Our trip to Ecuador has been mostly pleasant and relaxing. Barry has joined me and Mike, forming a trio of experienced, savvy (I hope) and adventurous travelers south of the Equator. The only problem so far, is that Barry drinks tea, not coffee. Mike and I need our morning coffee, just like back home, with Peet’s, Starbucks, or Chef Burger Coffee. We like the Juan Valdez chain of coffee shops from Columbia. We also hear that “Sweet and Coffee” is quite good.
This area we are staying is rather misnamed. The tour books call it Gringolandia, as it is fairly new and modern with a plethora of bars, restaurants, and clubs. Yet, all we see are locals, gathering up throughout the day, and particularly when it gets dark. I have yet to venture out around midnight when the largest crowds gather. Would I call it Times Square, Rush Street, or Peachtree? Not quite.
Tonight will be crazy since it is Halloween and the Day of the Dead. It is not even dark yet, and the crowds are forming. Plus Justin Beaver is in town for a concert. Every 14-year-old in Quito must be headed there right now! Traffic is a mess.
I can see why many Americans become expats down here. This country loves Americans. Along with using the US Dollar as the official currency, most things like politics and the economy are quite stable. The current oil boom means jobs and a great inflow of tax money into the government coffers. But interest rates to buy home run around 8%, and a whopping 16% for a new car!
But on the plus side, once anyone here, American or native reaches age 65, their property taxes, and utilities are cut by 50%, permanently. How is that for tax and income friendly versus the USA? The expats tend to congregate in their own areas, or mix well with the locals.
I wonder why people would move so far away, then mingle only with people just like them? I would want to learn the language and culture, make friends with locals, who could enhance my life here. On the negative side, albeit tiny, is the heavy tax on imported wine on imported wines and distilled spirits. In other words, please drink local stuff, like the local beer, and some rot gut stuff that looks and taste like moonshine, presumable their version of vodka, infused with their local flavors, like anise.
A shot of Jack Daniels goes for $10. Chocolate at a nearby chocolate emporium runs high, though the quality is equally high. But we bought chocolate, 80% pure, up in Otavalo yesterday for about 1/5 the price at a large grocery store.
Gas is under $2 a gallon. It rarely fluctuates. People take pride in their cars, as rarely do we see dented cars or broken glass on the ground. But people are bad drivers, and I would never ride a bike in the greater Quito area. We did see a few brave cyclists yesterday in the hills, crazy with the altitude. But the quality of the roads far surpasses ours back home.
They are investing in their future. One project in particular is both huge and perplexing. Their new airport about an hour outside of town is quite modern. But to build it, they had to flatten enough land to build long runways due to the altitude. To prevent erosion, they actually covered several entire hillsides, much larger than football fields, with cement. Then the cement was painted green. Were these Chinese engineers? Could they not have designed more environmentally friendly hillsides? I could see them terraced, with plants and trees, or even with some modest hydroelectric power. The massive runoff from the rain will create huge runoff and flood issues.
Our driver says Quito is safe, unlike our guide books. He also says the water supply is safe, as well as street food. After getting so sick in Ethiopia last summer, I am not so sure that I will partake. A liter bottle of water is only $.50!
It rains quite heavily most afternoons, not for long, and it generally does not linger. Up in Cotacachi yesterday, they actually lost power for about 20 minutes. In fact, the Chinese are building three big hydroelectric plants up in the mountains to stabilize their energy grid. So, I can guess where Ecuador’s oil will end up in the future.
I am still kicking myself for not buying a beautiful leather overnight bag, for well under $200. It would cost at least 2 to 3 times as much back home. Mike saw a beautiful horse hair bag, a little over the top, but quite something. It would match his new saddle he has in his new Corvette back home. I also saw a great pair of suede shoes, but they did not have my size!
As for Barry the V, he seems to be saving his retail therapy for Columbia. I will need to watch him closely. I do not want the guard dogs sniffing around my travel bags! More about the evening escapades tomorrow.