Wednesday, March 5, 2014

My Top FIVE List of Surprises

Any time you visit some place new, you will find things that are different. Some are fun, some require creativity and some are a little shocking. While some of these might not have been a surprise to all folks visiting, these are the ones I consider at the top of MY list.

1.) Size - every thing seems to smaller and not just the people. Paper towels, paper napkins, sanitary napkins, toilet paper...hmmm, I see a theme here. Something to do with paper? Well, we discovered that standard copy/printer paper is larger. Yup, not our traditional 8 1/2" x 11". Oh yeah, they use the metric system here. File folders are bigger and most we've found are legal size. I did get some letter size, Ecuadorian letter size, but they are really thin. Adding to the mule list - index cards and file folders.

2) Unless you've visited Mexico, the fact that you shouldn't flush toilet paper is one of the biggies for most folks. Cuenca is a very old city and most plumbing won't handle the TP (or anything else not produced by your body). There are a few newer buildings where it's not an issue but we just go along with the standard and use the trash bin.

You will often see signs but not always. Just do it. ;)

But that's not the only thing. My first visit to the public restrooms at the big mall here, Mall del Rio, had me glad that I always carry tissues with me. While I had read that many public rest areas require you to get your TP before you enter your stall, I had forgotten that little tidbit.There are also public restrooms in more open areas, close to parks, shopping areas, etc. and there you will pay the attendant ten cents to get your little stash of TP.

Most folks wonder about the odor, expecting bathrooms to smell like a Porta-Potty at a biker event. Not so...you are not disposing of the actual waste and that accumulation in the bottom of the portable outhouse is what smells. The TP dries quickly and only if left in a closed container for too long, is there any odor. We use plastic bins with garbage bags and I've never noticed any odors. Garbage is picked up on a regular basis here so if you keep your trash emptied, you're good to go!

Oh, and if you want to read a GREAT blog post about this, check out fellow author Kathryn McCullough's recent blog post.

3.) While wandering around town, we often see whole pigs roasting at roadside tiendas. They hack off a slice and serve it with rice, plantains and soup. While it smells very good and I can handle seeing the pig, we haven't been brave enough to eat at any place that hasn't been recommended by other expats. I know, not all that adventurous but better for our health. Our good friend, Emilio, a local resident spend a weekend in the hospital after eating some empanadas at a roadside spot in Quito.
Photo courtesy of S. Turpin, Facebook Ecuador Expats Group
Photo courtesy of K. James, Facebook Ecuador Expats Group

But even if you can seemingly handle seeing whole pigs roasting as you walk/ride around town, this next one might get you. Eating guinea pig or cuy (in Spanish) - we haven't done this yet but we have seen the roasting spits and signs for them. They are considered quite a delicacy as well as being tasty. The hardest part was seeing live guinea pigs for sale at the local markets (mercados). You know they aren't being sold as pets. We also have learned that many folks who live in more rural areas raise their own guinea pigs for eating. Gulp!

Photo courtesy of K. James, Facebook Ecuador Expats Group
Photo courtesy of N. Turpin, Facebook Ecuador Expats Group

Photo courtesy of  B. Rand, taken in Banos while on a
motorcycle tour with Ecuador Freedom Bike Rental
Photo courtesy of  B. Rand, taken in Banos while on a
motorcycle tour with Ecuador Freedom Bike Rental

4.) Public displays of affection between young couples are everywhere! If you frequent the parks or the river trails, you will see them huddled together exchanging whispers and kisses without regard for anyone around them. It's actually quite endearing!



In addition, families go everywhere together - mothers and daughters are often seen hand in hand. Older children carry younger ones, hold their hands and watch over them - regardless of age difference. We spent several days at both the immigration office and the civil registry office while getting all our legal things tied up. One person needs to come in to get something done but the whole family (multi-generational) all come with them. Fun to watch!

5.) While the above is enjoyable, there is one public display that isn't quite as palatable for most. Public urination is against the law in Cuenca but obviously enforcing that law is a chore and mostly ignored. Most men are discreet, at least during the day. We've seen wives along the riverbank holding up a blanket or shirt with their husband behind it. The worst part is walking the streets of El Centro on a warm day. You learn which corner locations are the worst and avoid them. Sorry folks, this is a reality here. You learn to deal with it or you avoid the historic downtown area.

I am sure I could think of more things but these are the ones that struck me the most. If you've ever visited a foreign country, what was YOUR biggest surprise?

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