September 23, 2012

Cuenca Ecuador After the Honeymoon: A Day in the Life!

Some things we take for granted in North America, that are not available or don’t work as well here in Ecuador.

Let’s start with the POST OFFICE.  In North America, I can mail things in a flat rate box, fill it up to 70lbs, and only pay a flat rate of less than $15 bucks, and for a small box, only $5.  Not only that, but it will get there within two or three days, max.

 
I can also mail jewelry, gold, silver, coins, and bullion.  I can also ship flat rate internationally at very reasonable rates, such as $20 to $40.  On top of that, the flat rate boxes, which come in three or four different sizes and shapes, are free.   I cannot do or get any of those things here in Ecuador.


A couple of months ago a guy said he was going to mail me some “blackstrap molasses” from Quito to Cuenca on a "trade" we had agreed on.   He went through the Ecuador post office.  I tried to discourage him, but he became annoyed so I backed off.  I never received the package. 


I cannot ship gold or silver, bullion or jewelry, or coins through the mail here in Cuenca Ecuador.  I went to the DHL office yesterday, and not only can I not ship those things, but for a light package with just documents, they want $50 to $60 dollars, and if I want to ship some kind of small item I was quoted $120 dollars. 
 

Meanwhile I see sellers on Ebay from India quoting only $35 dollars to ship from India all the way to North America, using the very same DHL company.  Figure that one out?  Not today

I also stopped at the post office and asked for a postal shipping envelope, and they, err… said they didn’t have any.  Ok, so maybe you won’t be mailing anything and it will not matter.  Let’s move on…
 

HARDWARE STORES: The days of going to a big chain hardware store like Lowe’s and Home Depot are over.  I have to go run around town to at least 2,3 or 4 different stores to get what I need, and frequently I still don’t get it because they’re “out”, or they just don’t carry it.   We’ve written about a recent trip to hardware stores here…and well, If that was all it wouldn’t matter much. 

What does matter is that frequently the quality of the  goods is, at best, questionable.  I’ve gone through four light bulbs in two weeks, on one or two fixtures…$1.75-$2.00 each. Going from memory, we’ve thrown out at least two dozen small appliances within a little over a year, including lamps that fall apart, and lamps you can’t put back together after trying to fix them.  I’m very happy with my home made lamp covers I made for less than one dollar each. (Self sufficiency trumps again!) I’ve started making my own lamps, believe that?  It’s true.  They cost me just as much, but will probably last a lifetime.  They’re not as ginger bready though, but I’m working on that.

On that same note, the cost of items is at least twice that in North America.  If you want something that lasts it may even cost three times as much or more.  We’re basically held hostage to this pricing mechanism because there’s no used market to speak of.  Something us frugal folk really take for granted up north.


Speaking of Chain Stores, wait till you run around town trying to find a specialty item, like say, blackstrap molasses.  Up north, I just go to a health store, which is quite easy to find, not only that, every health store I’ve been to up north stocks it.  But here in Cuenca Ecuador, it has taken me over a year, yes that long, to find blackstrap molasses. 


Do you really want to know how many stores I had to try and ask for blackstrap molasses? There is a LOT of health stores in Cuenca Ecuador.  Not to mention that none of them even knew what blackstrap molasses was, which means they couldn’t point me to where I could get them.  I’ve been drinking it every morning for over twenty years, but here in the “best retirement city in the world” I’ve had to go without it for 14 months.  Some people would have left the country over that.  It looks like engaging in “hope” does have its advantages…I finally found it.


The lack of industrialization has many advantages, but convenience is not one of them.  I once saw posted on a forum where to get “sea salt”.  Well, we kept going there two to three times a week to get our sea salt, and they were always “out”.  These stores are so small, that even this so called small expat community can clean out the shelves on a store so small that it has nothing to compare it to up north.  Let’s just say they average 400 to 500 total square feet.  I never got my sea salt because I got tired of walking over there and being told they were out.  So don’t ask where I found the molasses, I’m not going to tell you.


OFFICE SUPPLY: Been looking for “index cards” for weeks now, nowhere to be found.  I have one larger “papeleria” (office supply) to go check, they might have them there.  I asked a young gal behind the counter at one of these papeleria’s, that let on she spoke English, “How do you say, index cards” in Spanish?  She said, “There isn’t a Spanish word for them!”  Oh, well that explains it. Wonders of wonder, will I ever cease to be amazed in this best retirement city in the world? 


I told my son to make his own (index cards), (self sufficient thinking works well here) but he insists on having the index cards.  He keeps telling me to “keep looking”. ..Persistence may pay off once again.
 

Used to love going to SAM’S CLUB.  Use to rummage through all the different kinds of cheeses, especially Parmesan cheese.  I can’t live without that.  I used to tell my sons, “as long as I can get Parmesan Cheese and Olive Oil” I can be happy anywhere.  I can get it here, but we no longer buy parmesan cheese at SuperMaxi.   The last few batches I couldn’t even tell there was any cheese at all on my pasta.  It had no flavor. 

Those folks at the cheese making place must be “forgetting” to age it even a month or two, they must be selling it like hot cakes, seeing that there is nowhere else to get it, at least, not a well known obvious place…


…and the olive oil?  It used to cost me $16.50 for a gallon in South Carolina. Are you ready for this? It costs me $43 dollars for the same gallon of Extra Virgin Olive Oil in Cuenca.  To be fair, I think it’s fresher. But olive oil doesn’t spoil anyway.  And for $27 extra dollars, I could look the other way…

… the other day, I’m talking to my mom on the long distance phone and telling her about all the wonderful things about this “best retirement city in the world” of Cuenca Ecuador.  But she keeps asking me, “Yes, but are you happy there”?  I keep telling her the same thing, “Mom, I was happy before I came here”.  That’s my answer, and I’m sticking to it…

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