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Good Fences (and Friendly Guards) Make Good Neighbors

September 01, 2015
Read time: 2 mins

Luxury living in Ecuador

It's a cultural thing


I have to admit, when I moved to the Midwest in 1999 I was uncomfortable with the absence of fences. Yards blended into one sea of green that made me cringe, but I didn't know why.

After moving back to Latin America, I understand it better.

A lifetime of living in Central and South America—and the very Latinized places in the US (Los Angeles and Miami)—where the culture of fences, or really bulwarks still prevails, I understand the deep impression it has on my subconscious.

Fences are part of my psychological landscape.

Today I live in a neighborhood that the local socialists refer to as a place for pelucones or bigwigs. We’re rich, by local standards in Ecuador, so we build huge walls, 15 feet or more in height, with electrified wire along the top to keep “them” out.

“They” live beyond the wall in high density poverty.

high density housing in Ecuador


“We” have guards.

Guard station at gated commiunity


Even within the walled city of “La Cumbre” (The Pinnacle neighborhood) where we reside in a very nice condominium, people build huge walls around their property—just in case.

Decorative wall surrounding gated community


My first memory of architecture dates from 1960, when I was four, and we visited a cousin who had built his first home. He was an architect, and all I remember of his house was the broken bottles along the top of the wall protecting him from the outside world.

The picture below is my friend Diego’s house in Quito—the broken bottles along the top of the wall is an inexpensive version of barbed wire.

Wall with broken glass on top


Some of the broken-bottle walls are very pretty, as this mural wall surrounding a church school yard in Cuenca.


But I know that the day the revolution comes—and it will—the guards who watch my house all night long (and who also live on the other side of the muro) will let likely “them” through the gates.

So I am very friendly and kind to folks like Bolivar, pictured, who make $340 a month to guard at the gate to my block all night long.  

night guard at the gate

I am hoping that when the revolution comes, he will let me exit the gated community with my passport, my wife, and our lives.    


— Fernando Pagés Ruiz is ProTradeCraft's Latin America Editor. He is currently building a business in Ecuador and a house in Mexico. Formerly, he was a builder in the Great Plains and mountain states. He is author of Building an Affordable House and Affordable Remodel (Taunton Press).


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