Friday, July 15, 2011

Birthdays in Ecuador

The Thunderdome
Remember Chuck-E-Cheez? Lots of really crappy pizza, video games, and play places that were so coated in foam and blanketed by rules that you couldn't possibly hurt yourself, and were therefore no fun whatsoever? They have that here in Ecuador, only without all the fun-killing safety precautions.

And you're just as likely to find the whole thing set up in a backyard as in one of the many birthday places you can rent out. If you set up in your own place you have to have the yard to accommodate this...

...which not many people have. Yards are rare and usually small. So the places to rent out are very busy. A friend here said these birthday joints are the second best business you can open in Ecuador (after the motels that have actual garages attached to the room, so you don't risk being seen darting from the car to the room). For one, you don't end up competing purely on cost, which is good because Ecuadorians will beat your pants off on labor costs. And your market is the upper-class who have loads of money and are not afraid to spend it.

These places are mostly safe, but if they were totally safe people would start to get soft and stop paying attention. Then of course they would develop the illusion that there were entirely safe, inevitably get hurt, and immediately want to find the scoundrel responsible and make him pay. I don't know, maybe not, but I have no reason to believe it would work differently here than in the States.

But Ecuador is still just like the rest of the real world and dangers can lurk in places least expected. This pool of balls surrounded by foam and netting, for example, is just like a real pool, insofar as the bottom is cement. Watch your speed there kid.

And this "zipline" thing runs perpendicular to and terminates directly into a passageway that kids run back and forth in. Awesome learning opportunity here that can be immediately applied upon leaving the happy foam castle and crossing the street.

Of course nothing in Ecuador is complete without candy, and a birthday is a great excuse to load 'em up with a lifetime supply. Though for whatever reason--safety I'm sure--they don't let the kids smash the piñata. An adult stands in the middle of a slathering throng of rabid sugar junkies and merely opens the bottom of the piñata and dumps the candy all over the ground and their heads.

It's a Darwinian scene, and with no experience it's hard to profit from the ensuing frenzy. Our kids get squeezed to the back like runts scrambling for a teet. But for the aid of some more experienced kid or an adult they would leave with nothing more than severed animal cracker limbs and some crushed fingers. They always do manage to find a patron, though, and saunter home like prom queens from an after party.

Next game, Spot the Gringo!

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