Living in Ecuador – Little Differences, Big Change

“Honey, we’re out of eggs. I’m going to the mercado, do you need anything?”

“Yes, we need poop bags for the dog,” my wife replied. For those of you without pets, she meant for me to pick up a pack of small plastic bags used to collect and dispose of the little gifts our Corgi leaves around the neighborhood.

So this morning, I set out to the mercado for poop bags and eggs. As I walked to the market, I couldn’t help thinking about two things.

First, that “Poop Bag and Eggs” sounds like the title of a bad buddy-cop movie. Samuel L. Jackson is the angry veteran cop with a colostomy, and Jennifer Lawrence his new rookie feminist partner who hunts down bad guys by day and the perfect sperm donor by night while making monthly deposits at the fertility clinic.

Second, about how much my life has changed because of little differences in our lives since we moved to Ecuador.

In the States, I would have first checked the weather, then got in the car to drive to the grocery store. There I could have found a dozen eggs for about $2.50, and a package of specially designed poop bags in the Pet Aisle. According to Amazon, the 8-pack containing a total of 120 bags currently sells for $6.97. Errand completed, I would drive back home, having interacted with only a disinterested cashier, maybe we muttered “morning” to each other.

Here in Salinas, I never think to check the weather. At 9am, it is almost always around 80F. I might glance to see if I need sunglasses, but not always. Experience has taught us that this near the equator, you can find yourself squinting on a cloudy day anyway. Rain? We get maybe 3-4 days a year when it rains hard enough to notice, so it is very long odds I need to worry about that. Getting ready to go outside here usually means changing from my indoor sandals to my outdoor sandals.

No jumping into a car either, as we haven’t bothered to buy one yet (although we did get our drivers licenses so we can rent if the urge strikes us). Buses are 30 cents, cabs a couple of bucks most places, and the mercado is only a half-mile away – so I just walk it. Oddly enough, back in the US our house is probably about the same distance to the Food Lion, but for some reason it would never occur to me to walk there. Cars are just too easy, I think.

Once at the mercado, I walked behind the fruit stands to the woman selling plastic products to buy a pack of 100 small black bags. They were 55 cents, but I had only a fifty cent piece and a five dollar bill on me. If you know anything about Ecuador, you know she would not have appreciated being asked to make that much change, so I told her I would go buy eggs first. I greeted our regular egg guy (seen in the picture), who goes through his mysterious sorting procedure to fix me up with a 30-egg carton, fresh out of the chicken for $3.50. Back to my poop bag purchase, and the vendor smiled and thanked me as she gave me change from my 75 cents.  With that, I left the mercado for the walk back home, pausing only to give a wave to our regular veggie vendor, promising that manaña I would be back to see her.

On the walk home, I worked out some of the plot points for the Jackson/JLaw blockbuster (her frozen eggs get stolen and held for leverage to get her to give up the bad guy, who it turns out is the guy who’s bullet took out half her partner’s colon two years ago) and thought some more about those little differences.

I know it is popular in the overseas retirement discussion to focus on how I had just spent $4.25 instead of almost $10, and had more than twice as many eggs to boot, but that was not the important thing to me. What I found matters most to my life, is that I had a pleasant one-mile walk in the fresh air and enjoyed the great weather. I had to use my beginner’s Spanish skills to explain that I had to buy eggs to break the five. Sure, it was what I think of as “Tonto Spanish” (‘Fat man go buy eggs, return with many small money”), but she understood me, and appreciated the courtesy of breaking the bill. I greeted some of our regular vendors, and got smiles and a buenos dias from everyone I passed, even those where we don’t always shop – just because they see us in there all the time. I’ve found Ecuadorians are really pleased and proud when they see us gringos shopping where they shop, eating where they eat, or riding the buses like they do.

It’s a little thing, walking to the mercado to buy some eggs. But that little difference has made a big change in my life, and I feel like it has made me a richer person.

Not as rich as my new screenplay, of course. If you’ll excuse me, I have to call Hollywood right away ….