbara, a town that seems to be well represented here.

He is also a comedian, painter, playwright & no doubt more, but lets focus on his art. Several of his paintings are hung in the Artebamba Gallery. When I suggested he was the classic "Renaissance Man", he said no, he has invented his own term, "Reniscience".

His recent novel, "Out of Buddy Experience" is available on Amazon and is getting great reviews. Said Leanna Palermo, "What a rush! What an amazing journey! It’s like Indiana Jones was caught moonlighting as a comedian during an outlandish escapade, and what follows is a sometimes

unbelievable ride through Asia and the jungles of Hollywood, USA".  Santa Barbara's loss is Cuenca's gain. Buddy Winston, a unique addition to the expat community.   Glen Birbeck

Do you NEED Spanish in Ecuador?

Ecuador is a Spanish speaking country, but can you get by if you do not know any Spanish?

Regardless of what you have heard, Ecuador is a Spanish speaking country.  Many locals do not speak English.  It is not expected of them to understand you.  Therefore,  It is essential to learn Spanish in order to experience "del buen vivir" (the good life) you seek.  Learning Spanish will help you communicate with native Ecuadorians and prevent being involved in awkward situations socially.  READ MORE  (links to for the full story)

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Love these Avocados.

The Avocados here are delicious! For those who enjoy a quick little snack of Ecuador goodness in between articles here on the blog, like our Facebook page:

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Sketches of Cuenca #4 - Elya from Amsterdam

Elya is a tall Dutch woman I met one morning in Cuenca.  She was visiting for just a couple of days, taking a break while her boyfriend Climbed Chimborazo. The altitude would have been too much for her she said.  Elya had some trouble in Peru adapting to the thin air.  She described being sick on the bus from Lima to
Cuzco.  She'll rejoin her partner, a gymnast, after he does the volcano.  They will then head
into the jungle, the Oriente of Ecuador.

How long will you be there? I ask, "Until, whenever" Elya replied. They don't have to return to Europe for several months.

Back home in Amsterdam she is a Producer of short videos.  She says her Spanish is not so good
but like most Europeans she speaks several languages.  Her English is fine.  Elya suggests that her German is so-so.  She was born in a little town in southern Holland but now calls Amsterdam home.

I ask her what production she most enjoyed.  "Working on a documentary in India".  The subject was the rights of woman. She enjoys her work but looks forward to settling down to a home and children some day.

What other travel adventures have you had?  I ask, "The burning man festival in NV".  Her eyes lit up describing the event and the wreck of an old truck she and a friend drove to reach the festival.  The truck's existence ended there in the desert.  She spoke nostalgically of the feeling she had when the giant effigy was lit.  Everyone was quiet, tens of thousands of people in the desert staring at a burning giant.

Best of luck in the Oriente Elya.

-Glen Birbeck

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Sketches of Cuenca #3 - Amelia and the Artebamba Gallery

I ask Amelia what first brought her to Cuenca. She answered, "Love" OK, What keeps you in Cuenca?, With the smile that never seems to leave her face she again said, "Love". Some guy? I suggested, "I fell in love with Cuenca" she answered and explained why. "From the start I sensed a tranquil easy vibe here" she continued, "the only hard part of living here is missing people in Santa Barbara". That's where she is
"from" when anyone asks. But, she explains, "I've been all over".

Amelia has been in Cuenca since late 2013 and from the beginning the gallery at the corner of Hermano Miguel and Juan Jaramillo had been her base.

She isn't new to running a gallery but as with most things it's a little different in Cuenca. For example, between greeting visitors and organizing the shifting collection of art, she paints. Not unknown in the states but not common either, the combination studio gallery is more the rule in Cuenca. In the states its different . Working in a gallery in Santa Barbara she wouldn't be painting, she wouldn't be wearing an artist's smock and she couldn't let her hair down as she can in the city of four rivers. Its more laid back in Cuenca. The pretentiousness and high prices are missing. Amelia thinks buyers here are more driven by feelings when they select art. Less by cold calculation. Maybe that's the lower prices. Maybe its the mood of the city...maybe both. With so many expats decorating newly acquired houses and apartments the gallery is a success.  Her artists are from everywhere. North Americans, Latin Americans from other parts of the continent, Cuencanos and other Ecuadorianos. From them Amelia selects mostly paintings but also sculptures and decorative items.  She has an experienced eye but is often surprised and delighted too by what people sometimes find irresistible. Its "Love" she says. "They see an artwork and fall in love" Who can fathom love? To find out if Cupid has an arrow (and art) with your name on it, visit Artebamba when you're in town.

-Glen Birbeck

Arasha Resort - Ecuador coastal Rain Forest adventure.

 I Decided it would be a good idea to take my family on a few days vacation.  We went to a place called Arasha in the coastal Rain forest of Ecuador on the road to Puerto Quito (and Tonsupa) from Quito.

We arrived at the resort around 10:00 AM after a quick breakfast in Nanegalito with the hummingbirds entertaining us.  Super peaceful.  Our entertainment was sponsored by Cafe Armadillo restaurant.  

Watch out!  hummingbird attack!:

 Upon arrival we went straight to the pool, which was quite warm and comfortable, then we hit the jacuzzi, for a bit of unwinding and relaxation.  We also enjoyed a session on how to make chocolate and a few hikes into the Jungle including some swimming in the Rio Verde which features two Cascadas (waterfalls).   

I would write about this forever, but since I took a bunch of pics and you can find them on our Facebook  page, I will let the pics do the talking.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Sketches of Cuenca #2 - Glen Birbeck - Craig and Lucy of the Wind Horse Cafe

Lucy is from Ohio, Craig from Minnesota. They married in 1974 and after graduating from college bought land in Wisconsin and started farming. They tried different crops but after a while turned their simple homestead into a dairy farm. That activity lasted twenty three years. At that point they sold the older part of the herd and moved to Nicaragua.

In Nicaragua they worked on a co-op dairy farm for a year. Lucy found she loved Spanish and after returning to the States she studied to be a teacher of Spanish. Having regular jobs plus the cows to take care of proved to be too much. A stint in the Peace Corps in Ecuador followed.

Eventually they found themselves in Cuenca with a building at the corner of Hermano Miguel and Calle Larga. They turned this into the Wind Horse Cafe. As followers of the Shambala tradition of Buddhism, Craig and Lucy offer space for meditation upstairs and a welcome to all. Providing a place for travelers to pause and refresh is an ancient Buddhist tradition.

The Wind Horse opens its doors five days a week to a variety of travelers. Expats from North America, European back packers, Cuencanos, all find a welcome and food that is reassuring in its familiarity or slightly exotic. Each visitor has a unique story and reason for being in Cuenca. Operating a restaurant is a lot
of effort anywhere. The paperwork, taxes and local requirements are a challenge, but Craig says they deal with it. Craig believes the work is made easier by the sense of community.

The couple return to the states annually on average .  "We're not getting rich", Craig says, "but we are making a living". In their off time they travel in Azuay province or relax in their beautiful house in the country at the edge of town. They've had the cafe for about 18 months and figure to hold this tack five years before altering
course again.

Their random acts of kindness, hard work and sincere hospitality will make them conspicuous where ever they land in the future.

-Glen Birbeck

About Glen Birbeck: 

Glen Birbeck found his southern home in Cuenca three years ago. Since then he has developed his Spanish and been  active in the Cuenca Writers Group.  Painting and drawing are pastimes.  He also enjoys building electronic gadgets and (kinetic) art.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Sketches of Cuenca #1. An Intro- Glen Birbeck

Humans are story tellers. Much of any culture is the collection and retelling of stories. The personal, the group, all have their myths and histories. Stories which tell where we've been and where we're going. In the present context we are emigrants to Ecuador. we come from North America, from Europe, from every part of the globe.  Our paths trace new stories. 

My efforts will be to sketch a few of these tales. My own story is fairly typical. My nationality is Estado Unidense, USA. I grew up as an Air Force brat. As WW2 cooled down & the cold war heated up My family moved from Nebraska, where I was born in 1946, to Japan. Then Arizona to England, Greece to North Africa (Libya). When I was seventeen, not having had enough, I joined the USN, and years later, the Air Force. That added Germany, Iceland and Spain to the list. 

Was all this travel a factor in my expatriation to Ecuador? Maybe, it got me used to moving and to accommodating a new culture. Then in 2010 for the first time, I flew into the Southern Hemisphere. My tourist visa allowed a month in Quito and two months in Cuenca. That was my introduction to Ecuador. I liked it.  Eventually I had all the documents and was granted residency as a pensioner.  

Cuenca has been my home since then. I go north to Maine when the weather there allows.  I keep a studio in Cuenca and a camp in the Maine woods.  Going back and forth, the snow bird life, is more a psychological problem than an expense. It takes a hardy plant to be pulled out of the soil every year and replanted four thousand miles away. But, maybe I am playing out those early years. maybe it's inherent in me and only amplified by experience. 

I have to suspect it's me because my sister and brother stay firmly rooted in the stony soil of the pine tree state. I've long since given up trying to talk anyone into traveling south as I have.  Gets the same reaction as talk of a trip to Mars, another place they don't speak much English. I hope you enjoy these sketches of Cuenca.

-Glen Birbeck

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Sometimes you miss home. -Best Burger in Ecuador

It doesn't matter where you travel.  Where you end up.  What kind of adventures and lifetime experiences you encounter or who you meet.  You will sometimes miss home.

What is familiar to you becomes distant as you sink profoundly into your new Expat life and with that distance comes a longing for discovering familiarity in your new home.

My new home is Ecuador and I am no exception.  Sometimes I want a burger.  I want it with cheese, pickles, onions, ketchup.  You know, the works right?  I want it to be authentic, genuine, the real McCoy!  I want it with fries (not rice) and I want a Coke.  Sounds like a simple demand right?  But it is not.

You see, we have that here in Ecuador.  There are great burger places here, like Lucia Pie House, which is one of the best burgers I have ever tasted, and definitely the best in Quito.  The burger comes to your table just how you like it, with all the fixings, fries on the side, ketchup, and a Coke.  But it's not the same.  Oh no.  There is something missing.  Something is just not right about this medium well slab of Carne Molida (ground beef).  It is just not the same.  Why?  Because it is not home.

Lucia Pie House.  The BEST Burger in Quito

Why is it that even though this burger is an exact carbon copy of the American version, it does not FEEL the same?  Because it is not home.

When you make your home far away from home you tend to try to cling on to things you find afar that remind you of home.  For me its burgers.  It could be other types of food, it could be an environment such as the countryside or a lake, it could be just about anything that will remind you of home.  But it is NOT.  Is your search for home like things some sort of coping mechanism for finding comfort in your new home far away?  Is this normal?

I never thought my new found craving for McDonalds, in which I NEVER enjoyed in the states, would get my brain boiling with such thought provoking questions.  Maybe I am just starting to experience that Culture Shock they talk about.  Everyone who reads this blog knows that I have immersed.  Right?

But maybe no matter how deep you immerse in your new culture and your new environment there will always be a corner in your skull full of grey matter whispering to you; "There's no place like home."  At least while I am here I have places like Lucia Pie House to keep my cravings at bay.

Mike Expat Blogger Survey results: Infographic.

A while back, a non profit Social Media platform dedicated to Expats, approached many expat bloggers like myself with quite a few interesting survey questions.  I was one of those "expat bloggers" who filled out and completed the survey.

This morning I was presented with this Info graphic that the Internation staff created based on the answers and feedback from their comprehensive survey.  This feedback is vital information for Expats, Potential Expats to Ecuador and beyond, and Expat service providers so I felt it would be important to get it out in all my available channels.

Anyhow, here is the link to the original post and infographic.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Rainy Day in Quito - some random thoughts

It is raining today here in Quito and being stuck inside has inspired a few random thoughts about Ecuador.

1. There seems to be no real way to tell what the weather will be like here.  If that is the case, how come EVERYTIME it rains, there are always vendors ready to sell you umbrellas as soon as the first drop hits the ground?

2. Quinoa seems to be one of the new health food trends in America, but apparently here in Ecuador they have known about this super food for eons. 

3. Many of the traffic problems here in Quito are not especially due to the roads or their conditions, but more because of the way people drive here.  (see my Quito Traffic Que Bestia! post for more on this).

4. I finally found a Sushi place that makes Spicy Tuna right!  It is called "Sushi-In" on Portugal y Republica Salvador. 

5. People take their elections and voting VERY seriously here, and are passionate about their decisions.  Even though voting is obligatory here, it seems like people are very proud when casting their vote. 

6. Crime seems to have dropped significantly here in the city of Quito.  I must go research the updated stats. 

7. There are MANY apartments for sale here in Quito.  Maybe this is due to many of the newer constructions being completed or near completion. 

8. More and more places are accepting credit cards in the city.  Diner's Club is dominant. 

Just a few random thoughts that popped up in my head in the brief moment I have between virtual meetings and taking care of my family.

Hope all is well everyone!


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Immersion VS. Invasion. The Ecuador Expat's most important choice.

Immersion versus Invasion.  That is the question. 

Gringo Invasion
 Do you come to Ecuador and abandon all of your lifelong traditions and cultural understandings, living amongst the locals like you were born here?  Or, do you come to Ecuador and hide amongst your own in your gated expat community, slowly assimilating into "Gringolandia"?

Such an important and trivial question requires calculated thought.  This question often raises thousands of other questions like:

  • How fast can I learn Spanish in Ecuador?
  • How do I learn about Ecuadorian Culture?
  • Will I experience Culture Shock?
  • Will I pay Gringo Prices in Ecuador?
  • Ultimately, Will I be HAPPY in Ecuador?

I see this topic in discussion on many of the forums, groups, and chats associated with Living in Ecuador or Traveling to Ecuador, but often times I see more opinions than logical answers or even valuable opinionated insight.  People tend to want to live on one extreme or another.  Sounds a bit like politics doesn't it?

Some live for "total immersion", where they shun their entire culture and its existence, even developing a hatred for it.  Others live here for years and don't even take the time to learn how to say "Hola".  In my insightful opinion (at least I hope it is an insightful one) I believe both strategies ultimately lead to failure.

You see, No matter WHERE YOU GO, you ARE WHAT YOU ARE.  You can not escape it.  This is why total immersion will not work. 

You will miss the amenities you were accustomed to in your other world.  You will miss your family and it's traditions and customs.  You will even miss your drunk uncle.  If you choose the strategy of 100% immersion and denial of your gringo existence, the frustrations of "control alt deleting" many years of your settled ways will come back to haunt you.  You cannot simply come here and wash the Gringo or Yankee off of your body.  Believe it or not, most Native Ecuadorians would not expect you to either.

On the other hand, if you come to Ecuador and think you are going to start your own Little USA without contributing to the country, you are gravely mistaken.  I see the Chinese trying it right here from out my window, and they will fail also, if they don't learn the language and the customs.  The great news is that most of the Chinese I have met actually learned (or are trying to learn) Spanish.  I can not say the same for many of the gringos I have met.  Many of them are simply looking to huddle up with the other expats, search for English speaking dentists, doctors, lawyers, and everything else English to get anything accomplished.  That is fine and dandy when you just get here, but if you do not pick up the language and culture you will NOT survive more than 2 years.  You will find yourself lonely and in a state of depression mentally and financially from getting hit with those infamous "gringo prices".

So, with both strategies leaning to high chance of failure, WHAT DO YOU DO?

I propose that you meet in the middle.  Eat the hamburger at the restaurant that speaks English for dinner, but don't pass on the Yaguarlocro for lunch (More about Yaguarlocro here).  Buy that Rosetta Stone or take those Spanish Lessons, but don't forget what your family Christmas or Thanksgiving customs are.  Take a moment to make Ecuadorian friends and SHARE your customs with them as they will with you.  Ecuadorians do not bite, and despite what the State Department may tell you the majority of them are decent, intelligent, and happy to make friends.

I feel that if you approach Life in Ecuador with a strategy such as this, you will have a higher chance of being successful here.  All of the people I know who have made it here have made it through a conservative blend of invasion and immersion, and most of the people who have failed fell towards one extreme.

Carry this advice with a grain of salt, or like the golden ticket to enter Willy Wonka's factory.  I don't care.  But I assure you taking this perspective seriously will help in determining your quality of life here.