In light of the barrage of recent somewhat depressing or downright depressing blog posts, I wanted to bring some humor to the blog again. Back in December, I authored my first “Things Ecuadorians Like” post, and I figured since it’s been over a month, it’s high time for part 2 in the series. Enjoy!
Ecuadorians are always cold. This is something I notice in a variety of circumstances. Quito’s weather is, by most American standards, pretty perfect. It could be said that the temperatures here are like eternal spring (though Medellín, Colombia claims that title in the guidebooks). Most of the time, all year round, the weather is in the 70’s. Nice, right? But give the day a bit of a breeze, or put a few clouds in the sky, or (God forbid) the temperature drops down into the 60’s, and your friendly neighborhood Ecuadorians will be putting on their puffy jackets and scarves and exclaiming Achachay! (Translation: kichwa word for “It’s cold!) Even in my classroom, when I keep the window opened for fresh air, my students will attempt to close it or put on their jackets. This tendency of Ecuadorians to feel cold all the time shone no clearer to me than during one of my bus rides back from the jungle. We were bussing from Tena, where the temperature was oppressively warm and humidity levels probably reached somewhere in the 80-90% range, and the bus started off at a pleasant 19 degrees Celsius (about 65 degrees F), which felt quite nice considering how much we were sweating from waiting about in the heat for our bus to depart. Slowly, as we left the jungle, the temperature of the bus climbed steadily until it reached about 80 degrees. I was in jeans and a tee shirt, and I was dying. I was unfortunate enough to be sitting in a seat that had no window (only every OTHER window seat had one) and I asked the gentleman behind me if he would please crack his open. His response? “My wife (who was sleeping!) is cold. No.” So then I tried the bus driver, begging him to turn on the air conditioning, and he told me, Los otros pasajeros tienen frío. Lo siento. How it was possible for an 80-degree bus whose windows were fogged from the breath of so many passengers felt cold to the Ecuadorian passengers will forever remain a mystery to this American and one of the greatest examples of how Ecuadorians Are Always Cold.
Yes, that’s right. I mean the dog. I’ve always been attuned to dogs around me–ask any of my friends. They know that I will spot a dog from a few blocks away and most of the time want to go pet it. But in all my years of keen dog-spotting, I have never seen so many schnauzers. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen more schnauzers in Quito than I had in the entire 22 years prior. Lauren and I like to play a game to see how many we can spot on morning runs. Most days we see at least 3 or 4 in the park alone! Lauren’s host family has two schnauzers and mine has one that lives with the grandparents. They are ubiquitous. I’m still not clear on why schnauzers are so popular–they are maniacal, extremely energetic dogs and not all that cute. I think they must be cheaper than other, cuter, calmer pups.
Images of Mary and Jesus Everywhere
Let me preface this one with a brief disclaimer: I respect the religious beliefs and practices of Latinos. I appreciate the piety and wish I had close to an iota of the faith that most of the people around me have. Nonetheless, as an American unaccustomed to such fervor, I find it amusing that images of Mary and Jesus are so widely spread. And I’m not talking about in churches even. Religious imagery in church is standard practice, unless you’re a Calvinist I suppose. But here you can find religious icons in the most random of places. One stand-out location is on buses. Many of the city buses have pictures of Jesus, Mary, or some type of religious quote on the back of the bus or right behind the driver seat. Most of the time, they’re quoting the Bible, which in all honesty I can appreciate. Bus drivers here are locos and I have been a bit nervous on rides more than once. Here’s one picture that I took a couple months ago of just such an image:
But this one is particularly funny, because the Bible verse is actually in Portuguese (top left corner) and the Spanish words say “Welcome, thanks for choosing us!” Which I kind of doubt is what Jesus had in mind.
Here’s another great one, spotted while walking in Mindo one afternoon:
Yep, that’s a joven sporting a flaming Jesus on his tank top. No words.
So for those familiar with Ecuador, you know we have big stores like Megamaxi and Supermaxi which are basically large stores where you can find everything from deodorant and clothing to cilantro and peanut butter. These places make me feel like I’m right back in the States. But there is a preponderance of tiny tiendas that dot most blocks. By tiny, I mean perhaps the size of your bedroom. They are stocked with maybe 5-20 of a given item. You can only pay with coins and small bills there because 9 times out of 10 they won’t have change for anything bigger than a $5. And actually, they are cheaper than the big stores. I personally like to frequent them for items like grenadillas, yogurt, and Magnum bars (see: afternoon snacks). I’m not sure how they stay in business considering how many there are, though. On one street of my block alone, there are two of them. And there can be a noticeable price difference even then. Merkados, a store directly across the street from where I work (with a creative name at that–mercado means market in Spanish), they charge .95 cents for a vanilla yogurt with granola. At the tienda a few steps down and across the street, the same yogurt costs .80 cents. What?
Transporting Massive Loads on Their Backs
I have to give it to Ecuadorians. They are clearly one strong group of people, if the loads they carry are any indication. It is a common occurrence to see Ecuadorians walking down the street with enormous objects tied onto their backs. It’s especially common in smaller towns and on older people, for some reason. Most of the time, they secure large baskets, buckets, or bundles to their backs using some type of sheet. I’ve seen people carrying everything from flowers to chopped wood to buckets of fruit to piles of Alpaca blankets. Sometimes, the loads look like they weigh about the same as the person carrying them. I have to hand it to the incredibly strong, tiny Ecuadorian men and women out there who manage to load most of their body weight on their backs and march it gracefully from one destination to another.
And my final thoughts for part 2…
I always thought of oatmeal as something you eat. You know, with some raisins and cinnamon, and maybe some dried coconut or banana and a spoon. I never dreamed of drinking oatmeal, but here that’s almost exclusively how you find oatmeal. My host mom buys packs of ground up oatmeal and makes warm fruity drinks out of it. She particularly likes it with naranjilla or maracuyá, which give the drink a curious tangy/oaty flavor combination. She also makes oatmeal drinks in a more classic style, grinding up the oats and cooking them in milk. This drink is used as a dip for bread and is a common dinner at my host family’s place. Then there’s the oatmeal drink section at the supermarkets and even the smaller tiendas. There are a few different brands, and you can buy oatmeal drinks in juice boxes. Originally I wasn’t so stoked on the idea of drinking oatmeal from a box, but it’s surprisingly delicious. Who knew?