Our first exposure to the weirdness occurred the day after we landed in Ecuador as we began the long drive from Quito to the coast. We encountered a variety of biological and mechanized conveyances sharing the roadways with each other. Yep! Things with hooves share the same streets and roads with things with wheels. You can round the bend on a mountain road and encounter a herd of cattle blocking both lanes requiring quick, evasive action. It’s not uncommon to see a man riding a donkey alongside a motorcycle carrying 4 passengers. Drivers passing slow moving traffic on blind curves is the norm as are the too-often, horrific collisions! I cannot explain this. It is if some of these drivers just don’t understand or believe there could be opposing traffic. Driving a vehicle in this country will expose you to weirdness and moments of terror that you cannot see or fully experience riding as a passenger.
When we first arrived at the nice, modern condo that had been arranged for us prior to our arrival, we noted it had a laundry room but no washer and dryer; so far, not unusual. However, it did have a very sturdy, built-in, standing washboard unit. It was quite modern, I’m told, complete with running water that rippled over the washboard when you turned on the valve. I thought a built in washboard was a little weird.
We soon bought a new washer and dryer. The dryer we selected only needed a 110 Volt connection rather than the 220 Volt supply that existed in our laundry room. I’d need to have the electrical connection rewired.
Two separate craftsmen (maestros) showed up on two separate days to do the rewiring. Neither of them had the parts or the tools necessary to do the job, a simple job at that. Turns out it would be my responsibility to provide any required parts and tools for any job being done by the majority of these maestros with few exceptions. Now that was definitely weird! After a couple of false starts, the work was completed. These craftsmen did not have work trucks fully stocked with supplies as repairmen do in the states. They ride busses or take a moto-taxi or bicycle to your house and cannot afford to maintain an inventory of parts. Most cannot afford to replace tools once lost or stolen. Weird but understandable.
When the satellite TV guys came out to install our system, they needed a ladder and several connectors which I wrangled for them. You would think that Satellite TV Installers would have a ladder…right? They surely knew they’d have to access our roof. Come on…that’s weird!
These days, when the services of a maestro are required, I do my best to anticipate what tools and parts may be needed. My tool box is at their disposal and if I have forgotten to buy any parts, I hustle into town to buy what is needed. It’s not so weird anymore. When I take my car to the mechanic, I remain until he tells me what parts will be needed and how much they will cost. I pay in advance for the parts before leaving my car with him.
Eggs! Not sold in those Styrofoam or cardboard containers found in refrigerated cases in the states. Nope! Eggs sit on non-refrigerated shelves alongside cans of soup or bags of flour. They are typically sold one by one, dirty, just as they dropped from the chicken. Buy the exact number you want from one to whatever. They are then placed into a small plastic bag with a knot tied at the top. Until yesterday, we’d done pretty well over the past 18 months, getting nearly all our eggs home without breakage. Yesterday, I bought ten eggs and arrived home with only 5 that were swimming among broken shells and slimy yolks. Damn the road construction!
Milk is sold in small, cardboard boxes sitting on non-refrigerated shelves. Bring it home and put it into the refrigerator. It’s perfectly fine and tastes good too! One may also purchase raw milk just as it comes from the cow. You can find vendors selling warm, raw milk in large baggies at the open market. We won’t be trying that!
Prescription medication is sold “per pill” not per bottle or per dose and no prescriptions are needed (except in a rare few cases). Some folks in this economically challenged community buy their needed medication one or two pills at a time. If you are a smoker, you can actually purchase one cigarette or 2 or 3 without buying an entire pack.
Social drinking often occurs among small groups of men. One of the men will buy one bottle of cold beer and share it with the others using small, plastic cups. When that bottle is empty, they will buy another and another. The sharing of one bottle among a group of men, a custom I’ve personally enjoyed, is strangely bonding and makes you part of a group. Weird…but cool!
There was the accidental encounter with a natural healer on the beach in Bahia de Caraquez, leading to some great results for Diane’s issue with chronic pain. His techniques would be considered weird by many with the use of bee-sting venom, coco leaves and other natural herbs and potions combined with body manipulation. She has returned for follow up treatments and loves it! Maybe a bit weird but effective for her!
Coming from a business background and being fully indoctrinated into U.S. consumerism, I arrived in Ecuador fully wired to relate to the U.S. business model; that is to say that the need for profit with an emphasis on customer service comes before all else. The typical small business on Ecuador’s coast operates under a completely different model.
Operating hours are…well, variable. A local joke is that local businesses open only when they need money and close anytime they want. It is not uncommon to go to a local retailer and find them to be closed during peak times. Perhaps a family visit or birthday or a day at the beach had priority that day. You cannot rely upon regular operating hours and many businesses close down for 2-3 hours in the middle of the day. Weird? Maybe, but here family and personal life comes before work. I like that…a lot!!! We’ve adjusted.
Waiting in lines for service is not honored. Line cutting and crowding seem to be the norm. One must be politely aggressive or you’ll never get service. In banks and public offices, security guards control the lines. Banks and government offices seem to be the only places where lines are mostly…but not completely honored. Banks even have a special line for “senior citizens”, mothers with infants and those with physical disabilities. I call it the geezer line and it saves tons of time. Bank lines can easily be 30 minutes to an hour long, sometimes longer at the beginning of each month. I can usually get through the geezer line in less than 10 minutes, one benefit of having grey hair! Oh, and men cannot go into a public or government office wearing shorts. It is against the law. Long pants must be worn and guards strictly enforce this. Women can wear anything they wish. That is definitely weird.
Restaurant meals are not delivered to the table all at once but are delivered one by one as the meals are completed in the kitchen. It may be 10-15 minutes before a group of 4-6 will be completely served, the first served is often nearly done when the last person receives their food. You don’t dare wait for all to be served before beginning. The restaurant rule here is that you may eat when your food arrives as you won’t know when the other meals will be delivered to the table.
The definition of a celebration seems to be music played so loud it will make your teeth bleed, often until 4 in the morning with seemingly little regard for anyone trying to sleep in the vicinity. Fortunately, we live in a quiet complex…most of the time. These guys do know how to party!!! Maybe not weird but worthy of note!!
Oh…and car alarms! It seems that nearly all cars have them and they all make the same sequence of sounds. It happens so often within cities that local mocking birds do a fine job of imitation. For whatever reason, the car owners sometimes set them off with their key chain remotes and allow them to run their entire cycle. Drivers also have a manual button installed on the panel so they can activate the alarm while driving, instead of using the normal horn. That’s definitely weird!
I suppose none of these things are truly weird. They were, at first, unfamiliar, but are now part of our daily existence here on the coast of Ecuador.
Time to wrap this up. I have to take a photo of our electric meter so that I can present it to the Electric Company clerk to pay our bill. Electric bills, when and if they come, are seldom accurate. On the way to town, I will pass several construction projects with rope-tied bamboo poles assembled to provide tall scaffoldings for workers to scramble up and down while barefooted. I won’t be surprised to merge my car with donkeys sharing the road. I will witness motorcycles carrying 3-4 passengers cutting in and out of traffic at breakneck speeds. Just yesterday, Diane saw a mother breastfeeding her new infant while riding behind her husband on the back of a motorcycle. Hey…a kid’s gotta’ eat!
There will be fishermen selling their catch from 5-gallon buckets and plastic bins along the street and just-purchased stalks of freshly-cut plantains strapped to the tops of trucks and cars headed home.
Pulsing Latin rhythms will blast from storefronts as men strut by, their shirts pulled up over distended bellies thereby proclaiming their affluent status. See my big belly? I am wealthy and can afford excess food!
Weird? Compared to what? Now, it’s just normal and part of this emerging and adventurous chapter of our lives.