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Living in Ecuador: The Good, the Bad and the Annoying

Good Things about Ecuador

Rent is super cheap.  If you are paying $450, you are living the high life.  If you're not, you can get small unfurnished apartments for $150-250.  This was my apartment, $90 a month including utilities, shared with 2 other girls.

Food is super cheap.  You can live on $10 a day eating out all 3 meals.  Waiters are also full-service, and they don’t expect tips.  (You just have to be a little patient and don’t drink alcohol to stay within that budget.)

Almuerzo del dia, or lunch of the day, is the best deal around.  You get a delicious bowl of soup, a meat, rice, a small salad/slaw, and a tiny desert.  All for anywhere between $2-3, depending on the place.

When you’re in a restaurant eating, other customers say good morning, afternoon, or evening to you as the come into the restaurant, or simply, “Buenas”.  They also say “Buen provecho” which means enjoy your meal.  I find this nice. 

People don’t in general stare at you because you’re a foreigner.  I’ve had this happen in many other countries where they gawk at you with a little smirk, like they’re criticizing you.

The bakeries, or panaderias.  They make all kinds of bread and goodies daily, for about .15 a piece.  When you walk by any of them, the smell is mouth-watering.

Budget Hotels are an excellent value and are clean and decent.  Most hotels I’ve stayed in — in Olon, Cuenca, Vilcabamba, and Loja have been around $15 a night and they’ve been just fine.  Clean, efficiently run, secure (you need to be buzzed in at night or you get a key to the iron gate), and they all have full breakfasts included!  (eggs, coffee, juice, fruit, and bread.  Sometimes also yogurt, fruit and granola.)

The mountain areas are very clean.  Street cleaning is an ongoing event.  Loja is the first environmental city of Ecuador.  They really take pride in their clean streets, and they even have wind turbines!  On Sundays they close downtown to traffic so people can walk around and ride bikes.

Once you’re away from the beach, there are no bugs.  No cockroaches, no mosquitos, very few flies.

Bad Things about Ecuador

Cross streets at your own risk.  Stop signs are a suggestion.  Buses fly through intersections at 45 mph; cars make sharp turns, cutting corners, almost going on to the sidewalk so you have to stand back.  If you try to make it across the street before a taxi, they speed up to scare you and then they honk at you.  (I asked a taxi driver about this and he confirmed it!)

Speaking of taxis, they honk to see if you need a ride constantly.  The incessant beeping is annoying as hell.

In public bathrooms (like grocery stores), often there’s a big toilet paper roll outside the stalls.  You have to take it before entering the stall or you’re in trouble.   For banos publicos, (like in the bus station) you have to pay 10 cents and they hand you a folded up wad of toilet paper.  In restaurants there’s normal TP in the stall.  But the soap dispensers are usually empty and the water is cold so if you’re a germophobe, this isn’t the place for you.  Makes you wonder if hands of food preparers are being washed.  

Clothes, shoes, and appliances are super expensive.  Nobody has shoes larger than size 36.  If you wear US size 9, or international size 40, good luck.  They laugh at you and gawk at your feet.  The clothes they do have are of a poor quality.  The polyester balls up immediately; buttons fall off, belt loops break right away.

There doesn’t seem to be any kind of construction code.  Workers just stopped up the river to put up these weird, short, ugly cement walls near the sides of the river.  One leans dangerously inward and the other is completely crooked.  It’s a matter of time before it all falls into the river.  I don’t understand the purpose of the walls.  

Then they created areas in the river where the water will fall over levels of rocks, like a waterfall but completely fake.  They stuck a tree branch in the middle of the river too.  Maybe it’s a real tree and maybe it will grow eventually but it looks like it’s about to tip over.

Pushing and shoving is normal.  If you get into an elevator or onto a bus, the rule is not to wait in line but to push and shove your way to the front, whether you’re an adult or a kid.  This is why kids at the school push their way into the elevator, and the people waiting to get on push their way in without letting the others get out.  

Annoying Things About Ecuador

Service in restaurants is veeeeeery slow, unless you have the almuerzo del dia which is super fast.  If you order something like spaghetti, they make the whole thing from scratch, even for one order… so it takes about 45 minutes.  At least that means it’s fresh.  Mojitos take 5-10 minutes; Caipirinhas take 10-15 minutes because they have to hand-squeeze so many limes.    Drinks are not brought out until your food is ready, even it the food takes 45 minutes.  So you just sit there. 

People walk either veeeeery slow or very fast.  When they walk veeeeery slow, it’s always 3-4 people wide, taking up the entire sidewalk.  They seem to have no clue that they are blocking the sidewalk.  The fast walkers will knock you over if you don’t get out of their way.  I’ve had to literally jump to the side to avoid being run over by fast walkers.  And if you’re approaching a fast walker on the sidewalk coming towards you, they always swerve to their left which runs right into me when I swerve right like when you drive.  Sidewalks are also very narrow.

When you go into a business to use a service, locals will cut in front of you if you’re a gringo.  The other day at the post office, I was next in line and was cut twice by women.  This happens quite frequently and it is infuriating.  The men are generally a little more polite.  The women are vicious about it.  After 2 people cut me, I leave and go to another place of business.

Random Things About Ecuador

Fast food is huge here — hamburgers, hot dogs, and french fries.  There are places every block throughout the town.  Hamburger meat is weird, and I wonder what it’s made of.  Hot dogs are long, limp, thin, pale pink things that are mushy and DISGUSTING!  French fry places are every block.  Super popular are salchipapas, little bags of fries topped with one inch-long slices of hot dog which are cut 4 ways at the end so it looks like a flower.  They are topped with mayonnaise based sauce — either a green cilantro sauce or a red sauce (like a thousand island). 

Speaking of kids, there are A LOT of kids here.  I guess it’s the old Christian no-birth-control-thing but when school’s out around 1:00, there are thousands of kids of all ages leaving schools in hordes, munching on little cones of french fries covered with the pink or green cilantro-mayonnaise sauce served everywhere here.  Or they have chocolate covered ice creams, or handfuls of candy.  They run you off the sidewalk, and there’s nothing to do but flatten yourself into the wall until they pass.

The gas truck and the garbage truck each have their own song.  When you hear it, you are supposed to take your garbage out to the curb and/or bring your empty gas propane bottle out to be replaced.  The songs they play are annoying as hell, and you hear them all day long.

In the smaller towns like Montanita, the fruit trucks come by shouting, “mandarinas, mandarinas,” or “sandia, sandia”.  It’s really cool though because you just walk out from your house, give the man your money and you have your fruit for the week.

People don’t like fresh air.  If it’s 70 degrees in a bus, they will get up and shut any open window, even if it’s barely open for a little air.  I always break into a sweat on a bus on a mild day simply because the windows are closed.

My students come to school with coats on even when it’s 70 degrees.  If there’s a cloud in the sky, which there always is, they think it’s cold.  They fan themselves, sweating, while their jackets remained zipped to their neck.  I tell them, why not take off your coat?  Oh no, teacher!  they cry, shocked at the suggestion.

People here say “ya" a lot.  It sounds like, “yeah”.  If I give a speaking test, they say “ya” a few times before starting.

People in the Andes don’t wear sunglasses.  If you wear sunglasses, you are a GRINGO TOURIST.  

On Sundays everything is shut down.  You have to plan where you’re going to get food early in the day.  Many places that are open for lunch shut down at 4:00 pm.  Fast food (burger and fry) joints are always open until 4:00.  Little convenience stores are usually open so you can at least get water and chips if desperate.

OK, that's a slice of life in Ecuador.  


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