We drove to Manta yesterday. It was time for our new Renault’s first scheduled maintenance at one thousand kilometres, and I wanted the occasion to purchase and install a roof rack. We have several family visits scheduled for the next few months, starting in November. There will be luggage.
Chantal and I also thought we’d deposit some money into our new savings account at Banco Guayaquil – the account that came courtesy our new vehicle; the account that resides very conveniently in a mall across the street from our Renault dealership.
Well, you might be thinking, that’s dull.
In Canada, absolutely. This is hardly the stuff of riveting bloggadocio. But here, it’s an entire day to negotiate not only the language but also the frustratingly unobvious processes that support such mundane transactions.
And in the end, you wind up making sausages.
Our service manager, Jessenia, checked us in with a burst of machine-gun Spanish. I had to ask her to slow down. Thankfully, she did. To the point where it sounded like she was addressing an addled old fart. Which, I guess, from her perspective she was.
It turns out that the complimentary thousand-klick maintenance is an opportunity for our dealer to sell accessories. Jessenia guided us through the entire catalogue of Renault car shit. Beyond the roof rack, we bought polymer door linings – rust is a real problem on the coast – and lock nuts, because swanky new Michelin tires do not go unnoticed in this country.
Completion time, for the twenty-five-point inspection, linings, and roof rack? Six hours and forty extra kilometres on my new vehicle. Don’t ask me where they drove it. Probably to a roof rack specialist and then to a car wash. When we picked it up later that day, it was spotless. Even the tires shone. The lock nuts were unavailable.
We left the car in Jessenia’s care and wandered over to the mall.
At Banco Guayaquil, I had my introduction to the mind-bending reality that is a standard cash deposit. We tried, several times, to put money into an automatic teller that specifically advertised depósitos. We would get to the very end of the transaction, each time, and the machine would spit our twenties onto the floor, then tell us in no uncertain terms that it didn’t like what we were doing. This required a personal appearance.
Enter the bank and it’s hats off, so the cameras can clearly see your face. Chantal forgot the rule. An armed guard politely reminded her.
I filled out a deposit slip and took my place in line to see a teller. (Pro tip: Always visit an Ecuadorian bank on a weekday morning, mid-month. At the beginning of the month, especially if it falls on a weekend, the entire country pays its bills. In cash. At the bank. The line can sometimes be hours.)
The teller accepted my deposit slip, tapped at his keyboard, and then returned the slip to me. Since this was my first transaction after opening my account, he would need to see my bank card and cedula. Okay, aquí tiene. He then filled out and had me sign a new deposit slip, with precisely the same information on it. I am at a loss to explain why. But he took my cash and handed over a receipt. So there’s that.
What now? We had exactly five and one-half hours left to kill. We decided to go a-browsing at Hiper Market, on the first floor of the El Paseo mall. The closest Canadian equivalent to Hiper Market, I guess, would be Food Basics or maybe Super C – except with hardware, home furnishings, electronics, toys, office supplies, and motorcycles.
It was there that I found it.
Before I explain what it was, you have to understand the nature of Ecuadorian retail. Anything you discover in great abundance one day will disappear and likely never return the next. Or it will suddenly appear, then vanish, and then come back months later in an entirely new package. Or it might just show up one day, for no explicit reason, in a store not known for carrying it. The point is, supply is often unpredictable.
You might, for instance, be on the hunt for a specific item – say, a motorcycle cover. For several weeks you search, hopelessly, aimlessly, under the bemused scrutiny of shopkeepers who clearly have no idea what you’re looking for or why. Once you realize that your quest is in vain, you order something too expensive from Canada and have a visiting relative bring it to you in their luggage. The week after you receive it, every store in the country has motorcycle covers on display, and you’re tempted to launch a Molotov cocktail at the end cap where you found them. Or at least beat it to rubble with a baseball bat.
I’ve had it in mind for a while now to make my own sausages. In Ecuador, there are a myriad salchicha. They run the artisanal gamut from hot dogs to frankfurters. The sole exception is morcilla, a lovely blood pudding that I very much enjoy on the grill.
Anyway, to make sausages, one must first acquire a meat grinder.
I’ve been on the prowl for one of those bad boys for nine months. Yesterday, at Hiper Market, Chantal and I found two. I quite literally launched myself at them. I probably would have resorted to fisticuffs had the women in the aisle not been more interested in dinnerware.
We hadn’t budgeted for a meat grinder. We bought one anyway. Because there might have been two on the shelf today, but they’d be gone forever by daybreak. In fact, the store manager would claim never to have heard of such a thing what will you gringos say next. And that would be the end of that.
At long last, and only because I bought a new Renault in Manta, I’m making sausages! All I need now is a sausage stuffer.
See you in another nine months.