Wednesday, May 29, 2013

International Living's Ultimate Event

Cynthia and I were honored to speak at International Living's 8th Annual Ultimate Event last week at the Fairmont Mayakoba in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. We represented Ecuador along with experts from the Far East, Latin America, the Dominican Republic, New Zealand, and Europe. Other presentations for the 320 attendees covered such diverse topics as health care and insurance, visas, offshore investments, and real estate.

The resort is beautifully designed

and occupies a lush setting.

There are seven pools

and of course gorgeous beaches.

Sandwiched among our presentation, coffee breaks in the Exhibition Hall,

and VIP events like cocktail parties by the pool

we found time to enjoy outstanding meals in a relaxing atmosphere.

Cynthia's a big seafood fan so she was thrilled to dig in to food like this.

We were excited to have on beach attire that we never get to wear in Cuenca.

We took a boat tour through the numerous lagoons that run through the property.

On our last day we ventured next door to the Banyan Tree resort for lunch. This is a high end Asian chain with striking architecture.

We set up camp on the beach

where our lunch included guacamole, shrimp cerviche, and yummy soft shell crab tacos.

The Ultimate Event was a huge success. It was especially gratifying to hear comments from guests that the conference "exceeded our expectations." Everyone returned home with tons of great information to help them decide on the best location abroad for their expat adventure. We were proud to be IL's ambassadors for our beautiful country of Ecuador!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

1 Minute 50 Seconds of Fame

The segment on Diane Sawyer's World News show unexpectedly aired last night. We received notification only hours in advance. John Quinones and Sarah Netter spent two full days with us and Paul & Jan Cottage shooting hours of footage, so we were anxious to see how the final piece was edited.

We were pleased that the focus was generally on expats moving abroad with Cuenca basically serving as a backdrop for the story. An interesting statistic quoted was that almost 350,000 Americans are receiving their Social Security payments in another country. Since I and most everyone I know have payments deposited in a US bank account the true number of expats must be staggering.

And growing.

It was fun to see a family photo we furnished the network showing up.

One minute and fifty seconds later, it was over. All in all I think the story was well done and we were honored to be asked to participate.

Here's the link to the segment plus an accompanying article:

American retirees stretch their dollars in Ecuador

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Arch Nemesis?

When Cynthia and I were going by bus to the beaches of Montanita sometime ago, we arrived at the terminal in Guayaquil early enough to have lunch before departing. Looking around the food court we observed the usual variations of grilled meats, rice, and beans found in our malls here in Cuenca.

Then we spotted something unexpected—a McDonald’s! We rarely ate traditional fast food when we lived in the States and in three years have never had a Whopper at the Burger King near our home . But as often happens when you’re on vacation, we said, “What the hell, we’re on vacation!” and wolfed down Quarter Pounders, fries, and Cokes.

We enjoyed our guilty pleasure so much that we ordered an encore meal with Big Mac’s when we got back before returning home. These two little episodes formed the bookends of a memorable getaway.

I share this story as a backdrop to the announcement that Cuenca’s very first McDonald’s is being built down the street from our neighborhood Supermaxi. Since our city is already home to the aforementioned Burger King plus KFC, Papa John’s, Pizza Hut, and Subway this occurrence was inevitable and, from a competitive viewpoint, arguably overdue.

But the forums are abuzz with predictable histrionics ranging in emotion from sad to disappointed to hysterical. Without knowing the subject matter you would think the Death Star was spotted hovering over the Cajas.

Many are lamenting this invasion of American “poison” into the Ecuadorian culture. Some even think the government should “do something” to keep franchises out or at least severely tax their products to discourage consumption.

Here is a sampling of other vitriolic quotes:





“Let’s boycott!”

Really? Come on, people, get a grip.

I have to wonder when some of the commenters last actually ate at a McDonald’s. The 60’s? Because the menu has certainly evolved from the early days of burgers and fries.

For instance, Cynthia and I took advantage of a 2-for-1 coupon while in North Carolina a couple of weeks ago visiting family to try McDonald’s new Premium McWrap. The one we ordered was a large flour tortilla filled with chicken and super fresh vegetables. It was healthy, delicious, and a bargain at the retail price of $3.99 (and an absolute steal at $2 each).

Breakfast choices now include a McMuffin with egg whites, oatmeal, and a fruit ‘n yogurt parfait. For lunch or dinner you can order grilled chicken and a variety of salads in addition to the wraps.

Of course the burgers, fries, soft drinks, and shakes dominate the menu. But the good news is that in any restaurant the patrons get to pick what they want to eat.

There’s a fancy restaurant in town called Tiesto’s. The specialty there is a steaming pot of yummy meat or seafood swimming in a decadent sauce. The food is undeniably delicious, but each time I’ve eaten there I’ve not been able to sleep because of the richness of all the butter and cream.

So I’ve decided that I won’t eat there anymore. The pain simply isn’t worth the gain.

Others I’ve spoken to have mentioned a similar experience, but I haven’t noticed a clamoring for Juan Carlos to clean up his act and start offering healthy alternatives. The truth is you can order a healthy meal or a calorie-busting feast almost anywhere you go. Or, if no such choices are available, you can choose as I have with Tiesto’s to not dine there.

I see vendors set up outside schools selling salchipapas (little weenies and French fries) and all manner of candies. I notice people walking down the street every day munching on a bag of chips. Could they be nibbling on an apple instead? Of course. But they didn’t want an apple, did they?

The real issue is not about McDonald’s coming to Cuenca. It’s about individual freedom. You don’t want to eat at McDonald’s? Then don’t. But how is it your business to tell other people what they can do?

Any notion of government involvement is pure poppycock. I appreciate much about American life, but our government’s overzealous attempts to protect its citizens from themselves is not one of them. A most refreshing aspect of Ecuadorian culture is the emphasis on personal responsibility. You never see a TV commercial here with those pathetic personal injury attorneys who promise to “get you the money you deserve.”

Imagine you are at Parque Calderon observing one of the countless fireworks displays. An errant rocket strikes you and you go to court seeking damages. I can envision the judge saying something like this: “Guess you were standing too close. Next case.”

Some folks not yet living in Ecuador state that McDonald’s coming to Cuenca is causing them to rethink their plans. Let me help you out. Even having a thought about a fast food chain being a potential deal breaker is a clear indicator that you will be miserable here. Don’t come.

Method acting always asks, “What’s the character’s motivation?” Perhaps some of our self righteous do-gooders should ask themselves the same question.

A pretty famous guy said, “If you would save the world, first save yourself.” So beyond your personal decision to avoid eating at McDonald’s, is not any further action an attempt to impose your “superior” value system on others?

Ecuadorians are perfectly capable of managing their lives and making their own decisions without our assistance. The bigger problem than McDonald’s arrival is the arrogance of individuals who barge in without an invitation trying to fix everything because of their need to be “right.”

Can we please bag the superiority complexes and remember that we are honored guests in this country?