First Thoughts on Ecuador

We’ve been in Ecuador for a couple of weeks now, almost a week of that without much internet for different reasons. We now have very good internet so I am pushing to get caught up. Below are some first thoughts about this country:

  • Going from Colombia to Ecuador was extremely easy except for the long¬† lines (apparently related to masses of people immigrating from Venezuela-fortunately being “mayores” (seniors) we went to a relatively short line). They don’t inspect your luggage when you enter the country…in fact you are required to leave it outside the building when you get your passport stamped. Since we didn’t want to pay a stranger to watch our things, we took turns standing in line while the other person waited with the luggage. It meant an extra 45 minutes or an hour but Dan got lucky and they opened a new line so he got through faster than he would have otherwise.
  • They use US dollars/coins in Ecuador, especially one dollar coins (presidential series usually). We knew that going in but had disposed of all of our American money back in Panama so we didn’t have any. And we had little Colombian money because we didn’t want to change it at the boarder but that was actually a mistake. From now on, we will make sure that we have enough cash from the exiting country to cover any taxes, initial buses/taxis, getting new cell phone chips/service, and a meal. We had trouble with the first ATMs in the bus station and didn’t have enough cash. That meant going to the local internet cafe which wouldn’t let me use my laptop where I have a secure banking browser so that I could log in and make sure that my main debit/credit cards knew I was in Ecuador. (The problem probably was the first ATM machine and not that the banks didn’t know we were here but that reminds us to be sure to keep that up to date BEFORE we go to the next country.)
  • This lady in the foreground is almost next to Dan but you can see she is MUCH shorter. Theory is that because of the thinner air at the high altitudes the people developed shorter to lessen the body’s oxygen needs.

    I love being in the Andes because I am not the short person here. We have seen many, many Andean men and women several inches shorter than me. I try to stand discreetly by them to savor a feeling I seldom have in the States.

  • Paved street in the foreground, cobblestones on side street.

    Because earthquakes are common here (and probably other reasons as well), pavement is not used much, especially outside the large cities. Instead they use paving stones which can be removed and reused if road work is necessary. On less traveled streets in small towns/cities, they often use cobble stones instead of the pavers.

  • People are generally very nice. We enjoyed the hospitality of our new friends in Ibarra, our first stay in Ecuador. Clarita and Alfonso went out of their way several times to help us. Since he is a forensic pathologist, he wrote me prescriptions for X Rays on my arthritic thumbs (I want a second opinion on my options) and lab tests.
  • Hand washing clothes can get them much cleaner than using a washing machine. I don’t do a good job hand washing but we paid the neighbor $1.50 for 12 pieces and my socks and white hoodie haven’t looked that good since they were new. She even turned the socks inside out and washed them on both sides.
  • I could tell we were in the big city of Quito (capitol, population over 1,600,000) when I heard long car horns express their discontent with whatever was happening with traffic. In smaller cities, horns are used a lot but they are one or two short taps to say thanks or to warn oncoming traffic.
  • Prices are generally good although much better if you go to the market. Even in the large grocery stores, you can get 3 large beautiful red bell peppers for about $1.65. In Ibarra, we got 3 avocados for $1, a package of fresh basil for under $1, and I saw 2 pineapples for $1! The bus in Quito was $0.12 cents each for seniors.
  • Stoves have ovens in this country. I don’t remember seeing a single oven in Colombian homes.
  • Many tour and store hours are posted in 24 hour time (1600, no 4:00) although I do see both.
  • Use of commas and decimals in pricing and numbers seems mixed. Often, but not always even on the same sign, you will see a comma where we would put a decimal point.

Random Transportation Thoughts on Colombia

One of a number of horses we saw in Popayan, with or without a rider, wagon, and/or carriage.

In no particular order, here are some of my random thoughts and observations in Colombia.

  • In smaller towns, horses are not uncommon. I saw a sign that showed a horse and buggy with a line through it but didn’t have a chance to take a picture of the sign. In another town, I did see a horse and buggy but again couldn’t take a picture as we drove by.
  • You sometimes see horses in larger towns as well. Popayan is about 400,000 people and there are a number of horses and buggies/wagons used here. We even saw an unsaddled horse walking by itself on a busy street the other day but I couldn’t get a picture in time to show you. Really, we did!
  • Motorcycles, or motos as they are called in Spanish, are very common. The ones is Costa Rica are even more daring than the other countries we have been in so far (or are we just getting more used to them?).¬† Unlike in the USA there seems to be no pretense about staying in a lane (remember the one that I hit getting out of the taxi in Medellin, and I was at the curb?!) I did see a moto pulling 3 kids on bicycles and a different one that was leading a horse. Very versatile vehicles. Of course they are used to haul things and as 3 wheeled taxis in many smaller towns. Or imagine a wheelbarrow upside down on a motorcycle; folks make it work!

    License plate matches placard on sides/top of commercial vehicles.
  • All commercial vehicles have, in addition to their license plates, decals on the sides and top of the vehicle with the license plate number. This includes buses, taxis, and all sorts of commercial trucks, etc.
Plates with city names
  • And speaking of license plates, instead of showing the “district” names on the plates (roughly the same as a state), they show the city name, not the country. (Motorcycle plates just say “Colombia”.)

Getting up into a chiva bus can be a challenge for shorties!!! Note that the first step is higher than my knees.

It takes a boost to get up the first step to get on the chiva. Definitely NOT handicap accessible.

And a word of advice…never ask directions from someone wearing a motorcycle helmet that covers their mouth unless you are very fluent in the local language.

Image compliments of Amazon.com
  • There are various checks on city and country wide buses. In Popayan, we saw a man checking the time that buses pass a certain point. Sometime the drivers gave them a little money, 1 mil or less ($0.30). For buses that go between different towns, there is a check when they leave the transit station and one time there was even a person stopping buses at a check station in the country.
  • I think every bus we have taken from city to city has had to pay at least one toll along the way. Sometimes several.