Dirty streets – Streets in cities where we have lived in the US are almost universally full of trash. Often, there were $200 fines for littering but it didn’t seem to make much difference. Litter was everywhere. Some people were audacious enough to dump bags of trash along the roadside just to get rid of them. Here the streets are spotlessly clean. Trash and garbage are efficiently picked up daily by teams of little green men and women.
Interstate highways –We often think of the monotony of driving along miles and miles of Interstate highway dodging speeding trucks, long delays sitting in traffic jams and the rest stops filled with junk food and dirty, crowded bathrooms versus our decent country roads with an occasional interesting restaurant and an adventure around every corner.
Homeless people – we have yet to see a truly homeless person here in Ecuador. In Philadelphia there are homeless on nearly every downtown street. In the winter they sat on steam vents to keep warm. They were everywhere, sleeping on the sidewalk, rifling through dumpsters and trash cans, or wheeling their possessions along the street in stolen shopping carts. It was something we never really got used to.
Dumpsters – We have never seen one in Ecuador.
High cost of living – gasoline at a stable $1.48 not $2-3.00 plus a gallon like in the US, heating oil is not necessary, air conditioning is not necessary, food, especially fresh food, is very inexpensive. Private schools are $3-4000 per year not $10-12,000 as in the US. Home costs and rental apartments are quite inexpensive.
Aggressive sales people – The Ecuadorian sales clerk has not yet learned to be aggressive and you must often seek them out in order to buy something. The hard sell found on TV, newspapers and magazines is but a quarter of what you would find in the US.
Junk mail – Our mailbox used to almost overflow with junk mail every day in North Carolina. Most was never read but just ended up in our trash can. We rarely receive mail in Cuenca, only an occasional utility receipt or bank statement as mail is not a common way to communicate.
Doctor’s offices – We remember the long waits in the doctor’s office in the States even though we had an appointment while he fell farther and farther behind as the day progressed. Then the visit lasted only a few minutes. Contrast that with a visit to the doctor here. It is a first come, first serve, walk-in system. Surprisingly, the doctor will spend a long time talking to you as he asks probing questions. The doctor is usually alone and does everything from diagnosis to treatment to collecting his fee.
Violent weather – We remember hard, cold winters and oppressively hot summers that were costly to tame and often gave us an edge-of-the-chair storm or two each season. Cuenca’s weather is the same spring like climate all year long and is never violent.
Industrial pollution – There are no tan skies filled with smog as you will find in the industrial cities of the north. We must admit, however, that the diesel truck and bus exhaust is terrible. Fortunately, Cuenca’s high location and facing position lets the wind keep the air clear and pollution free.
Insects – Having come from North Carolina where the mosquitoes and ants seem to be taking over, our bug free climate is a welcome relief. We have no screens on our windows in Cuenca though this would not be true in the Amazon region or on the coast. Freedom from bugs is a real plus here in the Sierra.
Junk food – It is relatively easy to buy familiar junk food in the supermarkets here but it is sold side by side with healthy and often organic food which does not carry an escalated price as in the States. Fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and fish are available everywhere.
Restaurants – Unlike the US, it is almost as inexpensive to eat out in a restaurant as it is to cook at home.
Seasons – Believe it or not, we don’t miss the lack of seasonal change as much as we thought we would. It is now February, 70 degrees and sunny, and the news is full of the worst winter snow storms of the century that have hit the east coast.
Daylight savings time – It was always stressful in the north with winter’s early darkness, waking in the morning to a pitch black sky, kids leaving for school in the dark in the morning and coming home in the dark in the afternoon, and the twice a year project of time adjustment when you had to change every clock in the house and car. But here in Ecuador, there is no daylight savings time and no change in the amount of day or night. Daylight Savings time isn’t necessary as the days are always about 12 hours long and the nights the same.
Lawyers – In the US, there was barely a function left that didn’t require the expertise of a lawyer and we always felt vulnerable if we didn’t seek their advice. Many of the same legal problems exist in Ecuador but they are not as expensive to execute or as pervasive. It is not a litigious society possibly because legal matters take a long time to resolve and, therefore, are not as appealing to begin.