Here’s a few things that we’ve found that took some getting used to…
Public transportation and cobblestone roads.…Since we’ve always owned vehicles and driven everywhere we wanted to go, it’s taken some time to get used to taxis and buses. We have a 20 minute walk to town, or a taxi from our house to town is $1.50. A bus ride to Otavalo is 25 cents and Ibarra 45 cents. When we first got here, I was so tired of walking, that I actually flagged down an indigenous family driving a truck, and rode home on the back with some goats! If only my friends could see me now…!! The children laughed and laughed at the gringa – you really need a good sense of humor sometimes. All the roads are dirt and/or cobblestone and/or concrete pavers except the one main highway which is called the Pan-Am.
Getting Mail...you do not get mail or packages delivered to your home. If you want to receive mail from the U.S., then your only option is to rent a p.o. box in town for $25 – $45 a year. It costs $1 to receive a letter and $1 to send a letter to the U.S.. We were told it would take about 7-10 days to receive mail, but so far, it’s taken us a month since our friends sent a letter, and we still have not received it. You may also go check on your mailbox and the post office is closed “unexpectedly” for up to 3 hours. Also, there is a huge possibility that your letters going and coming will be opened.
If you want to send a package back home, then your options are DHL which is 1 hour away, and Fed Ex is in Quito (2 hrs one way). We still have not figured out how to receive a package, but once we do, I may have to call for some care packages!
Pirated Movies…the only movie in English is one night a week in Otavalo – sometimes a group gets together for “movie night” and dinner. Most of the time, for entertainment, we just buy movies for $1 that are pirated and we swap them around. Some of the ones we’ve gotten recently are “True Grit”, “It’s Complicated”, “The King’s Speech”, “The Fighter”, and almost everything Harrison Ford every did! It’s really funny what the Ecuadorians think that the Gringos want to see. Of course, being pirated, you’re taking your chances on the quality of the film…you can tell that some were actually filmed in the theatre and you can hear people laughing, talking, etc.. We’ve come across a few that are only in Russian or another language we haven’t idenitfied! Don’t know what was going on there…and we’ve gotten some that are only in Spanish, so we gave them to a local friend. But hey, for $1.00, you really can’t complain!
Watching where you walk…is a must. We have to be very careful when walking down the sidewalk because at any moment we could trip over a piece of exposed metal re-bar, or step into a very large open hole. We have a friend who tripped one night leaving a restaurant and wound up having surgery on one knee and an elbow. Now, if I’m going to look away from the path in front of me I stop and then look. And although the sidewalks in Cotacachi are kept very clean – swept & mopped in front of all the merchants every-day, you also have to watch for animal poop in the streets or on the sidewalk. We make sure we check our shoes before walking into the house!
Not taking turns.…the concept of lining up is very different here; people just don’t do it much. Whether you’re in line to pay your water bill, or hailing a taxi, locals tend to “butt in” as we would say back home. If you are not standing super close to the person in front of you, someone will slip in there and act like it’s completely normal and okay, probably because here, it is.
Babies in “slings”…. The first time I saw this, it took me a minute to realize what I was seeing….a little face peeking out! Most mothers here “sling” their babies over their backs with a blankets or sheet. With a little change in the fold of the blanket the baby goes from sitting up peeking over the mother’s shoulder, to lying down for a cozy nap with their “blankie”.
Dogs are everywhere...has really taken some getting used to. There are a lot of dogs roaming the streets where we live. At first we thought they were stray dogs just fending for themselves, but they are actually pets. The owners take them in at night, and let them roam around during the day. Only a few look under-nourished or problematic…we have some friends who have started a foundation to help the animals that need food or vet care.
Seatbelts…or rather NO seatbelts! It’s rare to find a taxi that has these…and of course, there are none on the buses. The driving here is like training for the Indy 500 – usually 4 vehicles in a 2 lane road, and whoever “honks” has the right of way! It’s funny how you can used to this…but as of yet, we’ve seen no accidents, even though we know they happen on occasion. Also, if vehicles are in an accident here, everyone gets “locked up” (including the passengers) until the decision has been made as to who’s at fault! In Quito, there are different types of car tags, and according to the type that you have on your vehicle, there are certain times you cannot drive in town. If this law is violated, they will simply compound your vehicle and fine you. We’ve also just been told that you MUST acquire an Ecuadorian driver’s license – you can only drive on your US license for about 3 months after you first arrive. International licenses are no longer recognized.
Money in the market place…Usually store owners don’t have change for anything over a $10 bill. You have to make sure you carry lots of $1 and $5’s and coins. Twenty dollar bills will be held up to the light, and marked with a pen to make sure they’re not counterfeit. Many times if you hand over a $20 a small store owner will need to run next door to get change and then the change you get back is in actually all coins. The US coins are used here, as well as Ecuadorian coins which are the same size and value. As of right now, the US dollar is the currency, but I understand they are going back to using the Sucre instead of the dollar.
Buying food at at open market…Sunday is “fresh market day” here, the best day to buy your vegetables, fruit, eggs, and flowers for the week. Of course, they are open every day. You buy this poly-bag for one dollar and use it every week to take your food home. Since the food has just been picked, you have to take it home and wash it, then soak it in Kilol or vinegar to make sure it’s suitable for cooking. Some examples of prices:
Avocadoes – 4 for $1.00 / Potatoes 5 cents / Lettuce 20 cents / Bell Peppers 6 for $1.00
Loud music… all time of day or night…generally loud Latino music repeated over and over for about 2 days straight. Sometimes one louder than the one before. No one to complain to because not even the locals complain. It’s usually due to a wedding or some type of celebration, but then again, it may be a divorced guy who’s drunk on tequila and feeling sad. Of course, in a couple of days, you’ll see them passed out beside the road on the way to town- everyone just ignores them! Brings back memories of spring break in Florida….
- Quite a few of our friends have asked us about living expenses in Ecuador. Here is a realistic picture based on our personal experience…
- We pay $600 a month rent for a furnished adobe house: 3 bedrooms, 3 1/2 baths, living room & dining room combo, big kitchen, covered porch and terrace. The flooring is tile and hardwood, and there are 2 fireplaces; no air-conditioning as you don’t need it. We looked at several houses to rent, and they usually ran from about $500 to $800 a month, with utilities/ landscaper included.
- Rent: in town, a 2 bedroom apartment/condo usually runs from $300 to $500 month and includes utilities.
- Electric bill averages $17 – $23 per month.
- Propane gas averages 3 tanks per month @ $2.50 per tank
- Water is usually $2 – $5 per month
- Internet is $35 per month (average speed- downloads are slow)
- Direct TV is $45 per month
- Cell phone: $50 for a phone / and we buy $20 worth of minutes to call taxis or confirm appts. (25 cents per minute)
- Skype: free skype to skype and we pay $19.95/month for Skype to use as telephone for the family/friends back home who don’t have skype. (We use email or Skype a lot for local friends!)
- Food: $50-$70 a week at Super Maxi or the local Mercado
- Fresh vegetables/fruit: $ 20 will buy all you need for one week for 2 people
- Two dozen roses $2.50 ( will last 2 weeks and they smell wonderful!)
- Dining out: meals are usually $3.50 to $10.00 each person (excluding alcohol)
- Alcohol: Beer 80 cents to $2 each / wine is $3 to $15 per bottle
- Landscaper: $20 twice a month (lawn cut & trimmed & walks swept)
- Maid Service: $3 per hour x 5 hours ($15)
- Taxis one-way/ to village $1.50 / to Otavalo $5.00 /to Ibarra $12.00 (one or more)
- Bus one-way / to Otavalo 25 cents/ to Ibarra 45 cents / Quito $2 (per person)
- Haircut: from $3 to $5 (local) Quito Hair salon/ color & cut $50-$70
- Gym: $20 per person for 1 month
- Facial: $15
- Massage: 1 hour $20
- We have budgeted $1500 a month for living expenses which includes the above items, plus Kelly’s visits to the doctor are $65 each.
- If you want to explore the area and add activities, then of course, you’ll spend some money there, and we’ll do more blog posts on these adventures.
- We haven’t bought any clothing here, and not used the dental service except for a one time emergency which cost us $20. We have some friends who have shared their medical/dental experience on their blog; we also have friends in Destin, FL who fly here for their dental work! We’re currently looking into the costs of medical and dental insurance while we’re here.
- We’ll also do another blog post on the cost of purchasing real estate and one getting your cedula. Let me know if you’re interested in those subjects.
It’s been raining for a week here, and we were getting cabin-fever, so yesterday, when I asked Kelly for suggestions on what to do, he suggested we hike around Laguna de Cuicocha. Cuicocha is a 2 mile wide caldera and crater lake at the foot of the Cotacachi Volcano. It’s name comes from the Kichwa indigenous language and means “Lake of the Guinea Pig”.
He said, (and I should have stopped to really listen), “it’s only a 4 hour hike and pretty level all the way ’round- you can do it”…I didn’t stop to think that we were going to be up in the mountains around it- not at the bottom where the boats are…
I can’t believe that for the first time in a week, the sun peeks out, but we leave both raincoats in the closet. Armed with no hat and only a Coke and a Snicker in my little bag, off we go! Kel does have one bottle of water in his pocket! Our plan was to hike the 4 hr trail, then meet our ride at La Mirador, the restaurant that overlooks the lake and the two islands. ( The islands are in the center of the lake, and off-limits to visitors..it’s inhabited by guinea pigs). You can take a boat around the lake for a tour, but are no longer allowed to visit the islands themselves).
We got started just fine, and I was excited about taking some really awesome pics…after about an hour, it dawned on me that I had at least 3 hours more to go! Not being mentally or physically prepared for this little adventure, the elevation was taking it’s toll- I felt like I couldn’t breathe! My husband, on the other hand, is “shake it off” and “just take your time”,…the typical Ranger response I have come to expect from him.
We went a little slower that he would have liked, but I tried to keep up, stopping quite often to BREATHE! The trail seems to have been made by skinny goats; very narrow, very wet from the week’s rain, and looking straight down the side of cliffs….if it hadn’t been for animal dung on the trail, I wouldn’t think it had been occupied at all. The views of course were spectacular, but I seemed to be watching my feet and the trail more so than looking at the gorgeous scenery (you can tell when I stopped taking the pics)!
Up and down, up and more up, winding around…at times, crevices, mud or sandy with rocks, it kept going….while I was calling on the name of my precious Jesus to just help me breathe and walk, my beloved husband is bounding around like he just discovered a whole new mystical and secluded continent! I’ve also developed a personal entourage of tiny flies that bite like mosquitoes…and wouldn’t you know it, I had on short sleeves. I am definitely the poster girl of what not to do on a mountain hike!
About an hour and half into the hike, we spotted two majestic condors, but also noticed the clouds rolling in…and twenty minutes later, here comes the ICE COLD RAIN WITH HAIL! We had no excuse but we were caught totally unprepared for this, and there was no where to hide…we had already passed the couple of observation points at the top…there were no trees either…we had to keep sloshing thru the mud, rain and hail – no choice but to keep going forward. While all this was happening, my yoga pants (yep, didn’t even wear jeans) were soaking up rain and stretching in length…my shoes came untied, glasses fogged, then I twisted my knee. When the hail and rain finally stopped, I sat down in some grass and mud to BREATHE and squeeze water out of my clothing….I looked up and Kelly had run into some young girls on the trail and was talking and laughing with them…(they were fully dressed for the weather) from Sweden. Can you believe one was actually skipping?? I mean, come on…I looked & felt my worst, and 3 contestants that could be on Top Model just happen to be on the same mountain trail? In front of my husband….?? I think he actually giggled…he denied it, of course!
Anyway, I’m limping now, ( my right knee feels the size of a basketball ) just trying to finish the hike and get to the park station. Kelly is now having to help me walk down the last 1/2 mile, and wanted to take our picture at the end of the hike, but between the sign language and the threat of bodily harm, he knew better!
We finally made it up to La Mirador, (walking in the rain again) and the driver we’d paid to pick us up wasn’t there (he must not have understand our Spanish), so we had no way home. Even though we were both soaked and freezing, we ordered a meal and a taxi. When our food came to the table, we looked up and of course, here comes the sun! All’s well that end’s well…home to a hot shower, dry socks, sweaters and ice on the knee for me! I told Kel the next time I wanted pics from that high up, I’d hire a helicopter!
We spent a (rainy) Saturday with our new friends from Virginia, Dave Causey & Miriam Weaver, exploring the town of San Antonio which is known for it’s furniture and carvings. We were honored to meet several master craftsman in action. My favorite sculpture in the town gallery is the one with the couple and the heart in the middle…I would love to commission a smaller one for us to keep!
Carvings range from saints, cherubs and crucifixes to animals, masks, Aztec and Incan influenced pieces, abstract sculptures, and cost anywhere from $1.00 to a few hundred dollars. The main plaza is surrounded by the largest stores, with lots of small galleries and shops along the backstreets. Near the main plaza is the Taller Escuela Escultural y Tallano ( a carving workshop and school).
Most of the furniture fit two categories: the King of Spain marries the Queen of England or Mod Squad. You can order custom furniture which is good thing!
We took a taxi to Ibarra for a lunch of beef steak, fries, salad and helado (ice cream) and a visit to SuperMaxi for hard to find items like peanut butter, stevia and shrimp. After our 45 cent bus ride back into Cotacachi, I noticed a family near the terminal playing instruments while the children danced. A nice way to finish the day!
As we drove up, we saw children coming from the school that is on site here, and we walked down a cobblestone path to get to the waterfall. Along the way, Rodrigo pointed out a tree that was carved with initials of lovers. He told us that although Catholicism was the main religion in Ecuador, indigenous people also had their own beliefs, and a lot of the time, religious teachings were mixed with pagan beliefs. One of these is that BIG trees are filled with a spirit, and if lovers carve their initials in the tree while courting, that the gods will protect them. Also, there is a tree called La Lechero, the living tree, and before you are married, you carve your initials in this tree for longevity and passion in the marriage.
The waterfall itself is magnificent, and the tingling cool spray is so refreshing. There is a higher lookout point that gets you closer to the waterfall, and so of course, up we go! I can always tell the difference in the elevation, but it doesn’t seem to bother Kelly much! (This is a place where you’d like to just spend a lot of time). The rushing is thunderous, and we both felt energized for our walk back.
Like many other Andean communities, the Peguche community celebrates “Inti Raymi”, or sun festival. Inti Raymi is the biggest and most famous Andean Ritual. It begins on June 24 when thousands of people visit the sacred places to take the “Baño Sagrado” or sacred bath as part of a purification ceremony and many come to the Peguche waterfall – they are also filled with energy for the coming seasons.
They also celebrate “Paucar Raymi” each spring. Paucar Raymi is a time to honor the fertility of the land, and give thanks to “Taita Inti” or Father Sun for giving us the light of life and to “Quilla Mama” or Mother Moon, for protecting our dreams.
We ended our day at Lake Cuicocha (the volcanic lake) at the foot of Imbabura, where you can take a tour by boat around the islands. A fabulous meal at the lake restaurant, and we were ready to call it a day! (The meal: roast pork, potato cakes, fried and boiled corn, avocado, cheese, and fried plantains).
Today we were fortunate to meet Rodrigo Flores, a native of Ecuador who speaks almost perfect English and he took us to meet some of the local weavers. Please take a look at his website if you want to learn more about the culture in Ecuador. Rodrigo has been to the U.S. for education in leadership and computer skills, and his brother owns a store in mall in North Carolina. Rodrigo is an enterprising man who very concerned about losing the local customs and traditions in his native country, and is educating the younger generation about the value of their history. He is an entrepreneur who is a travel guide, and is in the process of setting up campsites near Lake Cuiocha. He is also a great storyteller!
Our first stop was a village called Huayco Pungo, which means “canyon door”. Here we met 75 yr old Jose Manuel, who has been weaving reeds that he gets from around the volcanic lake into mats and fans. It was an extremely humbling experience to meet Jose and see where he lives. He was very gracious and showed us how he dried the reeds, and then pounded them with a smooth stone as he wove. It takes him about 2 hours to create a 3 x 5 mat, which he sells for $3.00 at the market. Most of the older indigenous people still use the mats as a mattress. He allowed me to take some photos of his home, including the occupants – 5 guinea pigs (which we think he keeps for food!) Note: If you ever hear me complaining about ANYTHING, remind me to look at some of these photos.
Our next stop was the tiny village of La Compania, where we met a family who specializes in weaving belts and scarves. Maria (who is the grandmother) and her husband Carlos, seem to have a friendly on-going competition to see who finishes their product first! They keep the two granddaughters during the day…it seems that we interrupted “homework time”. After buying several beautiful scarves that feel like silk (they are made from alpaca wool)…I still couldn’t resist the sales technique of a 4 yr old entrepreneur! She informed me in no uncertain terms that the dolls were worth $2 each because she helped to make their hat…I bought two dolls from her just because she was so adorable! Here, even the small children understand the significance of a visitor – it may mean money added to the family coffers.
Each village now has it’s own school- ages 6 to 12, but as early as 3 yrs old, the children begin learning their family’s trade- whether it’s farming, weaving, carving, or as a musician.
We also learned that the gold colored beads worn in abundance by the indigenous villagers, are a symbol dating back to before they were conquered by the Spanish. In that time, the beads actually were real GOLD, and represented a bountiful harvest.
Along the way, some common sites are to see families washing their clothes in the water that comes off the mountains, and animals that seem to just be wandering around on their own. Many houses will have mats out front with beans and corn drying in the sun.
The small community of Iluma is known for hat making and it’s many shamans (healers). You will see a sign above several doors that say De Yachacs de Iluman (the people that know). Healing is another one of the traditions that is handed down from generation to generation …they use native plants, parts of animals, a blend of the two, make their own medicine and poltices- much like Native American history in the States.
For example, one treatment we’ve heard about is to take tadpoles and let the tail part flicker into an eye that is filled with blood. Somehow this clears the blood out of the eye. (Remind me not to overwear my contacts while I’m here!)
We were privileged to meet Ana who gave us a short lesson in her craft of hat-making. She has wooden “heads” (more like a bowl shaped piece of wood marked with sizes), then using the form, she molds her material (leather or straw) and irons the brim with an old fashioned iron that is heated by a fire. Once she gets the shape she wants, she adds details. ( We took some videos today, but they’re not formatted yet!)
Peguche (named for the nearby waterfalls) is home to Luis de Carlo Togada and his lovely wife Maria Anna Conseulos Togado (76 and 74 yrs old), who shared with us the art of making blankets, shawls and wall coverings made from sheep’s wool. They were a fun and lively couple, and their work area was spotless.
We ended the day with a visit to awesome Cascade de Peguche and the volcanic lake… Stay tuned!