Friday, January 9, 2009


In response to a comment, what about the realities of telecommunication down here. Thanks brother David for the prompt.

OUr friend Mark had given me a primer on cell phone access here and he was very accurate. You walk into many many stores (though it took 3 tries here) and buy a SIM card (though they call it "un chip") for $5 (remember, we use US dollars in this country). This gets you a phone number (Quito area code is 02, Otavalo is 06, all cell phones are 09. We had considered waiting to buy "un chip" until after we arrived in Otavalo so we wouuld have a local, not big-city area code, but that was irrelavent/impossible) and $3 worth of minutes. Mark had explained that before leaving the states, we should call our cell service provider (ATT/Cingular) and ask them to unlock our phone so that it would work with other service networks. I understand there is some regulatory component of this; our 2-year contract with ATT had just expired, so they were not unhappy to enable us to do this - they provide a 8 digit code to type in.

So, I bought the chip, put it in, entered my unlock code, and have a phone number. This was all new to me.

Local vs. international calling: Things are in an amazing phase of transition en este momento. The cheapest way to call home is Skype, but you have to have good bandwidth. There are many internet cafes, but the most common activities there are gaming and emailing on the web; as a result, the environment is loud music. You need a silent room to skype, and that's quite a different environment.

Now, the next cheapest way to call home is IP phone, like Vonage or VoIP. These very much exist. For 10 cents a minute, I have called Mom and housesitter etc. There is a little bit of delay, just enough that you kind of tend to stomp on one another like the old days of international calling. But the price is right. Landline intl. calling is 25 cents a minute. The two choices look very much alike - like a row of phone booths in the corner of a storefront. Like study carrels in college libraries. There is a little meter on the wall and you pay after. But the big difference is that a little store will have landline "cabinas" as they're called (and ads for cell phone service - here Porta and Movistar), while the IP phone cabinas are in the corner of places with broadband, ie internet cafes. Once you figure out that to call Mom on the phone you go to the internet cafe, it all falls into place.

Side note: our heroic struggles with email were partly the result of the fact that we like to use client software for email, ie Outlook. Most of the world seems to use web interface email (eg. gmail, hotmail) and that doesn't pose the same ISP compatibility issues.

I would guess there are 10 internet cafes in this town, and they are frankly only for the young poor folks who don't enjoy WiFi in the hotel. I am sitting on my hotel bed typing this. Only about 120 kbps download speed compared to about 1200 in my home in Hood River, not really enough to watch youtube, for example, or to video skype, but plenty for blogging and email.

At the cafe it costs $1 per hour of computer time, and in general you can't bring in your laptop. Not much WiFi, mostly sitting at a row of their computers with the young local gamers and the gritty backpackers.

That's the scene down here. Hugs. P


Kay said...

Lifeblood commenter checking in for the day.:) My you've been a busy writer! Love that walk to the store thing. We purchased a canvas rolling cart to trek stuff back from the market since milk was so heavy. Skype is great, video or no, and I loved the "free" part when I used it. Definitely would be fun for the girls to video Skype with their Hood River friends. That's great you already found an exercise group - fun! Keep on writin' cause we're readin'!!!

Brother David said...

Hey there. A thought on how you could get more comments on here: on the blogs that I follow most regularly ( = local NJ blog and = another father of twins and a stay at home dad (come to think of it, he's a hybrid of me and Pablo!) who is a brilliant writer), there is a feature that displays a list of 'most recent comments' in the margins of the blog. So that from any page on the blog you can see if there has been a recent comment. As a reader, it allows me to come to the blog and see straight away if someone has commented on any of the posts without my having to scroll-down-and-try-to-remember-how-many-comments-were-on-post#3-the-last-time-I-came-by.

Not being a blogger myself, I don't know if this is a standard feature that you could turn on in blogger, if it's a premium feature you'd have to pay to get, or if it's not an option. I see that I can subscribe to posts (via Atom, at the bottom of the page), but I don't see a way to subscribe to comments. Any thoughts? Anyone?

Mema and Papa said...

Hi family, yes we eagerly check the computer to see if there are any messages from Ecuador. Thanks for keeping us so informed. And as expected what an experience! The open meat market reminds me of the open markets in China. After walking through one, I remember that Kristen, Kim and I were not eating meat for several days.
Althea and Rosie, tell us about the challenges you are facing in school. With new language, new culture, etc. you must feel a little like two Martians dropped from a spaceship.
We send our love, Mema

Bev said...

Hi! I've been diligently reading your blog, though now realize guiltily that I must comment. What an amazing adventure you're all on. I especially think that Althea and Rosalie are very, very brave. Attending school in a different culture, foreign language. Wow! Greetings to all. We'll miss you at the Eliot Board retreat next weekend. Suck some snails for me, eh?

Brother David said...

Thanks for the update. New question: are the folks down there interested/excited/indifferent about an Obama administration? Up here there's a tangible sense of the inauguration right around the corner. And check out the article on how Grandmother is probably going to live in the White House with them. V. cool.

schmidt.dave said...


You may be able to take your laptop into an internet cafe and hook it up to an ethernet cable there. I saw people doing that in Cambodia. Just ask the proprieter. Your laptop is probably a faster machine than the computers in the cafe, and might even allow Skype video which can be pretty painful with a slow machine.

dave schmidt

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