There is so much to be positive where Ecuador and especially Cuenca are concerned. However, quite frankly, I find the Ecuadorian Postal Service to increasingly becoming egregiously inefficient and incompetent. Some would argue it always has been.
I have frequently heard complaints from various expats as well as Ecuadorians about the service. Nevertheless, in my case, I found the postal service to be quite good my first two years in Cuenca in 2011 and 2012. I had the advantage of living in the Palermo, which is a prominent address any postal worker would know without a full address, and mail was always delivered right to the building. When I first moved into the Palermo, I was told by some residents that I would need to pickup my mail at the El Centro post office, which I believe is the only post office in the city. Other residents suggested I rent a post office box at the post office. However, I quickly discovered that I always received any package or letter directly at the Palermo, and within two weeks. In turn, anything I mailed to the U.S. would arrive there in two weeks. Only once in 2011 was there a problem when my aunt sent a Christmas card in early December of 2010 and I did not receive it until mid-February of 2011. Otherwise, I was very pleased with the service.
In 2013 the mail delivery began to deteriorate, especially toward the end of the year. Letters and small bubble-wrapped packages began to take longer to arrive, and for the current year of 2014, delivery has become abhorrent. Not only has delivery become abhorrent, but also has service. There use to be two people working the windows at the Cuenca Post Office where letters and packages are to be mailed. Now, there is only one person, and when busy, it is not uncommon to have fifteen to twenty-five people in line, and no one stepping forth to help until the lines dwindle. In fact, if a second person is there, they just sit there staring at the computer doing God knows what.
Last June, I sent a letter to U.S. Social Security as requested by them. I traveled to the states in September and returned to Cuenca in the middle of October. I had a follow-up letter from the Social Security office as a second notice which requested the same information. This time I made a copy of the June form, and updated the October form, and sent it registered mail with tracking. Four dollars for postage, because the envelope size was larger than the normal envelope and the weight was more, and the cost was eleven dollars for the tracking.
Lo and behold, in the modern world of Ecuadorian computers, I would type in my code on my receipt to check the tracking status. The system could not come up with my item. I finally after two weeks went into the post office, and spent half an hour waiting while the postal workers attempted to locate my tracking item. Finally, I was called back upstairs, and fortunately an articulate young man who spoke very good English and was waiting for service was able to translate for me, since no one in the office spoke English, and we were at the point of explanation that exceeded my understanding of Spanish. I was given a form to fill out. I was told because of the holidays, I might as well not bring the form in until next week, since many postal workers would not be working. Once the lady received my form, I would need to wait seventy-two hours, while it was determined whether or not they could locate my tracking form. I asked the young man to ask the employee, if they could not locate my tracking code would I receive a refund. After he asked the lady, he sort of shook his head toward me, shrugged his shoulders, and said maybe. (Which in Ecuadorian means "probably not"; or if you wish to pursue it, we will have an entirely new slew of forms for you to fill out requesting a refund.)
I took the postal form home, and when I finally began to fill it out, I discovered I had to give a destination address. Since the form sent to the U.S. Social Security office was in a printed envelope provided by them, I didn't pay close attention as to which office it was sent. I discovered in my personal Social Security file envelope addresses to Pennsylvania, Baltimore, Kansas. None of them had a post mark date on them. I had no idea what the destination was, so I didn't bother to submit the form to the Ecuadorian postal authorities, and just ate the fourteen dollar loss.
I made copies of both my June and October forms. Picked the two most likely addresses that may have sent me the Social Security forms, and my friends agreed to mail both letters in Houston as they arrived there. Oftentimes on Gringo Post and Gringo Tree there will be expats asking for or offering to take mail from Cuenca and mail it in the United States, which is just further examples of how untrustworthy the Ecuadorian Postal Service functions.
I ordered a product in late November of 2013, which when ordered in the past arrived in two weeks in one of those bubble envelopes, and required no tax. This time it took two months to arrive. I ordered another package which was shipped out of the U.S. on December 11th, and has yet to arrive. The same package ordered the same time of the year in 2011 and 2012 arrived within two weeks, and yes, delivered directly to the Palermo.
My youngest brother sent me some important documentation, which I received today. It took five weeks to arrive. My other brother sent me a Christmas card which arrived two weeks ago toward the end of January. He also sent me a birthday card, the week before he sent the Christmas card. It still has not arrived.
Yes, I know my brother needs to learn how to use electronic ecards, which can even be sent free, and that will take care of that problem. It's sad when I hear expats say, "While just don't use the mail system. We don't."
Today, I finally trekked down to the post office to see if from the manifest I spent last night creating for them, if they could locate any of my mail listed which I had not received. I never even received local monthly statements of my telephone bills in November and December, although I did receive a statement for January just this week. The problem, therefore, is not just with International mail, but with local mail in Cuenca not being delivered as well. People suggested to me to go directly to the post office and check, because sometimes mail just sits in the mail room and doesn't get delivered, which is how some friends of mine procured their undelivered mail. No mail found, and nothing in the computer of mail-on-hand with my name and address on it.
Anybody considering a move to Ecuador, and has followed the blogs are well aware of the slowness and over-bureaucratization of both Ecuadorian governmental services and private services. I know in previous posts, I have warned that you must develop the patience beyond sainthood to deal with the endless red-tape that makes up Ecuadorian government and business practices. I am absolutely convinced that the word "paper" and the words "multiple copies", and the word, "manana" have their origin deeply embedded somewhere in the Canari/Spanish socio-linquistic, and psychological make up of the Ecuadorian culture
I am well aware of cultural differences, and I certainly do not expect Ecuador to become a mini-United States. I also literally am awe-strucked at the incredible patience and politeness that Ecuadorians exhibit as they wait in these endless lines. I'm retired. I am also fortunate that a number of my bills can be paid electronically. Most Ecuadorians don't have that opportunity. I don't know how these people manage it all, and work as well. I have nothing but the greatest admiration for them.
I have chosen to make the Postal Service the focus of my attention for the following reason. Thirty-eight years ago, I traveled throughout India for nine weeks. In those days, the postal systems had these little, flimsy blue envelopes whereby you would write a message on one side and then fold the paper into four, lick the adhesive, and address the outside of the little blue envelope. I thought how on earth is this letter ever going to find its way back to the United States or vice-versa?
I could also write long letters, and mail them home in regular type envelopes, at obviously a more expensive price. I wrote the letters of my magnificent experiences in India almost on a nightly basis; one night to my mother, who could share my correspondence with the family, and on the other night to my mentor. Everyone of those letters, including the little blue ones arrived in the U.S.A. within two weeks. Years later both my mother and my mentor unbeknown to me had saved all my correspondence and returned the letters to me, which I still have to this day. I can tell you that the India of 1976 was extremely primitive compared to most of Ecuador today, particularly where the populations are concentrated. Now I ask you, why was India able to operate a more efficient postal service in the 1970's than Ecuador can operate today?
President Correa has pledged that his administration this year would focus on stream-lining the bureaucracy, and cutting through the red tape. May I suggest to the President, that he has his administration concentrate on a complete overhaul of the Postal System. Define what the problems are, and what it will take to resolve them, so that Ecuador has a postal system that begins to move into a first world status. I genuinely wish you luck, Mr. President. Bureaucracies certainly do not change simply by Presidential decrees and acts of Congress. Bureaucracies ignore laws and policies until outside forces will no longer let them play that game, and force them to change.