|Puerto Cayo, Ecuador|
I am going to share with you all a post from a resident in Puerto Cayo, Ecuador. As you read the well written and honest thoughts of a local "gringo resident" keep in mind that this is a phenomenon not just in Puerto Cayo but throughout Ecuador.
The truth is "gringo gouging" is common in many countries around the world. Particularly when no prices are established and "haggling" for a price is necessary.
Please enjoy the post.
An important message from a friend in Puerto Cayo...
Dear Ex-pat Friends,
I have recently been learning of an alarming trend here and I wanted to contact all of you to solicit your help to hopefully correct it. It is regarding what is commonly known as "gringo pricing" and it is rapidly getting way out of hand.
When I first moved to Cayo just under two years ago, Maria quickly began to educate me on the price of things and the damaging effects of this practice. For example, she told me the set price motor taxi rate in town was .35 cents. She also explained to me about inappropriate tipping - that tipping when it is not expected (when the restaurant is owned and operated by a family) or tipping in excess was harmful. She told me that tipping used to be a foreign concept until the ex-pats began moving in. But what we are programmed to see as a generous gesture, the locals interpreted as "those gringos have so much money, they want to pay even more for things than what they cost" and hence began the "gringo pricing."
This has many harmful consequences. Back to the motor taxis for example. When I first arrived, the going rate in town was .35 cents, but for us gringos, if you asked the price (instead of just paying them) they told you .50 cents. Many just gave it to them, not seeing that as a big deal. But now I am learning from people who have moved here more recently that they have been charged $1.00-$1.50 for a ride in town! When I first started coming out here to my property from in town, I asked my favorite motor taxi driver what he would charge me for the trip and he said $1.00 (I learned much later that for an Ecuadorian it would be .50 cents). But over time, he began to begrudge that rate because other motor taxis began charging people $1.50-$2.00 to come out here. And then the other day Anastasia told me she was charged $3.00 to come out to the hotel!! When you consider that the long motor taxi ride from the bus terminal in Lopez (that is on the outskirts of town) into any part of town is .50 cents (a standard and regulated price) and a bus ride all the way to Manta is $2.00, you can realize just how outrageous that is!
You may be thinking, "I don't ride motor taxis, so I don't care," but it doesn't stop there - it translates into every aspect of life here. I moved here for many reasons, but one of them (like many of you) was to be able to afford a life on a very limited income that I could not afford in the U.S. Those who retire here on fixed social security incomes are in the same situation. As someone pointed out the other day, it may not seem like a huge deal in the grand scheme of things, if you go in and are now charged $1.50 for a jug of water instead of $1.00, but that is a 50% increase over night!
Long term, this is an extremely damaging thing for the culture and economy, because it doesn't just stop with the ex-pats. Eventually the local people are no longer able to afford their own goods and services because the ex-pats have driven up the prices by being willing to pay more for them. This is what has happened in countries like Belize and Costa Rica that were once well known as places to go for a lower cost of living, but have now become unaffordable for many because of this very thing.
I know it is a challenge, but I urge you to not come and live here with a "Western mindset," but learn and adapt to the culture you've moved to. Don't just blindly pay what you are told - find out the appropriate prices for things. Bargain when purchasing certain types of goods (they expect you to!). I quickly learned the going rate for a taxi in Manta (from an Ecuadorian) and just handed them the fare. If you have to ask, they will charge you more. Ask and learn these things from honest locals or long-time ex-pats, so you know what you should be paying and stick to it. I once had a taxi driver try to charge me and a friend $7 for a ride in Manta that should have been no more than $3 (later confirmed to me by the store proprietor). The taxi guy argued with me, but I just paid him the right price and walked away.
We have all moved into this beautiful, yet relatively poor community and we want to integrate and bless the people, but we need to be wise in how we learn to live here. We have already blessed them by moving here and bringing more business to them. We bless them by becoming good and kind friends and neighbors to them. But we do them no service in perpetuating and encouraging practices of dishonesty and greed. Do you honestly think it helps them to encourage the practice of charging more money to certain people because they think we can afford it? To pay two to three times the appropriate rate for something is absurd! Please do not help perpetuate this problem just because you think you can afford it. Some may be able to afford it now (because it still seems cheap) but quickly that will change if it continues. Just think if you were back in the U.S. or Canada and paying two to three times what you were once paying for things in such a short time frame!
Please let's join together in educating ourselves and learning to bless these people in the right kinds of ways - thank you for hearing me out.