Archive for the ‘Ecuador’ Category

Ecuador: Land of Splendor (Part 1)

February 23, 2010

Cotopaxi Volcano (19,347 ft.), Ecuador

(Ignore the date on the photos.  Despite numerous attempts, our camera insisted on back dating photos two years before we got the camera.)

What can I say about Ecuador?  My wife and I have never been outside the U.S. except for a few brief trips across the border into Canada.  We had never considered going anywhere exotic until a long-lost friend of 30 years ago called from Ecuador and invited us to visit.

We had no idea what to expect.  Most people we knew did not even know where the country was, much less visit there.  Of course, most of what Americans tend to hear about Latin America is filtered through the news of the Columbian drug cartels or the anti-American rants of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.  So, although we had some apprehension, we decided to forge ahead with our great post-retirement adventure on January 13 of this year.

 

Cuicocha (crater) Lake, Cotacachi, Ecuador

The five-and-a-half hour flight from Atlanta to Quito at night was less than thrilling but uneventful.  When we landed in Quito at 11 PM it was breath-taking (literally).  At 9,300 feet, low land Americanos feel the impact of thinner air immediately, as if someone threw you to the tarmac and put a heavy foot on your chest.  You immediately take several deep breaths and your gate slows considerably. 

Looking down and East on Quito from 13,500 ft.

The center of Quito at a little over 9,100 feet makes it the second highest capitol city in the world.  Situated about 15 miles south of the equator (hence the country’s name, Ecuador), this elongated city of about 1.5 million people is nestled between two north-south running Andean mountain spurs.  It is a picturesque Spanish colonial city dating back over 500 years (much longer if one considers the pre-Spanish occupancy of the area by the Quitu Indians.

Scenic views of Quito and distant towns from near the top of volcanic mount Pichincha (15,337 ft.) on the western rim are spectacular with vistas to the East of well over 50 miles.

If you go there expecting to be able to communicate in English, forget it.  With a population of 99.9% Ecuadorian very few speak any English at all.  You are forced to learn some Spanish words and phrases quick for survival.  Like: “Donde esta el bano?”  That is, “Where is the batyhroom?”  “Bano?” or “Bano!” with a look of panic on your face also works.   We were very fortunate in that our native Ecuadorian friend is bilingual (Spanish & English) or we would have been culturally and geographically lost.

For North Americans, once you get over the initial cultural shock, Ecuador begins to seep into every fabric of your being in the most pleasant of ways.  In the larger cities, with the noise and non-stop traffic of thousands of buses, taxis, trucks and cars on weekdays, life on the surface seems chaotic.  On the pedestrian level, however, life takes on a new meaning as Ecuadorians appear to take everything in stride in a peaceful, collected manner with no urgency or panic.  We were quick to notice several admirable qualities among the natives.  Despite the press of humanity on crowded streets and buses, people were polite and courteous, never getting angry at others or being boisterous or pushy.  No matter how crowed a bus was (signs stated that a bus had a capacity of 46 sitting and 112 standing), there was always room for one more weary passenger – even if fellow passengers had to hang to him or her so they did not fall out the open door.

Even children of all ages were polite and well-behaved.  I iknow this sounds like a fairy tale, but one cannot help but to notice how much this stood out to Americans who are, unfortunately, too used to seeing rowdy children screaming and running in supermarket aisles or backtalking their parents or other adults.  In our entire three weeks in many places in the Ecuadorian sierra we never heard a parent raise their voice or strike their child.  Adults did not even raise their voice between each other.  More than likely, to get another’s attention, both men and women would use the ancient skill of a shrill whistle.  This worked to get the attention of any taxi cab driver, bus driver or anyone within a hundred yard radius.

More to come . . .