By Melissa Ruttanai Exclusive for Vagobond
Maybe it’s because I’m from New York. But I hate when people try to sell me stuff I don’t need. If I ask a simple question, don’t try to sell me a package tour or pawn me off on your café-owning best friend. When traveling, I appreciate nonpartisan information that’s given through genuine honesty. After seven weeks of backpacking, my husband and I arrived in Baños Ecuador, a hot spring town cradled in the Andean Mountains. The town is small, the food is international, and views spectacular. So, we decided to stay.
In a tight-knit community like Baños, you have to remember that everyone knows each other, that sometimes information is shaded by personal relationships and past mishaps. This is why Neil and I chose our source of information carefully when we were looking at apartments. We turned to two expats: Rebecca and Doug Greenshields.
Expat Information in Baños
Owners of the top-ranked La Casa Verde Eco-Lodge, Rebecca and Doug have lived in Ecuador for over four years. Their son Jon was born here. Their successful hotel thrives here. They wake up in the morning to guests munching away on homemade breads and they’ve a calendar full of newcomers even during low season. They are happy and content—which makes them good candidates for travel information.
Neil and I stayed at La Casa Verde twice: once for 8 nights and then again for 2, before we moved into our apartment. Both times, we reserved rooms at this hotel. Upon check in, we received area maps, restaurant suggestions, and a tour of the lodge. Green walls and natural light filter into the entry, more lounge than reception. Recycled glass bottles create a peaceful mosaic, casting red, green and blue shades on the staircase. When we asked about tours and spa treatments, they iterated what their guests had reported without plugging their own agenda. It was a nice change up from other towns where the owner stated: “There is no tourist information office and this is the only company that goes to the waterfall.” Sure.
La Casa Verde was different and that first night’s rest was the best we’d had in Ecuador.
In the morning, the Greenshields joined us for breakfast and our barrage of questions began. How much does an apartment cost? What’s typically included? Do we bargain? What areas should we look at? Who’s the best landlord? We’d a slew of queries and they answered each with thoughtful consideration. “Start looking and know exactly what you need in the apartment,” Rebecca advised. “Straighten out your budget and have a number in your head for bargaining. And be firm.” Doug added. Even if we stumped her with a question, Rebecca would find us at dinner and report back on what she’d researched in town. Between hammering away on the new La Casa Verde extensions, Doug would chug water and offer his help. “Word of mouth still works here.”
In Baños, the internet isn’t a main mode of communication. The best maps are hand drawn and photocopied with scrawling notes. Business transactions can be low tech. People buy, sell, and rent through flyers in windows. “Just have a walk ‘round town.” Doug suggested. “You’ll see all the rooms for rent.”
So we strolled. We rang doorbells and inquired in Spanglish about apartments. The process wasn’t difficult. Over two and a half days of hunting, we’d visited 3 apartments. Prices ranged from US$200 to $450 per month for fully furnished, ready to go apartments.
We negotiated. We weighed options and decided on a two-bedroom flat with TV, WIFI, all utilities, and proximity to the main square. Final price (post-barter): $330.
A week after living in the new apartment, we ran into the Greenshields in town. Their son had his tricycle, Rebecca was comfortably enjoying her 2nd trimester and Doug sported a broad-rimmed hat against the summer sun. In front of Casa Hood Café, we stood and chatted like expats, catching up on the news from La Casa Verde. The extension was waiting on windows. New volunteers from San Francisco were lovely, and our open invitation to visit was offered once more. As Doug, Rebecca, and Jon walked into the café for lunch, we thanked them again for all their help. They shrugged it off in a neighborly way. “Just come visit us. You have to see the new deck!”