The things that frustrate me about Ecuador (today)

I had one of “those” days today. It came out of left field with no warning as they have a want to do. But once it landed then yeah, as is to be expected on “those” days, nothing went right after that.

And this is my way of venting (so be warned!).

For the most part I like Ecuador. Or perhaps for the sake of accuracy I should write that there are many things in Ecuador that I like. Some great beaches, amazing Andes trekking I’ve barely scratched the surface of, remote Amazonian wilderness I’ll be kicking myself if I don’t visit soon, and some beautiful preserved Colonial architecture that really can take the breath away with its Andes backdrop. And all of this less than a day’s drive apart.

But along with this beauty and adventure, Ecuador does have some… shall we call them idiosyncrasies… that can leave the unwary more than a little exasperated (even someone as travel experienced as I).

Today’s examples…

Shoe prices

Not really sure if they’re made with gold thread sewn through, which might explain the prices, but shoes in Ecuador are roughly more than double what you would pay for the equivalent in Australia. And that’s in a country where the average monthly salary is less than US$500. I’m still trying to work how my Ecuadorian girlfriend could afford the dozen or so pairs she brought with her when she moved in, she certainly hasn’t been flashing the cash around me. Hmmm…

Buying stuff

I bought a new pair of jeans today. Or perhaps I should start with: I tried to buy a new pair of jeans today. $80, good quality, fit great which is a rare find in this land of midgets, so I was pretty ecstatic. Presented my credit card and ID to the counter, the young girl did her thing on the computer to process the sale… a couple minutes later she tells me that I can’t purchase more than $70 with a foreign credit card. $70? Your “cheap-should-be-$40” shoes cost more than that. And this is in one of the major department stores mind you, no mom & pop place that might feel the loss of even $10. $70, really??

So I pull out $10, to pay the difference in cash.

No, I’m informed, we can’t do part payments that why. WTF?!?!?

Overtly fuming and red in the face from this truly ridiculous set of rules that some moron from head office has implemented, I grab my card & ID from the poor girl’s hand (it’s not her fault after all) and storm away, my poor girlfriend trailing in my wake (the things I put the women in my life through)…

I’m stomping away, spluttering and muttering about this being the 21st Century, who the fuck are these idiots… yada yada, I’m sure you get the drift. Then I stop.

Damn, I really liked those jeans. I mean, I really liked them. So, I pull out some cash…

Buying stuff – Part 2

So I return to the counter, cash in hand. The same girl does her thing with the computer again, then asks me for my phone number. I ask why, I’m paying cash. My girlfriend jumps in and gives her number. This pisses me off more. She tells me that if she didn’t, I couldn’t make the purchase.

So what the flying fuck is that about then?? Why do I need to provide anything but the cash if I’m paying for something with cash? Is this a government thing, keeping track of literally everything that every citizen does? Even when buying a pair of jeans?? Am very curious as to what this is for. And by now, even more pissed off with the whole situation. I storm away a second time, telling my girlfriend to never provide her phone number again when I’m buying something, I’d rather not buy it at all (you might garner that by now the grey mist has clouded any rational thinking).

Curtains

I see curtains all the time in Ecuador. My friends have curtains. My girlfriends friends and her family have curtains. And I don’t recall any particularly ugly examples. But where the fuck do they buy them??

I think I’ve now visited every possible curtain retailer within the Quito centre north area, the main business & retail area. The usual first response to asking if they have curtains (“cortinas” in Spanish) is to be directed to the bathroom section. Shower curtains.

This is what probably gets me the most. Your FIRST thought when someone asks about “curtains” is shower curtains?? I know, I know, it’s petty, but as I said at the beginning, today became “the sum of its parts”.

And then almost inevitably after clarifying that it’s not shower curtains I’m after but living room type, I get told they don’t have them. Well, if I’m lucky. On a couple of occasions when they do have the “other” type, I find a selection of curtains that look like… actually, there’s no possible way I can adequately describe just how ugly these curtains are. Impossible. Let’s just say that if you imagine the oldest grandmother possible, who lives in a house full of cats, cat urine aroma permienting through the house, and imagine the floral nightmare curtains she would likely have… well these are worse. And they’re bloody expensive too!

So my original questions stands, where the hell do you buy decent looking, not overly expensive, curtains in Quito?

Cotton bed linen

Who buys anything else but 100% cotton linen nowadays? We moved on from polyester decades ago, right? Wrong… if you’re in Ecuador. Try finding anything not involving polyester for your bed. Perhaps the upmarket furnishing stores. Ecuador has no excuse not to be producing similar quality & priced products such as bed linens as you can find in Asia. Cost of living is comparable, so where is the comparable manufacturing industry? Why is the government spending so much time & money legislating so that imported goods cost so much (and hence likely why there’s no cheap cotton linens) rather than actually building a viable and competitive manufacturing industry? Ecuador could (should?) be a regional manufacturing leader. Instead we get protectionism from the government which provides no incentive to produce better local products, increases prices of imported goods for consumers, and puts a few extra dollars into the pockets of elected politicians. Ahhh…

Which brings me to… the Honey Ginger Saison craft beer from Bandidos Brewery in Quito old town. If there was ever a way to leave your personal frustrations at the door, this drop is it. Quality. One day I’ll learn not to let the “little things” get to me. In the meantime I have beer. Cheers!

13 comments

  1. Welcome to Ecuador!
    So… All this thing of the phone number and the credit card and buying limited stuff are policies ruled either by the government itself or through the IRS system. Good you don’t drive a car as you always need to provide your id number to get gas. I have no idea why would they need to check who’s buying gas or not or how much, no idea if there’s a limit on how much gas you can buy, but… You can’t buy with your id number!!! Crazy I know!!!
    Where to buy curtains… In MegaKywi they have roman style ones, not too expensive, nice and for personal experience good quality.
    The cotton bed sheets are sold right next door to MegaKywi in Todo Hogar, all sizes, not all prices though. Hahaha.
    Good luck with your stay in Quito, you might need it!!!

  2. Really?!?

    I’ve heard people complainig about frustrating things in different countries and honestly this is the worst post I ever read.

    1. Being frustrated because for a pair of jeans?! And blame the whole country for your lack of imagination and understanding!?!

    2. Not only shoes are expensive, all international imported brands are, as you mention it. And if they are, is in order to push Ecuadorian industries to improve our national products and maybe with time we won’t need anymore imported cotton linen or the latest Nike shoes… The prices didn’t increase just for the fun of making you pay more but to develop national industries.

    I think that your problem and most of foreign people living in Ecuador (and south american countries)problem is that you have no patience.

    No patience to make the girl keep the jeans for you and coming back 5 minutes later with the cash, no patience to wait maybe for a friend who may come from abroad and bring you the shoes you want for a better price, no patience for going to old town walking around and finding a pair of shoes that may not be Adidas or Puma but would make it, and courtains as well! No patience to understand that it’s normal that things don’t work, feel, taste, look like in your country because yes, you are in a different one….

    • I think you mistake me for someone who hasn’t spent half of the past 20 years travelling and/or living on less developed countries, 2 years of that living in Kenya where I was quite happy to wait for hours for transport with the locals if that’s the way it was, and wasn’t something “mandated” by the government for their own nefarious purposes. Along with someone who doesn’t have a reasonably grasp of the relative importance of things, hence my “beer” comments at the end (or did you miss that in your rush to condemn me?)

      Not really sure what “patience” got to do with, a) a government law (as I’ve subsequently been informed) that requires ID/phone number for cash purchases of many items, which is nothing but a citizen tracking mechanism, so something I think a little more of an issue than “lacking patience”, and b) having a $70 limit on a Mastercard, an internationally accepted form of payment?

  3. I know having to give that information can be a pain in the arse. Why not just give them the wrong phone number? You know a couple things that drive me crazy? First and foremost…you buy a pack of gum, and you get a huge piece of paper as a receipt. How about going to Supermaxi, and if you don’t have your card on you, they don’t give you their discounts. Then, the total comes up to about $52.45. You give them $60…and they give you shiz over not having three dollars. Well, maybe if you had let me use your discount card, you’d get $50 and everybody would be happy.

    • Yeah Chuck, I might just start doing the “fake number” thing, but the whole invasion of privacy thing doesn’t sit well with me. Is something for me to consider when weighing up pros and cons about living anywhere.

  4. Melissa, in response to the second point of your comment: I could drive cattle through the hole in your logic. The only thing the increase in prices for imported stuff is doing is removing the competition, so those who don’t have the option to pay for the imported goods buy homemade. That’s great for things like fruit and veggies, of which Ecuador has an abundance and great quality, but what about stuff that isn’t made here??? Nobody is grappling for the latest Nike shoes, but when your option is that, or lesser-quality local-made ones, you end up ever paying more for better quality, or if you can’t afford it, have to get twice as much from a local producer, since the quality is so much lower. And as far as improving the quality of things made here – why would anyone do that, when they can keep making the same low-quality things, but now people are forced to buy more of those, since the foreign competition has been priced out?

    • The same can be seen in Argentina, with a similar “protectionist” economy in place, making it very difficult/expensive to import items. Buying simple, casual shoes there, you could not find either cheap or good quality without paying exorbitant amounts for brand name imports. Another country that should be one of the economic leaders in South America, but have a basket case of an economy instead.

  5. I have lived few years in Europe, few years in The US few years in Ecuador and SA. I am impressed how critical most immigrants in Ecuador are. They have this attitude like look how tall I am, look at these midgets, how poor they are, look at the buses, look at this look at that.. Many Ecuadorians starting feeling funny next to these sophisticated arrogance. Ecuador is very much an homogeneous nation (not like Australia built of different cultures) where everyone is used to different habits. Your observations are none sense at least let us know something substantial, If you want to make a name for yourself, do not be petty, look into larger situations and try to fix, not to distroy

    • It’s funny, I (and many Australians I know, the more open minded kind – there are close minded Australians just as there are in any country) welcome valid criticisms from outsiders in Australia, whether they’re there short term or longer. It sometimes takes an outsider’s viewpoint to open your own eyes. But I have found that in certain Latin American countries (and might be true of Asia too, but haven’t spent too long there, in Kenya my friends were very open to discussing their country critically) they are very sensitive to ANY kind of criticisms from outsiders, however valid. Brazil was far, far worse than Ecuador in this regard. And to be fair, most of my actual Ecuadorian friends are far more open minded than the “average” and are quite happy discussing both the pros AND cons of their country (since every country has pros AND cons).

      And it is interesting that you chose to attack my supposed “arrogance” rather than actually address the subject matter… (though not really that surprising).

  6. I live in Quito since last August…and yes, the country is amazing in so many ways, but everything in this article is true! Went to London for a few days to see family and I brought finally……cotton sheets, feather cushions and curtains!!!there are from IKEA but I felt like I found a luxury treasure!!

  7. I am in my fourth year of living in Cuenca and love it so much I intend to live here until I die. Since my mother and grandmother died in the mid-90s and I am only 73, I expect that will be for many years to come, God willing! During my first year here in Ecuador, I decided that life in Ecuador is a LESSON in patience (much needed for many of us hyper Type-A personalities from way up north!). Patience was never my strong suite, but I have definitely been developing it here and my blood pressure is no longer the problem it once was. A childhood friend once told me, “Don’t sweat the small stuff — and most of it IS small stuff!”

    • “Don’t sweat the small stuff — and most of it IS small stuff!”
      – That is why in the end a few beers sorted everything out. 😉

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