MANTA, Ecuador—There’s a San Diego feel about this city near the equator. The same tuna companies – Van Camp, Bumblebee—that once made San Diego their homes now have canneries here. Although it recently closed, a U.S. Air Force base here that monitored possible drug traffickers in nearby Colombia brought single servicemen to this city – and many of them took Ecuadorian wives. And there is a shoreline that is reminiscent of San Diego County in the early 20th century, with miles and miles of bare promontories overlooking secluded beaches.
Still another reason why Manta may generate nostalgia among long-time San Diegans is that there is a building boom currently taking place, with an estimated 500 to 1,000 apartment, condo and single family homes being built each year to take advantage of an influx of retirees from the United States, Canada and the former Soviet Union, according to Maria Fernanda Carrasco Cordero, one of the busiest real estate agents in Manta. Old time San Diegans can remember similar days of opportunity in their county.
Nancy and I met Carrasco and her husband, furniture manufacturer Juan Pablo Arteaga Calderon, through the Alexander and Helen Poddubnyi of Podd & Associates of Vista, California, who operate air cargo charter offices in San Diego County. Poddubnyi purchased a condo in Manta and subsequently became a business associate of Carrasco’s.
Although we aren’t ready to retire yet to the Latin American shoreline—although the prospect is tempting indeed— Nancy and I were interested in learning what life is like for the growing American colony in this port city that was on MS Rotterdam’s itinerary during our cruise from Lima, Peru, back home to San Diego.
Carrasco met us in her car near the gated entrance of the Port of Manta and took us on a whirlwind tour of hillsides currently being graded for condominiums overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Some of these still unbuilt units already have been sold, and, judging by the number of phone calls Carrasco received during our time with her—more are being sold every day. In fact, Isofali Kundawala, a retired physician from Richardson, Texas, shared the tour with us—and he told us he had decided to buy in Manta after checking out other potential retirement spots along the Mexican, central American and South American coasts.
Why Manta? We asked him. He described it as a small town with some large town amenities, including at least seven flights daily to the Ecuadorian capital of Quito, from which international airline connections can be made back to the States or to other parts of the world. He also said he found the prices appealing—not only to purchase real estate, but also for domestic services, taxes, gasoline, and the like.
Residential developments here invoke the names of various seaside paradises around the world including Santorini, Greece; Portofino in Italy, Fortaleza, Brazil, and La Jolla in California. The latter is where Poddubnyi purchased her condo, with Carrasco having served as her agent.
Carrasco told us that most people who purchase condos in Manta initially visit the city on multi-city real estate tours, decide that Manta is where they’d like to locate, and then come back to find the specific property they’d like to purchase.
“Every day there is someone moving here, “ Carrasco said. “I think it is because people who are on fixed income are able to have a better standard of living here. You don’t have to have medical insurance because doctors here are inexpensive compared to the States. We have good weather and a good location. If someone is renting here, they can get a nice two bedroom place for approximately $600 a month plus $200 utilities. For $1,500 to $2,000 a month you can live quite luxuriously here.”
Small homes for purchase cost approximately $150,000 for two and three bedrooms in the Manta Beach colony, whereas a large, luxurious home will cost approximately $500,000. Forty hour a week domestic helpers who can cook and clean are paid $240 per month, with another $60 paid to the government for their nationally mandated health insurance and social security, she said.
Plumbers, gardeners charge between $10 and $20 per visit, and doctors charge between $30 and $50 per office visit. Overnight stays at the hospital cost approximately $100 per night, but transportation to Guayaquil may be required for more complex hospital services. “But it is still cheap compared to the United States,” Carrasco said.
In December 2011, Manta will host the South American Beach Sports competition, an event which Carrasco believes will increase the city’s visibility among real estate investors.
Carrasco and her husband had lived in Madison, Wisconsin, so they are familiar with the ways of Americans and both speak very good English.
While Carrasco met with some business clients, a driver took Nancy and me to the bamboo furniture factory of her husband, Juan Pablo Arteaga Calderon.
Walking us through the complex, he told us that originally he had a dairy farm on the location, which benefitted from the proximity of companies that extracted oils from fish and from various plants in the area. But when Ecuador decided to make the U.S. dollar its currency in 2000, prices of the feed went up, and Arteaga was faced with the necessity of purchasing pasture land to feed the cows and hiring more people to watch over them as they grazed.
Figuring costs closely, Arteaga decided to instead sell the cows to other ranchers. He converted his farm into a bamboo factory where, after purchasing bamboo from rain forests on the Pacific side of the Andes Mountains, he initially manufactured handcrafts and other small items predominantly for the tourist trade.
As his workers’ skill level increased, they began crafting handmade bamboo furniture—chairs, tables, desks, cabinets, and beds. With his family background in furniture retailing, Arreaga opened a store called “Bamboom” a few blocks from the entrance to the Port. His wife also maintains her offices there.
Arreaga said the name “Bamboom” is taken from the sound that bamboo wood makes when used for firework displays. Bam! Boom! More importantly, the name suggests the excitement that making such furniture generates – especially now that business in booming, er bam-booming.
Arteaga has been busy making special orders of doors and room furniture for hotel lobbies and for owners of new condos who’d rather purchase a full suite of new bamboo furniture than ship their old furniture.
Bamboom has 19 employees in the factory and six in the showroom.
Nancy and I met the couple’s two children who were taking sailing lessons at the Manta Yacht Club. We enjoyed a fine lunch at the club, enjoying the ever-changing tableau of a former fishing village that is becoming a bustling retirement and tourist community.
Vía. Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World –