Un Poquito de Todo (Ecuador)

Now that I’ve been in Argentina for a few weeks, it’s time to wrap up the Ecuador posts with a few last thoughts and impressions.

People

People in Ecuador are so, so, so friendly. It’s kind of impossible not to feel good in this country when everyone around you is so nice all the time. People always seem pleased to see you and are happy to chat and don’t seem bothered at all if your Spanish isn’t up to snuff.

Some other random things I noticed:

  • People in Ecuador don’t wear sandals. Not flip-flops, not nice leather sandals. Really not even on the islands. Closed-toe shoes are the norm.
  • Compared to other poor countries, there is very little public urination and very little catcalling or staring at me as a white woman. This was a relief. People in Ecuador are, for the most part, more mature and respectful in that regard than people in many places I’ve traveled to.
  • Ecuadorians are SO short. So short. I’ve never in my life felt tall until living here.
  • Despite their lack of height, they walk fast. I’ve always been a fast walker (I drive people crazy), but in Ecuador, people were leaving me in the dust.
  • Although there are plenty of people of indigenous decent, there are almost no black people. I saw a few in Quito, but none in Cuenca. This might be different on the coast.
  • Although Ecuador is progressive in some ways when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights, it’s still a religious country. I was one outward display of public affection between two women in Cuenca, and that was it.
  • On planes in Ecuador, the people do not stand up when the plane arrives at the gate. You sit and wait until your row is called, then grab your belongings from the overhead bin and deplane. If you stand out of turn, you will get yelled at.

The one big thing about people that drove me insane is cultural norm of acting like everyone else is invisible on the streets. People will walk right into you, on the sidewalks, in the park, the shops. They do not care. Sometimes they look when stepping out of a store or onto a sidewalk and sometimes they don’t, but even if they see you, they will just step out directly in front of you. Even when you have the right of way, such as when you’re running the track and they decide to cross straight over the track instead of going around it, they will not wait one second to let you run by. If they are walking three abreast and taking up the whole sidewalk while you are coming from the other direction, one person might move over half a foot, but that’s it. They also don’t follow driving rules when walking (as in, staying to the right). It’s a free for all. They’ll be on whatever side of the path they want to be on, and again, they aren’t moving. It’s total chaos. After the first few weeks of being there and me being the one to move out of the way 100 percent of the time, I started refusing to give way either and shoulder slamming into people, especially when I was on dedicated running paths that had arrows indicating which side you should be on to go a certain direction. If they don’t move, why should I? I’ve since found that this obnoxious bit of their culture is exactly the same in Argentina too.

My favorite meal in a restaurant in La Parque Carolina where I ran several times a week.

Stray Dogs

The number of stray dogs was difficult to handle. And not just strays, but also dogs that clearly belonged to a household yet were filthy and definitely not well taken care of. I hesitate to call them pets. I know it’s a poor country, so I try not to judge, but there are so many dogs living in this condition. They line the streets when you get out into the rural areas.

What surprised me is how many breeds are represented by these homeless dogs. Maybe my memory is faulty, but I remember the strays in places like India and Russia and Honduras and Jamaica mostly being that shorthaired, roughly 45 pound, light brown generic street dog. Here, they are every size and color and breed imaginable.

There’s a good rescue organization in Quito and this one in Cuenca, should you feel inclined to donate. I’d be tempted to bring one or two or ten of these dogs home with me, but the CDC ban on dog imports still stands.

Technology

I had high speed internet in both my AirBnBs, better than some places I stayed in America. But I haven’t been able to access all my websites. For example, I’m blocked from my AllState account and my HSA benefits site. Other random sites, like Carvana, are blocked too. Hulu is blocked – I can see what’s available but can’t actually watch anything, but Kanopy (from the public library) works just fine. I didn’t bother with VPN. I’m here less than four months.

My laptops took about a week to catch up to my actual location, but at one point, my browsers reset and switched everything over to Spanish automatically. Yahoo en español, Google en español, YouTube ads and recommended videos en español. Fine by me!

I had Verizon Wi-Fi calling in Quito, but not in the Galápagos or in Cuenca. I don’t know enough about it to understand why, but you’ve been warned. It simply didn’t work outside Quito.

Cycling

You may not know this, but Ecuador took the gold medal for cycling in the Tokyo Olympics, and no wonder! This country is crazy for cycling. There are bike lanes everywhere and the highways up the mountains going out of Quito (which is already at 9,300 feet elevation) are lined with cyclists every weekend. All these people going up, up, up thousands of feet into the clouds. It’s a big deal.

In Quito, the Avenida Amazonas – a major thoroughfare running north to south through the city – is closed from 8am to 2pm every Sunday so people can cycle, run, skateboard, inline skate, or do whatever other non-motorized activity their heart desires. My final Sunday in Quito was a gorgeous sunny day, so I took advantage of one of the ubiquitous bike rentals for only $2.50/hour and set out. I went south to explore the touristy Mariscal area and north to the Parque Bicentenario. This park is built on the grounds of the old Quito airport, so when you get there, you can cycle on the old runways, which is cool!

Noise

Latin America is loud. It just is. Besides music and the endless car horns honking, it didn’t help that I lived on a major park across from a convention center in Quito and that I was there during the Fiestas de Quito and Christmas and that, due to a consistently moderate climate, windows tend to be thin. But as an experienced traveler, I never go anywhere without earplugs. Especially Latin America.

Cuenca, happily, was really quiet, even living right in the center like I was. But when I’m in places like this, I can accept the noise for the most part because it’s just part of the culture. What really bugs me, though, are clashing noises. For example, I ate in one restaurant that had music in the dining room, the music the kitchen staff was playing was also audible in the dining room, and there was a large Christmas decoration that would play a little song every five minutes or so. That just about broke my brain.

On planes, the flight attendants called out specifically that watching movies or playing games or using any device that makes noise without using headphones was not allowed. I appreciated this, although it also wasn’t enforced. There’s always one asshole…

Indigenous Rights

The first thing I want to say is my mind had hard time grasping what it must be like to live in a country where there are groups of people in the Amazon that have nothing to do with anyone one else and whose privacy and isolation is protected by the government. It’s so out of the realm of anything from my culture. I want to know how this came about. There must have been contact at some point, and how did the government come to make these laws? I wasn’t able to get out to the Amazon on this trip, but hopefully next year.

Next, I want to say how beautiful the Andean women are. Their multicolored shawls, stylish bowler hats, and insistence on wearing heels through the mud and on cruddy cobblestone streets. The Land Reform, Idle Lands, and Settlement Act of 1964 gave these people back their land, which had been taken by the colonialists who forced the Andean people into sharecropping. They’ve since done a wonderful job of farming this high elevation, fertile soil.

And third, good for both of these groups for demanding their rights! They’ve done quite well for themselves, although the government is constantly trying to skirt the law and find loopholes and take advantage.

Ecuador has more than 1,856 total known animal species, giving the country the 11th highest rate of biodiversity in the world. This biodiversity is partially dependent on the Andes mountain chain, which protects flora in habitat islands. Through logging and agricultural growth, the country loses an estimated 100,000 hectares of forest per year. This lost of forestland threatens many endemic species of both flora and fauna.

https://www.land-links.org/country-profile/ecuador/#1529418801078-697c6bf2-5209

The Amazon tribes and people of the Andean highlands are the real defenders of the environment, and they should be applauded and supported.

Monigotes

Monigotes are dummies – life-sized dummies that range from recycled/material quality to professional craftsmanship. People create them at New Year’s and then burn them. The purpose is to bring in good luck for the new year. You’re also supposed to jump over the flames but this is not advised because some of them have firecrackers inside and you may end up with a very unpleasant hospital visit.

They were supposed to be banned this year because of COVID, but of course that didn’t happen. Like people everywhere else, Ecuadorians are tired of their lives being on hold. This one I immediately recognized as the waiter at my hotel restaurant.

The New Year’s Eve party, put on by the town of Puerto Villamil on Isabela Island in the Galápagos, also raged all night long. It started at 9pm and was still going strong when I went over to the ferry at 5:30am. Fortunately, my hotel room was far enough away from the town square that I was able to get a decent night’s sleep. And I had earplugs!

One thought on “Un Poquito de Todo (Ecuador)

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