Money Matters


This blog entry about the events of Saturday, October 25, 2003 was originally posted on October 26, 2003.

DAY 7:  I learned a new expression in Spanish today:  “Su banco es esta fuera de linea.”  Translation:  “Your bank is off-line.”  I have decided this is my least favorite Spanish expression so far.

I wandered around Otavalo’s streets in search of an ATM so I could get some cash to pay my hostel bill.  Leave it to me to be so accustomed to ATMs on every street corner in New York that I just assumed finding an ATM wouldn’t be a problem.  But it was.  I only found three open ATMs in Otavalo, all from the same bank, and each of them told me that my bank was offline and to try again later.  All the banks and money exchange offices were closed because it was Sunday, and the one bank that was open wouldn’t let me cash in any travellers’ checks.

Luckily for me, Navid — with this G.I.Joe Gung Ho demeanor — had enough cash to spot me and helped me out, like in a public service announcement at the end of a G.I.Joe cartoon.  So next time, I’ll have enough cash in a small town on a Sunday.  Now I know, and knowing is half the battle!

One thing about money in Ecuador; they use the US dollar.  They used to have their own currency, the sucre, but in the late 90s, its value tanked down to the value of a dotcom stock option in 2001: worthless.  In 2000, despite protests for national identity, the government switched over the US dollar.  Now they use the same paper money as the USA — I don’t know if they’ve seen the new 20 yet — but their coins are different.  Well, the size and weight of the Ecuadorean coins are the same so you could probably get away with using them at an American laundromat.  The use of the golden dollar with Sacajawea on it is in wide use here, probably because she looks like one of the indigenous people anyway.  I love using the golden dollar whenever I can; I feel like I’m in a fairy tale, buying things with gold coins.

Another thing about money… no one here has change!  If something is eight dollars, and I give a ten, they sneer at me like “You stupid gringo, don’t you have eight gold coins?”  Then it’s a big to-do when the person has to go out to another store, or send their kid out, just to get me my two dollars.  (“Give me my two dollars!”)  I swear I almost gave a guy a heart attack when I gave a five dollar bill for something that only cost a quarter.

WE BID FAREWELL TO THE FAMILY of the hostel.  Pablo and his dad — I never got his name — drove us to the bus station, where we hopped on one of the many buses that were going to Quito.  The bus rode on the windy roads through the mountains and over the equator again.  We stopped along the highway to pick up any villagers who needed a lift, including a family near the Cayambe volcano

Since it was Sunday, there wasn’t much traffic and the trip only lasted about 90 minutes.  Instead of movies, the conductor just played a mixtape of soft rock tunes from the 80’s, like Lionel Richie and Bryan Adams.  It just put me to sleep.

I WOKE UP TO THE STENCH OF AIR POLLUTION and knew immediately that we were back in the big city.  Navid and I split a cab back to the backpacker district and checked back into the Crossroads hostel, just in time before it started pouring rain.  Lars was still there, bored in room #1 as he had been for the past eight weeks, but he told me he actually had a good weekend mountain biking with the hostel owner.

I went over to the ATM that I used the week before and it told me the same thing: “Su banco es esta fuera de linea.”  A bank across the street said the same thing: “Su banco es esta fuera de linea.”  It was raining and everything was closed, but I pressed on.  Luckily I found another ATM that had some cash and went out to get something to eat.

DESPITE BEING IN THE BACKPACKER DISTRICT, everything was pretty much closed at 4pm on Sunday.  Luckily I found this middle eastern restaurant and hookah bar and managed to order a falafel sandwich.  I was sitting alone in the dark room, surrounded by pictures of Iran and Saudi Arabia, until a teenage boy came in the door.

“‘Tu hables ingles?” he asked me.

“S’, yes.”

“I am a student and was wondering if you could help me with my homework.”  I had noticed him and a girl at a table outside, fiddling around with a microphone connected to a boombox.  “I just need to interview someone who is native English speaking.”  I brought my food outside and hung out with the two of them.

Luis was in college in a suburb of Quito, and he and his cousin Carolina decided to go to the one place in the area that they figured they could interview some gringos for his assignment.  All he had to do was tape an interview with someone and prove to his professor that his English was good enough to conduct an English conversation with someone who doesn’t really know Spanish.  On tape, he asked me simple questions — Where are you from? Do you like Quito? — but off tape, he helped me learn some new words, including putaand cucho.  He played the tape back to me, and I sounded like a bumbling moron.

After he finished his homework, he and his cousin drove home and so I went off to do my own homework.  I wrote a story using the verbs ser and estar, based on my conversation with Erika on the plane.

If you pledged The Global Trip 2004 Pledge Drive, please email me your postal address to

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if you haven’t already — even the addresses that you think I know by heart.

AOL IM USERS, FYI:  Even though most of the places I go have internet, I’m discovering that most don’t have AOL Instant Messenger (and Quick Buddy doesn’t work).  However, MSN Messenger is on almost every computer, with Yahoo Messenger in second.  My MSN name is .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Next entry: Shit Happens

Previous entry: Shopping Spree

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Comments for “Money Matters”

  • wow, wish you told us they use u.s. money there in ecuador, especially the dollar coins. i have a lot of those from the stupid metro-card machine. i would have traded you some.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/26  at  02:10 PM

  • you should have taken all those “gold coins” with you…i used them all the ones you gave me at the airport!  doah!...

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/26  at  02:28 PM

  • re: previous post (Day 6):

    I can’t believe u ate that rodent. maybe you should sent that pic to Popeyes Fried Chicken and tell them that fried rodents is Mmm Mmmm Good.

    ugh. i feel sick.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/26  at  05:02 PM

  • speaking of gold coins, the stupid change machine in my dorm only gives out gold dollar coins, which was a wonderful discovery for me at 2 in the morning last week when i was down to my last pair of undies and needed to do a load of laundry to get me through the week.. i glare at it everyday on my way out to class..

    hope all is well.. hey i spread the word about the blog site on my friendster bulletin the other day. i’m such a dork..heehee

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/26  at  07:07 PM

  • ecuador uses our money? i didn’t know that! no fun. do any of the other south american countires use the u.s. dollar?

    the new 20 bills aren’t very hip. 

    i think you should gather your gold coins and kayak the blanco river… it was in a travel mag & i thought of you.

    (i’m jealous)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/26  at  11:33 PM

  • Yeah, the “how could you not have EXACT change?!” sneer. What the hell is up with THAT?! We got it in Italy too… like euro bills are an insult. So let’s see, I just got to this country, I’ve gone to exchange some travellers checks, all I have are bills. YOU however, go to the bank everyday to tally-up the previous day’s take—I’m sure the bank would supply YOU with coins if you would just ASK! I mean the Borghese Gallery gets 8.50 euros per person, they allow 360 people/2-hours, and are open for 12 hours a day. How come they don’t have small change?!?!?! They’ve got more money than the bank! Okay, so I’m done venting on the exact change issue. .. but I still don’t get it.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/02  at  07:02 PM

  • hey eric…...
    i laughed when i read about the money situatioin…....its true u have to more or less have the exact amount, i mean a 20 dollar bill there, is like giving a hundred dollar bill here…..i mean u just have to use change…..and its true, if they dont have change for u, they make one of their children do a sprint around the corner to get change from somenone else, and your right the gold dollar is widely used over there… the way did u smoke of the hoofa, i think is called at the fallafel place? they have different types of flavors to pick from….......ah… the way, puta means bitch…........and is chucha not cucho….....unless he was trying to let u know about that dog movie…...chucha means pussy… u r armed and prepared…........her is another little word..verga….means cock that word is widely used as well… would replace fuck overhere…....mamame la verga…...suck my u know the rest…......defend yourslf!!!!!!!!!!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/03  at  12:32 AM

  • Yes, congrats for this site, check those too

    Posted by Shagan Jillian  on  12/09  at  10:19 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today,, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.

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Shit Happens

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Shopping Spree


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