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Work & Costs

It is possible to live in Ecuador for $10 a day – as long as you like tomatoes and are not too fussy about meat versus other kinds of meat. Basic costs (living and travelling about in busses) are reasonable, as is vendor food and beer. The cheapest way to eat is the Set Lunch option at any café or restaurant: at $3-ish dollars, you’ll get a juice, soup and a main – massive portions and interesting options like chicken necks and fish soup (incidentally, this soup encebollada is a killer cure for the hangover…).

A speciality of both Peru and Ecuador is ceviche – raw fish (or prawns) doused in lime juice and served with red onions, peppers and popcorn. It is the single most amazing taste sensation this side of civilization and is worth many tries.

Apart from becoming vegan, cash-saving techniques in Ecuador are reliant on locals: street vendors, small family cafes and eateries will ALWAYS be cheaper. Ecuador’s tourists often fall prey to the Tour mentality – but package tours are not the best way to do things and it is invariably better to do it yourself and take your own sweet time about it.

As you approach border towns (especially on the Peruvian side of things) beware the Fake Currency Scam – hustlers will heckle and jostle and shout tirelessly in your face until you agree to change money from Ecuadorian dollar to local currency (government having conveniently forgotten to place ATM’s in appropriate spots). They will offer you a suspiciously provident exchange rate, as well as suggesting themselves as “tour guides” through the confusing process of exiting and entering different Latin American countries. They are quite a laugh to plough through bureaucracy with if you have your wits about you, but avoid changing money with them. They will rip you off.

Work in Ecuador is easy enough to find. Personal agreements with employers are the way to do things, and females with strong stomachs and high tolerance are recommended towards bar duty – the skankier, the less pedantic for paperwork. These jobs pay around $10 an hour.

Another good way to get work and earn money, is if you have some sort of scuba qualification. On the Galapagos Islands, there are opportunities for English-speaking divers to earn a quick buck as instructors and the like. Head for the busiest island (Santa Cruz), as San Cristobal and Isabella do not have the economy to support that kind of foreign aid.

This is rather vaguely legal, as one scuba instructor told me:

“In Ecuador, you may not give a foreigner work unless it has been exclusively advertised for the Ecuadorian market first. So what we do is advertise a position on the radio for 3 days, then hire the next Australian who asks.”

Dubious? Yes. True? Maybe – worth a try, anyway.

In Ecuador, it is possible to cut deals. Often, you may be able to stay and eat for free if you help out the family business in some way. Ask, use your imagination, and make them an offer they can’t refuse.

Networking and information from friends and other travellers is the most reliable way to come across employment. Get friendly with the locals who frequent the bar on your street, ask people who are leaving the country if they came across anything – or ask your hostel if you can work the front desk while Susanna goes off for a 2 week holiday to visit her sick auntie. The pay will never be amazing, so don’t expect to earn your university fees here.

Robyn Leslie

I am a South African, which means I like sunshine and sticky-tape coins together so no-one knows I have money in my pocket. An environmental scientist by qualification, I studied at the University of Cape Town. My years there taught me about the grand narratives of communism, neo-liberalism and post-modernism, and how shitty people can be when they can't find a spot to park their car. After that I needed a break and went off to South America, where I lived and worked for a year. Now I am freelancing as a writer and holding out for a job that combines a morally specific mission with valuable, practical development goals. With a salary. Hmmm. By the way, I was just being snarky before. South Africa is totally safe. Really. Come and visit.