Our friends Jill and Sy asked if we would like to go to the Botanical Gardens, get some Chinese food and do a bit of shopping on Friday (day after Thanksgiving). With a slight twist of my arm, I readily agreed. After all, our internet was still down from Thanksgiving and the power was out now. With the power out, showers are not possible due to the water pump operating on electric. So a sponge bath it was! It wasn’t the first time nor will it be the last I am sure. And in a pinch when my hair isn’t at it’s best, I just put on a hat and some cute earrings and pretend like I planned it that way. Such is life in Ecuador! There’s a word we use here (usually along with a smile) when things are a bit off. That word is TIE meaning “This is Ecuador”. Once you’ve experienced life in any 3rd world country, you understand completely.
They picked us up at 10 and we headed into Porto Viejo to begin the day’s adventures.
Since traveling to Porto Viejo is not a daily occurence, we try to do as many errands as possible as well. So the first stop was to buy Dave a bus ticket to Guayaquil for Monday to continue the Visa process. As soon as Dave got out of the vehicle, we saw immediately that there was a problem with the right front brake because it was smoking. As Dave went into the bus terminal to purchase his ticket, Jill motioned for some help from across the street. We just happened to be parked across from a Yamaha store. A little old man came and tried to help us release the brake since it had seized up, it seemed to loosen up a bit but not totally. For his efforts he was paid “enough for a coke” per his request. Sy decided to get it to a mechanic as soon as possible through a recommendation of a taxi driver they know from the area. The mechanic took a look and since it wasn’t seized at the moment determined it was fine but “just don’t put aqua on it to cool it down”. Good to know, I guess. Bound and determined to carry on with our day as planned we were on our way to the Botanical Gardens. After going through the front gate of the gardens, we again smelled and saw the smoke coming from the right front of the car. Sy decided that we will go ahead and enjoy our walk through the gardens but after lunch he would need to have a different mechanic take a serious look to avoid other potential serious issues.
The gardens, which are part of the technical university located next to the gardens, were beautiful. We saw many interesting and colorful plants, flowers and even some animals. Our private tour guide showed us a large termite nest, a boa constrictor (free to roam throughout the gardens), several smiling turtles, as well as a variety of birds.
Jill was not a fan of the snake being allowed to roam free, but she as well as the rest of us managed to make it out all in one piece. Overall the gardens are a beautiful, tranquil place to visit and there was no admission charge. I would love to go back during the summer season which is coming up here in the next few months and see what changes occur.
On to the next part of our day which was lunch at the Chinese restaurant called Ming Yuan. The food was delicious, the portions were large and the atmosphere was nice. The bathrooms were some of the cleanest I’ve seen since moving here which is always appealing to me especially in a restaurant. Weather true or not, my theory is if the bathrooms are clean perhaps they keep the kitchen equally as clean as they prepare my food. The atmosphere was similar to back in the states with real furniture (not the plastic chairs which are typically seen in restaurants), air conditioning and the usual Chinese decorations like a fish aquarium and bamboo plants. Chinese food here is definitely not quite the same as back home, but this was close enough. I enjoyed fried rice, soup, chicken and veggies and Dave had a pork dish. One thing that was different was there wasn’t the usual Chinese banter in the kitchen, I’m pretty sure everyone there spoke Spanish. The owners went out of their way to make us feel welcomed and comfortable. I’ll be back again I’m sure!
Next on the agenda was getting the vehicle to a mechanic prior to shopping. The mechanic shop was very modern and comparable to US standards with a small air-conditioned office which all four of us sat in while waiting for the diagnosis and repair. We were there for a couple of hours while the mechanics would hop on their motor bikes trying to find the right parts at the various tiendas (stores). Porto Viejo was hit bad in the April earthquake so many of the tiendas have been displaced and are located in different areas temporarily and in some cases permanently. The verdict finally came in that the correct part for the Blazer was in Manta (which is about an hours drive away) but they would put on a temporary part that would work fine for the time being. You have no idea how hard it was for this simple solution to be communicated to us in Spanish. While we all know some Spanish, the words or maybe the pronunciation of the words were just not clicking for us. The people in the shop were not very animated either and kept repeating the same thing over and over again pretty much the same way. They did try writing it out for us, which helped some. Sometimes a bit of animation, drama or gestures helps to ease communication, which is what Dave and I often resort to. In the end we learned that the temporary fix would take about an hour, but they would need to come back next week once the part was available to permanently fix it. The good news is that labor is very cheap here so often times a day’s worth of work at the mechanics shop will cost the customer about $20 or so. The parts can be the pricy items, but in this case, their part will be around $25. Jill, Dave and I decided we would take a cab over to the SuperMaxi shopping area where we do the bulk of our grocery shopping. They also have an office supply store, a hardware store, toy store, pharmacy and a home store in a modern indoor mall setting which is very handy! Sy would come by to pick us up when the vehicle was done.
We were able to check some things off our shopping list such as new pillows with colorful pillow cases for our new chase lounge chair, dust mop, extension cord, pots for plants as well as a couple of sweet little flowers to bring home.
I’m a sucker for pretty plants, just like my mom and sister! The plants in the hardware store were imported from the US and maybe are considered seasonal here, although I’m not quite sure. I bought two small marigolds hoping they will hold up outdoors even with the high salt content in the air. I also bought a colorful pepper plant and an African violet for indoors. I would have purchased a poinsettia, however a small plant was around $13 so I had to pass although I love having them during the holidays. The other plants were very affordable and I’m anxious to see if they will thrive this close to the beach. Many plants/flowers cannot live close to the ocean due to the salt air as it burns them up. So far I know that periwinkle and geraniums hold up quite well and I’m hoping that the marigolds do the same.
The shopping center was bustling with people for black Friday shopping which they have a small version of here in Ecuador. The mall had a beautiful nativity set and Christmas tree set up as well as some fun activities for children with a painting area. I would say it was a perfect amount of décor, pleasant really. The commercialization of the holidays has always been way too much for my taste back in the states, so not having it here has been enjoyable.
Sy picked us up after shopping and we were on our way home although the traffic was crazy. It was probably because of the busy shopping season, but also because it was Friday night. Driving out-of-town last night was just another reminder of how I’m not too keen on having a car here at this point. Driving in Ecuador is similar to other foreign Latin American countries we’ve visited. The biggest hurdle being that there are no lanes and even if there were, no one uses them. You drive wherever there is room on the road and use your horn quite often! We made it home safe and sound though and although the day wasn’t exactly as we planned it, it was an adventure none the less. Thanks to Jill and Sy for letting us tag along!