by Susan Schenck
One of the American traditions we often cut back on when we move to Cuenca is that of shopping marathons. In San Diego, I sometimes shopped for an hour and a half just to unwind from the long week’s workload. I had to get my daily walking in anyhow, so if I wasn’t hitting the beach, desert, or mountains, it was often at the malls. And unless there was a huge sale, I bought only one or two things—but it was for the joy of the hunt, the challenge of finding that right thing on sale.
This is a tradition that won’t die easily. As far back as 2.6 million years ago, our Paleolithic ancestors went shopping: the women tirelessly shopping for berries, fruit, and greens, while their spouses shopped for wild animals. The challenge in the hunt and the euphoria of the find is in our genes.
I'd heard that the best malls—even better than those of Quito—were in Guayaquil. So when I had to pick up a visiting friend at the airport, my husband and I spent a night at the beach in Salinas (staying at beachfront hotel for forty bucks!), followed by a night near the Guayaquil airport, which has three malls nearby.
Mall del Sol, the largest mall in Guaya, made me feel like I was back in California: a real mall ambience, mall plants, mall music, and four stories of shops! Real coffee shops (“Sweet and Coffee” and “Juan Valdez”) that rivaled Starbucks in quality and, unfortunately, price. Brand-name stores that I wouldn’t bother with in the U.S., but nonetheless made me feel like I was back home (Esprit, Ralph Loren, Guess, etc., and in the food court, Dunkin Donuts, Cinnabon, Baskin Robins, Tony Roma, etc.). And only two times was I asked to check in my large backpack.
I noted many differences in the shopping facilities. In Cuenca, the only large stores are the Corals. But here there were a couple of large department stores that even had restrooms. In Cuenca, a sale might boast 10% or 15% off, with the odd 30%-50% sale. But in Guayaquil, about half the stores had a 30%-50% off rack. The signs say “Sale,” which ironically in Spanish means “leave.” I managed to find some clothes with huge discounts and got some Banana Republic shirts at fire-sale prices I would have paid in California.
Another thing: In Cuenca, clothes are not only overpriced, but undersized. You almost have to be a size 0 or 2 to wear most of the clothes displayed in Cuenca shops. But in Guayaquil, there were actually “plus” sizes.
I needed a small portable CD player for my kitchen. I hesitated when I saw that the price, $40, was twice what I'd pay in the U.S. Then I realized how ridiculous it was that I complained about the import duty on items in Ecuador. I was paying the California government $300 a month in property taxes—why would I balk at paying a $20 import duty for this CD player?
Many of us have heard stories about unscrupulous taxi drivers in Guayaquil, but the ones on the inside row of the mall are all bonded and secure. You can also call cab companies that are safe.
Some people like to hire English speaking drivers here in Cuenca for the entire trip to and from the big city, and this can be very affordable if you go in a group and come back the same night. Juan Perez often takes groups on one-day shopping sprees and can be contacted at 09-402-5712 or email@example.com. Another English-speaking driver with a van is Angel at 08-589-9643.
You may think a one-day shopping spree is too much. But I found I was able to shop circles around everyone in the mall. Between the beach in Salinas and Mall del Sol, I put in six hours of walking in one day! This is because after living in the mountains and accumulating vast amounts of red blood cells, you have “extreme energy” when you go down to sea level!
Susan Schenck, LAc, is a raw-food coach, lecturer, and author of the two-time award-winning book, The Live Food Factor, The Comprehensive Guide to the Ultimate
Diet for Body, Mind, Spirit & Planet, which has gained a reputation as the encyclopedia of the raw food diet, as well as Beyond Broccoli, Creating a Biologically Balanced Diet When a Vegetarian Diet Doesn’t Work. Go to www.livefoodfactor.com and register for the free newsletter to get a copy of the first chapter of The Live Food Factor.