First I want to say how thankful I am for the expats here that came to our rescue and showed us the ropes. Grocery shopping in itself is quite an experience and without someone to show you around, it would be downright terrifying. I have a whole new appreciation for foreigners who I would encounter in the United States and how hard it must be for them to do simple things that we take for granted.
The day after we arrived we had Jill and Sy from Ontario Canada at our door welcoming us to the area. They live just north of us about 10 or 15 minutes up the road in a beautiful property that they designed and built. They are a fun couple that will give you the shirt off their backs if they think you need it. They have been a huge answer to our prayers that God would send along people to help us get acclimated here. Today they were taking a trip into Porto Viejo to go to the Super Aki (modern grocery store) and asked if we would like to tag along. Of course our answer is always yes since we do not have our own transportation and want to take every opportunity to learn how to shop and survive here. Anytime they are willing to have us, we will go!
Super Aki, where we headed today is reminiscent of Aldi in the states. It’s bigger than a typical Aldi but has the essentials and in addition a few pet items, cleaning supplies, laundry soap and household items. Today we didn’t need to buy much, but of course wanted to tag along for the experience. In this store, the groceries are packaged and displayed much like what I am accustomed to with beef, pork and chicken all packaged with the styrofoam bottom and clear plastic wrap shrink wrapped over the top. The fruit and vegetables are displayed much as they are in the states. Although they have much of the same fruits and vegetables that we have, they also have quite a lot of different fruits that are commonplace here, but would be in a much smaller tropical section of foods in the US.
In terms of processed/pre-made foods, they are available here but you will pay an arm and a leg for them. If you insist on having Jiffy Peanut Butter, you can expect to pay $8-$9 a jar as all imported foods are expensive. If you can settle for their peanut butter, it’s $1. It’s homemade and packaged in a simple clear plastic bag. The texture is much drier and has way less sugar, but I’m fairly certain it has to be much healthier. As with all new things, it is something that you have to get used to.
We purchased our honey on our way from Guayaquil at “Honeytown” and it came bottled in a recycled soda/beer bottle. It is non unusual to see food packaged in crudely recycled containers. We have learned that we don’t throw anything away. Things like twist ties and plastic containers that we would casually throw away back home, but very well have a purpose here. So we save everything!
Coco water (coconut water) is also very popular and will be sold in stands along the side of the road in recycled water bottles but is very common place here and again unprocessed. Today we got two bottles for a dollar. It is completely pure directly from a sliced open coconut but has been chilled and bottled to passersby on the streets needing a refreshment.
Baking soda is not something found here (although we’ve been told that you can find it in Guayaquil). Since we had heard that it was very hard to come by, we brought two boxes with us. Unfortunately they didn’t make it. We know for sure that one of the containers was opened at the airport by TSA, and we can only assume it was confiscated. Baking soda is apparently used in the manufacturing of drugs which is why it is not available here. You can purchase is in very small amounts (like a teaspoon at a time) for purposes of brushing your teeth. Today when we stopped at a local tienda to purchase some on our way back from Porto Viejo, we explained to the owner that we were looking for baking soda for brushing teeth and she brought us a tiny bag of baking soda along with toothpaste and a toothbrush (like a package deal). lol We told her we were looking only for baking soda for baking a torta (cake) and motioned how the cake will rise with the baking soda. The tienda owner was a bit confused about that, however sold us 3 bags for 15 cents each. My thought is maybe if it were packaged better, it wouldn’t look illegal. Most pastries or desserts here are made with self rising flour which is readily available in the stores. If anyone comes to this area, we would be most appreciated if you could bring along a box of baking soda. 🙂
Surprisingly, Ecuadorians are not accustomed to drinking real coffee but rather instant coffee. In fact our beach house came equipped with an electric water kettle and a jar of instant coffee which was the equivalent of a coffee maker I guess. This leads me to the other couple that has helped us out! The very first night we were here, our driver Jorge who knows another American couple Louise and Gary drove us past their house to show us where they lived and they happened to be home. They had an extra coffee maker for us to use temporarily until Stalin (the groundskeeper) was able to find one for us. Gary and Louise (who are from the great state of TX and have the cutest accents ever) also hosted an expat gathering which happened to be the night after we arrived which was a wonderful way for us to be introduced to the other expats. The next morning (Wednesday Oct 12th) they graciously picked us up and took us to Porto Viego to get our local cel phones set up with a service. The cel phone store is located in a mall similar to what you would find in the US complete with a Cafe Court which had Carl’s Jr and KFC. The KFC offers rice and beans as part of their meal choices. I’m not sure if the secret recipe is the same, but the sides are very different!
After the mall, Louise and Gary took us to the Super Maxi which is not a woman’s feminine product store as the name sounds like, but rather a very modern grocery store similar to any American grocery store! They were even playing American music! It is a much larger store than Super Aki and has more American selections. Though Louise and Gary didn’t have much shopping to do, they were so helpful in taking us out on our first experience as well as helping us with the phones. They also stopped at a road side greenhouse so I could buy a few potted plants. Potted plants are a few of those things that bring a sense of normalcy and comfort to a foreign surrounding right now. A purchased a dahlia, a geranium and two flowers that I believe are Vinca or Periwinkle (they look like Impatiens but like sun).
On Saturday morning we were introduced to the local mercado with new friends MaryAnn and Steve (from FL) who picked us up to show us what it’s like. We had the priviledge of meeting them at the expat gathering several nights prior. The local mercado is very similar to a farmer’s market in any local community back home. Every Saturday morning they are set up with fresh fruits, vegetables and meats such as chicken, beef and fish. None of the meat is refrigerated like we would expect but is hanging in the market. It is not uncommon to see a pig head, or chickens with the feet on. You can even purchase live chickens if you want to butcher your own. I did buy a couple pounds of beef which we enjoyed last night for dinner and neither of us are sick which is good 🙂 We also purchased tomatoes, cilantro, fresh garlic, avacados, potatoes, the homemade peanut butter and a water melon. MaryAnn and Steve also drove us to the local Chifle (chip) house where they make homemade plantain chips. There is no sign saying that they sell chips, but after living here long enough, you just know that this is where to buy chips. That’s pretty much the way it is here.
Sunday morning we went with Jill and Sy to a different mercado in Charapoto which is much larger than the local Crucita market. Below are a few pictures of the Charapoto market. What an experience that was! I hope to go back soon.