Visiting Ecuador

Miscellaneous Local Details

 
This is the outskirts of downtown La Libertád; we came here to use the cheaper internet cafe ($0.99/hr vs. $1.80/hr at El Paseo). Note the polar bear on the street corner. This is an ice cream cooler with wheels on the bottom; the street vendor rolls it around from place to place. The man on the bicycle in the foreground is also an ice cream vendor, recognizable by his uniform.  


 
The local folks are very enterprising, and everyone gets into the act. The boy with the soda bottle walks the streets and sells the soda, one cup at a time.  


 
This is the row of boats next to Nine of Cups in the marina boatyard.  


 
A stern view of the same boats.  


 
This is the party we had at the boatyard one night for cruisers and boatyard workers. I took the picture from Nine of Cups while taking a break from the party.  


 
This is a night view of the boatyard (not the same night as party night).  


 
This is a night view of Salinas and Punta Elena, looking across the dark water from the marina boatyard in La Libertád.  


 
There was a navigation beacon in the corner of the marina boatyard. I'm sure it was there mostly for the tankers approaching the harbor (the lights in the distance); nobody from the marina ever went out at night.  

I was impressed by how easy it was to surf the internet and handle email at the internet cafes. The computers worked well and download speeds were reasonably fast. The main difficulty is the language difference. The keyboards are different and designed for Spanish-speaking countries, but they are close enough to U.S. keyboards that it's not too much of a problem. Most of the punctuation and special characters are in different places than U.S. keyboards, and they have a few extra keys since Spanish needs a few more characters than English (such as accented letters and an upside-down question mark and exclamation point). To accomodate the extra characters, the keyboard has an extra Alt key, called Alt-Grande ("Big Alt"). Since I was typing in English, I mostly used Alt-Grande to select special characters like "@" (which is Alt-Grande+2). This character is essential for email addresses.

The other computer difficulty is with keyboard commands for the programs. All the menu commands are in Spanish, and although the menu commands are in the same places as for U.S. software, the words are all in Spanish. This also means that the usual keyboard shortcuts for U.S. software don't work for Spanish software. For example, Ctrl-S might mean "Save" in the U.S., but with Spanish software, "Save" is actually "Guardar", so naturally Ctrl-S is not going to work for that command.

It was funny to see people doing web searches on Google where everything was in Spanish. At one cafe, there was an oriental man who was surfing the web using his native oriental ideographs. While he was surfing, he got spammed by pop-up ads in Japanese or Chinese, so there's no escaping spammers. It's nice to see that the Internet is fully multi-lingual and multicultural—that's just the way such a ubiquitous medium should be.

South American plumbing is a little weird. The toilets and associated waste plumbing are not as big and robust as U.S. plumbing, so you can't use lots of toilet paper—in fact, three squares is about the limit. Much more and you risk clogging the plumbing. You can use more, you just can't flush it down the toilet. So every toilet stall has a trash bin into which you must deposit your excess (used) toilet paper. There's a way to fold it up so it doesn't look too gross.

In the marina, we sometimes do a "quickie" laundry in a bucket then hang it up to dry on a line between jackstands in the boatyard. For a big laundry, we use washers and dryers, but like everything else, there is no self-service, so you have to take it somewhere where they wash it for you. Marcie likes to use a laundromat (lavanderia) on the road to Salinas, which is pretty far to walk (especially lugging a big sack of laundry), so we take a cab. The laundromat is a typical shop: one room, open front, with a few washers and dryers, a scale for weighing, and a fancy copy machine (the laundromat is also a copy shop). It cost about $16 for two big sacks of laundry, which includes folding and delivery back to the boat via taxi. This is very expensive by Ecuadorian standards, so it's something only the well-to-do could afford.

After dropping off our laundry, we took a 25-cent bus to the Supermaxi, another sizable supermarket. Marcie shops here from time to time since they have some things the Hiper doesn't have. However, they are farther away and more expensive so she normally shops at Hiper. We put our stuff in our backpacks and took the bus to El Paseo. When boarding a bus, you don't pay right away. Every bus has a conductor who collects the fares, which might be when you get off. At the Hiper, we got a whole shopping cart of stuff, so we took a cab back to the boat.

Many of the shops in the commercial area are very small, and they might not have the item you want. Invariably they will refer you to another shop, even if the other shop doesn't have the item either. It must be an unacceptable sign of poor service to say "we don't have it and we don't know where to get it". All the stores are good examples of down-home private enterprise, frequently with the whole family involved. There are very few examples of self-service; stores are fully staffed and provide lots of service. There is no need to eliminate jobs, rather the exact opposite: all the residents, men, women, and children, find something useful and productive to do, on their own initiative and using their own wits.

The weather is mostly hot and sunny, with temperatures in the low 90's (if it's cloudy, it can be cooler). Due to the proximity of the ocean, it can be quite humid, although there's usually a pretty good breeze. It's actually not bad at all if you're in the shade, but if you're out walking around in the mid-day sun, it's pretty damn hot. Coming down from the cool pre-spring weather of Baltimore, it took me a few days to get used to the heat and humidity.

Here along the coast, they get surprisingly little rain, and the climate is almost desert-like. There is sparse natural vegetation with occasional cacti, similar to Oklahoma or the Texas panhandle. Around town, they can grow anything they want as long as they water it. Just a two-hour bus ride away in Guayaquil, they get lots of rain, so the climate varies dramatically over a short distance.

One day, I volunteered to make dinner (I know maybe two recipes, everything else is ad-lib). I made a solo trip to El Paseo to get vittles for dinner and some plumbing parts for David (up to this point I had always gone shopping with Marcie and/or David). I got some chicken and made chicken nuggets with mustard and garlic sauce. I also made a huge pot of rice, and mixed-in carrots, onions, and a can of garbanzo beans. I added some achiote paste to the rice, which gave it a nice orange/red color. Achiote is a local condiment that is rather bland-tasting but very colorful, and is mostly used for coloring. For dessert I made a new (ad-lib) concoction: sliced bananas, with a very sweet sauce made from 1/2 mashed banana, chopped peanuts, and melted marshmallows. It was good but it was a lot! I basically made too much and gave people too much, but the good part is that there was enough left over for lunch the next day. I said I would do the dishes, too, but about 3/4 of the way through, we ran out of water (the boat's water system is supplied by internal water tanks). We all decided to save the rest of the dirty dishes till tomorrow instead of refilling the water tanks late at night when everybody was full and tired.

Another evening, we went out to dinner with Mason and Nan, two American cruisers working on their boat at the marina. We went to a small local restaurant called Casi Perfecto (which means "Almost Perfect") where I had chicken with rice and lentils. It was quite good though a trifle salty. We had a couple of local beers with dinner (the beer is named "Club" but in Spanish is pronounced "kloob"). My dinner, including the beer, was $4. By the time we got back to the boat, it was late (9:30!) and we were all tired so we retired forthwith.

Most of the cruisers at the marina are preparing to depart shortly, since it's the proper time to be heading west into the South Pacific and French Polynesia. One evening, the cruisers threw a party for the boatyard workers to thank them for their hard work over the past several months. Each cruising boat brought a significant snack and beverage, and everything was spread out over a board on some sawhorses next to a boat. Somebody set up a boom box, a few work lights were strung and lighted, and the party began. After quitting time, the boatyard workers hung around off to the side and appeared reluctant to join the cruisers. Finally, Marcie shouted out "¡La cantina es abierta!" ("The snack bar is open!") and they all walked over to join us. After some snacks and drinks, the cruisers thanked the workers, then two of the workers made very heartfelt and emotional speeches thanking the cruisers. It was a happy and gracious moment of mutual appreciation. As usual, I am not a party animal, and after an hour or so, I was starting to fade. The party kept going for a while, but I drifted off and went to bed.


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