Cotacachi / Cotacachi / Cotacachi Indigenous / Ecuador Culture / Ecuador Lifestyle / Living in Ecuador

When is a Fence Not a Fence

A fence is not always a fence when you live in our part of Ecuador.

We didn’t want to build a tall, thick wall around our property to block out views of the beauty around us or to give our neighbors the idea that we wanted to keep our distance from them.  Now we are re-thinking our ideas as to what is appropriate in our neighborhood.

The indigenous village next door doesn’t have a single wall.  They are walled only by a green boundary of corn stalks, not brick or stone.  But there are a number of people living there, along with dogs who act as deterrents to trespassing or theft.

We put up a barbed wire fence to create a more permeable boundary.  And permeable it is, sometimes completely ignored.

We had hoped it would signal our good intentions to be friendly but also to mark our land as ours and remind people in the area to respect our rights as land owners.  We’d assumed that they would ask our permission before entering our little domain.  Ha!

While some neighbors have asked us if they could share-crop our land or graze their animals, others haven’t.

One reason may be that the land has been open for many years and people have long made it a convenient crossing lane from village to village and from village to town. Another reason is that we were quite lenient for several years after we bought the land.

We loved watching mothers with babies on their backs and with youngsters in tow as they passed timidly through our land. Families would come to fly kites, picnic or play soccer. The very old are put in charge of animals and they’d sit all day.

But we’ve also found reeds in the pond and trees cut down, firewood taken, brush burned.  The transition from open land to enclosed land has been fairly gentle and easy. We find our gates left open as people continue to cross the land.

The biggest problem remaining is animal grazing.  Traditionally people with no land take their animals far afield, finding pasturing wherever it is available–along roads and streams, in vacant lots or open land like ours.

We still find animals making themselves at home and enjoying a leisurely lunch in our fields and marsh.  An ongoing unsolved clash of cultures is occurring with a little indigenous woman and her herd of sheep who daily feed on our succulent greens.

Now that we are planting trees for an orchard and a food forest, we are taking the removal of these animals more seriously because they can quickly do a lot a damage to tender young trees.  Shooing the animals and their owners out hasn’t been that easy to accomplish.

A worker on our caretaker house brought his bulls onto our land without permission and allowed them to tear up our newly-planted trees.  We never saw the bulls, just the damage.  All that was left of our trees were chewed up, leafless stems.

A week later another worker gave permission for his sister-in-law to bring in her cows, pigs and mule.  The worker sheepishly denied any such offer to his sister-in-law but we are not convinced.

The woman moved her mooing marauders outside our fence but let the animals wade into our irrigation ditch.  No telling what they deposited there.

The laws in Ecuador prohibit pollution of waterways but it’s a delicate matter when dealing with age-old customs, especially in an indigenous area such as ours.

We will plant lots of shrubs and bushes with stickers and prickles.  An indirect way of dealing with a prickly problem.  We’d appreciate hearing from others who’ve had a similar problem with four-legged trespassers and their two-legged handlers.

We’ve received a number of helpful suggestions already, including sheep-herding dogs, sheep-eating dogs, electric fencing and fencing the trees.  If all else fails, we will get a dog.

The man who works for us paid for the three trees his bulls destroyed and he planted the new ones after work one day this week.



  1. What type of apples will you be growing?
    I was curious whether Fuji apples would
    grow in Ecuadorian climate. Do you Know
    if this is possible?

  2. Hi Guys…
    As a practical matter, you might take a look at what prosperous farms do to keep out trespassers.
    Number one, they build those high walls, and Number Two, they have security to keep the farm private.
    Not exactly what you have in mind, but that seems to be the norm when viewing the hundreds of fincas in Ecuador.
    Good Luck,
    Bob & Roxanne

    • You may be right, Bob. We may have to adhere to this revision of an old saying, “When in Ecuador, do as the Ecuadorians do.” But I shudder at the thought of building a high concrete block wall with shards of broken bottles and electric fencing along the top.

      What would our little picnickers make of that? It’d be hard to enjoy your guinea pig sandwich with that looming over you.

      And I draw the line at a gun tower and Uzi. Absolutely not! Some people say that a good deterrent is to occasionally go outside at night and fire off a gun. I’ve never owned or shot one so I’d probably do myself mortal harm.

      When I lived near Dallas years ago, we had a remarkable Texas-sized white watch rabbit that chased away stray dogs, even cats. But here in Ecuador something bigger fiercer is in order. I’m still leaning toward a sheep dog.

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