After 17 days on the ground in Puerto Cayo, Ecuador, we’ve just scraped the surface on all there is to learn. These are a few lessons from the earliest days of our education:
1. Buying a car. If you think the process of buying a car in the U.S. is distasteful, try haggling in Latin America. The unknowns in buying a used car here are almost limitless. And prices are very high. Because of Ecuador’s import tariffs on vehicles produced outside the
country, most cars and trucks for sale are produced domestically, and with no competition, it means they can pretty much charge whatever they like. It also means that used cars retain their values at high levels. I recently checked out a 2003 Chevy Vitara (like a Tracker in the US) with about 80,000 miles (at least that’s what they claim – it’s probably much higher) and the price was $11,500. You might get it for $10k. Maybe. Here’s the website I’ve been using to shop around: http://www.patiodeautos.com
2. Appliances. Also high. Our small refrigerator was $800; a small gas stove was $550; and a very small washing machine was $700. Appliances, computers and all the things that aren’t absolute necessities will run 50 percent to 75 percent higher than in the U.S.
3. On the other hand, health care at our local clinic is free, and fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, shrimp and other foods are cheap.
4. People in the local culture have been very nice to us. Though our Spanish is flawed with a long way to go, I think they appreciate our efforts to speak the language. They are peaceful, friendly and go out of their way to accommodate our needs.
5. Bugs. There are a lot of them here. We’re still learning all the tricks to keep bugs out of our house at night, and we’re improving each day. And yes, we found a small scorpion in the shower a week or so ago.
6. Driving. If you’re here for any period of time, forget everything you ever learned about defensive driving. It does not exist in Ecuador. It’s ALL offense. When someone from behind gives you a honk, it means, “I’m coming around you, so do whatever you have to do to get out of the way and protect yourself.” Same principle applies in the grocery story. Maneuvering a shopping cart is ALL offense. It’s all about the Big O, baby.
7. The sun. It’s to be respected here. This far South, you are considerably closer to the sun. It can burn a blue-eyed, fair-skinned gringo in minutes without proper protection. It’s also amazing to watch the sun set here. It looks much larger.
8. Water. Also to be respected, and I must say, I’m now ashamed of the manner in which I’ve wasted water most of my life. Our home’s water system is one of the more modern, but still, we do not have an unlimited supply. Our drinking water is purchased in five-gallon containers for $1, but our everyday water for washing, cleaning, etc., comes from a 2,000-gallon cistern, filled by a tanker on a weekly basis. We are now always conscious of our water use. In the shower, I turn the water off several times just to conserve. And I even collect rainwater now to water our garden plants. I’m convinced (and would love to write a book on this) that there may well be a future world war over clean water availability.
9. Business. The opportunities are a bit different than I anticipated during the last eight months, but they are plentiful. Over time, I believe Dana and I will fit into the business community quite well, and that we will earn a good living here. I’m 95 percent sure we locked in our first client yesterday, and that she will give us the opportunity to market five new condominiums she’s building. At $60 to $70 per square foot, they will be a great buy.
10.Elevation. Also to be respected. I’ve lived most of my life at 230 feet above sea level in Arkansas. Go from 230 feet to 9,300 feet over night and you have yourself one heck of a case of altitude sickness. In Ecuador, a 30-minute drive can take you from sea level to 3,000 feet and so you must take time to acclimate. The keys are moving slow, and staying hydrated.
11. Cooking. I’m a decent cook, but I’m learning all over again. Because I haven’t learned about all the seasonings here yet, most of my cooking’s been pretty bland. I now save chicken stock, we use lots of rice, and love the fresh vegetables.
12. Community. I do truly love the sense of community and how everyone works together, especially in the business community. Competition is not feared here, because everyone works together and refers to everyone else, and in the process everyone gets “their piece of the pie.” It reminds me what a banker told me just a few years ago when he said, “…it’s better to have a little bit of something than a whole lot of nothing.” That’s how it works here, and it seems to work quite well.
13. Writing. I’ve never been so inspired to write as I am in this place, and even though I’ve never considered myself a fiction writer, I’m inspired to attempt it now from so many of the amazing things I’ve seen. The days have been so busy the last 17 days, I’m working hard to carve out intentional time for writing.
14. Time. Sun rises here at 6:15 a.m. and sets at 6:30 p.m., and that’s constant throughout the year. So the days are long, and there’s a lot of time to get things done and be very productive.
Now, it’s time for me to go and be that way.
And P.S. – I almost feel guilty for saying it, but we’re having the time of our lives.