Tuesday, August 23, 2016

What we WILL Miss About Ecuador

I learned a few interesting things with the last post. The major thing I learned is that if we ever need to boost our reach, the formula is to say something mildly negative about Ecuador and let people who live in Cuenca see it. Our reach more than doubled. Thanks! If you count the people who sent private messages apologizing for the behavior of some Facebook commenters in the Ecuador expat boards, most people recognized that everything I mentioned is experienced in various parts of Ecuador. Some folks assured me that there actually are suicide showers, speed bumps, import taxes, tough beef, and even periodic power outages in Cuenca. Many acknowledged periodically feeling the earth move from earthquakes and expressed their sorrow at the misfortune experienced in April to the coastal areas that were devastated and gratitude that Cuenca was spared. We have noticed, and responses confirmed that the speed cameras seem to be posted mainly in Manbi, Santa Elena, and Guayas provinces.

From what I understand, Cuenca does have a high concentration of North American expats. Some did describe many of them as “cliquish” and “judgmental”, but my limited experience with expats living in Cuenca are that the ones I tend to interact with are good folks. There is some indication that the local municipal government may take the number of expats into consideration when deciding what services and improvements to institute in that community, accommodating the North American lifestyle since that is a large part of the current constituency (and yes, non-citizen, legal residents vote in Ecuador).

In full disclosure, we have not yet visited Cuenca. It is on our list of places we want to visit, but places we actually did visit were higher on the list. We've been close to it a few times, but it just wasn't on our plans yet. We understand there is some lovely architecture there that I would like to see. A few people who live in Cuenca have sternly requested that I not generalize our experiences to Cuenca, so as I tell you the things we WILL miss about Ecuador, be assured that these wonderful things may or may not exist in Cuenca. You'll need to ask someone who lives there.

The last post was about some things we will not miss about Ecuador. They were mainly minor inconveniences. Even the suicide shower isn't bad once you get past the initial fear of wires in the shower, and the crappy calefon we have has gotten me in the habit of wetting and rinsing under water and not wasting water while I'm soaping and lathering and dodging the water anyway, so no real big, hairy deal.

Now for some things we ARE going to miss. Some of these are minor, like Supermaxi brand orange juice. Some are going to have a significant impact on us when we return to the States. Some of them are not exclusive to Ecuador and can be found in other Latin American countries, but Ecuador is the place we experienced them the most. We plan to come back to explore the rest of South America, including the parts of Ecuador we haven't explored yet, and to visit some really great friends we have made here on the coast of Ecuador, both Ecuadorean and expat. The people are not on this list because that should go without saying, but rest assured that they are what we will miss the most. So, without further ado, here are

Ten things we ARE going to miss about Ecuador:
  • We will miss Supermaxi orange juice. Since I've already mentioned it, I'll start with it. Supermaxi is one of the major grocery store chains down here. Like Publix, Kroger, or Safeway in various parts of the US. In the deli section of the Manta store (where we usually shop) and I believe also in the Portoviejo store (where we have shopped occasionally), they have a machine that squeezes oranges. The juice runs straight from the juicing machine into bottles. You can watch the workers in the deli replacing bottles, capping them, and adding oranges to the machine. I don't know what kind of oranges they use or if they do something to the juice other than squeeze oranges into it. It is the second best orange juice I have ever had in my life. The best orange juice was found at the side of the road in rural Costa Rica. They had a little table beside a bridge. We pulled over and bought a couple of glasses to drink while driving toward La Paz. We didn't have that juice long enough to really miss it, though. We have actually scheduled grocery runs to Manta (about an hour and a half north) to coincide with when we are likely to run out of Supermaxi orange juice. I've tried juicing my own. It just wasn't as good. I love orange juice, so I will make do with the Simply Orange that we can get in Florida or I may get a good juicer and juice my own. It won't be the same, though. We will miss Supermaxi orange juice.
  • We will definitely miss the mercado. The mercado is the place to get fresh fruits, vegetables, and meat at reasonable prices, but it's so much more than that, too. When we first got here, we were enamored with the freshness of the vegetables. We had been accustomed to shopping for the week, including produce. It took a while to learn that fresh produce purchased here doesn't last that long. It's not treated to make it last longer. For most things, you need to eat it within a couple of days. You also get the vegetables the way they grow. Carrots aren't all long tapers. Peppers may have more or fewer chambers than the normal three or four. And, the vegetables tend to be larger than we got in the States. I call them Winnie-the-Pooh vegetables because they tended to be exaggerated in size and color (and taste), kind of like the ones in Rabbit's garden. Fruits, meats, and seafood are also sold in the mercado. You establish a relationship with each vendor. Learn their names and they learn yours. They get to know what types of things you want. The guy we buy pork from always lets me know when he has a nice tenderloin cut the way I'm used to it in the US. If I want one and he doesn't have it, he'll cut me one specially and save it for me the next day. If we see something we don't recognize, they'll try to explain what it is, give us a taste if practical, and try to explain how to fix it. We've eaten several new things. Some of them, I can't tell you what they are. This is a cash economy, and if one of our vendors doesn't have the correct change for us, we come close and call it close enough. Sometimes, we end up paying a few cents more; sometimes, we pay a few cents less. It works out. If they need change for another customer, they don't hesitate to ask if we can make it. If we can't, that's okay, too. When we run into each other elsewhere in town, we always stop and exchange pleasantries. In Puerto Lopez, our mercado also has a Patio de Comida (food court). You can get some really good typical Ecuadorean food there. And, as with most places that serve typical foods, it's a lot of food for very little money. We have farmers' markets and fruit and vegetable stands in the States, but they just don't compare to the mercado in Puerto Lopez. In other towns that have mercados, it seems to be very similar.

  • We have enjoyed and will miss the stable, mild weather. We will be initially going back to Florida, where a favorite saying is, “If you don't like the weather, just wait 10 minutes, and it will change.” That's not the case here, in Puerto Lopez. For the most part, the temperature hangs around the upper 70s/low 80s Fahrenheit pretty much all year. There is usually a light cloud cover, which keeps the sun from being a glare in your eyes, not like the gloomy, gray cover in most places on a cloudy day. Though we do get some rainy days, most of the rain tends to fall overnight or it will be a really heavy mist that gathers on the tree leaves and speckles on my glasses, but isn't at all uncomfortable. During the “cold” season, the wind picks up, and there are more gloomy, cloudy days. The Ecuadoreans run around in winter coats with scarves around their necks. I haven't seen a day here that wasn't perfect weather for shorts, though twice, I have decided it was too cold to swim in the ocean. In fact, the last time we went to the mountains, I quite simply forgot to pack long pants. I admit to getting a bit chilly, but walking around and being active kept me from being cold. If we want cooler weather, we just need to visit a higher elevation. Even along the coast, there are microclimates. There appears to be more rain just an hour north and south of us, and there are areas of the country where there are serious rain storms and experience flooding. I'm sure that with the first Florida rain storm, we're going to seriously miss this mild climate.
  • If we weren't both enrolled in the VA Healthcare System, we would miss the lack of a requirement of a prescription for medications even more. As it is, it will periodically impact us since we plan to continue traveling. In Ecuador, a doctor tells you what medication you need, if any, and you just go to the pharmacy and buy that medication. If you have a few minor symptoms, the pharmacist can tell you what you should use, and it's not limited to just cold or allergy remedies. A person is expected to know when they need to see a doctor and when they just need to continue what they have done before. You can walk into a lab clinic and ask to have almost any lab work run. No doctor's prescription needed, and you can pick up your results and take them to any doctor, or no doctor, at your discretion. We have established a relationship with a particular pharmacist, who makes sure we have plenty of our blood pressure, cholesterol, thyroid, and other medications. We made sure to let her know we were leaving so she won't stock so many of them anymore. When we've had colds or other symptoms, she tells me what we should use. She hasn't been wrong yet. I did see a doctor when I developed Bell's palsy. When the doctor suggested B12 shots, she had the premeasured syringes. Some other friends arranged for a nurse to come to our house to give me the shots. She came from the free clinic and refused payment. If we don't time our travels quite right, we could potentially run out of our medications on the road. It won't be as simple as pulling into the local pharmacy to pick up enough to get home. We'll need to find a doctor to write us a prescription for the medication we we already know we need. If there's not a VA in the area, it will also be very expensive.

  • We will miss low-cost labor. I know some people who will definitely disparage me over missing the low cost of living. They think the gringos who come here and take advantage of the cheap labor force or other benefits are ruthless, lazy, horrible individuals. I guess I fit that description, then, because I will certainly miss having a housekeeper that only charges $10 to clean my house once a week. When our calefon (on-demand hot water heater) completely quit working, they called in a technician from Jipijapa who spent several hours working on it. Because the landlady wasn't on site, we paid it and deducted it from the rent. Jipijapa is about 30-45 minutes away from here. Travel plus labor and parts was only $60. When I developed Bell's palsy, I saw a private doctor a couple of times. Each visit was only $15. There is no way we won't miss the low cost of labor.
  • The amazing nature here will be sorely missed, except Bruce won't miss driving in the cloud forests. I could have used this to make several “Ten Things” list by itself, but I chose to consolidate it into just one. Strolling along the beach, we have encountered more varieties of sand dollars, star fish, and other animals than we knew existed. And, that's just on the beach here, in Puerto Lopez. It doesn't include the neat critters we found in the tide pools on the secluded beaches in Los Frailes. The vet for the Parque de Machalilla has his primary office here, and you can visit the animals that are being rehabilitated. He also helps people out with problems with their pets and periodically does some spay and neuter of the stray dog and cat population. The variety of birds that are here is amazing, even if we never ventured out of the courtyard of our apartment. We also have some tortoises and iguanas living here, roaming the courtyard. When we venture out, there is another rehabilitation center in Valdivia (about an hour south), and on the way to Manta is a refuge for mantled howler monkeys. We are always watching for monkeys when we go to Manta for that Supermaxi orange juice. We take a cooler with us so we don't have to worry about anything going bad if they're in the trees close to the road and we stop to watch them play. And that is just the wildlife we encounter on a daily basis, in our little piece of coastal Ecuador. Venturing out, we have seen tapir, llamas and alpacas (which are actually livestock), Andean bears, Andean condors, toucans, capybaras, and so many others. During our four days in the Amazon basin, we saw five different species of monkeys alone, and you simply can't see them all in such a short period of time when you are observing them in their natural habitats. Yes, we will see more and different flora and fauna in the US, but we will very much miss having such a variety so close at hand.
 Baby playing in a tree along the side of the road on the Ruta del Sol south of Manta
Adult howler monkey who came to the road to get help on the Ruta del Sol south of Manta
  • The ability to improvise without fear of running amiss of governmental regulations is something I have missed for several years until I came to Ecuador. When we leave, I will miss it again. Back when I was younger, I bought a patio set with a large, round table and four wrought-iron chairs. I brought this furniture home in a two-door, hatch-back Dodge Charger in one load. This Charger was not a big car. I laid a blanket on the top of the car and laid the table, top down, on that blanket. I tied it on with a rope through the windows. The chairs were in the hatch, which remained open for the drive home while the chairs were hanging out. In most places in the US, there are now regulations against that, and the ticket for something like operating an unsafe vehicle would be more than the cost of paying for delivery. I've missed being able to just figure out how to do stuff instead of having pay someone to do those things for me. In Ecuador, those regulations haven't caught up – yet. We regularly see trucks and cars with rebar hanging out, dragging behind the vehicle. We see 2x4s and other large items being transported on motorcycles. We even once saw a truck frame being driven down the road with another truck frame stacked on top of it. There are taxis that increase the number of people they can carry in each trip by letting people ride in the bed of the pickup truck. I understand that some of the more “civilized” portions of the country are instituting some of those “safety” regulations, such as issuing tickets for having passengers in the bed of a pickup truck. Yup. We will definitely miss the lack of regulation when we get back to the States. Hopefully, we won't continue to miss it when we return.

  • I don't do a lot of dishwashing these days, but when we came down here, we were introduced to this amazing solid dishwashing soap. It cuts grease in cold water. I kid you not! Why this stuff isn't in the US, I will never understand. It's never been easier to get dishes squeaky clean than with this stuff. We're taking some of this back with us, but once we run out, we will definitely miss it!

  • Even living in Florida, and if we end up by the coast again, we will miss fresh seafood. Think about those regulations. You simply cannot go to the pier or beach and buy the fresh catch as it's brought in from the sea anymore. You have to either catch it yourself or buy it from a processing vendor, not the fisherman. Here, we can walk down to the beach (Early morning is the best.) and pick out what we want from the catch while it's coming in. There is usually some good dorado (or mahi-mahi) in the catch as well as other varieties of fish, eel, octopus, squid, and more. They'll filet it right there. There are also tables and grills, and they will cook your catch right there for you if you want it for breakfast. Or you can wait until they get it up to the mercado. The price is a little higher in the mercado, and the shrimp are sorted by size. Or you can just wait until some of the mobile vendors drive or bicycle past your house, calling out what they are selling. A short trip south to the neighboring village of Solango brings us to the lobster fishermen. In a little shack on the beach at the south end of town, you can buy lobster that is freshly pulled from the sea along with eels octopus, and squid. They don't sell fish there, though. The fish processing plant is just a little further down the beach. Heading north, we find queen crab, the warm water cousin of the Alaskan king crab, and just as tasty. When we've gone inland, to the Sierra or the orient, the trout is also very good. Since we've only ventured there to visit, I'm not sure if they buy it as fresh as the comidors here get it, but it sure is tasty. We will definitely miss the very fresh seafood we have gotten used to here in Ecuador.

  • Because we're looking at housing costs in the States currently, we know we will be missing the low rent costs in Ecuador. We are currently in an Ecuadorean house in an apartment complex with 3 buildings (our house, the apartment building, and the caretaker's house), a courtyard, and a new swimming pool. Ours is a brick and concrete house, two stories with a rooftop terrace. It is a 3 bedroom, 3-1/2 bath home, but we only use one bedroom. The landlady has things stored in the other two. It is fully furnished, including bed sheets and dishes, has air conditioning (the equivalent of window air), and all utilities except gas. We pay $1.75 to refill a 15-gallon propane tank. We pay $350 per month for the rent. You can get cheaper rent, but you can also get more expensive rent. We looked at some that were much more expensive, too. Many of the more expensive ones are laid out and decorated more along North American styles, and they may have tank-style water heaters or more expensive calefones. Some even had generators for when the electricity goes out. But, we just weren't interested in paying $1000 or more per month for what we consider limited benefit. We can and often do walk to the beach, and I can easily spend hours just enjoying the flora and fauna in the courtyard. Even if we just get a little trailer in a snowbird park, we are likely going to be paying significantly more than that when we return to the States, and I certainly won't expect to periodically see an iguana climbing up the tree out our front window. We'll miss the cheap rent every month.
The house we rent currently in Puerto Lopez, Ecuador

Ecuador is a developing country. That doesn't mean it has nothing and is hard-scrabble. Ecuador reminds me of the US back in the 1970s. People went to work and came home to their families. Yes, there are cars in Ecuador (Somebody in the states actually asked me that!), as well as computers, cameras, internet, and a variety of other necessities. Even though the US was mostly right-to-work, there was a certain amount of stability in employment and a certain amount of community in the places you lived. You did the best you could, and your neighbor would help out if you needed, and vice versa. Down here, today, a friend of our is going to a neighboring village to help a friend of his build a house. Yes, you can still build your own home here, using your own labor if you want and are capable. Public services weren't always available. In my home town when I was growing up, there were lots of folks who would have loved to have the water running in their homes, let alone a suicide shower head or a crappy calefon. These were average people. They just happened to not have water lines run to their homes yet. It's been a nice time that has sometimes felt like a time warp. Back then, we never thought we would have these electronic conveniences anywhere in the world, though. The internet has been good enough here that our online businesses are thriving. When the electricity goes out, that's just another excuse to stop working and go to the beach or someplace to see some critters. We are truly going to miss Ecuador, but we are going to enjoy our adventures and travels around North America, and once the business we need to be in the States for is completed (who knows when!), we will be coming back down to finish that drive around South America, with plans for some extended time in Ecuador visiting friends. Plans are to continue visiting Ecuador many times and for many years, even while also visiting other continents. Ecuador will always hold a piece of our hearts.

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