Expat tales: Running an eco-lodge

Last updated 05:00 27/07/2014
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HAPPY FAMILY: Rebecca and husband Doug with children John, 6, and Lexie, 6, months.

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Rebecca Greenshields run an eco-lodge in the Andes with her husband and two kids.

What inspired your move, and how long have you been there?

After travelling for a year around South America, my partner and I fell in love with this little Andean town nestled between the Andes and the Amazon. Ecuador is incredibly biodiverse and has so much to offer in one small country (nearly the same size as New Zealand), with the Amazon, Andes, coast and Galapagos Islands - it's like a mini-South America in one country!

The interesting culture, the easy pace of life and relative stability of the economy made this a very attractive place for us to put down roots. We wanted to lead a simple life and be able to raise our kids without the financial pressure which seems to cloud everyday life for many people. We've been living here permanently for seven years.

What do you do there?

Apart from raising our two kids, we built and run our own eco guest house (lacasaverde.com.ec). Throughout our travels we found it hard to find good mid-range accommodation and were also shocked by the lack of environmental responsibility by travellers and locals. So we decided to start our own.

What are the greatest advantages to living there?

The wonderful outdoor opportunities, no climate extremes, excellent variety of fresh food year round and the ability to get away to a completely different altitude/climate/landscape in just a day trip.

Disadvantages?

The poor quality of education. The public education system is poorly funded and the teachers aren't well prepared or supported (40 kids per teacher and parents aren't welcome to help out). There are some great private schools, but they're in larger cities. We now home-school our 6-year-old, after a short stint in the public system. Not being close to family and friends in NZ and Australia is also an issue now we have kids.

How expensive is it compared to New Zealand? How much is a beer?

Locally-produced food is very cheap. We spend about $28 a week on groceries, and we eat like kings! An average household would spend less than $10 a month on electricity. Our annual rates are less than $200. However, tariffs are very high making imported goods very expensive - wine is definitely a luxury item. Local wine is hard to come by and still $30 a bottle. The national beer is 90 cents in the supermarket, and about $3 in a bar.

What do you do in your spare time?

We can easily spend an afternoon hiking around the waterfalls or soaking in the thermal pools. Occasionally we go canyoning, zip lining or white-water rafting. An hour east is an indigenous community, where you can cruise down a river in a dug-out canoe, swim under a waterfall, and suck the sweet flesh off fresh cacao. An hour west is the commercial centre of our province, with a large mall and cinema.

What's the local delicacy and would you recommend eating it?

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The locals dine on "cuy," or guinea pig. They are mostly spit-roasted whole, with the head, teeth, feet and claws. They taste good - like wild rabbit - but you have to get past the presentation first! A local sweet treat consists of caramelised figs eaten with semi-salty fresh cheese.

Easiest way to get around?

We usually walk and sometimes take taxis ($1.50). We don't own a car here, because they're expensive and taxis/local transport work well and are very cost-effective.

What's the shopping like?

Produce is amazing! Many artisans sell their wares locally, including ceramics, traditional alpaca wall hangings and knick-knacks made from bamboo or balsa wood.

Best after-dark activity?

Driving up a mountain for a spectacular view of molten rock spewing out of the nearby volcano, Tungurahua. If its not erupting, you can soak in the hot pools near the waterfall or head out to the local bars. Banos is popular among Ecuadorean and foreigner travellers, so there's a lot going on most nights of the week.

Best time of year to visit?

Our dry season is in the New Zealand summer, although it's high season here. March/April usually has good weather and fewer tourists.

What are the top three things you recommend for visitors?

Biking to and hiking around the waterfalls.

An adventure activity like canyoning or rafting.

Finish the day with a relaxing massage, steam bath or visit to the thermal pools.

Besides family and friends, what do you miss most about home?

Public facilities (like tennis courts and libraries), being able to communicate more effectively (although we now speak good Spanish, the nuances of the language are sometimes difficult to grasp), delicious seafood and last, but not least . . . a crisp sauvignon blanc.

How easy is it for you to get back to NZ?

Not very! A flight to Santiago, Chile, then direct to Auckland, or a flight to LA (usually with a stop in Costa Rica, Panama, or El Salvador), then direct to Auckland. Either way, the flights cost about US$8000 (NZ$9190) economy for us all so we don't get home often.

For Kiwis looking to move there, which industries are seeking fresh talent?

There are plenty of opportunities for entrepreneurs to fill gaps in the market and create more local employment. Tourism is a growing industry and there are openings for more eco-conscious operators. The wine industry needs more competition and of course, there's the old back-up of teaching English.

If you know an expat who wants to share inside knowledge about their home away from home, email escape@star-times.co.nz with Expat in the subject line.

- Sunday Star Times

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