Bahia and money game

Trip Start May 05, 2009
Trip End Sep 03, 2009

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Wednesday, May 13, 2009

South from Canoa is a small town called San Vicente, the town that I was initially lost in a couple days ago before finding my way.  From San Vicente, there is a short ferry ride across the bay to Bahia de Caraquez, a modern looking town when seen from a distance, with multistory (not quite skyscraper) businesses and apartment buildings.

Upon reaching Bahia, I hoofed around for a while, found a hostal, and decided this would be a one-day stopover.  Since I found litte to reccommend Bahia-wise, I am going to digress a bit, and discuss an interesting Ecuadorian phenomenon I call "The Change Game".

For those that don't know, Ecuador scrapped their own "monetary system" (forgive my lack of precision in terms, I am not an economist) due to crazy volatility in value, and switched all their money over to U.S. dollars about 7 years ago.  When I decided to start my journey in Ecuador, I thought "Hey how convienent is that?  I can just bring in American money and I'm good to go."  Well, I was perhaps a little overly optimistic.

I have not pinned down the exact reason for it, but apparently trying to pay for anything without exact change is akin to tempting a cat into a bathtub filled with cold water.  Here is a typical scenario:

Scene: I want to buy a couple yummy-looking breakfast pastry for 25 cents each.  Hand vendor a five dollar bill.
Response:  Sour look, a bit of quick Spanish-slangy discussion with nearby vendors, no doubt disparaging the silly gringo for trying to pass such a large bill for such a small purchase.  I wait around for 5 or 10 minutes, until the seller resurfaces with my change.

Initially I thought maybe this was an unusual situation, but each time I made a purchase along my journey, I found the situation repeated itself.  Handing someone a 20 dollar bill was almost unthinkable, unless the total was 19 dollars and change.  I had to visit several banks just to get a few 100 dollar bills broken down.  Even then I was stuck with more 20's, which felt much like possessing the old-maid card.  Every chance I got, I tried to break down my bills into the smallest possible demonination.  Sometimes I even felt a bit devious, passing a ten dollar bill, shrugging my shoulders, and saying "sorry that's all I have" when paying for something I had already eaten... even though I had smaller bills in my pocket.  More than a few times, I was unable to even buy an item because I didn't have anything under a ten dollar bill.  Submitting a twenty for payment is almost indefensible.  You might as well have handed over a ten thousand dollar bill.  Surely, you are a counterfeiter or a very rich man who has no business here.  You should be expecting at least a 15 minute wait for change in the event of such a transgression.  And of course, the ATM only dispenses twenty dollar bills!

Even at the bank, with the man in front of me sporting a 6 inch thick stack of 20's, changing my hundred dollar bill was frowned upon--literally.  I gave my saddest set of tourist puppy dog eyes and had to plead for "billetes mas pequenas" (smaller bills).  It is an almost humorous situation, but stress-inducing at the same time.

Okay, money rant over.  The moral is break down your bills at every possible opportunity, and don't even think of entering the country with hundreds.

Thanks for reading, next stop: Puerto Lopez!
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Andrea on


Paul and I lived at Bahia for one year, aboard our boat. Please read this and post it. Thank you so much for your help. Andrea

Hello fellow cruisers,

I am desperately asking for help. Another yachtie, Mr. Paul Van Rensburg, set sail on March 12, 2010 from Tauranga to Gisborne New Zealand; approximately 2 day trip. He never arrived. It is now 18 days later and his trusty boat, TAFADZWA, has been located off of the Chatham Islands. Paul was not on board. His sweet dog Juanita was.

As of now, we are hoping for a miracle. At the very least, we hope to find Paul so that he may rest peacefully in his home country of South Africa.

Chances are, you have had a beer with him. His travels have been extensive.

Please go to the website dedicated to finding Paul.
Please donate anything that you are able to, so that the search may be continued.

Thank you and many blessings,

Andrea Shaw, D.C.
former deckhand on TAFADZWA

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