7 Things Expats Won’t Tell You Before Moving to Salinas, Ecuador

I can’t stay silent any longer. There are some things that expats don’t warn you about before you make the decision to move to Salinas, on the Pacific Coast of Ecuador. In the interest of full disclosure, I feel you have the right to know these seven things that expats don’t like to mention, but will surely happen to you as a full-time resident.

1. You Will Become Obsessed With Money Management

In Salinas, managing your money means trying to maximize the amount of change and small bills you have available. You see, there are very few places that will accept anything larger than a $20 bill. In fact, with most cab rides in the area in the $2 to $3 range, lunches $3 to $5, and most dinner entrées under $10, even the $20 bill is not always welcome. If you get into a cab with a $5 bill or larger, you need to ask if they can break it first.

My wife and I find ourselves playing a game whenever we buy something. We always try to use the largest bill we think we can get away with, so that we get the most change back. I once had a newcomer ask me if I could give her four 5’s for a twenty? She was shocked when I replied “No way!” We work hard for those $5 bills!

Here’s a tip: The Mercado is a great place to break bills. Since it is all cash transactions with a high volume of business, they have a lot of small change. Buy your seafood and meats first to break the big bills.

2. You Will Find Yourself Complaining About Ridiculous Things

I once caught myself complaining that one of the fruit vendors wanted $2 for a pound of fresh strawberries in February. You see, we get most fruits fresh, year-round, and I was used to paying between $1 to $1.50 per pound. She was trying to explain that they had to get their berries from a different farmer, but I was so annoyed, I switched fruit vendors. I realized how ridiculous my complaint was on a recent trip to the U.S., where I saw strawberries—in season—selling for over $4 a quart.

I also once overheard someone in a restaurant complaining that there were too many shrimp in her soup.

3. Your Friends and Family Back in the States Will Not Understand Your Pain

Don’t expect sympathy from friends and family up north in January when you complain that you had to run the air conditioner all night. Or when they are experiencing summer thunderstorms, and you call to complain that it was cloudy when you took your beach walk to work off the calories from your soup that had too much shrimp in it!

4. You Will Believe Buying 30 Limes is Normal

I remember a time when I lived in the U.S., and bought a couple of limes once in a while in the grocery stores. They were usually about 50 cents each, and I might use them before they went bad.

Now in Salinas, between making ceviche, salad dressings, guacamole, salsa, and so on, I routinely buy 20 to 30 limes at a time, and usually run out of them and have to get more. Limes and lime juice is used as a garnish in many dishes, poured into soup, and—my wife’s favorite—squeezed into a rum and coke.

By the way, 50 cents will also get you 15 or 20 limes in Salinas.

5. Your Fashion Sense Will Suffer

After living in Salinas for a short while, you will feel that sandals or flip-flops are acceptable footwear for any social event. I now feel elegant if I’m wearing a shirt with buttons, and a pair of shorts with a zipper. Most of the time, a pair of track shorts or a bathing suit and a t-shirt is the uniform of the day. I have seen people who consider putting on a nice clean soccer jersey on Sunday morning as dressing up for church.

You will get used to just wearing out whatever you are wearing in your home. It seldom rains, so you get used to never thinking about bad weather gear. Many restaurants have outdoor seating, and shops are open to the outdoors, so you find yourself no longer making indoor/outdoor clothing decisions.

6. You Will Lose Track of Time

Our shortest day of the year just passed. It was 11 hours and 59 minutes long. In about six months, we will have our longest day. It will be 12 hours and 14 minutes long. There’s only about a 10- to 15-degree difference in daily temperatures between our winter and summer, and the change is gradual. Add to this the fact that there are no big storms to break up the time, and that even a rainy day is extremely rare, and you will find that you are losing track not only of what day of the week it is, but also what month it is.

7. You Will Feel Abandoned on North American Beaches

An expat once told me she went to the beach on a recent trip to North Carolina, and found herself looking around wondering where the beer vendor was. Why hasn’t anyone brought me food, she asked herself.

In Salinas, you will find that once you arrive at the beach, you don’t need to leave for the rest of the day. You will have a support system. As soon as you step into the sand, someone will offer to rent you a sunshade, a table or two, and some chairs for about $8 a day. As you settle, your beer and drink vendor will greet you and offer to take care of your beverage needs all day. Soon you will be shown a menu or two, and told you only have to wave and someone will take your lunch order, phone it in via cellphone, and bring it to you when it is ready.

Ice cream, coconuts, candy, fruit, beach toys, and everything else you might need (and several things you don’t need) are available for sale without you leaving your beach chair.

So there it is, the ugly truth, out at last! I hope you will keep these things in mind when considering your new home in Salinas, Ecuador—and don’t say I didn’t warn you!

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