Now that I am home & have been for a month, I'd like to talk a bit about my experiences with Ecuador & the civil marriage.
In Ecuador, as a foreigner, I can only get married in 3 locations: Guayaquil, Quito (national capital) & Cuenca (which has a large population of North American expats). We chose Guayaquil since it is the closest.
We had to go down twice. The first time was to ensure my documents were in order to prove I was eligible to marry her. The second time was the actual marriage itself.
Guayaquil is the 2nd largest city in Ecuador. We were in the downtown area, near the ocean (& the Malecon, which is sort of an entertainment/amusement area, like the Boardwalk in some US beach resort towns). Both times we had meetings in the Office of Civil Records (Registro Civil, which is right across a plaza from an old, Colonial era Catholic Church, painted blue & white (the colors of Guayaquil). Impressive, to say the least. The first meeting was relatively smooth as my documents were approved. Later on we walked around the downtown a bit. For people that have experienced it, downtown Guayaquil sort of gives me a New York City feel, with narrower streets (& traffic just as bad). It was big, crowded, & hot, considering how close we were to the equator & how close to sea level we were.
One fun thing about this trip is how evident the casual economy is there. Walking around Guayaquil there was no shortage of people trying to sell me stuff, from boxes of crackers to cotton swabs, & everything in between. My wife's mother needed a pair of scissors while we were there, & came across a woman selling various things on a blanket. Money was exchanged, & she had her scissors. You wouldn't find that here in the US much.
The second meeting in Guayaquil was of course for the civil marriage. In our previous visit the official said my documents were in order. In this visit the official (judge) said my documents were...incomplete. My document of Marital Status (showing I was single) did not include the names of my parents. They required it. Fortunately, it was only $10 more to get past that problem (In total I spent around $73 to marry her). With that done the ceremony was completed, & we were legally married.
Ecuador is a much poorer country. One of the things that really impressed me is how much stuff we have here in the US. She has a middle class income by local standards, as do I. But it was very evident that I have just so much more stuff than she does: bigger TVs, more books, more (& newer) furniture, etc. I was talking to a Brazilian friend of mine, & she said: get used to it. That is how it is all over South America.
In addition, while there were plenty of cars there, many of them were older, obviously used cars. Manta (where she lives) is a port, & you could see massive cargo ships off port unloading used cars, probably many of which are bought in the US for importation. That's not to say there aren't new cars there too, but the ownership of used vs new is much greater than here in the US. They also sell brands you would not see in the US, like Renault & some Chinese brands I can't remember the names of. Many of the busses in Ecuador are Chinese too (Hino), as well as large trucks. Also there was a higher amount of motorcyclists there too, probably because they are cheap to operate & own.
Another interesting difference is the sheer number of tiny little convenience stores, markets, restaurants, & pharmacies there are. These places are often very tiny, but populous, easy to walk to. Also in our drives to & back from Guayaquil the roadsides are littered with tiny restaurants & convenience stores, often literally huts made out of thatch or local bamboo, or simple lean-tos, selling ceviches, empanadas, sodas, water, these sorts of things. You would never find this sort of thing in the US. As another example of the casual economy, her aunt teaches pre-school, but is shut down due to the Pandemic. So now she sells ceviches, corviches, & other food out of her garage. Her daughter has a tiny convenience store that sells cosmetics, paper plates, cups, & other basics, out of a tiny 10ft square room. She also sells through a locked gate, since crime is a greater concern there.
Many houses there are built to a similar standard or using a similar method. Masonry construction is much, much more common there than here in the US. My house, for example, is wood framed, with a stone façade in the front lower level. There, when they build a house, they raise 4 or more pillars of steel-bar reinforced concrete, & fill with these large red bricks, maybe twice the size of bricks here & similar to cinder blocks in dimensions. These bricks are near ubiquitous. When finishing off, they do not often cut the rebar sticking out of the top of the pillars, but just let it be. Sometimes the houses are plastered with cement to create a pleasant façade, sometimes additionally painted (her house was painted a turquoise color). There are more modern & finished buildings too, especially in the commercial districts, but for an average house, this is how it is most often. Some of the construction standards they use there would never fly in the US. Furthermore, it is very, very common for the houses to be surrounded by a wall, with a locked gate for entrance into the courtyard. Many houses have bars on the lower windows as well, to protect against break ins. That being said, I did not see any evidence of crime while I was in Manta, & did not fear much walking around on the streets or in the city.
Things in the countryside are more impoverished. I saw many more huts in the countryside than I did in the city (though there were few). Subsistence farming seems to still be a thing there, as well. Outside of the big cities, Ecuador seems to be very rural, with a lot of small villages or towns, rather than bigger cities.
One fun thing about the culture there, is that outside many of the cities or cantons will be a statue representing what is notable about that location. For example, Manta is close to Monticristi. This town is known for hand-making Panama Hats (which are from Ecuador, no Panama, ironically). THey have a large statue of a woman making one of these hats. Outside of Jipijapa (pronounced "Hipihapa") is a giant ear of corn, since they are an agricultural town.
Outside of Guayaquil is a giant statue of a monkey. WHy will require a little explaining of the local culture. In Ecuador there is a rivalry between the Costas (people living in the coastal areas) & the Serranos (people living in the Andes). The divide is sort of like in the US between Northeasterners & the Deep South, with Guayaquil taking the place of NYC in this example. The Serranos derisively call the Guayaquileños monos or monkeys. Rather than allow this insult, they take it with pride, & thus use the label to self-identify. Thus the giant statue of a monkey when you enter the city.
As far as the people, the entirety of her family accepted me with open arms, & are very friendly or open. This is, admittedly, very refreshing, since I feel like people in North America & especially Pennsylvania, are a lot less warm, friendly, or outgoing. It seems like the people there are happier.