Traffic and mail in Ecuador: A gringo rant

Dec 25, 2019 | 50 comments

By Rob Bell

There are at least two things about Ecuador that I, as a U.S. expat, have difficulty understanding and getting used to. It seems to me that Ecuadorians are extremely fatalistic about what they expect from their elected government officials, and from their fellow Ecuadorians.

Let’s talk about cars (and trucks and buses) versus pedestrian safety.

In the U.S., if a pedestrian takes one step into a crosswalk, traffic is supposed to come to an immediate halt. While it doesn’t always happen, should a police office see a driver ignore a pedestrian with his foot in the crosswalk, the driver faces a fine and possible points on his license. Compare that to Ecuador, where traffic rules are routinely ignored by drivers. Pedestrians better run if they are in the crosswalk when a car comes along because the drivers here assume that their heavy metal cars, not flesh and blood pedestrians, have the right of way. Even a pedestrian crossing at a stop sign is risking injury as cars drive right through stop signs here, regardless of whether there is foot traffic in the roadway.

Crossing the street can be a real adventure in Ecuador.

On the highway, it’s just as bad. It doesn’t matter if the road is windy, has no passing solid white lines between lanes, or has cows crossing it, drivers here do not stop for anything. They speed pass into blind turns in the oncoming lane to pass, racing towards oncoming vehicles as if they will survive miraculously if hit head on. Not just cars. Commercial buses, trucks, motorcycles, they all drive like lunatics here.

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My wonder is why Ecuadorians are okay with this. And why the ever-present highway police don’t make arrests for negligent driving.

Now let’s talk about the sending and receiving of mail.

Getting and sending mail is a snap in the United States. And it’s cheap, less than a buck domestically and a couple of bucks for foreign mail. In fact, mailing stuff is so cheap I had to empty my mailbox every day or else it would get clogged up with junk mail and flyers, leaving no room for personal mail. Mailing boxed items is so cheap no one goes to stores anymore, they just order online and it gets delivered, lickety split. Companies like Amazon now make their own deliveries right to your front door, usually the next business day. It’s very efficient.

Moving here, it was a shock to find that people don’t even have addresses for their homes and businesses. Local or international mail delivery? Ordering things online? Fugeddaboutit1 You have to use a private mail service like DHL, which I’ve heard is the cheapest, starting at $33 bucks to mail a simple envelope to another country. I have no idea how to send mail within the country, but I have read one needs to rent a post box, since having mail delivered to your home or business is unheard of. Whaaat?

Not knowing better, when I was in the States I mailed a birthday card to my girlfriend in Ecuador, using an actual Quito address (her mother’s place had a street number and everything). It never arrived. This was 15 months ago!

It’s almost 2020.  Why do Ecuadorians accept this super expensive and inefficient non-postal system? And how in the heck can one run a business without sending and receiving mail?

There are a ton of great things about Ecuador, so please don’t send me messages to “love it or leave it.” Ecuadorians deserve to be safe on the roads and while crossing streets. Creating a viable postal service may cost the country lots of money to implement, but the flip side would be the creation of thousands of new jobs for Ecuadorians, help businesses and individuals with better connectivity, and it would drive down pricing thanks to the public – private postal competition.

Ecuadorians, stop being so passive and fatalistic! You can have safe roads AND reliable mail delivery. And while we’re at it, let’s get after the government to open up the nation’s borders to easier international trade, which will boost the economy and help put $$$ in our collective wallets.

End of rant. Happy Holidays!
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Rob Bell is a recent American Expat from New Jersey who is grateful to be living in Cuenca with his Ecuadorian fiancé.

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