The news driving from Peru to the Ecuador border was not very promising as strikes had turned into violence and the president had called a state of emergency. Having been in similar situations during our around the world tour we knew this was not a good time to enter Ecuador. Not to worry, as we found a perfect spot at Swiss Wassi around 60km before the border. White sand, palm trees, blue sky, a great host and cold beer.
So, what happened in Ecuador?
Fuel prices had doubled overnight, (fuel subsidies were lifted) , a 20% decrease in salaries for public servants and a reduction in vacation periods from 30 days to 15 days for employees. Hence the indigenous people were upset as it meant a major increase in cost. (Can you blame them!!) Riots broke out, all major roads were blocked more than 40000 people marched to Quito and the government left town to relocate to Guayaquil. This paralysed Ecuador, the clashes with army and police were the worst in many years with more than 7 people dead and over 1000 injured.
The president did the deal to obtain a 4.2-billion-dollar loan from IMF and he stated he would not give in. This resulted in more riots, destruction, fires, roadblocks and thousands of indigenous Ecuadoreans camped out on the grass, many of them carrying sticks. Through loudspeakers, leaders of different indigenous groups addressed the crowd all around Ecuador. 11 days later the government gave in and 11 days of violent protest ended. Unlike previously, now all parties are involved in coming up with a solution and the meetings are mediated by the united nations and the Catholic Church. The following day fuel prices were reduced again to 1.85 USD a Gallon for Gasoline (was 2.39USD) and diesel was reduced back to 1.03USD from 2.30USD a gallon.
What Next? Below a extract mail I received from a friend Oct 26. This was written by a expat living in Ecuador.
We are in the eye of the storm. When a hurricane blows through your area, it starts with strong destructive winds. The eye then arrives, when everything is eerily calm, and it is easy to believe that the worst is past. But then the other side of the hurricane hits, and the destruction continues.
The riots started when the president unilaterally removed the gasoline/diesel subsidies that had been in place for 40 years. Unfortunately, he made many serious mistakes in how he unveiled his change, and in not having the necessary additional social changes ready to launch at the same time. The result was really rather predictable for South America — riots.
Those riots lasted for 12 days, at which time the president sat down with the indigenous leaders… and totally caved. He gave everything the rioters demanded, rolling back all the changes that started the civil unrest. He then announced that a committee would be formed to decide how to proceed with the needed economic changes.
So… what result did that bring? First, and good, was that the indigenous agreed to stop rioting, and the civil unrest stopped within hours of that agreement. Within three days, the grocery stores were fully stocked again, as were the local mercados.
But… there is a darker side…
First, that committee is supposed to come up with economic reform. That means that such changes are still coming. Personally I doubt they will be accepted with much more equanimity than last month’s changes, so more trouble is likely ahead on that front.
Also, people have learned that the government will cave under massive protests. They have become emboldened to solve their complaints in the streets instead of the ballot box. Already, the labor union has called for a nationwide strike for next Wednesday (Oct 30). They are the second largest organized block, after the indigenous, so nobody knows what will happen next week. Many people are battening down their hatches and stocking up on food and propane (as soon as it becomes fully available) before that strike arrives.
Just today the indigenous group stated that they feel they should now create their own army to protect themselves. Given the unrest and riots of a couple weeks ago, what will be the result of a second army in the country not reporting to the government? Personally, I think that has the makings of a full blown civil war if allowed to happen. Again, my personal analysis is that these are both the result of the government completely caving so quickly (after only two hours of negotiations, fully televised live to the country), making the rioters more bold moving forward.
Where are we today? Calm. Classes are normal. Stores are normal. Day to day life is normal. Most of the damage done to streets and store fronts has already been cleaned up (large scale “mingas” were formed by citizens in the days following reconciliation, with the city providing brooms, mop and paint, and the citizens cleaning it up).
But… strike planned for next week. Independent army now stated as “needed” by a group that represents between 30% and 80% of the population, depending how you define “indigenous.”
I am afraid I fear we may be in the Eye of the Storm, with the back end of the hurricane still looming.
It was time after 11 days of R&R on the beach to enter Ecuador
Crossing the border was straight forward and fast. Amazing to see so many Venezuelans in Red Cross and UN tents living at this border. Our first stop was the Happy fruit Farm run by a family of people dedicated to organic growing of fruit. Enroute to Vilcabamba we encountered colourful communities that live in the foothills of the mountain ranges and breathtaking mountain scenery.
Loya is the capital of the Loya province located in the Cuxibamba valley. With a population of 180000 people it offers all the amenities you require. Ioverlander told us the campsite in the National Park was okay for big rigs, but we never made it past the Gate of the Podocarpus National park. (2.90 meters high) In the USA a big rig is anything bigger that a SUV, however, in Australia we have mid-mid-size trucks up to 7500KG and up to 3.4 meters high and Big Rigs over 9000KG and up to 3.90 high. Lucky, we have a 150cc scooter on board and explored the area on our scooter.
The Podocarpus National Park spans from lower rain forests at 1000m up to high elevation at 3000m where a complex of more than 100 lagoons exists. Vilcabamba is overrun by tourists and Expats, mainly retired North Americans and Europeans enjoying a cheap lifestyle.
The town to us is a bit of a hippie haven, with more in the way of crunchy gringo food and atmosphere than local flavor. (however we loved the German food, The Belgian Chocolates and French cakes). Our next stop was Saraguro a town named after the Kichwa Nation indigenous folk who have called the area home for over 500 years. The Saraguro have retained much of their land, customs and traditional dress.
Lucky for us, we arrived on Saturday afternoon so we could visit the Sunday markets. The Saraguros are an ethnic group of millenary indigenous people who live since pre-Hispanic times in the Sierra del Ecuador and they are one of the few indigenous ethnic groups that survived the Spanish Colonization thanks to their difficult access location.
Its economy is based mainly on various types of items such as corn, beans, potatoes and vegetables. In the livestock they breed abundantly several types of animals such as sheep, cattle, pigs, birds, among others. The Saraguros, both men and women, make a great variety of crafts that have as their axis the creation of beads and necklaces, in addition to the creation of ceramics and textiles from the wool of the sheep.
Next stop Cuenca. Cuenca is, according to some Ecuadorean, the most charming city with its cobblestone streets, old-world cathedrals, colonial parks and urban rivers. If you enjoy churches, there are lots of them and some over 500 years old. Among them, La Cathedral Metropolitana de la Inmaculada Concepción which took 100 years to finish, and its blue and white domes are a real standout. Cuenca is the home of the famous Panama hat, and a factory visit is a must. Just out of town is Cajas National park between 3050 and 4450 meters high with over 250 glacier lakes.
Unfortunately, we missed the Sunday markets in Chordeleg, Gualacoe and Sigsig. Like in Vilcabamba, Cuenca has become a hot spot for expatriates and retirees settling down to live off their fixed incomes. Low cost of living and a high-quality lifestyle in a pleasant climate are the main reasons. Over 50000 foreigners live in Cuenca (population 550000 people) that is nearly 10% of the population!!
Where Cuenca has become expensive is the costs of buying a house or apartment, making it today more expensive than Quito, Guayaquil and many small cities in North America.
Before heading down the Amazon one last stop at the Devil’s Nose. The biggest complication faced by the construction of the Trans-Andean railroad was the Devil’s Nose, a mountain with almost perpendicular walls. To overcome this obstacle a zigzag railroad was build.
The train is one of the most complex feats of engineering, as it descends 1000 metres in just 12 km. In order to accomplish this, the train follows a zigzag path carved into the rockface, slowly moving forwards and backwards until it reaches the bottom.
This section of the railroad was built by 4000 Jamaicans and other workers. It is estimated that 2000 of them died while building this Devil’s Nose train segment of the railroad from the dangers of the landscape, illnesses and plagues.
You used to be able to ride on the train’s roof around the Devil’s Nose, but this was closed after two tourists were decapitated by a low hanging electricity wire several years ago.
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