My wanderlust was reawakened this past spring while teaching a course entitled, “Geography of the World Economy” in the Hasan School of Business at CSU-Pueblo. I was like a kid in a candy store sorting through various materials to present to my students. I must have watched 30-40 videos, mostly documentaries with plenty of TED talks thrown in and a small handful of feature length movies from the historical fiction genre. I probably read a hundred articles, mostly in the Economist which may be the only periodical left in the entire world worthy of respect as a source of high quality journalism.
In any case, I had to travel. But where?
Everyone has their own tastes, requirements, limitations and parameters and I’m no different. Instead of describing my personal decision factors, I’ve tried to come up with good reasons for anyone to consider a trip to Ecuador.
Here’s my list:
- Ecuador is in the Central Time Zone, same as Mexico and Central America. Every time I’ve traveled to Europe I’ve lost 2 or 3 days to jet lag. Didn’t lose a minute upon landing in Quito; certainly no more than on my recent trip to Chicago. They should call it time zone lag, not jet lag.
- The US Dollar is the national currency. Don’t underestimate how this reduces travel headaches in a multitude of important ways.
- Biodiversity. Where else can you find the Galapagos Islands, Amazon rain forest, Pacific coastline with gnarly surfing and whale watching, and the Andean Highlands complete with Cloud Forests (look it up, bird watchers paradise) and active Volcanoes; all this within an area approximately the size of Colorado?
- Cultural Diversity. There are 3 million indigenous peoples from 12+ distinct culture groups in the country. Remnants of the ancient Incan empire are all around. Hunter-gatherer tribes live traditional lifestyles completely isolated in the Amazon. Catholic churches built by Conquistadors and their descendants are numerous and Catholicism and other cultural legacies of Spanish colonization continue to thrive in contemporary Ecuador.
- Climate. Ecuador is, of course, on the equator but the climate is mild because much of the country is at a relatively high altitude. Quito is far more comfortable than Panama or Costa Rica, for example, where you’ll find hot temperatures most of the year. This goes for the Andes highlands where most urban areas are located; the western lowlands and eastern (Amazon) regions of Ecuador are a different story.
- Spanish. If you want to learn a foreign language, Spanish is the way to go … unless perhaps you’re willing to tackle Mandarin and travel across the Pacific regularly. Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world behind Mandarin and ahead of English. That’s right, gringo, ahead of English…and probably widening its lead as Latin America continues to grow at a rapid clip. For this reason, Brazil and Belize are right out!
- Safety. Although every specific city/town/neighborhood/location is unique, generally speaking Ecuador is safer and more stable politically than Mexico, almost all of Central America, Venezuela and Columbia. If you omit crime near the northern border with Colombia, it’s on par with the safest parts of South America, i.e., Chile and Argentina. But, it’s closer to the US with travel times to Quito far shorter than to Santiago or Buenos Aires. As an aside, for context, the 2014 murder rate in Ecuador was lower than the 2014 murder rate in the State of Louisiana. Maybe Bobby Jindal has a political future in Latin America?
- Sample some Socialism. The current President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, is a self-proclaimed socialist and had a strong alliance with Hugo Chavez. He was elected in 2006 and re-elected twice since. Most citizens in the US have no fucking clue what socialism means. Come to Ecuador and you can check out a flavor of socialism first hand. I’m not saying let’s all be socialists. But why not learn something before dismissing it entirely? If you hate socialism but you’ve never experienced its application in a particular location, then you’re no wiser than my 6 year old who loves noodles and tomato sauce on pizza but refuses to try spaghetti with marinara sauce.
- Cost of Living. Ecuador es muy barato. A small but relatively upscale and modern apartment in downtown (La Mariscal) Quito will run you about $500 per month. If you’re willing to live among la gente you can find a place for less than $200 per month. A typical lunch (almuerzo) in Quito costs $2-3 and for that price you get a hearty bowl of soup, a rice or noodle or bean dish with meat, a small side salad and a large glass of fresh juice. For breakfast this morning I was in a bit of a hurry and bought two queso empanadas (sort of like a large cheese filled croissant). It was plenty to carry me to lunch and cost less than $1. Bananas cost about a nickel each. I plan to take a bus 2 hours north to Otavalo in a few days. A one way ticket will run me $2. I had a small load of laundry done today. It was neatly folded and smells fresh, all for $1.50. My biggest expenses on this trip are airfare and the $11 per hour I pay for Spanish language instruction. I could probably find instruction at a lower price but it wouldn’t be as good and it wouldn’t benefit a terrific non-profit organization. More on Yanapuma later.
- Southern Hemisphere Cred. After visiting Ecuador you’ll be able to say you’ve been south of the equator……uh, sorry, we live in a decimal based society and I didn’t want only 9 reasons in the title.
That’s it! I hope this might be useful for anyone out there trying to decide on a location for international perspective, an ecological adventure or a new chapter in life.
Segura viaja mis amigos!