This is my fifth country have visited in South America, previously having visited to Brazil, Peru, Chile, and Argentina. They have all been great experiences, but each quite different from the others. This trip to Ecuador will also be goofy and stranger than strange. My best travel buddy Mike and I are meeting my Lithuanian friend from Cape Town, South Africa. That ought to make for some interesting times.
When people ask why Ecuador and Columbia, the answer might be as follows. Ecuador is a very under appreciated country. It has many cultures and indigenous people. Columbia has cleaned up their act after decades of drugs and violence. Anyone who has lived there has proclaimed it to be the most beautiful place in all of the Americas. We shall see.
What do we know about Ecuador as a country? We have seen the Travel Channel’s Andrew Zimmern and his strange visits to Latin America. Believe me, I do not plan of getting any treatments from shamans or medicine men. I also am not planning on eating anything more exotic than fish and beef.
Ecuador was also part on the Incan Empire until the Spanish ransacked the country in 1533. Quito, where we land at midnight, became the seat of the Spanish colonial government in 1563. Columbia, Venezuela, and Quito gained their independence between 1819 and 1822. Between 1904 and 1942, Ecuador lost territories to neighbors in minor skirmishes. Ecuador had a four-year border war with Peru that ended in 1999. After some political instability, Ecuador stabilized despite three of the last four Presidents being ousted from office. A new constitution was adopted in 2008. Seven Presidents have governed Ecuador since 1996!
Ecuador is slightly smaller than our state of Nevada, but probably without all of the organized crime and corruption. Certainly, we will not see the ghost of Howard Hughes, or the shadow of Harry Reed. It is quite tropical along the coastal beaches, and becomes cooler at higher inland elevations. Then, the Amazon tropical lowlands follow.
To make us feel right at home, earthquakes are fairly common. Cotopaxi in the Andes is the highest active volcano in the world. The population runs about 15 million people. Literacy runs well over 93%. Right there, it is better than Oakland and Los Angeles combined!
Quito remains the capital. The President is Rafael Correa Delgado. The economy is highly dependent on their petroleum production, ranking 30th in the world. However, cocaine continues to plague Ecuador and its neighboring countries. The U.S. dollar is the official currency! Experts say it is a retirement haven for Americans, with an annual cost of living well under $20,000 per year. And there is no foreign income tax on income earned outside of the country.
The main language is Spanish. I plan to use some Spanglish. The country includes the Galapagos Islands which reside 1000 kilometers west in the Pacific Ocean. Guayaquil was actually the first city in Ecuador, and remains the largest city at slightly over 2.3 million residents. The country is quite biodiverse, with over 1600 bird species, and over 16,000 plant species. Agriculture, highlighted by cocoa and coffee is also significant. Predictably, the country is about 80% Catholic.
There have been some famous Ecuadorians. These include: Andres Gomez (tennis), Pancho Segura, Juan Jose Flores (first President), Jacinto Collahuazo (literature), Juan Batista Aguirre (literature), Eduardo Kingman (artist), Jefferson Perez (Olympic gold medalist race walker), Pedro Maldonado (cartographer), and Juan Valdez (from Folger’s coffee fame). I have seen the tennis players at some point in the past.
Personally, I am looking forward to visiting Cuenca, Riobamba and Otavalo. Famous for textiles, and jewelry, Otavalo is a must stop, and reputed tourist trap on anyone’s trek through Ecuador. Andrew Zimmern was here on his first trip to this marvelous country. It is a relatively indigenous town of 90,000 people. The town of Otavalo is known for its music and musicians, such as Bob Dylan Flores, Jimmy Buffett Sanchez, and Bruce Springsteen Valdez.
We also plan to hit Riobamba in the central part of the country. It is a must stop on the Pan American Highway. It is the trekking and mountain climbing capital of Ecuador. The famous train ride is known around the world as the highlight of a trip here. However, I doubt I will ride on the roof, as most backpackers prefer. It is also cheaper. There have been some decapitations, needless to say. How about standing on the Equator? That means 12 hours of equatorial daylight every day.
Some of you may be curious why there is no mention of the Galapagos. Well, after George Costanza of Seinfeld fame went there (as a marine biologist) to study the turtles, I feel the islands have been trampled and fussed with enough by clumsy Americans. Somehow, I don’t think the islands would benefit from someone like me invading their uniquely famous islands. I am also afraid of the ghost of Chuck Darwin, as he warned me down in the Beagle Channel a few years back, “Do not go to the Galapagos, Gerry!”
Everything I have read says to beware of pickpockets. So, I am leaving my Rolex (spelled T-i-m-e-x) at home. I plan on taking only those things I can lose, or give away. It is rather sad to be forced to travel this way. But it is obviously a country with great needs, poverty, crime, and unmitigated charm. See you there!