At about two months into our time in Ecuador, we’ve finally hit the sweet spot between being fresh arrivals and being more experienced residents. While we are by no means experts yet, we have certainly been able to discover many of this country’s secrets, surprises and differences from the United States.
With input and many chuckles from the other Program Directors, I’ve compiled a list of signs to help confirm that you are in Ecuador (in case your plane ticket wasn’t evidence enough). I hope it allows our friends and family back home to better understand Ecuadorian life and laugh with us at some of the funnier daily occurrences we encounter.
1. Milk is sold in bags. Seems trendy, until you try pouring it into your cereal.
2. You can’t find any shoes larger than a women’s size 7. ‘Tis the land of dainty feet.
3. You never really need a watch because there are so many daily indicators of the time. See the following list:
- Roosters begin crowing at 3:00 AM (and usually continue on throughout the afternoon).
- The gas truck comes around at 7:15 AM sharp (see number 7 for further details).
- The Cotopaxi safety tones go off throughout town at 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM (Cotopaxi is an active volcano).
- It gets dark at exactly 6:30 PM every evening.
- Even if you wanted to wear a watch, the country runs on Ecuadorian time (which according to my precise mathematical calculations means add 7 to 11 minutes to any proposed starting time).
4. The standard paper size is 8.3x11.7. Maybe you think this is trivial, but you don’t realize how accustomed you are to 8.5x11 until you don’t have it anymore!
5. Hole punchers only have 2 holes. See number 4 for rationale as to why this is noteworthy.
6. You can rarely pay with a $20 bill. Stores would almost rather you don’t pay when faced with giving $18 in change.
7. Natural gas for kitchen stoves is sold on a truck that circulates the neighborhoods every morning at 7:15 AM sharp, playing a loud recording on endless repeat that literally translates to “the gas, the gas, the blue tanks of gas, the gas, to be delivered, the gas, the blue tanks of gas.” I wish I were kidding about this one.
8. You can buy upwards of $20 worth of fresh fruits and vegetables for under $8. This is by far one of our favorite parts of Ecuador. Who said eating healthy couldn’t be affordable??
9. Your face can (and will) be shoved in a cake on your birthday. I celebrated my 21st here on the day after I arrived. I can attest to this one!
10. Every restaurant has some derivative of the word “chicken” in its name. Super Pollo, Texas Chicken, The Chicken House, Pollo Campeón (champion)… I’ve seen them all. And if you were curious, KFC is very popular here too. Almost all the locations managed to get the name right, but one location in Quito believes the K stands for “Kennedy” instead of Kentucky, and spent a lot of money on its large signage.
11. Everyone is terrified of the sun. My host mom puts sunscreen on her kids for long car rides in case they fall asleep too close to the window.
12. You see your fair share of animals, some with more pleasant fates than others:
- You almost always pass a field of grazing cows or horses on your way somewhere.
- There are adorable puppies walking around on every street.
- Hornado, or a full roast pig on a large platter, is a delicacy in Ecuador and is often displayed in restaurant windows…leaving very little to the imagination (and even less innocence for a vegetarian like myself).
- Guinea pigs (cuy) are also served up on platters or skewers here. And no, these aren’t the tiny guys you took home for the weekend from your first grade classroom; these guys are big. We’re talking major leagues here.
13. Mothers have extremely creative ways of carrying children. Most children are tied in a cloth wrap to their mom’s backs, so that they are completely covered from the sun. To better appreciate the knot tying skills of Ecuadorian mothers who ride the buses, see number #14 for an explanation on the “safety” of the public transportation systems.
14. You will never get on or off a bus that isn’t still moving. It’s remains a mystery to me as to why a country that’s so relaxed has such a rushed bus system, but it doesn’t seem to bother anyone else. Now I welcome the opportunity to hone my moving-vehicle-embarkation/disembarkation skills. It makes me feel like James Bond.
15. All taxi drivers swerve to the sides of speed bumps to “avoid” them. I think this is an attempt at making the ride smoother, but in reality, half a car going over a speed bump is way bumpier than the full car going over a speed bump…
16. Every corner store sells practically the same goods. And quite a variety of those goods, may I add: everything from ice cream bars to empanadas to boxed wine. Basically a one-stop-shop for your next party.
17. The national pride is overwhelming. Rightfully so. Ecuador is ever developing, naturally beautiful and so culturally and historically rich that there is a ton to be proud of. Even small setbacks such as the fact none of Ecuador’s soccer teams have won in quite some time and its national beer (Pilsener) leaves little to be desired by the taste buds, aren’t enough to stop Ecuadorians from proudly rocking their jerseys and drinking Pilsener on game days… and every other day, really!
18. Everything is a diminutive. One of our favorite phrases is: “Un favorcito, dame un vasito de aguito?” which literally translates to: a small/cute favor, can you give me a small/cute glass of small/cute water?
19. The natural views of the mountains and Cotopaxi are stunning. It’s like seeing Russia from your window, but better.
20. You always feel at home. Everyone in Ecuador is so warm and willing to help; since arriving, we’ve never felt anything but supported and welcomed. I can certainly say that our transition into life in Ecuador was so seamless because of the positivity of everyone around us, and we couldn’t be more grateful to be accepted so kindly into our community.