People in the Andes hate to break big bills (or even medium sized bills, for that matter). Never in my life have I been in such constant pursuit of small bills and change. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that most ATMs don’t dispense small bills. Every purchase must be considered – can this person break a 50 Sole note? Can this restaurant accept a $20 bill? If there is even a small chance that a retailer might take a larger bill, you must try! Even though you may have decent change in your pocket right now, likely that won’t last for long.

And what happens when you don’t have smaller bills? You don’t get to buy what you want to buy. That’s right, on multiple occasions, I have been told that a store owner would rather not sell me a product than give me the change required for the bills I am presenting. A small example – along the Ecuadorian coast, I was thirsty for a Coke. I walked in to a small store where a 500ml (20oz) bottle of coke was for sale for US$0.50 (Ecuador’s currency is the US dollar). I had no change and no single bills, so I handed her a US$5 (not a $50, or a $20, or even a $10, but a $5!). Nope, no change, no Coke for me. This is not uncommon.

And the kicker…THEY HAVE THE CHANGE (most of the time) – they just don’t want to jeopardize their ability to make change in the future! Well, two can play at this game. It’s most fun to force the change out of your service providers. This works best when you have already consumed the products they are selling. I’ve had hotels tell me they don’t have change for my bigger bills, but since I’ve already stayed at their property, miraculously, change for my 100 Soles appears from the drawer after denying its existence just minutes prior. I’ve also gotten quite good at denying my ability to make change, even when I have it. Often time a store will request small change on top of your bill so they can give you a bigger bill back. For instance, if my lunch costs 56 Bolivianos, and I pay with a 100, they’ll ask for 6 Bs so they can give me a 50 back. Little do they know that I have 56 Bs exactly, but I am using a 100 so I can hold on to that precious 6 in change (and to make more change to be used later). AND, since I already ate their food, they somehow or other find a way to break that 100 after all.

Who would have thought that a $1 could be more valuable than a $10 bill, when you need the change?

Ecuador is a cheap date

In planning for our trip I booked two nights in a hostel in Quito so we would have somewhere to stay when we first arrived. I remember when booking online how excited I was to learn that our ‘Deluxe Private Double’ would be a whopping $26/night. Not sure exactly what you’re going to get when you book online, we were pleasantly surprised/relieved to learn that our little room had a double bed, a nice-sized private bath (with hot water), and a cable TV. Our hostel also has an amazing terrace overlooking the city and a welcoming lobby full of fellow travelers, day-trip information, computers, etc. Not bad at all.

In addition, the hostel is run by a lovely couple that does everything from changing the sheets and making breakfast to calling the airlines to help travelers find their lost luggage (see previous post!).

In addition to cheap lodging, our meals here (we’ve only had two so far!) have each been at total of $3. Yep, $3 for coffee, a croissant, an egg and a fruit cup for each of us. And $3 for arroz con pollo (rice with chicken, beans and plantain) and sopa de cameron (soup with shrimp and potatoes).

I’m sure there will be plenty of opportunities to spend well beyond these reasonable prices, but it’s good to know that we can sleep comfortably and eat deliciously and remain well within our budget.

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