Friday, January 20, 2012

Prices in Coastal Ecuador

We were curious about the cost of various items in coastal Ecuador so we spent about an hour in a supermarket looking at prices.  It certainly helped that Ecuador uses the US dollar as it's currency.  Here's a sampling of what we found:

In Puerto Lopez:
Hand mixer $12.99 (quality of all kitchen appliances would equal the cheapest ones that we could find at Walmart in the US)
Slow cooker  $20.00
Small saucepan $8.00
Large saucepan $13.00
Window cleaner $1.99
Sugar per pound $.45
12 tortillas $1.99
18 eggs $2.09 (interesting that they were sold at room temperature)
100 grams Doritos $.99
Whole 5 lb 10 oz chicken $7.62
Pantene shampoo (13.5 oz) $5.59
Speed Stick deodorant $3.49
4 rolls of toilet paper $2.39
DVD player $35.00
5.5 oz WD40 $3.99
Gasoline $2.19 / gallon

In Guayaquil:
55" LCD TV $2890
Home security system $1000
Lee jeans $36 - $46
Hi top Converse sneakers $78

I did not bring a watch and did not want to spend all week asking Scott what time it was so I bought this watch for $5.00.  I think I overpaid by about $3.00.

We stopped by a small store in a small town run by a boy about 10 years old.  I bought a bottle of cold water for $1.00 and did not negotiate with him.  As we were walking away, he ran out of the store and high fived all of his friends sitting at a table in front of the store.  No idea what I should have paid but clearly, I paid the gringo price.

In a market where they sell fruit, vegetables, meat, and pretty much anything else available, I watched a local man negotiate and purchase two large crabs.  He paid $1.00 for both!  Wow!  I was curious about whether the two men were friends or if that is how low an average local can get the price down.  Unfortunately, I do not have any way to ask that question.

We bought a $10 Claro card - a prepaid telephone card that can be used at Claro phone booths around towns.  We thought it would be nice to be able to call some local folks that we were meeting with while there.  Also, the balance could have been used to call our families in the US.  The only problem was that we were unable to read the activation instructions and eventually gave up.  Instead, we went to the internet cafes and used their payphones to call the local folks.  Scott spoke to Barb for about 3-5 minutes and we paid $.78.  We completely skipped any international calls.  If you need a $10 Claro card, let me know :) 

For most of our trip, we relied on free wifi at restaurants or hotels to use the internet on our phones.  A couple of times, we wanted to print something out so we went to internet cafes for those times.  We paid $.10 to $.25 depending on which city we were in for up to 15 minutes.  What should have always taken about 5 minutes typically took around 8 because of our slow typing on the Spanish keyboard.  Printing in black and white was $.10 per page and $.25 for color.  We accidentally printed in color the first time and printed a web page where there was one line on the second page - the copyright info.  Oops.

We spoke to a gringo who has been living in Ecuador for 5 months and is getting ready to begin building a house on a lot that he purchased.  He said that he bought 8 6'x2' granite slabs for a total of $700!  Incredible!!

We bought ice from this girl's store a few times.  A bag of ice was $2.00.  She worked all day every day and was also there at night.  I do not know what time the store closes.

Here were some of the prices of meals that we purchased at restaurants:
Garlic shrimp with rice $5.00

Fried fish with rice and fries $4.50

6 inch Empanadas $1.00 - One empanada was plenty filling for a meal.  Scott had ham & cheese and I had chicken, which also contained some vegetables.
Bottle of water $.35
Breakfast of two eggs, bacon, cheese, tea, juice and toast $4.00 at our hotel in Playas

Breakfast of 2 eggs, 2 croissant, hot milk, juice $2.50 across the street from the hotel in Playas (we did not really like the hot milk - I think was whole milk but there was a stray cat who was more than happy to drink both of ours)

One night in Playas, we went to a fancy looking Italian restaurant.  Scott ordered the garlic shrimp (at $7.50 a lot more expensive than it was at the first restaurant where he ordered it) and I ordered risotto shrimp which was also $7.50.  I received exactly what I ordered but Scott ended up with a poor tasting filet of fish instead.  Since my dish was much more than I could ever eat, he ate his rice and shared my meal with me.  We did not say anything to the waitress because it was most likely our lack of Spanish that caused this mix up.  All restaurant employees came to our table at the end of our meal to find out why Scott did not eat his food.  The chef speaks great English and we explained that Scott did not order the food on his plate but that we were both full and wanted to pay.  They removed Scott's meal from the bill so we only paid for mine.  Very nice of them!

While we were in Puerto Lopez, we frequented the same restaurant several times because they had wifi that we could use while there.  They had some amazingly great food.  I had a huge crepe filled with chicken and covered in a wonderful sauce for $6.50.  The waiter spoke pretty good English, too, so we were able to ask him questions that we had about local customs and where to find particular items in town.

Until next time,

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Transportation on Ecuador's Pacific Coast Part II

I realized just how many things I skipped in my last post so I'm adding some additional transportation details in this post.

When we arrived in Guayaquil, it was around 5:30 AM but Budget Rental Cars does not open until 7:00 so we ordered some fresh orange juice and patiently waited until the workers arrived at around 7:20.  They found our reservation with no problem and presented the bill to us.  We handed over our American Express card and stood at the counter for about an hour while they tried to get the card authorized.  The guy called everyone and their brother to try to figure out why the phone number he was calling did not work.  I am pretty sure that he was just waiting for us to pull out a Visa or Master Card instead but we were content to wait until our AmEx got authorized.  Finally, the authorization went through and we were able to drive away.  The closed doors behind Scott are the rental car counters at the airport.
Good thing we did have some wait time because while we were waiting, we decided to rent a Garmin GPS unit also.  Originally, we planned to use just the map we purchased in the US.  The Garmin spoke to us in Spanish the entire first day.  On the second day, I figured out how to change it to English.  When driving from Puerto Lopez to Crucita, the Garmin lost GPS signal right before we entered a round about and we took the exit that seemed right.  About 1/2 hour later, I figured out that we were no longer on the coastal road but had cut across the mountains to the inland road.  Good thing they met up later so we did not have to backtrack and we saw some areas that we had not intended to see.  On the way back, we figured out exactly where we had gone wrong and made it back with no problems.  Here were our navigational tools while we drove around:
 During our week there, we figured out a few horn messages that really had us confused on the first few days.  There is quite a bit of honking on the roads but it is not the long horns that you hear in cities like New York.  The honking usually is sending a message to other drivers.  Here is what I think they mean:
3 short beeps - The vehicle in front is saying that it is clear for you to pass them.  This happened when you approached a vehicle driving slower than you and they had a better view of the road ahead.  Seemed most common with the large trucks and buses.
2 short beeps - "Thank you for your courtesy in letting me pass."  This is typically for after you pass someone who either gave you the three beeps or moved over as far right as they could in their lane for you to pass.  (Remember that a lot of people pass in no passing zones and on blind curves so if the person being passed moves over as far as they can, it usually leaves enough room for the oncoming traffic also, assuming they also move to their right.)
1 short beep - As you are approaching a pedestrian, bike, or slow moving vehicle on the road, one short beep lets them know that you are about to drive past them.
Any long honk - Same as in the US (you just cut me off!).

It was also interesting to see quite a few cars and motorcycles driving around Puerto Lopez at night with no headlights.  I mean both with their headlights turned off and ones that physically did not have headlights on the vehicle.  I did not see any of that in Playas so it must be much more common in smaller cities.

There were a lot of people on bicycles but I did not take many pictures of them.  Here is one in the market in Puerto Lopez:
 When driving on the "Ruta Del Sol" (Sun Road), which is like the Pacific Coast Highway in California, there are a ton of speed bumps.  In every community, there is at least one when entering a town and one when exiting.  In town, they seem to randomly appear.  I am sure that there is a good reason for their placement, just like in the US.  Scott had to shift down to first gear for some of them because they were really big.  I only took a picture of one of them and here it is:
Until next time,

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Transportation on Ecuador's Pacific Coast

There are several options for transportation all over Ecuador but since we only visited the Pacific Coast, I will only comment on what we saw/experienced.

Buses run everywhere and are quite inexpensive.  They stop to pick people up and drop people off wherever someone wants - even if there is no official bus stop at the location.  We saw a school girl exit the bus in the middle of the jungle where I saw one home total and saw them stop to pick people up just by flagging the bus down on the side of any road.  The buses are painted on the side with their destination.  See this one that will take you to/from Jipijapa (pronounced "Hippy Hoppa"):

Taxis come in a few different forms but are all inexpensive also.  There are the US-style taxis that are a car with a meter and a sign on the vehicle indicating that it is a taxi.  There are also "taxis" that we do not have in the US.  A popular mode of transport seems to be these trucks that carry as many people as possible and they go however far the people need to go (even on freeways).  We saw this team (I assume it's a futbol team or a classroom of students) pile into a "taxi" truck and those who did not fit walked away together (I also assume that those folks were either picked up later or walked to the destination).

Within a town and within a few miles of a town, there is the option of taking a "taxi" that is a bit of a hybrid.  It is a motorized tricycle.  Scott and I took one of these to the bank to change a $100 bill only to find out that the bank required an account to exchange any money.  Luckily, the grocery store was able to make change instead when we bought groceries.

Scott took a picture of me in the back on the way to the bank:

There also were a few transportation modes that we typically do not think of in the US outside of when I was growing up in Money Creek.  These guys are probably heading into town to pick up some merchandise:

We saw quite a few families with motorcycles.  They fit as many as six people on them depending on how large the family is.  The largest family pic that we took was the one of a family of four.  There is a new law in Ecuador requiring helmets but it is clearly ignored in small towns.  We did see helmets used in Playas.

This is not exactly transportation but looks like fun (with my fear of heights, I am pretty sure I will only experience this from the ground)

Scott and I chose to rent an SUV to drive around the country and loved the option of going wherever we wanted.  There were a few customs that I was not pleased with - including passing in non-passing zones whenever people felt like it.  Sometimes on blind curves.  Also, the buses did not always end up at their destination but the new infrastructure prevented them from harming oncoming motorists...

Overall, I would say that transportation in Ecuador's coastal area is uncomplicated and ready for you to arrive!  There is none of the freeway congestion that we see in US cities since few people own cars.  I will say that I spent a lot of time on the road as a passenger worried about what might be coming down the road but I love the country so much that either I have to get used to the driving or I will have a heart attack at 44.

Hopefully I will get used to it!


Monday, January 2, 2012

First trip to Ecuador

 Scott and I just returned from our first trip to the Ecuador coast.  We had an amazing time.  It is going to take more than just one post to detail the trip.  I will summarize in this post and later give more details.  We arrived on December 24 and rented an SUV from Budget.  We also rented a GPS unit - so glad we did!  We got lost WITH it a couple of times - we would have been hopelessly lost without it.  Most people do not rent cars - they just take taxis and buses everywhere.  I understand why since they are readily available and low cost (you can rent a taxi for an entire day for $100) but we wanted our own vehicle on our first trip.

We stayed at the Hotel Pacifico in Puerto Lopez for the first five nights.  Our room had a balcony overlooking the ocean - quite beautiful.  The rooms that face the ocean have air conditioning and cost twice as much ($60) as those that don't have the view or air conditioning.  Totally worth it to us.  Maria, who runs the hotel, and her staff are exceedingly nice and helpful.  All water in Puerto Lopez is shipped in because they do not have a natural source. The view from our balcony:

We drove as far north as Crucita along the coastal roads.  There are a lot of small towns along the coast and for many, it is clear that fishing is their primary source of income.  Fishing boats were very prevalent in every coastal town.  Subsequently, the fish and shrimp was incredible - fresh and so good!  A shot of some kids in Crucita (note all of the birds are there because this is also where the fish are cleaned):

For the last two nights, we drove south to Playas and stayed at the Promenade Hostel.  Great hostel - wonderful family runs it and works hard to make sure everything is the way you want it.  A room with air conditioning was going for $18/person and one without it was $15/person.  We stayed in a room with AC the first night and without the second night because the room had a balcony and view of the ocean.  The hostel is for sale as the family is looking to move to Switzerland.  The husband/father has already moved there.  Playas is much larger than Puerto Lopez, therefore has many more options as far as entertainment, shopping, etc.  Also, fresh water is plentiful because of rivers coming down from the Andes.  View from the balcony (one block from the beach):

Overall impressions:
People - incredibly nice
Some roads - really rough paved and dirt roads with huge potholes
Other roads - brand new and just like a US interstate (the country is in process of upgrading infrastructure)
Drivers - hmm... how do I say it politely... they seem to avoid accidents somehow
Language - I need to learn Spanish because it is not like the parts of Mexico that I have been in where most people know a little English.  Most tourist establishments (hotels, restaurants) have someone with at least limited English but not all.
Weather - mostly 80's F and somewhat humid.  Reminded me of Minnesota in August.  Everyday the weather forecast had some thunderstorms but all we saw were some sprinkles here and there.
Prices - food & lodging low; electronics & clothing high

I did not take pictures of the rough roads because I was hanging on to make sure I did not get bounced around.  Here is a shot of a dirt road heading into San Jose.

Here is one of the new freeways that Ecuador just completed.  Note the nice foliage in the center divide.

Much more in my coming posts!