10 Years of Blog Archive

Friday, December 11, 2015

11 Cultural Quirks that Are Not (Usually) Talked about in Cuenca Ecuador

Before we begin, let us just say, “We love Ecuador! We’re still here, aren’t we? And just because we’re telling you some of its dirty little secrets (that are right out in the open) does not mean we don’t like it here or its people. Ecuador is probably one of the best countries for folks who prefer frugal living and the laid back lifestyle.  It’s a beautiful diverse country with many kind folks but some of the quirks of the culture can make life a bit challenging at times.

1. Relentless burning that takes place in all residential neighborhoods.   Fresh air is part of our overall health, and keeping an airy ambiance in the house at all times is important to us; keeping windows cracked open also helps us sleep better but most of the time someone is burning and the smoke wafts into our bedroom through the cracked window.  If we’re still awake we simply close the window but if we’re already sleeping we invariably wake up with a headache from involuntary smoke inhalation.

Unfortunately, Latin folks like to burn; they burned every night when we were in panama too. What are they burning? We think they burn their garbage and anything else on their property that is burnable, although we sometimes smell things that should not be burned, like plastic, rubber, clothing; that’s the worst smell. Some of the small time “lot” farmers, also burn what they should be just burying. (composting).

2. Coughing up and spitting all over the sidewalks and inside the buses. It’s really gross. One time when we were traveling to the coast we stayed in a very nice hostel. Upon entering the room I sat my back pack on the bedspread and the Ecuadorian owner said, “Please do not put your back packs on the bedspread the bus floors are filthy from spit, urine, vomit, etc.”  Well, did I feel like an idiot.

It really makes sense and I’ve never sat my back-pack on any table or bed cover since then.  Before moving to Ecuador, we never traveled by national bus and didn’t think about those kinds of things happening on the buses. We know that we wouldn’t spit, barf or pee on the bus but I guess some people do those things.

Have you ever been walking down the side walk and there’s a huge spit wad right in front of you? Here, that’s normal…just giving potential newcomers to Cuenca a heads up. You do want to know all of these little details, right?

3. The sand in the basil and the sticks in the oregano. Yep, that’s right when you buy the loosely packed dried herbs at the grocery stores it comes with sand, sticks, tiny rocks, etc. Not that we’ve never found a rock in our beans or lentils in the good ole U.S but here, the herbs always have sand or sticks every time.  You can pay three times as much, which is more than in the U.S and get the jarred dried herbs, but that would defeat the “frugal living purpose”, wouldn’t it?  It’s an annoyance but we put up with it, besides a little sand in your marinara sauce is good for you.

4. Defecating in the river. In the four years we’ve lived here we have seen three different local men defecating in the rivers. Imagine for a moment, if you will, you are enjoying your stroll along the River Yanuncay, listening to the birds tweeting one another, hearing the flow of the river, and simply enjoying the lovely nature around you, when suddenly you see the moon, bright as day, staring up at you? We thought the moon shots were saved for Hollywood flicks, but apparently not…you get them here in Ecuador on occasion too.

6. Washing the vegetables on the side of the street in puddles after it rains. Ah yes, we’ve seen produce vendors wash some of their vegetables in puddles along the side of the road.  It goes without saying, wash your vegetables really well!

7. Young people making out and literally some of them having sex under blankets. Ecuador has the highest teenage pregnancy rates in all of South America! In fact, curiosity got the best of me and doing more research we find that Ecuador has double the teenage pregnancy rates per 1000 teenage girls between the ages of 15 and 19 than the U.S has. To see rates worldwide, go here.

Source: World Bank 
and Inter Press Service News Agency

When we first moved here we were amazed with all the young people making out in Cuenca, and in public view! We’ve observed young people having sex under blankets on the Ecuador coast. When they finished the VERY young couple got up and they didn’t look any older than 14 or 15. Did they really think they were fooling the few people that were on the beach just because they had a blanket?

8. Incessant nose picking. When our boys were little and we caught them picking their noses, we’d say “Levi le mani dal naso" - "remove your hands from your nose". It’s expected to catch little boys and girls picking their noses, they’re children, but adults that don’t seem to think anyone is watching?  That’s a sight for tender eyes.

9. The new Catholic school (mini-skirt) uniforms.  In 2011 the skirts were at the knee, in 2013 some of the school uniform skirts were about an inch above the knee and now, (some) of the skirts are mini!  And this is for a Catholic school?! This takes us back to #7 on this list. There are no words…

10.  Ecuador grows coffee but most restaurants serve Nescafe instant.  Coffee lovers will probably agree with me; nothing is so pitiful than being served a cup of instant coffee in a country that grows coffee!  And if you want milk (leche) they charge $0.50 to $1.00 more for the coffee. Now what’s wrong with this picture?

11. Eating Pets, Oh No!  Having three sons, I can’t remember when they were growing up, not having rats, mice, gerbils, and hamsters living in their bedrooms, and even pet snakes and turtles. At night sometimes they would even get loose and climb onto our beds, the mice, not the snakes! The things we do for our children!
They were our pets. When we traveled long distances, Angelo would bring his pet hamster,” buddy” with him so he could take care of him.  When Alex was a teenager he created a website on the care and breeding of hamsters. And here, they keep asking us to eat one?
cuy - guinea pig - Cuenca Ecuador
Guinea pigs, a favorite traditional food of some parts of South America, look and act just like pet hamsters and gerbils. To us they are pets. It wouldn’t be so bad if the Ecuadorians wouldn’t get offended when you tell them you don’t want to eat a certain food, but they do…they get offended by taking it personal. We’re not judging anyone’s food lifestyle, however we are not the least bit curious about eating guinea pig and it’s just not a big deal to us, but you go right ahead and enjoy!

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guinea_pig

If you liked this article, then you might like these ones too.
We're an Expat Family of Five, Living Frugal, Healthy and Happy Abroad. We live in Cuenca, Ecuador and travel the Ecuador coast whenever we get a chance. We just adventured throughout the country of Panama for five weeks! Come along and enjoy some of our experiences with us!


  1. Hi Frank & Angie

    Thanks again for your many posts...I am living on the Ecuador coast now, but I find your Cuenca ( and even sometimes Panama ) stories and tips to be very applicable.

    Just curious here though...what happened to #5?

    Can only picture it was judged too delicate for family consumption! ( LOL )

    Best wishes to you and your family!...and thanks again for your welcome perspective on Ecuador!

    1. Good question...We'll add #5 shortly. Glad you're enjoying the blog/videos. Thanks for commenting.


HMFamilyLife and Discover Cuenca Ecuador Comment Policy
We welcome applicable and respectful comments. Off-topic comments may be removed.