By Gary Phillips
Linda and I arrived back in Cotacachi on the evening of Feb. 1 after nearly 5 months in the states. While walking to Serendipity restaurant for dinner, we met two friends who joined us. They filled us in on new happenings. The next morning we went for a walk and were shocked at the growth taking place in Cotacachi.
To start with, Cotacachi has several new businesses that appeal to expat residents. Bhakti, an Ecuadorian-owned vegetarian restaurant, is located towards the bottom of Leather Street. There is a new restaurant called Casi Olivia, which serves a variety of ethnic foods that change nightly–Korean, Ethopian, Creole. Casi Olivia opened in the old Kalinka building, just a block off of main street.
Prana Vital Energy is a new specialty food shop carrying exquisite designer chocolates made by Jeff Stern from Quito as well as a variety of organic food stuffs, goat and cow cheeses, specialty wines, local crafts, organic coffees, etc. You get the idea. The grand opening was just after we arrived in town.
Linda and I dropped in for a look on our way to dinner. To our amazement, we recognized only about 6 of the 25-30 people in the new store! Most were new expats in town, at least new to us.
Saturday evening we visited the Monkey Bar on Leather Street, an expat-owned bar serving a variety of beers and cocktails. The nicely decorated bar advertises live music on Friday and Saturday nights. Joel Kaplan wowed us on the keyboards with a wide variety of tunes that had the place rocking. I literally could not get his rendition of “Rocky Top” out of my head for a week. I can also vouch for the fact that they make a real mean bloody Mary.
We heard that Trebol, a restaurant which was located in a little hole in the wall on Sucre, moved to what used to be D’Anita’s on Gonzales Suarez across the street from Serendipity. Trebol features burgers billed as the best in Ecuador along with burritos, fries, and several different sandwiches, as well as a good bar selection. They also have live music occasionally.
Trebol owners announced last week that their restaurant is for sale, so there’s a good business opportunity for someone who wants to buy a well-established restaurant, keep busy and take a crash course in Cotacachi culture. One of our friends commented that it is now possible to bar-hop in Cotacachi.
On our way to Cotacachi from Otavalo our taxi driver described all the road construction occurring in the area. The six-lane Pan American highway that opened awhile back between Ibarra and Otavalo is being extended another 30 kilometers (18 miles) south towards Quito, while four lanes are under construction north from Ibarra to the Colombia border at Tulcan.
Another 4-lane highway is being constructed from Otavalo to Esmeraldas on the coast of Ecuador. Apparently, the port at Esmeraldas is being upgraded and the travel time between Otavalo and the coast will be cut to 4 hours. This port will serve all of the northern part of Ecuador. It now takes at least 8 or 9 hours from Otavalo to Esmeraldas.
Another 4-lane highway is under construction between Cayambe, Quinche, and the new International airport, which is to open on Feb. 20th. This should cut travel time between the new airport and Cotacachi to around an hour and a half or less. We traveled that road this week and were pleased to see that the existing road has been resurfaced which will make for a much more comfortable drive while we are waiting for the new road construction to be completed.
People arriving at the airport late at night may find it just as easy to come directly to Cotacachi rather than make the trip to a Quito hotel. I noticed an article in the newspaper today that says there are about 170 rooms available within a few kilometers of the new airport, but it will be about a 1- hour drive into downtown Quito.
A 4-lane connector is under construction from Cayambe to Ibarra to cut travel time between Ibarra and the new airport to around 2 hours or less. Now, it takes a good 3 hours to get from the old airport to Ibarra, if the traffic is not heavy.
The road from the Pan-American Highway into Cotacachi is also being repaired and widened, which is a blessing as the road was terribly potholed and narrow. We heard that the Cotacachi mayor would like to have this made into a 4-lane highway, but we don’t know if that is planned or just wishful thinking.
All of this infrastructure construction will be a huge economic boon to all of the northern part of Ecuador, especially when Yachay, the new planned City of Knowledge north of Ibarra gets underway. The government has purchased 4,000 hectares (10,000 acres of land) to construct a city of the future, with universities, research facilities and advanced technology companies.
A well-connected Ecuadorian friend told us that Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul from Australia, was here last week to consider investing in the new city. Ecuador is attracting international attention.
NEW BUILDING CONSTRUCTION IN COTACACHI
Another thing we noticed was the huge amount of new construction taking place in Cotacachi. It seems as if a new building is going up on nearly every block. No doubt the shortened driving time and better roads between Quito and Cotacachi will put additional pressure on home building and prices in the area, as Quitenos will begin looking for vacation homes here.
A builder told me he is starting 6 new homes next week in Tierra Firme.
A recent condo sale captured the attention of Cotacachi expats recently when it sold for nearly double what it sold for 4 years ago. Of course, this has everyone wondering if this will be the new market price or if it was just a fluke. But another condo in the same development is now listed for sale at more than double the original price. It appears that a new wave of real estate inflation is hitting Cotacachi big time.
Ecuador is on the move and there is a ton of cash floating around the country. High-rise condos are being built like crazy in Quito and they are sold out almost as soon as the foundation hole is dug. We were told prices are running around $2,000/m2 ($186/sq.ft). This is easily double the price of condos in Quito just 4 years ago. People in the know say that most buyers are paying cash.
We stayed in the central historic district for two nights when we arrived in country. We immediately noticed that most streets in the district have fancy new high-intensity street lights installed, giving Old Town an aura of gentility and increased safety. It almost feels like day-time when you walk the streets at night. Many more buildings have been restored.
The district was also noticeably cleaner with a police presence on nearly every corner. This section of town which used to be quite dangerous now feels very safe. A policeman told us that there are 80 metropolitan police officers patrolling the district. This does not count the tourist police or the traffic police who are on nearly every corner.
We have a nice 950 sq. ft. condo in a restored historic building for sale for $95,000. It is located about 4 blocks from the Presidential Palace.
I had another shock when a friend of ours in Quito who is in the real estate business told me that her relative has created a new luxury development in the hills between Cumbaya and Tumbaco, near the new airport. The price is $160/meter for 2000 m2 lots. Let me translate: This works out to $320,000 for a ½ acre lot without any construction!
When I nearly choked, she asked, “What’s wrong, that is really a bargain. Similar lots in luxury developments in Cumbaya and Quito (she lives in one of them) sell for $300/m2.” Wel,l I can tell you that they certainly don’t sell to me for that!
Times are changing dramatically in Ecuador.
And that’s today’s, “View from the Roof.”