Impressions Of Ecuador

Impressions Of Ecuador

So I just completed an 8 week stay in Ecuador. While my poor American friends were freezing their nads off, I was on the beach enjoying summer. I’m very fortunate to have been able to get to experience that. I have some video footage of the beach which I will be posting on YouTube soon.

The only other Latin American country I’ve been to, besides a few day trips to Mexican border towns, is Perú. So my impressions of Ecuador are somewhat made in comparison to Perú, which I’ve spent a total of about a year in.

The first thing about Ecuador that I found unusual is that they are on the U.S. dollar. About 10 years ago, they converted from the Ecuadorian currency. There was a bit of protest at the time it happened, and most people noticed that the prices of things increased. But it appears the population has finally gotten used to using the U.S. dollar and prices have stabilized.

Did you ever wonder what happened to all those dollar coins that the Federal Reserve has imposed on the reluctant U.S. populace? Well, I can testify, that these coins are sent to Ecuador. In fact, I didn’t see a single dollar bill. All the dollars were coins. They not only use actual U.S. coins for the dollar, quarters, dimes and nickels, but they also print their own version of a 50 cent piece, as well as dimes and nickels. Maybe quarters too, I can’t remember.

Gas in Ecuador is only about $1.20 a gallon. They also use gallons for measuring gasoline, whereas Perú uses the metric system.

Driving a car in Ecuador, even in Guayaquil, seems like it would be a lot easier than in Perú. In Ecuador, there are fewer people. And it seems like there are more people with their own cars, and fewer percentage of vehicles are taxis than in Perú.

From what I can tell, the prices in Perú are generally cheaper across the board, for lodging, food, and transportation. I’m not sure about gas prices.

When taking the bus from Perú to Ecuador, it is interesting to note the sudden change from a desert climate to a tropical one. Northern Perú along the coast is dry, and then suddenly you cross the border and everything is lush. The southern Ecuadorian highway crosses thousands of acres of banana trees.

Guayaquil is the largest city in Ecuador (under 3 million) and is located on a bay off the Pacific Ocean. The city doesn’t feel all that overcrowded. Having spent a lot of time in Lima, Chicago and Los Angeles, I think Guayaquil is pretty mellow by comparison. It’s pretty humid though. If I had to live in a large city, I could probably enjoy living in Guayaquil.

The 6th largest city in Ecuador is Portoviejo.

The 6th largest city in Ecuador is Portoviejo.

The bus ride north of Guayaquil is interesting. On my route I passed through a city of 200,000 called Portoviejo. Recently the government financed a new highway project which is providing beautiful new roads along the entire coastal region of Ecuador. There is very little traffic, and wide lanes which would make it ideal for biking, if one were inclined to bike. I’m actually thinking about doing that next time so I can stop in the smaller towns at my leisure.

The thing though that really stood out to me is that the entire bus ride from Guayaquil along this route, if you look out the windows you see garbage everywhere. I’m not exaggerating. For over 100 miles you see huge amounts of garbage along this brand new highway. It’s disgusting and an embarrassment to the country. I don’t understand the type of attitude someone would have for their own living conditions, not to mention the planet and the ecosystem, that would not only compel them to pollute, but to not DO anything about it and just let it pile up. It really makes me think about human nature.
garbage 1

I have no idea what it’s like along the roads in the mountain leading up to Quito, but I imagine it is much nicer. The garbage south of Guayaquil down to the Peruvian border is minimal, as it is in Perú. These are “third world” countries, so a little garbage is to be expected, and especially in the bigger cities outside of the tourist areas. But having garbage lining the streets for 150 miles out in the countryside is mind boggling.
garbage 2

I filmed some of this from my bus window, and I’m going to put together a video soon. Maybe if I write about this publicly and show it on YouTube, someone will take some initiative to address this problem.

I know garbage collection and disposal is a problem everywhere, and just having clean public areas doesn’t necessarily mean the garbage problem doesn’t exist. But it’s at least something. Actually, all along the beach I was staying at, which was quite expansive, wide and long, there was lots of garbage that had accumulated at the edge of the high tide. It’s really disheartening.

garbage 3
So my highlights in Ecuador. Nothing outrageous, as I’m not exactly the adventurous type. I enjoyed a few bike rides out in the country. I used to be a serious bike commuter in Chicago and Los Angeles, so it was nice to get out on the streets again. And the Ecuadorian country streets are nice and wide with very little traffic. So it was great fun and exercise. On one bike trip with an Ecuadorian friend, we rode out to his farmland which required traveling down some dirt roads and through some rural neighborhoods with street cows and donkeys. I’m sure I was the only gringo to ever be seen in some of those parts!

New Year’s Eve In Ecuador

New Year Effigies - Before

New Year Effigies – Before

Another highlight was New Year’s Eve in Bahía de Caráquez. This is the closest city to where I was at, with a population of about 20,000. It’s a beautiful city in a bay. New year’s in Ecuador is celebrated with lots of fireworks, after all it’s summer time. There are also a couple of interesting traditions. One is, people create paper machete effigies which are painted and stuffed with things that people want to say goodbye to with the old year. They also add fireworks to them, then light them on fire. So after midnight, there are all these small fires burning everywhere, which randomly start getting further blown up when the fireworks inside them ignite.

New Year Effigies - After

New Year Effigies – After

You also see lots of small children blowing up fireworks! Bizarre. At midnight, there was a big gathering in the town square, and people were dancing in an enclosed area. Overall it wasn’t rowdy. Just families and people hanging out along the ocean. There aren’t any clubs or discos apparently in Bahía.

Another Ecuadorian tradition is the widows dress up and try to make people laugh for donations. So lots of people are giving a few dollars to the widows hanging out on the streets after midnight, who, from what I’m told, make quite a bit of money, as long as they are funny.

Although I am glad I spent some time in Ecuador, I’m actually happy to be back in Perú. It definitely feels more like home to me.

Spanish Phrases I Picked Up

Sometimes you just pick up cool little things that other people use.

Ya regreso = I’ll be right back!
Eso, no más. = That’s all.
Huele a quemado. = It smells like something is burning.
Maní molido = Peanut butter. I tried to get ground peanuts, which is sold in little plastic bags, but the street vendor gave me peanut butter, which is also sold in little plastic bags!

Some Fun Food Items

There is a spicy ground peanut blend that is also sold in little plastic bags, which you can add to dishes to give them a little kick. This particular item, which I never learned by name, is recommended for patacones.

Food in Ecuador PataconesPatacones are little fritters made with plantains and served as a side to many meals. To me they are really dry and pretty boring in taste, so the spicy peanut blend is a welcome addition.

Food In Ecuador BotonesBolones
Bolones are also made with plantains and served at breakfast time. They are big round balls of plantain and cheese. I found them to be too dry and heavy sitting in the stomach. In general bananas and plantains feel like they just sit in the stomach and cause bloating. But hey, to each their own.

Tostadas in Ecuador are not to be confused with the tostadas of México. The tostadas of Ecuador more closely resemble a cheese sandwich. Two slices of bread have cheese placed in between, or cheese with sliced veggies, then grilled. The grills they use effectively seal the edges of the bread and create a crease down the middle. So they are like little enclosed cheese sandwiches. They are usually a breakfast item.

The cheese that was available where I was staying was made from happy cows that graze on grass in neighboring pastures. It is fresh cheese, meaning there is little flavor. I normally don’t eat dairy products, but this was an enjoyable exception. I really enjoyed vegetarian pizzas and tostadas.

coconut manThe coconut man came by the hostel I was at and sold me fresh coconuts everyday. I took the blender jar out to his cart, and he filled it with fresh coconut water and chopped the coconut shell in half. Inside there is the coconut meat which I blended with the water to make coconut milk. Usually this meat was soft, meaning the coconut was young. As the coconut ages, the meat grows thicker and more fibrous. In that case, I took a knife and drew a grid into the meat, then scooped it out with a spoon. This coconut meat is a delicious treat. Well, it doesn’t taste like much really, but it is fun to eat.

With it I made coconut ceviche. Ceviche is usually a raw seafood dish that is popular along the coast of Ecuador and Perú. It is served with onion, tomato and lime. Coconut meat ceviche is the same thing but suitable for vegetarians. I also added my spicy peanut blend, when I had it. Sometimes the coconut meat was enjoyed in salads and other times with some squirts of lime juice.

This is the main reason to come to Ecuador - Fresh Coconuts!

This is the main reason to come to Ecuador – Fresh Coconuts!

Back to my coconut milk drink. There was a little store next to the hostel, which in this town means a shack, where I purchased panela, which is molasses derived brown sugar sold in the shape of flying saucers. This was used to sweeten the drink. And then a squirt of lime and deliciousness ensues. Coconut water is incredibly nutritive and full of natural electrolytic minerals. It is very hydrating to the body and an incredible thing to be able to enjoy fresh and daily.

One day I discovered lots of chard growing in the corner of the hostel property. So we made chard soup! Here is a picture of the meal prepared by Jenny.
chard soup copy
The soup had all sorts of veggies in it. That’s the locally grown cheese, as well as local eggs from the neighbors chickens who run around the neighborhood all day. I made the papaya juice with the help of a blender.

And here is a picture of Jenny.

Props to Jenny!

Props to Jenny!

Chocolate Fruit in EcuadorDid you ever wonder where chocolate comes from? It comes from this fruit, called cacao. The seeds of the fruit are removed from the gooey white fruit and then dried and processed into chocolate. As you may know, for several years I have been consuming raw organic cacao as part of my staple diet. And I work at a chocolate factory on and off where we import the raw materials from Ecuador. But I had never been this close to the source of cacao or eaten it raw like this. The raw cacao beans definitely have the flavor of chocolate (bitter chocolate without any sweetener), but not as flavorful as the drying process brings out the flavor. The goopy fruit is not that flavorful, but not bad tasting by any means.

The hairstyle peinado that I am sporting here is known as el científico loco (the mad scientist), which is quite the rage with the Ecuadorian locals. It is characterized by one half of the head in a fro, the other half combed back, and a curl lock bucle down the middle.

Inside of the cacao fruit

Inside of the cacao fruit

A few other treats that were new to me:
Ovos are small oval shape fruits bigger than a grape and smaller than a roma tomato. They have an orangish red skin and orange fruit on the inside with a fairly big seed, relative to the size of the fruit. It tastes like a sour mango.

Camote is sweet potato, which is not technically a potato, but a root vegetable. There are over 5000 different types of camote. The one I had in Ecuador was purple skinned and purple on the inside. It tasted sweet like a sweet potato. Delicious!

The purple sweet potato known as camote

The purple sweet potato known as camote

What would I do differently?

I would NOT commit to staying at one place long term in advance. It’s nice to have something lined up for the arrival into a new town. But there’s no way to know if you will like that situation until you get there and check it out. My new strategy is to book a night or two, and then from there, go and look at other options in person.

Would I return to Ecuador? Sure, why not? I would like to explore some of the other areas, especially in the mountains and the southern part of the country. I’d like to see Quito, and the Galápagos. I would have loved to see the Galápagos this time, but I had limited funds. One of my favorite books is called Galápagos by Kurt Vonnegut, which I read 3 or 4 times. So actually seeing it some day would really be enjoyable for me.

Next time, I would possibly look into biking along the coast as well, just because the roads are more suited for biking. I think it would be great to somehow initiate or be involved in the cleaning up of that messy part of the highway. I’m not sure how to go about doing that, but it would be a worthwhile project.

OTHER ARTICLES OF INTEREST
Impressions of Guayaquil, Ecuador

Shopping In the Markets In Perú

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