Tag: finances


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?

We´re a Statistic

On one of our most recent bus trips to Montanita (along the coast) to visit some Boulder pals, Ted and I got robbed. Well, robbed is the wrong word as nothing was taken by force – I guess you would say we were burglarized. No matter what you call it, it sucks!

When it was all said and done, the creeps got away with an iPod, Ted´s sunglasses, $40 cash oh, and our COMPUTER. Yep, they scored big.

They were able to easily access our precious cargo because we conveniently had it stored above our seats on the bus. We had been very cautious of our things and carried our day packs on our laps for all of our previous bus rides. Seriously, this day was the first day we had ever stored our bags up above. Obviously, we should not have done this and that is why it is so incredibly frustrating to have learned the lesson we already knew!

However, to our credit, the bus we were riding on was an “executivo” style bus that requires passengers to have pre-purchased tickets and only makes select stops. It had air-conditioning, showed a movie (Pistol Whipped starring Steven Seagal, seriously) and was less than half full. We were a short distance from our final destination and I guess you could say we just got falsely comfortable/confident. The other buses we have ridden on have been packed with people, standing and sitting, and there is so much coming and going it would be silly to abandon our bags up above. But not on the fancy executivo bus, right? WRONG!

The bright side of this story is that we had the experience of riding in an Ecuadorian police car, visiting several Ecuadorian police stations, and submitting a police report (for travel insurance purposes) that was typed in front of our eyes by a stoic Ecuadorian police detective on a TYPEWRITER. Yes, it was quite the experience.

So, the moral of the story (that we already knew) is that you should not store your stuff above you on the bus and there is no such thing as being too vigilant.

Oh, and also that you can´t let the little things get you down. The stuff that was taken from us was just stuff. We were super-bummed that it happened but at the same time, there was absolutely nothing we could do at that point to change the outcome.

So take that you f-ing thieves! I hope you can´t figure out how to access our password-protected computer, that you hate bluegrass and jamband music, and that Ted´s big head makes the sunglasses worthless to you!

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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