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….