Posted on November 28, 2012 • Filed under: Culture, Ecuador, TRAVEL




My family had suffered through the wet heat in Guayaquil, Ecuador for six months while I attempted to jump-start a sales agency there. I had imagined difficult times but had not anticipated some of the worst rains and floods in the history of Ecuador. It was January 1983. I also didn’t think we would be living in a mosquito net for eight to ten hours a night. Even with mosquito netting, my family would wake up with large quarter sized bites which caused us to be alarmed with catching dengue fever or worse, Malaria.

The climate was terrible but the economy was worse. I was a self-employed sales representative and could not make a sale. Unbelievably this was the same country where a year earlier I sold fifty thousand dollars of car parts in one week. Worse, I was basically broke and concerned about making my meager savings last.

Some months later, my wife and I decided to throw in the towel. If I was going to be poor, the U.S. was the place to be not Ecuador. We were depressed, as both of us wanted to remain there. My wife’s dream was to be with her family in Ecuador. My dream was to go to some exotic land, build a fortune, wear Indian Jones hats, and smoke Cuban cigars, while my employees worked my large banana plantation. I went to bed that night knowing tomorrow I would have to start the plans to return to the U.S., broke. I thought, what a hero, my friends will call me Indiana Loser. I was hoping a large mosquito bite would wake me from the reality of that terrible nightmare.

The next day I went to seem my Ecuadorian attorney about my visa. My tourist visa had expired and I was trying to obtain a permanent-working visa. The permanent visa was yet unavailable since my attorney had not paid off several bureaucrats to obtain it in a timely fashion. She advised me that immigration would understand my predicament and I would likely have no problems at the airport. Boy, was she mistaken. I left her office shaking my head. I never understood this game of paying people off to get things, which should be available through regular channels to the masses. My wife had explained to me many times that this was the way of life in her country and public servants supplemented their meager salaries in this manner. It was viewed merely as a way in which someone paid a tip for a little faster service.

I had asked her on more than one occasion how someone would ask for a bribe in exchange for faster resolution to a matter. She explained that the individual would always propose such a service very diplomatically by asking for a little something so he or she could get a cola. I couldn’t believe this since I had been raised with the idea that pay offs for such things were criminal.

We decided to leave the following Saturday. We arrived at the airport early and waited through the long line of people making the trek to Miami. After saying good-byes to friends and family we exited through the security door to leave. My wife and son presented their documents and were signaled by the lowly bureaucratic immigration officer to pass. I then presented my passport and began to walk through the second security clearance when the officer yelled “ALTO”. The officer had a grin on his face as though he had caught a thief. He explained to me that my tourist visa had expired and I could not leave the country. I was told I must report to the immigration office on Monday to clear up the matter. Of course this was Saturday and Immigration was closed. I pleaded with him to no avail.

At that moment I suggested to my wife that possibly this matter could be resolved with some type of payment. Sometimes your perspective changes when you think you are in a serious predicament. We decided that she would conduct the negotiation since they might put me in jail, if I was suspected of trying to bribe a public official.

My wife got the attention of the officer who seemed to sympathize with our plight. She offered him sixty-dollars. He went to the sergeant and we watched as they discussed our situation. My heart dropped to my shoes when I saw him start nodding his head no to the offer. At this point I could hear the engines increasing power preparing for departure. I looked around a pillar and saw the door on the plane close. I told my wife to offer more money and to beg the junior officer. My wife handed her passport to him, who then handed it to the sergeant. The junior officer returned and gave my wife back her passport.

The sergeant then contacted airline officials and told them to open the plane for three more passengers. I couldn’t believe it. We were running like crazy as security officials rushed us to the tarmac of the waiting plane. I could hear people laughing but did not know why until I realized my Sansabelt slacks were drooping toward my knees which exposed a large part of my anatomy. It was moon over the Guayaquil airport. At that point I didn’t mind being the butt of the joke.

As we reached the plane, the junior officer had accompanied us. I began to shake his hand to thank him for his assistance. He then looked me in the eye and asked, “May I have a little something for a cola?” Obviously he was paying me a compliment by knowing that I understood his culture so well that I would not be offended. He explained that the cola money we previously supplied was only for the sergeant. I reached into my pocket and only had some twenties. At that point only twenty dollars separated me from passage to my home. This was no point to be budget conscious or to ask for change. I had handed over a twenty and told him I hoped he enjoyed the cola and to drink one for me. I had a feeling it was destined for some wonderful Ecuadorian cold draft. He smiled as he shook my hand and felt the bill pass to his. He then said that he hoped I had a good trip and to return to his country.

As I buckled my seatbelt with the sweat pouring down my face I took my wife’s hand and yelled, “YES”. My wife asked me what happened with the junior officer. I told her that I had just contributed a little more to the officer’s emergency fund. She smiled and congratulated me. “You are now an official Ecuadorian.”

As I began to rerun the days activities through my mind I could not believe that this whole event took place. Was I wrong in paying or was I simply following the rules of a culture which was not parallel with my own. I could even rationalize that I was fined for my visa having run out. Shame on me. Whatever the answer to that question, I was glad I followed the cultural norms that day. I then reclined in the seat to watch the movie. Ironically, the feature was a revival of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” As I drifted off to sleep, the stewardess came by and offered me a “COLA”.

This article is copyrighted and is from the book Culture Shock! Ecuador and is available in major bookstores and amazon.com / It is not to be copied, sold, or redistributed without express permission of the publisher – Crowder Publications – crowdpub@mindspring.com

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