Friday, August 28, 2015

No Soup For Me.

In Ecuador, if you don’t have soup with lunch you are to be pitied.  Lunch without soup is like a cheesesteak without provolone (that shows where my cheese allegiance lies) or pasta with no sauce or a hamburger with no bun or . . . you get the picture.

All restaurants offer the daily almuerzo (lunch).  This starts with the soup, and then comes the main meal (el segundo) with some assortment of meat (not promised to be tender), rice, beans, and a fresh fruit drink.  The portion isn’t always the largest.  But the price is always spot on.  A typical almuerzo can be found for under $3.00 a person.  

The soup is often times the highlight of the meal.

Some examples of the soups are as follows: Sancocho (meat, corn, yucca, broth), Millocos (potatoes, peanut butter, broth), Bolas de Verde (balls made from green bananas with cheese inside, vegetables, broth), Sopa de Acelga (chard, potatoes, cheese crumbs on top, broth), Crema de Aguacate (Avocado cream), Crema de Cauliflor (Cauliflower cream), Crema de Harina de Haba (dried fava beans crushed into flour, potatoes, milk), Sopa de Fideos (bow tie noodles, vegetables, cheese crumbs spread on top, broth).  Forget the croutons, soups here are served with popcorn.  

But there was one soup that I had to say “no” and risk the scorn of all onlookers for not eating the prized soup prior to the segundo.  It was Caldo de Patas soup (cow foot, mote, oregano, broth).  


The large toes and ankles stared at me as if they had eyes.  And I swore I could smell a musty gym feet scent exuding from the soup bowl, which everyone else continued to insist didn’t exist.  I took a few sips with my face clenched and my eyes closed.  But I couldn’t do it.  I put down the spoon with an embarrassed smile and pushed the bowl away from me, signifying that I wasn’t going to eat it.  

Before I could get my hand off of the bowl, another eager hand was already grabbing it to gobble the cow foot.  Caldo de Patas is looked at as a delicacy.  And it is common to suck the tough meet off of the thick toes and ankles, and spit the large bones back into the bowl with a satisfying sense of accomplishment.  

Yummy?  Not for me.  

(some extra family pictures below - not dealing with cow foot)


Friday, August 21, 2015

Girls Are Swimming

The girls are taking swimming lessons.  

They are adorable in their swimsuits and goggles and gorros, a polyester covering for the head that everyone is required to wear at any pool.  These are not like rubber Speedo hats that keep water out of the ears or create an aerodynamic dimension in the water.  These gorro’s main function is to keep hair out of the pool.   

Anaiah and Eliana are doing great learning how to swim and the instructor, whose bilingual instruction for the girls includes counting “one, two” instead of “uno, dos”, is excellent.  Part of her excellence comes from her willingness to throw the kids around the pool without any floaties and from not allowing protective parents into the pool.  She has a tough motherly technique that seems to work.  

At the first lesson, nervous about the seven little kids being in the pool without parents and no flotation device surrounding them, I made a loud scream when I thought one of the kids fell off of the side rail.  Everyone looked at me, the loco gringo, and then at the little kid who was just practicing putting her head under the water.  I then pretended that I had something in my throat and was experiencing a coughing fit instead of owning up to what happened, exuding a nervous screech. 
After a couple of weeks, the instructor’s methods are paying off.  The girls are learning to use their arms, kick their feet, and feel comfortable floating along on their own.  

Ecuador doesn’t lack for pools because of the yearlong moderate weather and the thermal waters delivered from nearby volcanoes, and we found a great maestro.  Hopefully that combination will teach them to swim.  

Saturday, August 15, 2015

We Bought a Car . . . .

We planned on not buying a car while living in Ecuador.   

We wanted a simple and efficient lifestyle of walking, taxis, staying local, and for longer trips, renting a car.  Plus, I can’t stand car maintenance and feel like mechanics rip me off every time they tell me something is wrong.  A couple of months ago while living in Philadelphia, I went for a car inspection and was furious when the mechanic had the guile to require me to get new tires to pass inspection.  I argued and threatened to take my car elsewhere for the inspection and all future repairs if he wouldn’t pass it, and the mechanic caved in.  I told my friend the story, still irate at those trust less mechanics, when he looked at my tires and told me the mechanic should’ve never passed my bald tires that were held together with rubber nail hole filler and had thread bare side walls.  I took a second look, maybe my friend had a point, but mechanics are still schemers – I persuaded myself, and I wanted to be away from them for at least 13 months.   

Our expectations about being carless were soon shattered.  Taxi prices have risen since the last time we were in Ecuador and rental cars can cost up to $100/day for a car accommodating 2 adults and 3 carseats, which they consider an oversized car as most people cram their entire families, carseat less, into mini matchbox looking cars.  We also didn’t realize how much we would need to get out of the little town of Alangas√≠.  13 months without a car might be efficient and simple, but it also might cause us to go stir crazy.  The small town where we are living is nice, but only one store boasts a coffee machine that has been “under repair” since the last time we were here, 2 years ago.  

We made the decision.  We would buy a car.  Then we started looking for the perfect one.  Our heads were spinning, our minds were numbed at the astronomical prices.  How can this be?  I thought things were supposed to be cheaper here?  

El Presidente Correa has placed a hefty luxury tax, of which cars are included, to fund his ever growing socialistic programs.  This has caused new car prices to be more than 40% higher than those in the US.  And on top of that, he has added yearly taxes that are paid for owning a car.  The newer the car the higher the yearly tax.  This increased price has worked its way down to all used cars.  The best car you can find in Ecuador for $10,000 is a 1995 Jeep Grand Cherokee with 150,000 miles on it, compared to what $10,000 can buy in the US, a 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee loaded with all the extras and less miles.  (Below is a picture of the 2007 Hyundai Tucson that we decided on for a much heftier price tag than expected.)

I still can’t figure out how the average person can afford to drive, but they do.  And now we do too.