07.03.2013 63 °F
1. Don't forget to throw the toilet paper into the trash can not the toilet.
Even though I practiced this during the years I lived in Mexico and during my many travels to other parts of the world, I still catch myself forgetting occasionally. Most the world has either no functioning plumbing or poorly functioning plumbing. Americans have become very casual about their water system. We flush down things never meant to be flushed, use a garbage disposal to grind up leftover food (rat milkshakes!) and general use our water for much more than drinking and washing over-confident that our large water purification systems will take care of everything.
2. Get a grip on the value of your money.
Ecuador was 'dollarized' in 2000 in an attempt to stabilize their economy. They use American dollars. The coins are a mix of American and Ecuadoran coins. All the $2 bills and $1 coins that Americans have rejected are beloved here. However, what a dollar buys in Ecuador versus the States accents the differences between the salaries and costs of living. The first time I came to Ecuador was around 2001, right after the change. The Andean women had already psychoanalyzed the average tourist. Almost everything they sold was packaged to be just one dollar whether it was bag of local fruit, a woven scarf or a hand-knitted woolen hat. Tourists would buy almost anything at that price. After all, it was just a dollar. I suspect many of those tourists greatly overspent their vacation budgets because everything was so cheap. Yet a dollar was lot of many to the average Ecuadoran. It was a successful sales tactic on the part of those women.
3. Eat like an Ecuadoran rather than a tourist.
I have been eating the restaurant meals referred to as almuerzo, the equivalent of our menu of the day. It usually includes a big bowl of soup, rice, beans, some sort of meat/fish and a fresh fruit drink. Sometimes there is a choice of soup or a choice of a few main dishes. Occasionally, there is even a small dessert which is most often fruit. Almuerzos usually cost $1.75 to $3. The average has been around $2 though my lunch at a market in Loja today was only 50 cents.
When I arrived in Cuenca, it was late on a Sunday so I anticipated that there would not be much open. I did a few rounds and finally ended up at one of only three places I had found open. Everyone there was a tourist or an ex-pat living in Cuenca. There was a private guard watching over the patio tables and two groups of policeman making a total of 6 guards. As anticipated, the menu was Americanized. What I had not anticipated were the prices. I had one of the cheapest items on the menu, a sanduche de pollo (chicken sandwich) and small bottle of natural water. To pay the bill, I actually had to dig around in my money belt. The most I usually carry in my pocket is about six dollars (enough for breakfast, lunch and a museum) and my bill was nine dollars. This type of restaurant adds on a service fee (10% or more) and the IVA (tax) to whatever price is listed whereas if the Ecuadoran style business says $2, you will pay only $2.
4. Housing is the largest cost, so make it work for you.
In Ecuador, a reasonable hotel or hostel may cost between $8-12 (you can go even cheaper, but I choose not to). I splurged in Quito and paid $13.50 for a nicer than usual room. For my money I got good security, a clean room, hot water 24/7, a private bathroom with soap and towels, excellent wifi in my room, and cozy duvets on the bed (it is quite cold at night without heat). I could have paid $8 for a room with a few less niceties, but I hadn't slept for a few days and had 11+ hours buckled into a narrow seat on a plane. Anticipating a 1 a.m. check-in, I wanted to have some comfort. It is up to the individual to determine the value of a room. I carry my own quick-dry travel towel and some soap since they may not be provided. I am prepared to sleep with a few extra clothing layers and sharing a bathroom is usually no hardship (unless you have traveler's trots!). On 2-5 week vacations, I go for simple, but comfortable rooms since I will seldom be there and I like smaller family run places with character. As a slow traveler on an extended trip, I will sometimes be spending more time in my room. There will be times when I will need a place I can hole up in and recuperate with some extra comforts . My personal preferences tend toward a conveniently located room with good sunlight in the day, decent lighting at night (so I can read!) and good air circulation so that my hand-washing dries quickly.
5. Develop a plan for laundry.
I like to do a little almost every night. Sometimes just a pair of underwear; other times a whole outfit from top to bottom. My main concern is making sure that whatever I wash can dry before I check out. Most of my clothes are quick-dry these days which helps. After awhile, nothing will seem quite clean anymore. That is a good time to take everything to a laundry or a local washerwoman and get it all really clean. A word of warning: many sinks are barely secured to the wall and have no support. I found this out the hard way while traveling in Mexico years ago. I pushed down a little too vigorously on the clothing I was washing and the whole sink came off the wall and was hanging halfway to the floor! Eeeeek! What did I do? Uhhh...that's a story for another time.
6. Remember that plans are just ideas .
I have lost whole mornings or afternoons. I have had whole days hijacked. Sometimes, several days have disappeared. When I left Cuenca, I had a plan. Buses to Loja ran every hour. I would take a taxi to the bus terminal ($2, but possibly $3 with the 'gringo tax')and catch the 10 a.m. bus for $8. I had heard that the trip to Loja took 3 hours, 4 hours, 5 hours and there was even a U-tube posting that claimed it actually took 8 hours due to so many stops. But the guy serving me breakfast that morning told me about the busaletas; cars and vans that did the trip in only 3 hours for $12 and were much more comfortable than the buses. Hmmm...that sounded pretty good. For $4 more, I'd be more comfortable and have more time to spend in Loja. I'm still traveling with too much weight in my pack and I wouldn't have to wrestle with it as much. Many buses will drive around until they fill up before they hit the road and then they will stop whenever and wherever someone waves then down. And sometimes, they never get full-- that is to say, there is always room for one more even if it means having an aisle full of passengers that are taking up some of the seated passengers' space. A buseleta seemed a smart idea. My hostel host even called up the company that did the Loja run and confirmed the price for me. Then he offered me a ride there which would save me the taxi fare. Excellent! I would be able to leave Cuenca at 9 instead of 10. I'd be having lunch in Loja...
There was no lunch; I barely made it for dinner. It was also the scariest ride I have ever had (and I have a lot of bus and driver stories from Mexico and India). Halfway there when the mountain road became extremely curvy (with regular S-curve warnings) the driver suddenly turned into a race car driver and ignored the constant warning signs about schools, animal crossings, dangerous curves, geological faults, rockslides and road workers. At least two dogs were just plain lucky. Sometimes the plan should be just to arrive.