Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ecuador: Sunday

Sunday was…interesting. The morning started out pretty tame. Work up around 8, had shrimp Ceviche. The Ceviche I had was a cold soup made with lots of cilantro, limejuice and salt. It was tasty.

We left Santa Elena around 9:00 and started the 5-hour drive down to Buenavista. That drive was fun but very humbling. Outside of Santa Elena it looks like a wasteland. It didn’t help that it was cloudy (almost the whole trip, August is the coldest month of the year there). The closer we got to Buenavista the prettier it got. The landscape got greener, the clouds even started to clear up.

The humbling part of that drive was seeing all the buildings. I don’t know enough about the history of the country to tell what was going on, but I kept seeing these buildings completely built in cement but they were just abandoned and boarded up. Occasionally I’d see one that had clothes hanging out, but there were dozens of abandoned buildings just within sight of the road.

And then the little roadside towns, the best way to describe them is it looks like the country is just recovering from a massive war. Lots of people, lots of stray animals, lots of half built buildings. Everything is painted in bright pastels, but the paint is chipped and worn. We stopped in one of these towns to have lunch. I had the same thing I had the night before, carne asada with rice and beans. I got made fun of for that. The meal for 5 people cost $13. A note on eating out, as much sense as it makes now, before heading over there I didn’t consider whither or not they would have free refills. It’s obvious that they don’t, but what you can do is get a “Coke Grande”, 1.5 liters of coke, and everywhere has them, but almost no one has diet coke.

Back onto the road, I start to notice that all you can see are bananas. For a good two hours 90% of the scenery was just one giant banana plantation. It’s interesting to see how they plant them, they plant the trees in rows, but then dig a 3 or 4-foot deep irrigation trench around each row, and they have wooden planks to link the high ground. This is something you notice staring at bananas for two hours.  Also, every single batch of bananas was wrapped in plastic bags. Actually it turned out that the place I was staying that night was sandwiched between two Dole plantations. But that’s getting ahead of myself.

So, we ended up driving to Machala, the capital city for the “El Oro” region that we were going to. Machala is cool. The city looks like the roadside towns I described before, but it also has big buildings and parks and plazas. It’s really a nice city. Of course the first thing I went to see was the hospital. My girlfriend’s uncle had a tumor removed and he was still in the hospital. The visiting hours were from 2-3, and we got there at 2:50. We met all of her other uncles there too and they rushed us through this courtyard full of people up to a metal gate with a security guy standing there not letting anyone in. Our group talked him into letting two people in, Vincente, the uncle who drove from Santa Elena, and my girlfriend’s mom since she is visiting from America. After that we went and sat down near the hospital and waited for people to come down, and I got introduced to everyone there, the uncles, the cousins, the grandma, the friends, everyone.

After everyone finally got kicked out I was given a tour of the town, and that turned into the family wanting to show me the port where all the bananas from that region get shipped, and that turned into an outing where we took a boat to some touristy island (I can’t remember the name of it). The boat trip to the island was pretty, it felt like a jungle cruise (corny I know), but the coolest thing was the jumping fish. These things jumped 3 or 4 feet out of the water to catch bugs. I tried, in vain, to catch a picture of one of these guys but they started too late in the day to get a good picture. The island was pretty cool, most of the vendors were closed or closing but it was pretty to watch the sun set on the island.

After we got back to the mainland we went to an Ecuadorian mall. It looked exactly the same as a mall here with three notable differences.
1.) MUCH more security. You get a ticket when you enter the mall, and you can’t leave with out it (to prevent people stealing cars). In the parking lot there are watch towers with security watching the parking lots. And the mall security here packs sub machine guns.

2.) The mall is centered around one MAJOR Wal-martesque store. Hyper mart is what it’s called I believe. There you can get just about the same things you can get here, even diet soda.

3.) The prices are stupid inflated, $1,000 for a 30” flat screen TV, $100 for a watch, $80 for Quicksilver sandals, 20 for boxers; all this in a country where $20 can feed a family of four for a month. I mean, I wouldn’t even pay that much for stuff and I have a much bigger budget than they do down there.

The food in the mall is still pretty cheap, $1.50 for a hamburger with egg on it, add $.20 and you get fries and a drink. It was my girlfriend’s cousin’s birthday, so I bought him an ice cream.

After shopping and exploring the mall we drove to grandma’s house were I finally got to go to bed. Under a mosquito net this time.

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