Welcome to Quito, Part 2: Money is important

Things that are generally expensive in the U.S. are comparatively cheap in Ecuador. Things that are generally cheap in the U.S. are comparatively expensive in Ecuador.

A men’s haircut in Quito sets me back $3. A beer — either Pilsener or Club, the two national brands — is around 60 cents at a grocery store, maybe $1.60 at a cheap restaurant, and $3 to $4 if you’re somewhere swanky (I’ll talk more about beer in a future blog post).

At a food stand in Misahuallí, a little town on the Río Napo in the headwaters of the Amazon River, you can get palm weevil larvae fresh on the grill. They basically roast them over hot coals, as you would a marshmallow. (We didn’t try any, sorry to say.)

A bus fare is 25 cents; a typical taxi ride in Quito ranges between $1.50 and $4, depending on where you’re going and the time of day (and of course whether the driver thinks he can charge you more because you’re a gringo). A DVD of any movie is $2 or less, though this is not least because it is pirated (i.e., unlawfully copied); in fact, it may be all but impossible to find a non-pirated DVD in Ecuador – and even if you could find one, why would you pay extra for it?

Finally, the food here – especially fresh produce – is as cheap as it is abundant. Which is to say, very.

However, many consumer goods are comparatively expensive. A decent men’s dress shirt that costs $30 in the U.S. is $60 in Ecuador. A digital alarm clock that would cost you $7 at Radio Shack is $20 here. A cheaply made “some-assembly-required” particle-board chest of drawers that would cost $80 at Target is $140 here. And don’t even think about buying a laptop or an iPhone here — Ecuadoreans (at least those who can afford to) often buy such things while vacationing in the United States. They’re a lot cheaper there.

Overall, though, Americans can live pretty well in Ecuador – the cost of living is far lower than in the U.S. This is borne out by the number of Americans who continue to move to Ecuador upon retirement, especially to places like Cuenca, a historic city in the Andes in the south of the country. (Visiting Cuenca a few months ago, Katherine and I popped in to a busy coffee shop for breakfast. It happened to be an expat-retiree coffee shop, where nearly all the customers looked, dressed and spoke like our parents.)

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