[color-box color=”green”]Join Canadian Expat, Dodie Schadlich, in her weekly column for “Off the Beaten Path”. Speaking the local language yields great results- even if its not perfect. Discover La Libertad on the south coast of Ecuador in a way rarely seen by expats. [/color-box]
I Love Ecuador!
A country where you can still find bicycle repairmen and suit makers. Where no frills blenders cost $85, but there are 2 streets of vendors offering parts and service for them. Where you can still have shoes repaired for $2.00 or a mirror cut to size and shape while you wait. Where you give your favorite shirt to a seamstress who duplicates it to perfection in any color you want.
Such a far cry from North America where anything can be purchased with a quick trip to the nearest Super Duper Department Store located on every corner in every town. When the item breaks down, you simply toss it and buy another.
Buying things in Ecuador becomes not only an adventure in finding what you want, but you truly feel like you have stepped back in time. Where many of the community members still have skills-of-old that they pass down to their children and grandchildren.
That what cannot be found in Ecuador can often be created by talented and innovative people.
This Brings Me To The Story Of The Basket Lady In The La Libertad Mercado.
I am a huge fan of the super large woven baskets that the bread lady in the Mercado uses to hold all her yummy buns and loaves. They are enormous and must take two people to maneuver into place when she has them full.
Each week, month after month, as I purchased my bread, I would admire her fabulous baskets imagining the different things I might do with them. Roll up the pool towels and place them poolside for easy access: fill with fresh fruits and vegetables or perhaps convert it to a planter overflowing with flowers.
She always sets up shop on the same busy roadside corner where the sights and sounds of free enterprise fill the air. A constant stream of traffic and honking. Everyone walking around selling something useful or unique. You need to keep your eyes open for that special find.
We once purchased honey in a 26’er rum bottle for only $12.00! It was delicious and we have not been able to find him since. Mental note; take down names and numbers when you find a gem.[/color-box]
Fast Forward To A Couple Months Ago:
I received some awesome news: our lovely employee Paola is pregnant. She has been with us nearly 3 years and has become family. She is really hoping for a girl as she has 2 boys already. I am so excited about this pending baby; almost like a grandmother in waiting.
I immediately thought of the bread baskets and what a lovely bassinet it would make. So practical but unique.
The following week, I decided to start a conversation with the bread lady that was outside of our typical polite business transaction. I found out that she is from Riobamba and that she travels to La Libertad twice a week to sell her delicious loaves of bread. Tuesdays (which are the days I see her) and Saturdays.
To give you an idea of how surprising this tidbit of information really is; Riobamba, is roughly a 6-hour drive one way. Considering the buns sell for 0.25 and the loaves for $1.00; well, you see where I am going with this…
I then turned the conversation to her incredible baskets. I explain that I would like to buy one for a special baby that is to be born. I would like to convert it to a bassinet.
Of course, my Spanish is not that fluent so it sounded more like caveman Spanish:
Regardless, she seemed to understand what I was looking for and as luck would have it; She actually weaves the baskets herself!
I was so pleasantly surprised; I asked if she could please make one for me- for the baby. She agreed and said she would bring it from Riobamba the following week- (which actually took 2 weeks in our Ecuadorian Time Zone)
When I picked up my basket, I was thrilled beyond belief.
This photo does not do it justice. It is actually nearly 4 feet long, sturdy and simply amazing. I can imagine it lined with pillows, matching blanket and a practical but coordinated mosquito netting over the top.
Since popping into Walmart and finding the coordinating pillow and blanket set is out of the question…
This brings me to yet another equally talented local lady named Yenny (pr.Jenny). She can make anything with fabric.
I know she will work her magic to finish the bassinet to perfection and most likely will exceed my expectations.
Of course, my conversation with Yenny will sound more like this:
The only thing unknown at the moment is the color I should choose; pink or blue!
How To Find These Talented Folks?
The only advice I can give to assist you in finding these talented locals would be: Learn some basic Spanish and talk to the locals. They are a wealth of information on the who, what and where in the neighborhoods.
One of the best things I have done for myself during my Ecuadorian Journey was to practice the language. I have learned that you do not need to be fluent in order to communicate with the locals. Speak the broken words from the heart, with a smile, and they will try hard to understand.
I cannot imagine my Ecuadorian life socializing strictly with other expats. I would have missed the opportunity to meet these two lovely and talented ladies.
Now when I buy my bread, it is not simply a transaction between two strangers, it is now a greeting and a smile that starts in the eyes. I have a little more understanding of this simple appearing woman selling her bread and she has a deeper understanding of the gringa that admired her baskets weekly.
Oh, by the way! $45 is what I paid. Delivered with a smile.
In case I didn’t mention it….
I love Ecuador.
[color-box color=”gray”]Have you had found some unique items in your local neighbourhoods? Did speaking Spanish help open that door for your? Let us know your experience in the comments below