Monday, October 26, 2009

The Human Touch

Bright Pichincha Morning

Pichincha Changing an Hour Later

In certain wonderful ways, experiencing Ecuador is like stepping back ten or twenty years, sometimes decades. Trying to make travel arrangements via internet (which is the only way I have planned trips for more than ten years) is impossible. After several failed efforts online, I stepped into a travel agency near my Spanish school, and asked 'Fanny' to find a flight to and from Cuenca.

This coming weekend is a long weekend, with Monday November 2nd being the 'Day of the Dead' and Tuesday being Independence Day for Cuenca, a city in southern Ecuador. Schools and businesses are closed for both days to celebrate both occasions. Eric and I have been planning to travel to Cuenca for the holiday and to participate in the festivities.

It felt wonderful to have someone else take care of the details. Even after I agreed on dates and paid with a credit card, I realized I had mixed up the return date (I thought Tuesday was the 2nd, so inadvertently had us return in the midst of Independence Day events), so I called and asked Fanny to change the dates, which she did without hesitation, and without a change fee.

When I looked for hotels online (Kayak, Expedia, Priceline, Orbitz), every Cuenca hotel was booked for the weekend. Fanny assured me that she would find a hotel. I felt so relieved to not have to make the phonecalls and spend the time online. I will visit her tomorrow at my midmorning break to discuss the final arrangements.

In Ecuador, most business appears to be done face to face, and there is something reassuring about that. Human interaction and human contact reigns, and that is comforting, and reminds me of a time long ago, before computers and cellphones ( although most people here have at least two cell phones, one Porta and one Movistar, the two main companies for cellphones), when one would call for service and talk to a human being rather than a machine. Perhaps it is inefficient, but then again, things do get done, and without visiting Fanny I would not be going to Cuenca this weekend.

Perhaps due to unemployment and underemployment, there are to be all sorts of helpful people around. There are guardians who watch your car if you park in a parking lot or in front of a store or even on the street. They are paid a few cents, and make it feel safer to park. When entering most stores, one is immediately greeted and offered help, and sometimes several (too many?) eager helpers are available to you. There are guards at every building on our street and they are at their posts 24 hours a day, not only to guard, but also to be available to the tenants for all sorts of requests. Even when I feel that I want to take care of everything myself, I am reassured that if I needed help, it would be available.

Afternoon Pichincha

Sunset on Pichincha

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