For those of you who weren't aware, we are leaving Ecuador next month. We were planning to travel around South America before returning to the United States, but those plans will have to be delayed. For reasons beyond our control, we need to return to the US now. We will be back to visit and to take that drive around South America, but in the meantime, we'll explore parts of North America that we haven't explored before or want to explore more fully. We're definitely looking forward to traveling around North America and being back where our first language is spoken, but we love Ecuador and will miss a lot of things about it. It goes without saying that we will miss the friends we have made down here. That's especially true of two little girls who helped me learn Spanish and check in on us almost daily. We're sure the candy we give them doesn't have anything to do with their visits! (Anybody want to buy some oceanfront property in Arizona?) It's also especially true of the parents of those girls. They have helped us so much since we've been here, and we have developed a real friendship with them. We have exchanged cooking techniques and recipes for various Ecuadorean and US dishes.
With all of that, we have made lists of the ten things we are and are not going to miss when we return to the US. Since I always like to end on a positive not, let's start with the things we are NOT going to miss. Here, in no particular order are:
Ten things we are NOT going to miss about Ecuador
- We are not going to miss electrical power outages. In Ecuador, power lines and transformers appear to be overloaded. Because of that, power goes out frequently for various lengths of time. With the construction of the new malecon, here, in Puerto Lopez, the authorities are burying many of the power lines. The power has gone out at least a few times each month between the two things. We were eating dinner at a friend's restaurant the other day, and we didn't even notice that the power went out until a guest came up to our friend and complained about having no electricity. Our friend's response, without missing a beat, was, “Welcome to Ecuador!” The water pump for our complex is electric, so when we don't have electricity, we also don't have water. If they cut the power because of construction, it's usually out all day. In that case, we have to pull water from the cistern with buckets if we want to flush the toilet. Nope. We definitely won't miss the power outages down here.
- We are not going to miss the speed bumps/dips/ropes. We will especially not miss the speed bumps that are so big the undercarriage of our little car scrapes when going over them. Sometimes, they have little ditches on either side of them to make them even harsher. Then, there are the ones that are have a more triangular shape instead of a rounded top, like the new one they just installed in front of the Transito office in Puerto Cayo. They even recently put speed bumps on the dirt road that goes beside our apartment. As they get worn down by traffic, the city comes back and builds them back up. I seriously would not be surprised if our little car got stuck on them one day when they're freshly rebuilt. I picture in my mind our little Spark balancing on top of the speed bump, rocking back and forth like a seesaw with the tires unable to touch the ground enough to get traction.
- Speaking of speeding, we are not going to miss the speed cameras along the road. These are solar-powered road signs that display your speed on the sign and have a camera on the back that takes a picture of your tags as you drive past. A white light at the top of the display flashes to warn you of your impending ticket. These cameras aren't necessarily properly calibrated, and the radar on the camera isn't always synchronized with the radar on the display. Some people have reported a discrepancy up to 10 km per hour between these cameras. When a ticket is processed on your vehicle, the ANT is supposed to send the car's owner an email. You have 10 days to pay or dispute the fine. From what I understand, you have to prove that the particular camera that registered your speed was faulty. I've not had the pleasure of disputing one, though. We did have two speeding tickets on our car at one time. We never received notification of them and just found them when checking the cost of renewing our registration. There were some other issues and we didn't get our registration renewed on time. We were late enough that we had to pay for two years' renewal at a time. By the time we were able to renew our registration, the tickets had disappeared, though. I have no clue how or why that happened, but I certainly didn't call it to anyone's attention.
- We will certainly not miss drunk karaoke. I have determined that the only difference between karaoke in the US and karaoke here is insulation. And what a huge difference that is! Every Saturday night and into Sunday morning, competing salsa beats reverberate throughout town. When it's just music, I'm good with that. Rarely, but sometimes, the music that travels in through our windows is recognized as Top 40 type music in English. I enjoy a lot of the Latin music, and I'm able to understand more and more of it. Average Ecuadoreans don't sing any better than average North Americans, though. And, when they're drunk, they're even worse. Without insulation, the decible level is way too high to try to get any sleep. We've grown accustomed to it, but we certainly won't miss it.
- We will not miss slow internet. When we left the US, we had internet pushing download speeds of 50 Mbps. Here, we pay for relatively fast speeds of 3 Mbps. Since neither of us are gamers, 3 Mbps is really all we need, but on busy internet times, we are luck to get 2. When we don't get our solid 3 Mbps, we have difficulty watching videos that pop up on Facebook or Youtube videos. Netflix has to reload multiple times, and trying to use our Chromecast to cast streaming video onto the television is nearly impossible. While this usually isn't a terribly big deal, it chugs frequently enough that we will be happy to return to high-speed internet.
- We will definitely not miss earthquakes and aftershocks. When we first got to Ecuador, all the expats (including us) made flip remarks about “rocking and rolling” and “bumping and grinding” when small quakes struck. This April changed all of that. The 7.8 earthquake caused major damage not far from us and freaked many of us out. In Puerto Lopez, there was only minor damage – some older buildings fell, 80 families misplaced, fewer than 10 injuries, and no fatalities. About an hour and a half north of here, the Tarqui neighborhood of Manta was one of the hardest hit areas in the country. There were multiple aftershocks a day, some over a 6 magnitude. Since the April quake, Bruce and I have not felt a rumble that didn't result in us exchanging “deer in the headlight” looks and heading for the door. There has been a lull in the activity for the last few weeks, and I understand the Geofisica has determined that any future movements will not be classified as aftershocks of the April earthquake. I'm hoping that once we get back to the US, we will no longer jump and run when a big truck drives by causing the ground to shake.
- We will not miss taking cold, lukewarm, or variable temperature showers. Water-tank style hot water heaters are rare in Ecuador. The two most common methods of heating water for showers are electric shower heads (affectionately termed “suicide showers”) and calefones (an on-demand water heating system. Neither of these options necessarily provide temperatures that remain stable throughout a short shower. My preference, believe it or not, is the suicide shower. A calefon is outside your shower, powered by gas or electricity. When you turn your shower on, it comes on and heats your water. It turns off when you finish your shower. You have to have the hot water nozzle turned high enough to trigger the heater. On ours, that means all or nothing. And, it heats the water to scalding temperatures. I like a hot shower, but this is ridiculous. Once it gets going, we cannot get enough cold water running through the pipe to make the water safe to be under. When you turn the hot water down to keep from scalding yourself, the calefon thinks it's done, and stops heating the water. I'm constantly turning the water on and off to be able to take a reasonably-temperate shower. I'm sure there are better quality calefones out there, but we don't have it. With the suicide shower, there are usually three settings: off, half, and full. If it's off, obviously, the water is all cold. If it's half, the water is warm (as determined by the shower head, which isn't bad). If it's full, the water is hot (again, as determined by the shower head). The water temperature stays fairly consistent, but it does go up and down as the little reservoir fills and empties. The trick to using a suicide shower is making sure you don't touch it while wet. See, it is an electrical appliance that attaches to the water pipe. There are wires coming out of it, and we all know (or I hope we all know) that water and electricity don't mix well. If you raise your arm up and accidentally touch the shower head, you WILL get a jolt out of life! It's not bad, but not something I want to experience frequently. Yup. Definitely looking forward to a nice, warm-to-hot shower with no shocking experiences.
- We will not miss the ridiculous import taxes Ecuador imposes. Don't get me wrong. I understand protectionism and other underlying purposes for taxes, including generation of income for the government, but there is no rhyme or reason with some of these. Take the import tax on electronics. Electronics in Ecuador are about twice the cost in the states (and about 60% higher than the cost in neighboring Colombia) because of the import taxes. The problem with that is that electronics are not manufactured in Ecuador, so there is no electronic industry to protect. The same thing with vehicle tires. It's my understanding there is only one tire manufacturer in Ecuador, and they do not make all sizes of tires. On holiday weekends, there is a mass exodus of Ecuadoreans heading across the border to Colombia to buy televisions, computers, tires, etc. They take their purchases out of the boxes in the parking lot of the stores. At the border in Rumichaca, returning Ecuadoreans try to convince customs officers that the items are not new in order to avoid the import taxes. If Ecuador wants to improve the education of her citizens, taxing computers and other electronics out of the reach of most citizens is rather counterproductive. While I can much more understand it, I will not miss paying extra for imported foods, when they are available at all. Yes, this picture shows $2.18 for ONE can of Campbell's tomato soup ON SALE at 25% off! Walmart online shows the 4-pack for $3.42. But the ingredients to make your own tomato soup are easily and cheaply available here, and it's much healthier.
- We will not miss the toughest beef ever! Mind you, if you can chew it, it is very tasty! We have tried everything to tenderize this, from wrapping it in papaya to beating it until it's paper thin. We even brought loads of meat tenderizer down with us. After poking holes all over the beef with a fork, rubbing the contents of an entire small bottle around the meat, then pushing the tenderizer into the meat with the fork - even after sitting that way for a while before cooking, the beef was too tough to chew without causing jaw fatigue. Again, it's some of the best tasting beef I've had, but it's so hard to chew, we've started bypassing beef unless it's ground or being used in a soup or something so I can boil it into tenderness. I'm sure we'll hit sticker shock, but I'm looking forward to a nice, thick, tender steak when we get back to the States.
- We will not miss Ecuadorean-sized furniture. We are not particularly tall people. I come in at just under 5'3”. We tower over the Ecuadorean's though. And, the furniture reflects it! I'm currently sitting in my soft chair (matching the couch). If I sit up and put my feet flat on the floor, my knees are above my seat! I feel like I'm sitting in a child's chair. When laying down on the couch, my feet stick out. And, while I don't hang over the mattress, I'm convinced I'm closer to using the entire length of it than I have been before. (Also, shower heads are mounted with the anticipation that short people will be using them, so dodging that suicide shower was more difficult than one may think!) I have bad knees and bad hips. Getting up from these small chairs is difficult. BUT, for some reason, stairs and curbs tend to be higher than expected. Many steps were made for those extremely tall people from Scandanavia, and I feel like I have to bring my knees to my chest to climb some of them. Anyway, it will be nice to return to the place where I am of average height, and things are constructed for people of average height.
Blue and I watching parrot videos on Youtube. I'm slumped down so he can see better.
Yeah, some of these are pretty petty, but there's really so much here to love! The next post will be of ten things we WILL miss. I think that one will be much easier to write.