Once the furniture arrived, life settled down in Ecuador. With our “American” appliances installed in the kitchen, we could finally cook at home. Well, the double ovens didn’t work and we couldn’t find an adapter for the dishwasher connection but we had a refrigerator, stove and a coffee maker.
Repairmen from a local appliance store identified the circuit board needed to repair the ovens. I ordered it online and had it shipped to my office in Atlanta. On my next trip, I brought it back and the guys installed it. There didn’t seem to be anything we couldn’t get done in spite of the language barrier.
The routine was that I would work from Ecuador one week and in Atlanta the next. A red-eye flight out of Quito on Sunday got me to Atlanta at 5am. The return trip wasn’t as convenient since the Friday evening flight arrived in Quito at 11:45pm and there was no connecting flight to Cuenca until Saturday morning. I found a great little hotel in Quito, the Eugenia, that catered to my late arrival and the trip wasn’t bad at all.
We bought a barbecue grill and I found a way to modify it to fit the propane tanks that we used for the house. There was a supermarket that was very similar to any grocery store in the U.S. Indigenous markets (the Mercado) and a cooperative market had everything you could imagine.
Farmers brought fruit, vegetables, beef and poultry to the Mercado every day. You could buy a live chicken for $1. There was shrimp, tuna and tilapia, fresh flowers, clothes, pots, pans and baskets. There were fruits and vegetables we had never seen before and, everything was negotiable.
They’d state the price, I’d counter. After a few visits you became accustomed to the process. I looked forward to the game, I enjoyed it.
The sights and smells were a cornucopia to the senses. Almost anything you could buy in the States, you could find in these various markets. You might have to look for a local version or understand local packaging (milk in a box) but the variety was there.
The lunch stands were the real treat of the Mercado with fresh roasted pork simmering on a spit. It was usually served with roasted potatoes and fresh maze…for $1.50. Fifty cents more and you could also have a fresh fruit smoothie. This traditional meal was served like fast food is in the States.
Pigs roasted along the side of the road all day, or in small restaurants around town, on the side of the highway. Everywhere.
The things we couldn’t find at the Mercardo, the supermarket (Super Maxi) or the hardware stores would be sold in “shops” along the roads to our house. There were garden centers, paint stores, appliances were sold out of the back of a truck parked on the side of the road.
The Eucalyptus tree was introduced to Ecuador – it is not an indigenous tree. It grew rampant and literally took over the country.The best way to control it was to cut it for firewood.
I found a place near our house where we paid $0.50/bundle. Eventually we had a wood shed built behind the house and filled the shed with firewood for less than $20 bucks.
Every day was an adventure. Everything we did took a little research, a little exploring. Life was an adventure.
A routine of sorts was developing around life in Ecuador.
Running at altitude was a frustrating adjustment. I read everything I could get my hands on. It did nothing to prepare me. Pace is significantly slower. I had just run a marathon yet, six miles at altitude was exhausting and nothing you think will help actually does. I became winded running downhill. Uphill was torturous. Runs ended with nausea, sometimes a headache or both.
Every other Sunday afternoon I drove my husband to the airport. The first few times were terribly stressful. I was afraid of getting lost trying to find home again. I didn’t fully know how to describe where we lived…not that I could have asked for help in Spanish or understood a reply.
Coming home in the dark, alone in a foreign country was unnerving. Everything seemed spookier and for a long time I wasn’t sure if maybe the bad guys would target my house when they saw that I came and went alone all week. I slept with my knife under the pillow.
Most days were spent unpacking the gazillion boxes we had lugged over. Some dishes were broken but there was less damage than we expected. The second container was miraculously spared an inspection. The antler chandelier survived and eventually found its place high up above the family room. It looked like it had always been meant to be there.
The walls of our home were concrete block – no Sheetrock. This made for very hard work of hanging pictures and drapes. Drilling through the concrete was slow going and a workout. The muscles in my shoulders and arms ached for weeks.
The architect didn’t send the workers around quite as often even though there were lots of things left to do. Part of our routine was to stop by his office every other day to beg him to please finish the driveway, deliver the bathtub, or repair one of many leaks in the roof.
Our attorney got involved and convinced him to send a crew to landscape. Instead of sod, they showed up with bags of individual grass sprigs. It looked like our yard was transplanted with hair plugs. It didn’t grow very well and the yard was always muddy.
It was common knowledge that if you got robbed, it was likely by someone who worked for you. Labor was so cheap. It was attractive to gringos that you could hire a housekeeper on the smallest of budgets. Many of the locals had live-in maids or caretakers. We had built a caretaker’s house with visions of a lovely older couple that would stay at home with the dogs while we traveled.
The architect suggested we hire Jose, one of the young men that worked on the house. It was a logical suggestion. He had just gotten married and his wife was pregnant. This brought with it complications, but we finally agreed. Neither of them spoke a word of English.
Jose worked all week and went partying Friday night, pockets flush with money. We wouldn’t see him again until Sunday. She didn’t seem to have much energy for anything but TV. When we asked her to keep the porch swept, she obliged with this chore at 6:30am, even if we were still in bed. The dogs would bark, startle us awake, and there she would be – staring into the uncovered French doors of our bedroom.
We decided we would sweep our own porch and the caretaker and his pregnant wife were let go.
Our house was so beautiful, but it was always cold. We had brought over a wood burning stove and there were two fireplaces. Firewood was cheap but it was eucalyptus and while I love fresh eucalyptus, burnt eucalyptus has a distinctly sour smell. Our house was always cold and it always smelled odd.
I was homesick.… and then back at home, my mother got sick.