Quito, which means middle of the world, was the original name given to the country of Ecuador by the native Indians. But, in 1830, when Quito became a Republic, Juan Jose Flores, the first President, renamed the country Ecuador so called, of course, because it sits right on the equator. However, Ecuador's capitol city retained the name Quito. At 9,300 feet, it is the second highest capitol city in the world after La Paz, Bolivia. We started on Diamox several days prior to our arrival to avoid the worst aspects of mountain sickness but the altitude still makes you feel sleepy and fatigued and just a few flights of stairs makes you winded!
Even though we are at the equator, we are also up in the Andes Mountains so, contrary to the common assumption that this is a hot, humid, tropical place, about 60% of Ecuador is mountainous and the weather has been very chilly, rainy and cloudy with temperatures mostly ranging from only the 40's to the 60's. Nonetheless, there are many rain forests up here at altitude which are known as cloud forests and they are every bit as lush, fertile and overgrown as the tropical rain forests in the jungle on the eastern side of the country where the rivers are tributaries of the Amazon.
Ecuador is an oil rich country and it's their main export. We notice that gas stations here charge $1 per gallon for diesel while regular gasoline goes for $1.50 a gallon! Bananas, cocoa, coffee, shrimp and tuna fish are also big exports. The cocoa beans grown here are of the very highest quality. Ecuador produces over 60% of the world's fine and aromatic cocoa powder used to make the finest chocolate. Luckily, the locals like to give tourists generous samples of this product :) ...Ecuador along with Peru are the world's largest producers and exporters of quinoa, too. The fields of quinoa are now a striking rusty red color which indicates that they are ready to harvest. And flowers are also big business here. We have visited gigantic rose and orchid farms. Ecuador is the third largest exporter of roses worldwide, after the Netherlands and Columbia. And, there are over 4000 native species of orchids here along with 3000 non-native species cultivated making a total of 7000 species of orchids cultivated for export! I'll forward a few beautiful examples in a subsequent email.
The Ecuadorian people seem peaceful, friendly, welcoming and humble and, even in the busy handicraft tourist markets, there is no "hustle" whatsoever; a welcome surprise and so different from most of the other developing countries we have visited. As Hannah would say, the place is "Chill". After all, the national slogan is, "Ama Vida": Love Life!
Ecuador is a "pass through" country situated in between Peru and Columbia but the country seems to have its act together. To combat drug trafficking and money laundering, gambling is illegal except for the weekly national lotteries. Those lottery tickets, with the promise of big cash prizes, are sold at almost every street corner. There are minimal problems with alcohol and drug abuse here even though small quantities of marijuana and other "recreational" drugs are legal and allowed for personal use...a correlation perhaps? Also, we've noticed that very few people smoke cigarettes. Thankfully, smoking is banned in all restaurants, bars, public buildings and on public transportation. Best of all, unlike our own country's unhealthy relationship with guns, in Ecuador it is illegal to carry a gun...no insane NRA lobby here!
A few Ecuadorian Oddities:
Prostitution is socially acceptable and legal which surprised me given that over 80% of the population are observant Catholics and another 11% are Protestants...
When the local currency collapsed here in 1999, the US Dollar became the official currency of the country. It's oddly disconcerting to be in a foreign Spanish speaking country far away from our border seeing everyone just using our greenbacks. Even the coins are our own quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies. No need to worry about foreign exchange rates and the prices are extraordinarily low compared to the States. In fact, one can apparently live lavishly for about $800 per month which explains the large Ex-Pat population that has relocated here.
Another oddity we discovered is that Ecuador is the original and still primary manufacturer of Panama Hats, so named NOT because they are produced in Panama! Rather, it is because when the Panama Canal was built, many thousands of these Ecuadorian hats were purchased for the workers who built the Canal since they are lightweight, "breathable" and provide excellent sun protection. As a result, they became known as Panama Hats and the name has stuck even though, to this day, they are made in Ecuador.
Finally, for those who have been wondering, we now have conclusive evidence that the toilet bowl water does in fact flow in a clockwise direction south of the equator ;)
Following here and in several more emails are a few favorite photos...
Next country: Peru!
Abrazos y Besos