Every country has its quirks, and Ecuador is no exception. Humble old Ecuador has a reputation for being one of the more easy going countries in the Americas. But behind its quaint charm, Ecuador can be surprisingly … strange and adorable at the same time. Perhaps I sound like I’m complaining – which in some cases, I am. But, I really love Ecuador. I love the people, the culture and especially the stunning landscape. And of course, we’re all entitled to our little eccentricities, Ecuador included. So Ecuador, don’t let me stop you being weird, because you’re beautiful too.
Ask yourself, what makes a comfortable sofa? Is it Cosy? Snuggly? Spongy? How about: stiff, awkward and pretentious? Sure, those characteristics might match my personality (bam!), but when I come home I don’t want to sit in something with a comfort level that hovers somewhere between church pew and tyre swing. Yet apparently, most Ecuadorians do. For some reason wonky, antique-looking furniture is all the craze here.
In Ecuador, milk comes in bags. Because a flimsy, easily punctured bag is the best possible way to transport a liquid. Ecuador isn’t alone here – Bolivians do the same thing. Still, it make about as much sense as gift wrapping caltrops.
Given that Ecuadorian coffee is kinda a big deal in hipster coffee shops in Australia, I assumed before coming here that the coffee would be pretty decent. So, the first time I sat in a cafe and got handed a mug of hot water and a tub of Nescafe, something inside me died. To be clear, decent coffee can be found, but most people prefer to drink a murky black mass of bad thing (yeah, that’s the best description I’ve got). My working theory is that most cafes make their “coffee” by scraping bitumen off the road and boiling it with dirt and hipster tears.
Ecuadorians love their chochos. What is chocho, you ask? Well that depends. If you’re Ecuadorian, chocho is the name of an eclectic street snack comprised of roasted corn, potato chips, raw onion, popcorn (and whatever else you can get early in the morning at a 7/11) dumped into a single large bowl and drowned in lemon juice. It’s pretty good, and Ecuadorians crave the hell out of it. It’s not unusual to go to a park on a Sunday and see queues snaking in all directions from to chocho stands. Oh, and that “it depends” part? If you’re Cuban, chocho is slang for genitals. Makes for an awkward conversation.
If there’s one thing Quito denizens like more than chocho, it’s malls. I get the feeling that people here do something I’m going to term “Mall Crawl” – ie, spend entire days trekking from one mall to another. It wouldn’t be difficult, as each mall is normally within sight of another mall.
The Trolley Bus Entrepreneurs
One of Quito’s most distinct infrastructure features is its network of overcrowded trolley buses. Think Tokyo subway (yes, I speak from experience), but with one major difference: live music. For some reason, instead of being on the streets, buskers and beggars congregate on the trolley buses, where they join the masses in battling elbow to elbow to squeeze onto the overcrowded buses. Once the bus gets going, somehow they’ll whip out a guitar, begging bowl or beat box and start making noises. Whether it’s a quatro getting strangled or a story about being blind and dying of cancer, in the end it will involve some dude trying to penetrate a wall of half suffocated human mass to collect a few bucks. The real kick to the groin comes when you realise everyone around you is showering this person in money; it’s like he just got married and small change is confetti. Now hear me out, I’m not trying to be insensitive or callous. On the street I appreciate buskers, and can sympathise with beggars that have fallen on hard luck. But, while I’m gasping for air on an overcrowded bus, the last thing I want to see is a guy waiting at the next station with a blind man’s cane, a begging bowl and a goddamn cello.
Until I came to Ecuador, I had a healthy sense of apathy towards receipts. Now, I hate them. In Ecuador, whenever you buy anything you will be asked a deceptively single-seeming question: data or no data? If you say “no data”, then BING! You get a receipt. If you say “data,” then you need to hand over a stack of personal information like your ID number, home address, etc. It’s about as fun as Data‘s shitty jokes, and can take a good five minutes for a receipt with data to be produced. Things will get even more complicated if you go to a kind of business subject to new legislation that requires electronic receipts. Basically, an extra layer of fucktardery is added to the whole receipt-giving-process by the fact that the company needs to send an email to the customer with a pdf copy of a receipt. Now, this bureaucratic time-destroying quicksand wouldn’t be a big deal if it wasn’t common – like if everyone just agreed to say “no data,” or if it was only needed for large purchases. The problem is that neither is the case. Thanks to Ecuador’s tax system, everyone wants their data on all of their receipts, which means waiting in line to buy a cup of coffee can be about as pleasant as eating your own eyes.
Everything Has a Sausage on It
If you try and buy a snack in Ecuador, it will have a spam sausage on it. Two of the most common snacks are salchi-papas (hot chips/ French fries with sausage) and salchi-pollo (chicken with sausage). I don’t understand why, but everything just has to be accompanied with spam sausage; presumably, to add a bit of mystery to your day. But don’t try evading the sausage. If you try to order your salchi without the papas, you’ll just confuse everyone.