Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Village Life Part 4: In and Out

The main reaction we get from people back home, upon learning that we’re living in Ecuador, is wonder at how we manage (and gasps at the fact that we’re doing it all with a toddler). In the next two post I’ll be talking about some of the minutia of our lives here, and the practical things, which we often take for granted back home, but which easily serve to make or break our day (or week).


I love food, but if I could get by without cooking, I would be a happy camper (good thing I have my husband, who is a wonderful cook!). But having food on hand and preparing it is a good deal more involved than at home.

For our first three months here it was somewhat easy. We didn’t have a fridge, so we didn’t cook. Breakfast was jam on bread, or cereal prepared with powdered milk (which, like so many things in this country, had extra sugar added). For lunch and dinners we ate at Olga’s “restaurant”. Lunch is the biggest meal, and consists of a bowl of soup, a plate with meat, rice, and veggies, and a glass of fresh juice or cola. Price: $1.50. Dinner is basically the same as lunch, minus the soup. Price: $1.25. Most of the time we’d eat at Olga’s, but since dinner wasn’t generally ready until 7pm, which is Baby Girl’s bedtime, often one of us would walk down with an empty pot, some bowls, and a pitcher, and get “carry-out”.

Olga's restaurant and store
Olga’s also has a mini tienda attached, where you can buy staples like rice, flour, oil, cans of tuna, butter, laundry detergent, TP, fresh chicken, eggs, some produce, and drinks. Even though Olga doesn’t get to see us as much as she would like since we cook for ourselves these days, we still make extensive use of her store when we run out of staples, and several times a week for fresh chicken.

We eat a lot of chicken. I mean A LOT. Like nearly every day of the week. It’s what’s most easily available. You can buy it by the pound ($1.50) from most of the little tiendas in the village, and even from some people’s houses. There is a butcher in town who slaughters a cow in the wee hours every Sunday, but we’re never up quite early enough to buy from him (a 5am wake-up call for a weird cut of beef, no thank you). There are also people who come through the village selling seafood, but I really don’t want to try de-scaling and gutting fish in our kitchen with a toddler running around. So chicken it is.

The sacrificial cow, awaiting her fate. Should it worry me that on some weeks there is a horse tethered to the second post to the left of the cow?
Most of our produce we buy off the back of pickup trucks that come through the village. The offerings are fairly monotonous, but get us through. We typically buy onions, potatoes, avocados, limes, green peppers, and tomatoes. Sometimes we’ll get lucky and a fruit truck will make it down to our end of the village, and depending on the season we can get mandarins, oranges, mangos, pineapple, or watermelon, all for pretty cheap. We avoid things like lettuce and strawberries, or anything that doesn’t peel and you’d eat raw, which would necessitate being washed in a mild bleach solution before consumption.

The majority of our food we get from Mi Comisariato (kind of an Ecuadorian Walmart) that’s located two hours away, by bus, in Libertad. There we buy boxes of milk (whole and semi-skim, ultra-pasteurized and shelf stable so that they don’t have to be refrigerated until opened) by the dozen, boxes of juice and wine, cereal, cheese, yogurt, non-chicken meat (and some chicken to have on reserve for when the stores around here don’t have any), diapers, and a lot of dry goods. When I’m lucky the bag boys have boxes that they can pack everything in, and we have an insulated backpack (courtesy of my in-laws) that I use to bring back the perishables. Unlucky days I get saddled with dozens and dozens of plastic bags. The bag boys wheel our boxes of groceries out to the taxi stand, we get driven to the bus terminal (really, it’s not as fancy as it sounds), the bus attendants load the boxes under the bus, and then two hours unload them at the crossroads to our village. Our local taxi service guys load up the boxes into their trucks, drive me up to my door, and even help me unload. The local taxi costs $0.35 per person, each trip, the bus costs between $1 and $1.25, and each taxi ride (two each trip) costs $1.

While these trips take a lot of time (minimally five hours), I only have to make the trip once every other week. The grocery store also has pretty much everything that we’re used to preparing at home, plus some goodies like Nutella, Doritos, and brownie mix, so we feel pretty comfortable and as close to being at home as we can. Being able to cook like we normally do has been really important in getting us settled in. But I’m really looking forward to partaking in a huge leafy salad when we get back, and a big bleeding steak.


The village has its own water supply and water tower, so we have access to treated water. It’s considered potable, and people in the village drink it, but it would still do a number on us who are not used to the local flora. Because of the water tower most houses have running water, though we need to help ours a bit by pumping it up into a reservoir on the roof, and from there it drains into the house. Doing dishes and bathing is a snap, but draining the reservoir during a power outage can be a bit problematic. The village charges $2 a month for normal usage.

For drinking water we get those big 25 liter water cooler jugs of purified water. They cost $1.70 a jug, but a friend of ours delivers them to our door for $2 a jug. We go through about two a week. It was a bit difficult at first to adjust to things like not filling your glass from the faucet, and only rinsing your toothbrush with the purified water, but we eventually got the hang of it.


Trucks come through the village twice a week for trash pick-up – on Wednesday and Saturday. This is fairly reliable, though we went for nearly a month without any trash service after Christmas, and that was definitely a problem. Our trash is divided into five categories: general “dry” trash, empty cartons and bottles (which would normally be recycled at home), food scraps, diapers, and bathroom trash. The bathroom trash includes used toilet paper, because the septic systems here aren’t capable of handling flushed paper.

Since we divide this stuff up, it’s interesting to see how little garbage we’re actually producing. At home we won’t be throwing away toilet paper, we’ll be recycling a lot, using cloth diapers, and hopefully starting a composting system. The only trash we’ll still be producing is a small amount of “dry” trash, less than a full trashcan a week, I’d imagine.

This garbage pick-up system is pretty cushy, which is why I just can’t understand why people (our next door neighbors in particular) still insist on burning their trash, especially plastics! We are downwind of their place, so whenever they burn we get absolutely lovely fumes wafting into the house. For some of the more ecologically minded out there, I’m curious: in the absence of a recycling program, which actually has the lower impact on the environment, burying plastic in a landfill or burning it in your back yard?

1 comment:

  1. Wait until this country discovers SPAM.
    They'll be singing like Vikings in British Breakfast Shop.