Are you familiar with the Sacagawea dollar? If you don't live in a major metropolitan area with mass transit, chances are your answer is "No."
The Sacagawea dollar replaced the Susan B. Anthony US coin in 2000. Who/what is Sacagawea? Maybe like me you weren't paying attention that day in history class. Along with her Quebec trapper husband and infant son, she accompanied Lewis and Clark on their famous expedition, acting as a guide and interpreter.
See what you can learn reading this blog? It doesn't have to be Cuenca--Cuenca--Cuenca all the time!
So why in the heck am I telling you this? Because the coin that perhaps you've never seen is the primary unit of currency in this country. In researching the info above I just shared, I learned the US mint has one billion Sacagawea dollars in circulation. Nine hundred million of them must be here.
Have you ever been in a supermarket where the cashier asks if you have exact change? Can you imagine giving any proprietor a $20 bill for a small purchase and standing there waiting while he runs out to get your change? Or that same proprietor refusing your business because he can't make change?
Welcome to Ecuador, my friends.
For me one of the more frustrating aspects of living here is getting ready to go some place that requires a taxi ride and discovering you have only 10's (which may be begrudgingly accepted) and 20's (which won't be accepted). Since you most likely drive yourself everywhere that probably doesn't sound like a biggie to you.
Only if you lived here and had no car could you understand what a hassle this is.
I can't tell you how many times I've had to make a last-minute run to the tienda next door to buy something we really didn't need just to have proper change to give a taxi driver. That's so unnecessary, and I finally decided to do something about it.
I mentioned in an earlier blog (click here) about a place downtown where you can get change. Today I set out to find it.
That didn't turn out to be very difficult. A friend told me it was right behind an indigenous market which I knew of on the corner at Mariscal Lamar. Sure enough, there it was--the aptly named Banco de Cambio (Change Bank).
I went into a small space with two windows. Behind each of them was a worker, a change machine, and a wall unit of cubbies stuffed with a shitload of cash. You hand over a copy of either your passport or cedula along with your cash. Information is typed into a computer. Your amount of money is entered into the change machine (in my case, $50) and, Vegas style, dollar coins come pouring out into a bag.
I was in and out of there in less than a minute. And I've been screwing with this spare change aggravation for three years? What a dummy!
Alas, it gets worse. I confess the entire first year we lived here I assumed the Sacagawea dollar was an Ecuadorian coin. In my defense, a) it's copper-colored like a penny on steroids, and the dollar coins with which I am familiar are silver, so who knew? b) we're in a Latin American country and Sacagawea, as an Indian, looks kind of indigenous, and c) for both of those reasons I never really studied at the damn things.
In case I'm not the only gringo in Cuenca who doesn't know where the Banco de Cambio is, it's on the northwest corner of Benigno Malo and Mariscal Lamar. You can't miss it--unless, like me, you walk past it for 3 years without noticing----.