The province of Ecuador in which we are currently ensconced is called
Manabi, and its largest industries are agriculture, fishing and tourism. Many
of the towns and parishes, however, which rely exclusively on the first
of these are in rough shape these days, victims of economies of scale,
tough trade barriers, inoperative government leadership in the sector
and general inefficiency and institutionalized corruption.
Thirty years ago cocoa (raw material for chocolate) was a major segment
of production, but the big companies like Nestle and Hershey only buy
in megalots, and all attempts to unite the hundreds of small producers
in Manabi ended in failure and bitterness, killing the business. For
a while shrimp farming looked like the salvation of sector, but a lack
of high (or even medium) tech infrastructure combined with a shrimp-sickness
called the "mancha blanca" (white spots) pretty much wiped that out.
The most poignant example, to the Dowbrigade, is the sad story of Manabi
coffee. Sharing borders with both Colombia and Brazil, Ecuador produces
some of the best coffee in the world, no exaggeration. Manabi,
in particular, has optimum coffee growing conditions, and for years I
have been cajoling friends and relatives of Norma Yvonne who visit the
states, to bring me a few kilos of one particular brand, Flor de Manabi.
There is only one place we have found that sells it toasted and
ready to be ground – a tiny storefront in a working-class residential
suburb of Guayaquil, the main industrial center and port of the country.
Try as we might, we have found no place to purchase Flor de Manabi anywhere
in Manabi province. The sad and ironic fact is that here in sophisticated
Manta, and the provincial city of Portoviejo, when you order a cup of
coffee you get a teacup of hot water and a can of Nescafe! Even in the
fanciest hotels and restaurants! I often ask why, and have yet to get
a cogent answer, other than that people don’t have the "costumbre" (habit)
of drinking ground coffee, and the local coffee industry was mismanaged
into the ground.
The one bright spot on the agricultural horizon is fresh flowers. Ecuador
produces beautiful and inexpensive flowers of all sorts, and a group
of savvy businessmen out of Quito, the highland national capital, have
managed to put together a world-class exporting consortium. Ecuadorian
flowers are on sale every day from LA to New York to the capitals of
Europe, mere hours after leaving the Quito airport.
We just bought a dozen roses for Norma Yvonne at the local SuperMaxi
supermarket, for $1.08, including tax and without the supermarket card
discount. Now, we have never claimed to be a Don Juan or a Romeo of any
kind. In fact, what the Dowbrigade DOESN’T know about women would
fill the biggest hard drive in existence. However, one lesson we learned
early is that after a fight or a bonehead thoughtless lapse of male imbecility
(like needing to be bailed out of jail in Providence, R.I. after being
arrested for causing a disturbance at the Foxy Lady), nothing helps that
water flow faster under the bridge than a beautiful bouquet.
It was somewhat later that we discovered that the magical effects of
flowers are multiplied many fold if you DON’T WAIT TIL YOU SCREW UP!
Yes guys, making flowers appear, out of the blue, for no special reason,
is the secret
WMD, the heavy artillery, of the war between the sexes. So all
you young guys out there searching for the secret shortcut to that paradise-between-the
-thighs (you listening, Jay?) take a tip from an old geek (unfortunately
it pretty much exhausts my store of useful knowledge on what makes women
tick). A dozen roses is pretty much a sure ticket to a night of insane
and affectionate pleasure. Even at American prices, its cheaper
that dinner and a movie.