Would You Buy a $500 Turkey?

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My visa expires tomorrow and after 90 days I officially must leave Ecuador.

It’s amazing to think I’ve been here for three months in total; the first time with my family, the second for Cuenca’s independence and then for the holidays.

Above Andres is pushing through the crowd to catch a photo for me during the Three Kings parade.

I chose this obscured photo because Andres asked me more than once not to include him in my writing.

Although he didn’t seem to mind the post about learning how to watch football like an Ecuadorian so maybe this post won’t bother him.

Okay so I’m pushing it but for a very important reason.

Sometimes you meet people who teach you things in such a subtle manner that you don’t realize they have profoundly changed your core being.

Without Andres I wouldn’t have really understood the culture of Ecuador, his kindness did not end with teaching me Ecuadorian slang.

He had incredible patience trying to help an idealistic developed-world girl understand what it’s like to live in an underdeveloped country.
 

ALSO READ:  Cuy in Ecuador

 
So many times I was humbled, to the point of embarrassment when he explained his country struggles:

That we should not say Ecuador is so cheap because it isn’t for locals. The average salary in Cuenca was just raised to $260 a month, the expected cost of living is almost double that amount.

It also means the $40 imported Christmas turkey I was too cheap to buy is more like $300-500 on their scale, a Christmas tradition out of reach for many.

THE PRETTIEST COLONIAL CITY: Cuenca Ecuador

 
When he bit his tongue as an Italian traveler told us how a shoeshine boy wanted $1 but he eventually got it for 25 cents.

Rather than scold the man for being so cold, Andres privately explained to me that the cost is indeed $1 but the boy was so desperate for money that he would take anything.

That the crime in Quito is a result of a greater poverty problem with the country, as poor countrymen head to the city in promise of work only to find nothing.

Many aren’t stealing from tourists to buy drugs but to feed their families.

How many Ecuadorians illegally enter the US to work for nearly ten times the financial opportunity, only so that they can save money to return to Ecuador with the ability to support their family.

Andres never once judged me for being naive or blamed me for being part of a society that encouraged consumerism and then used his country for cheap travel.

But because of him traveling in South America has taken on a new meaning.

 

Join the Conversation

  1. On my last trip, to Cambodia, I learned how we take the idea of protection by our family, our teachers and the police for granted in the US.
    In Cambodia, people must pay the police if they want to lodge a compaint and pay the fire department to put out a fire.
    Another example, many young girls are abused at home, but telling their teachers does no good. The same has happened to them (the teachers), they know the police won’t help, so they’ve adopted the idea that “it’s no big deal.” That was earth shattering for me.

  2. Zablon Mukuba says:

    your post is an eye opener on how things are

  3. Wow, this really puts our lives here in perspective! It’s great when you have someone who knows the country that can share things like this with you. I am humbled at the things he shared about poverty income levels, and how much we spend on stuff without thinking about what it costs other people. It’s information like this that stops and makes you think how easy it would be to donate and help people who have so little. I’m inspired by this Ayngelina so thanks for sharing.

  4. Jill - Jack and Jill Travel The World says:

    That’s the beauty of traveling, isn’t it? It put things into perspective and makes you realise of the things you’ve been taking for granted…

  5. Thank you for sharing this. Your first point here reminds me of when we first arrived in Buenos Aires in early 2010 and we were meeting a lot of “digital nomads” and people choosing to make BsAs their working spot for a few months. Many were from the UK or big cities in the United States and I would cringe each time they would go on and on about how cheap everything was in BsAs in front of Argentines earning normal local salaries (often $300-$500/month) and suffering from horrible inflation. Often, the Argentines were too embarrassed to say anything. A bit of perspective – either in the form of a friend like Andres or in doing a bit of research about a place – goes a long ways.

    My understanding of immigration to the States also deepened when traveling through Central and South America and meeting people who had made that dangerous journey. Sobering.

  6. Caz Makepeace says:

    I love this post. There are so many angels we meet on the road who have so many messages to share and truths to teach us.

  7. Wow, how fortunate to meet someone so amazing. I always feel naive when traveling, I’m the kind of person that wants to see that good in everyone but it’s hard when there is theft and violence to see it as a result of poverty rather than greed or corruption. It’s so sad that it’s come to that.

    It’s really great that you’ve had to opportunity to know Andres. I hope you continue to learn from the people you meet!

  8. Chris - The Aussie Nomad says:

    Really moving post mate. It irkes me when I hear stories of people bargining down a price to almost nothing while travelling. Sure you want a bargin but do yo ever stop to think they hey $3 is nothing to you and to the boy your trying to do over it could be his meal.

  9. Thoughtful post.

  10. It’s a really nice post, very respectful and eye opening. I have made friends with people in the places we’ve visited, but usually haven’t stayed for long enough to connect like this. I hope I’ll have the opportunity to meet someone as gentle and insightful as Andres. Thanks for posting.

  11. We had a somewhat similar experience last summer on our way to Turkey (coming from Romania). At some point we accidentally deviated from the route and wandered through the villages of central-eastern area of Bulgaria (somewhere between Shumen and Yambol). We crossed a few villages where poverty is overwhelming: most of the houses were abandoned, roads were really bad and the few people that we met along the way were throwing strange looks at our cars – it was only after nearly two hours drive through those villages without having to meet more than 3 cars on the road that I saw why …

    We chose to drive our own cars to Turkey instead of paying for plane tickets so that we can afford to pay for our five star hotel in Kusadasi (yes, we were cheap πŸ™‚ ). This way we managed to save about 200 euros, but for a long time after this trip I could not get my mind off one thing: there are people (even in a European country! ) who would feed their families for one month with 200 euros …

  12. Andres privately explained to me that the cost is indeed $1 but the boy was so desperate for money that he would take anything.

    This made me teary eyed. There is also widespread proverty in my country. And being from here, I am blind and immune to it. This is such a beautiful post Ayngelina. Thanks for letting us see things a little differently. And thank you Andres.

  13. Very nice article … You seem to have had a blast in Ecuador … We are almost done with our India trip – 3 more weeks in Rajasthan and we’ll end our trip. Thinking of S America …

    Where are u off to next?

  14. Glen Abbott says:

    It’s really great that you were able to experience the country through the eyes of a local.
    I always enjoy your posts.

  15. This is such a great profile! This is why it’s worth it to get to know the locals.

  16. It’s the Andre’s that make travel so freaking special!

  17. Great post Ayngelina. Things like this really make you aware of how good most of us have it. When we were in Laos, we volunteered for a few days teaching college aged kids conversational English. We were talking with one boy who had just started college and was studying architecture. He told us he may have to study something else though. We were horrified to learn that the reason was because he could not afford to buy pencils, and pencils were necessary for studying architecture. PENCILS! I was a teacher before going on our trip, and if we were out of something, we went to the giant supply room and got more, not thinking twice of losing them or breaking them or misplacing them. And here was this kid, eager and willing to study, and he may have to go into another field because he couldn’t afford something so basic as pencils. It broke our hearts. And when we showed up the next day with some pencils for him, he was the happiest kid in the world.
    Thanks for sharing your story. Stories like this is very important to raise awareness of what goes on in the rest of the world.

  18. Christy @ Ordinary Traveler says:

    This post made me teary eyed. When I started looking for teaching work in Ecuador is when I realized how low the salaries must be for locals.

    The last line of your post really puts it into perspective, “Andres never once judged me for being naive or blamed me for being part of a society that encouraged consumerism and then used his country for cheap travel.” I cringe when I hear stories of travelers who are constantly trying to get everything cheaper and cheaper. I like to travel on a budget, but I also try to remember that by paying more money for something, I’m helping to put food on a families table.

  19. Insightful post Baconater. It’s so important to take the time to look beyond the obvious and see what’s really going on. Meeting these special people is what makes travel so rewarding! πŸ˜‰

  20. Justin Hamlin says:

    Ayngelina –

    Great post. It is amazing when you visit (pretty much) any country outside of your own and spend enough time immersed in the culture to see the different perspectives other than that of a wide-eyed traveler. It really endears you to the situation and the country you are in.

    Love reading your posts, always so genuine. Thank you for that.

  21. The NVR Guys says:

    Excellent Ayngelina. I really don;t know what to say except that I really like this post. It’s one that will stick with me for a while, I think.

  22. What the Aussie Nomad said. Co-opted and dittoed.

  23. This post was very eye-opening. I know I try to find cheaper ways to travel, but I never understand bargaining down simple things. A bad hotel room, yes. A street vendor, no. There’s a difference between bilking dumb tourists and making a living wage.

  24. Nice post Ayngelina,
    I can’t believe the avg cost of living is double that of the average salary. I know that there are a lot of remissions from Ecuadorians who live in the US (mainly NYC and Long Island of all places)…perhaps that helps close the gap.
    Thanks for sharing this.
    Jason

  25. Claire (Travel Funny Travel Light) says:

    Wow. We should all meet someone like Andres on our journeys. While in Bangladesh, I met the owner of a sweatshop and that has settled profoundly with me-she lived in her big house with her nice car while kids were running free in the streets of her city-dirty, hungry, and working for some unsavory characters. As heartbreaking as the shoeshine story is above, I think it’s a good reminder for us that it’s just a dollar to us, and food in their mouths to them. I know that I am guilty sometimes of trying to get things as cheap as possible-and sometimes rightfully so. But there are other times where I just need to get over it and remember the difference between their world and mind. Excellent post Ayngelina.

  26. Claire (Travel Funny Travel Light) says:

    I meant to say “and mine” above…..

  27. Ayngelina Author says:

    Thanks so much for all your kind comments. I had no idea that would affect everyone as much as it did me.

    @Katrina brought up a really good point. Sometimes it is appropriate to haggle and expected as part of the process or simply because someone is trying to rip you off.

    When you visit the famous Otavalo market it is part of the fun to settle on an agreed price. I’ve also negotiated tour prices. I do not negotiate hostel prices unless I’m staying a very long time.

    And I have negotiated with cab drivers when I knew they were giving me a gringo price.

    On the flip side, it’s not good to pay gringo prices for everything either as it raises the cost and makes things inaccessible for locals. In Cuenca there is a fear that the influx of retirees will drives prices up as they continue to pay far too much for condos.

    It’s not a black and white issue, the best we can do is arm ourselves with as much information as possible on local prices so that we know the difference between someone who wants to haggle and someone who just needs money.

  28. A good story and reminder of what the world is really like. I think soon I will post something in my blog related to this…which came to my mind as soon as I finished reading.

  29. Just wanted to add a little caveat to all the comments about not haggling: in some countries, it is expected. In fact, if you DON’T haggle, people sometimes feel cheated of a vital social interaction, or they feel that you may think yourself too good to bother. North Americans and Europeans often feel uncomfortable bargaining precisely because we don’t want to rip someone off, or simply find it uncomfortable to discuss money. In the case where haggling is expected, the trick is to find a price that makes both parties happy and fills the social expectations, as well.

    I would love to find a website all about the art of haggling so that I know what is expected and appropriate for each location I visit. Something with etiquette info, economic info, tips and tricks to making the interaction positive, etc. etc. Anyone know of such a site?

    This is not me advocating screwing the little guy in any way. I have read far too many posts recently about arrogant, irate, unreasonable travelers who make the lives of the people in the host country, as well as the lives of their fellow travelers, unnecessarily difficult for the sake of a few dollars and an ego boost. I am in no way advocating that. This is just another note about awareness which, really, is what the original post is about — and it’s fantastic.

    Cheers.

  30. So where are you going next, Ayngelina? Or is that a surprise??

  31. love this story, bacon woman. It’s amazing how wide eyed the Andres in the world can make us… I think it’s interesting how people can change how we see a country as well as how we see ourselves, leaving us as different people who won’t be able to see things the same way again, even if we wanted to πŸ™‚

  32. Monsieur Tofu says:

    You were very lucky to have met such a great friend to show you how things really work in his home country. It’s often hard to tell who is trying to rip you off and who really needs the money when you only spend a short time in a country. Having a local guide your journey must have been a real eye-opener. Another inspirational post-Great job, Ayngelina!

  33. Ayngelina,

    It is excellent to learn about the culture and costumes of other countries from the locals. You were blessed to meet Andres and I am sure you are never going to forget what he taught you. Where are you going now? Hopefully, you will make really good friends in your next stop.

  34. Well said Ayngelina, I think Andres never blamed you nor criticised you because he’s intelligent enough to understand that not everybody coming from the “developed” world is uncaring about poor countries, or the effects of consumerism for that matter, as you rightly put it.
    Travelling is not just staring at landscapes, the most important aspect is understanding and learning, exactly how you are doing.

  35. Getting to know locals is so valuable and rewarding. There is no way you can get to really know a culture without them. Andres sounds special!

  36. so Andres was taking a photo for you, and you were taking a photo of Andres. He is a sweetie.. Me, i would have said “take ur own photo!” (kidding)

  37. I don’t even know what to say… you have left me actually thinking for a minute. That is not something most blog post make me do…

    You made me think about all the people and circumstances that I am going to be see/encounter on the road and that its going to be such an eye opener to me. Aside from Mexico I have no been anywhere.

  38. Ayngelina Author says:

    @Leslie

    He sent me a email last night and was okay with it but that it was weird being under the microscope and felt like he was the Chinese kid who showed Indiana Jones the way!

  39. LeslieTravel says:

    Sounds like Andres is a great guy! With his help you’ve had a chance to experience the country in a way many travelers haven’t. How could he object to this blog tribute? πŸ˜‰

  40. Oh Andres!

  41. An eye-opening post, Ayngelina, thanks to you and to Andres for sharing.

  42. It’s not very often when someone admits being humbled by another human being and probably even less often when this is dome publicly. I’m impressed. Moreover, it takes a little bit of brains and heart to pay attention to such kind of messages and learn a significant lesson. I’m impressed even more. As I live in Romania I can relate to the situation very well and I probably appreciate even more your post and your words. As I said I’m really impressed!

  43. Ayngelina, This is a great post. I am so glad that you met him and learned from him. How wonderful!

  44. DTravelsRound says:

    What a great post. I would love to meet Andres. It is so great when you have someone who tells you what it is really like in a country. Meeting locals so sways your views of a country. In Spain, it made me fall more in love. In other countries, where the locals I met were not the best, it made me not like countries. Thank you for explaining a littl about Ecuador and the people. This is great for any traveler to read … it will make them think twice about the way they respond and interact with the people in the countries they visit.

  45. This is a great post. It’s awesome that you were able to meet someone who was so patient and willing to gracefully inform you about his home. It’s even better that you took the time to tell us πŸ™‚

  46. made me think a lot… this post made me remember the people that i met also when i was travelling…

  47. Wow, I have a confession; I’d class myself as “open minded” but your 1st message about cheap cost of living made me sit back and think. And to be honest-I’ve never thought about it like that.

    You’ve saved me from embarrassment and the potential of looking pig-headed for when I go on my future journey. Thanks, lovely post πŸ™‚

  48. Lindsay aka @_thetraveller_ says:

    I’ve been meaning to read this and I’m glad I did. Very heartwarming Ayngelina!

  49. Matt | YearAroundTheWorld says:

    I always try and ask around to find the normal price for things, and will only bargin if someone is trying to charge me an extra “gringo tax”.

  50. Loved this post! I was in Ecuador last year and fell in love with the place and its so sad to see it struggling for survival, I can only imagine how many times Andre must bite his tongue at the offensive, even if not intended things tourists say while visiting.

  51. joshywashington says:

    It sounds like you attract authentic people in your travels. I believe Andres is just as lucky to have met you, cause that is they way it works…we enlighten, care for and challenge each other.
    As far as cost of living and bargaining, this was a hard lesson I learned in Vietnam, that we shouldn’t brag about how cheap things are when many people toil most of their lives to scrape by. I will bargain and try to reach an agreeable price, but I see a “gringo tax” as an acceptable reality: the very fact that we have the wealth to travel the world means we are exponentially more rich than most of the people we visit in developing world countries. Never forget in your search for a cheaper shoe shine or handbag that the difference of a dollar or two is so vast. At home that is money I will wantonly toss in a cafe tip cup, so why must i cling to it in the face of real need abroad?
    great post and great discussion here!

  52. Wow, a beautiful and insightful post. You were lucky to have met Andres. Thank you for sharing your lessons with us.

  53. Cathy Sweeney says:

    Beautiful tribute to Andres. I’ll bet he feels that he learned from you, too.

  54. What a nice tribute post to Andres. You guys had been so lucky to met each other during your stay. It’s upsetting to hear that a turkey is like out of reach for many of his people. We need to thankful for everything we have in life. And thankful for the people we met on the road. Thanks for sharing girl.

  55. You were lucky to have a local like Andres to help you during your time in Ecuador & this post to him was beautiful. Sadly, life is that way in many countries and as tourists, I’m sure we’ve all done our part in making the locals cringe/angry/frustrated. It’s good to be aware of our embarrassing actions. Thanks for bringing some of these things to light.

    So what’s after Ecuador?

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      @Diana

      Headed back down to Peru to see if Lima is the culinary capital everyone says it is!

  56. The influential people like this is kind of what traveling is about for me. They come in all shades and grades of influence. Andres sounds like a cool guy, thanks for letting us share his wisdom through you.

  57. Hm, I’m not sure if my other comment was sent. Stupid internet.
    I’ll try again, I guess.

    I don’t know about you, but I always feel bad haggling over things. I realize that me getting that sweater for $2 doesn’t mean anything. For that family, it can mean dinner. Andres and his lesson of the Turkey really hits that point home.

    Second, I see you are heading to Peru!! Excellnt, I love Peru and I love its food. Lima is fantastic – try Pescado Capitales (I recently did a review actually). The place at Huaca Pukllana had the best tamale I’ve ever had. And Punto Azul is probably my all time favorite!

    But if you have time, go to Arequipa. I like their food even better.

  58. Really touching post Ayngelina. And a reminder of how lucky we are.

  59. Dave and Deb says:

    Andres sounds like a very wonderful man. I am glad that you had the opportunity to make a friend in him and I am sure that you touched his life too.

  60. The situation for many people in Mexico is very similar. My fiance is originally from Mexico City (though he worked for nearly 10 years in the U.S). Since we’ve moved back to Mexico he’s helped me to understand many of these same lessons. Not to mention, that once you begin to work for the local wages – even as a foreigner earning wages that are considered to be above average – things don’t seem as inexpensive anymore! πŸ˜‰

  61. Laura has a point there; although I am Romanian and the situation is somehow similar to Mexico, I also had the tendency to say Mexico is cheap because I was comparing it to European prices. We always complain about the fact that foreigners judge by their financial position. What is cheap for a foreigner maybe, in some cases, unaffordable for the natives.

  62. Travelogged says:

    Very moving post! Makes me think twice about bargaining…

  63. we don’t need to eat turkey,’cause we’ve got ginea pigs and as u know, both taste just the same… like chicken… btw ecuadorian food kicks peruvian ass!

  64. Makes you think twice about your actions when traveling. Touching post Ayngelina. Looking forward to going to Ecuador. I will now have a better understanding.

  65. I completely understand Andres in this regard. My mother originally moved to the U.S. (legally) for financial reasons – to help her family back in Guatemala and aid her youngest sibling through college. After a couple of years of hard work and networking, she ended up staying for good in the hopes of a better future.

    Though I have nothing against cheap travel, it can be disheartening when travelers brag about how cheap it is and on top of it try to haggle vendors for an even lower price for their goods or services.

    This was an incredibly insightful post, I can’t thank you enough for publishing it.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      It’s such a fine line and believe me I’ve crossed it before. But hearing the story about the shoe shine boy made me realize that I need to be aware of what a fair price is.

  66. Sebastian says:

    That is a really nice post. I experienced the same in Nicaragua. It’s a very poor country and for us it seems like paradise because everything is so cheap. And we still try to negotiate on prices.

    That’s what I like about traveling that you experience things you wouldn’t at home and you get to see things different which you took for granted at home.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Funnily enough Nicaragua was my favourite country in Central America. It was so cheap but only for tourists.

  67. David deSouza says:

    Nice post. Hope this reaches the ears of those selfish sorts who try to bargain the poor locals.

    1. This is a complex problem. I think generally it is best to find out what the market prices are and negotiate towards those. Locals will try to overcharge you. Sure, for us it’s cheap, but then other locals will blame us for raising prices for them. Don’t try to pay too little nor too much, both will make you unpopular.
      On a different note the USA are the country with the best income/price of consumer goods ratio in the world. Everybody else pays up.

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