REPUBLIC OF ECUADOR
PART 1, GENERAL INFORMATION
Capital city: Quito
Population: 16.5 million
Km travelled: TBA
Days in: TBA
Languages: Spanish, plus 13 Amerindian languages
Ecuador is a developing economy, highly dependent on Petroleum and Agriculture products. Production of tropical specialty crops such as bananas, cacao, and coffee have provided much-needed foreign exchange. Others include; crude oil, shrimps, cut flowers and cocoa. The main ethnic groups of Ecuador include a number of Indian-language-speaking populations (often referred to as indigenous peoples or Amerindians). Since 1979 Ecuador is a democratic society. In 2006 Rafael Correa gained the presidency. It has been said that Correa reduced the high levels of poverty and unemployment in Ecuador. In 2017 Lenin Moreno became president and started to reduce public spending and a more flexible labour code. Early October the fuel subsidies were to end, wages were going to be reduced and so were days for annual leave, hence protest began, just as we were to enter Ecuador (Oct 2019). On 10 October, protesters overran the capital Quito causing the Government of Ecuador to relocate temporarily to Guayaquil. At the same time the State of Emergency was announced.
Ecuador has 2 UNESCO world heritage cities (Quito and Cuenca) and 2 world heritage sites (Galapagos Islands and Sangay National Park). Someone mentioned to me that Ecuador is sometimes called South America in Miniature. Reason given: within its borders it has the Galapagos Islands, nice beaches, high mountains and part of the Amazon. Not sure if I agree with this statement as we have seen some exceptional places in South America.
A modern Garden of Eden, the Galapagos are unique on the planet. The Islands are peaks of enormous underwater volcanoes and having never been connected with the South American continent, Galapagos’ flora and fauna developed in complete isolation. The Galapagos are truly a wonder that should not be missed. Where else can you swim with hammerhead sharks, penguins, sea lions, and hundreds of tropical reef fish, and sleep on a volcanic peak?
THE ECUADOR ORIENTE (AREA PART OF THE AMAZON REGION)
The Amazon jungle in Eastern Ecuador, known as El Oriente, is blessed with some of the Amazon’s most biologically diverse, pristine areas. Canoe along meandering rivers; climb into the canopy; hike along primary forest trails, learn about medicinal rainforest plants, or just “be” amidst the teeming forest.
THE ANDES REGION
This is the most visited region in the country. Boasting condors, glaciated volcanoes, bustling Indian markets, grand old haciendas, cloud forests, Incan ruins, and high-altitude paramo grasslands, it is hard not to love. The Andes form a barrier between Ecuador’s lowland coastal plains and its treasured share of the Amazon jungle. In addition to serving as the physical middle, or spine, of Ecuador, the region is home to nearly 50% of the country’s population and Quito, its capital city, occupies a place of chief political and economic importance
Almost a three-hundred-mile stretch, Ecuador’s Pacific coast is a combination of bikini-friendly beaches, mangrove forests, marshes, estuaries, and small fishing villages. The north is wet, wild, relatively undiscovered, and renowned for its vibrant Afro-Ecuadorian communities. The drier and cooler Central and Southern Coast regions offer popular beach resort destinations.
There is great variety in the climate, largely determined by altitude. It is mild year-round in the mountain valleys, and humid sub-tropical in the lowlands. The Pacific coastal area has a tropical climate and a rainy season. The climate in the Andean highlands is temperate and relatively dry. The Amazon basin has a rainforest climate: hot and humid.
Weather: All Year round 8 degrees at night to 20 during the day
Rainfall: All year round but June to August have less rain.
Summer: 6 degrees at night to 32 degrees during the day
Winter: minus 1 degree to 17 degrees during the day
Rainfall: All year round
Weather: All year round 20 degrees at night to 32 degrees during the day
Rainfall: All year round, wettest time December to April
Weather: All year round between 23 degrees at night to 30 degrees during the day
Rainfall: Heaviest in January to April, however rainfall occurs all year round
PART 2, BLOGS, PICTURES & GALLERY 2019
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
ECUADOR BORDER TO CUENCA
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.
CUENCA TO THE ORIENTE (ECUADOR AMAZON REGION)
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.
From here we took the short cut to Banos enjoying lakes, volcanic lagoons in turquoise tones and natural sources of thermal waters. Banos is situated in a valley of waterfalls and hot springs and has become a mecca for international backpackers. Very touristy.
But for those without transport it is the gateway also to the Amazon. We arrived midweek hence things were calm, but in the weekend things change. Banos explodes with carnival-like festivities. And photographers position themselves on street corners offering instant snapshots; a cartoonish caterpillar train on wheels toots through town; and women in pastel painted stalls sell everything from hand-woven sweaters to imitation barbie dolls.
Tables spilling out of cafes onto sidewalks provide the ideal location to watch the lively scene of Banos go by while enjoying a drink or a meal. Tungurahua Volcano, at 5016 meters, looms over Baños, (if the weather is nice) and is known as “Little Hell” to the Quichua as it is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. The thermal pool on the end of the day is a must, one pool is close to 50 degrees the other 45 degrees and one cold pool.
The drive down to Puyo and Macas is when the edge of the Amazon region starts to appear, (locals call it Oriente) with the start of tropical rainforest. Macas is the gateway to the least visited part of the Ecuador Oriente and has a good opportunity to visit the Shuar and Achuar tribes. This area is home to many Indigenous people and includes Quichua Indians, Quijos and Chibcha communities.
It’s possible to visit many of these communities and to observe and sometimes participate in traditional dancing, the preparation of chicha (an alcoholic drink made by masticating maize, rice or yuca and fermenting the juice), shamanic rituals, and blowgun competitions. From here inland most roads, tracks are unpaved and subject to landslides and other delays, especially during the rainy weather.
PUYO TO THE ORIENTE (ECUADOR AMAZON REGION)
Leaving Misahualli a small remote dilapidated port at the junction of the Napo and Misahualli Rivers our first stop would have been the Sumaco Napo-Galeras National Park with its Volcano soaring 3723 meters above the dense jungle. (thick fog and rain stopped us)
Next major town is Coca the gateway to Yasuni National Park. Great town to do shopping before heading into the Oriente. Until the 1980s, Coca was a small outpost on the junction of the Coca, Payamino, and Napo Rivers. With the discovery of nearby oil reserves in the 1980s, Coca rapidly grew and population, with the help of hefty investments from foreign oil companies. It now has a population of about 20,000 inhabitants. While oil remains an important industry, city government has been investing in tourism infrastructure and marketing the area to travellers for the past ten years.
The two sectors are often at odds, as oil extraction has caused considerable degradation to the surrounding jungle, reducing potential for tourism. Yasuni National Park south of Coca is Ecuador’s largest mainland National Park. Yasuní is mostly uninhabited, except for several Huaorani indigenous families who have lived within the park boundaries for generations. The Ecuadorian government gave “Conoco,” a U.S. based oil company, the right to begin exploitation within the Park but Maxus Oil Consortium and currently YPF of Argentina later replaced it. Since then, a 110-km road has been built into the area for the use of oil workers, locals, researchers and travellers like us.
The other main attraction is Limoncocha Biological Reserve, on the north shore of the Napo River between the Coca and Aguarico rivers. The Reserve also contains the Laguna Limoncocha where Quichua families live and grow mainly subsistence products along with some cash crops. Petroleum activities during the 1980s and 1990s have negatively impacted this region and its people. Therefore, the community is welcoming tourist. Our next stop was Cuyabeno Reserve and the end of the road.
Enroute we crossed a few times from the Southern Hemisphere to the Northern Hemisphere (crossing the Ecuador) travelling from Spring in the southern hemisphere to Autumn in the Northern Hemisphere. Only major town in the area is Lake Agrio close to the Colombian Border. In the 1960s, Lake Agrion (Nueva Loja in the 60’s) mushroomed in size and importance, as a base camp for the US oil company Texaco. According to some sources, the city was then called Source Lake, but was later changed to Lago Agrio (sour lake) because foreign oil workers suffered from long workdays and strenuous working conditions.
Others claim the name Lago Agrio comes from Sour Lake, Texas, which is the US headquarters of Texaco. Another 100KM East close to the Colombia and Peru Border is Cuyabeno Reserve. 605000 hectare of tropical rainforest fauna include several species of monkey, birds, caimans, piranhas, turtles, and conga ants. Freshwater dolphins, giant armadillos, anacondas, and manatees are also occasionally spotted.
The main watershed of the Reserve consists of the Aguarico and the San Miguel Rivers, and the Cuyabeno River and its tributaries. Halfway down the Cuyabeno there is a system of 14 spectacular lagoons created by lowland rainforest floods, typical of the wet season. Petroleum extraction and the activities derived from the oil industry such as road building, colonization, and agriculture have negatively impacted the environment. A variety of indigenous groups, including the Cofan, the Siona, and the Secoya have traditionally inhabited the area.
Imuya, a network of lagoon and rivers in the remote south-east corner of the Cuyabeno reserve is home to pink freshwater dolphins, red howler monkeys, scarlet macaws and the myriad of other wildlife species. Although Imuya (which means River of the Howler Monkeys in Paincoca, the language of the Secoya people) is uninhabited, a journey to the Amazon would be incomplete without meeting the indigenous people who live there.
For this reason, find a tour that is led by a Siona, Secoya or Cofan guide. Our guide was superb and with his help we found several Anaconda’s one was 8 metres long and weight over 200KG see video clip at http://www.doubledutchworldsafari.com.au/video-gallery/south-america/ecuador/
ORIENTE (ECUADOR AMAZON REGION) TO THE COLOMBIA BORDER, VIA QUITO
Ecuador contains only about two percent of the Amazon basin, which covers the eastern part of the country. Commonly referred to as the “Oriente”, Our experience to be able to find an 6-meter Anaconda weighing 200kg was worth the long drive to the far remote part of North East Ecuador. The other highlight of this area are the nine different indigenous nationalities, each with its own language and culture, traditionally living in harmony with their tropical rainforest environment.
In the past, each group lived on its ancestral territory and contact between groups was often perilous. However, today, contacts between tribes are common and many intercultural marriages have taken place. But like so many places in the world oil exploration and soya plantations are a threat. Returning the Northern Route towards Quito we passed the remote Reventador National park and its Volcano Reventador which has erupted more than 25 times over the past few hundred years and the last time in July 2017. (Little did we know that a few weeks later it would erupt again (Dec 23, 2019).
Overnight we stayed near the San Rafeal waterfall and at around 300 meters it makes it the highest waterfall in Ecuador. Back in the touristy part of Ecuador we visited Papallacta hot thermal pools, very touristy, but after 4 weeks bush a great place to soak. Down the mountain (great hwy) to Quito also known as Carita de Dios.
Quito is the highest capital city in the world, located on the slopes of the Pichincha volcano. It has the largest and best preserved historic centre in Latin America, a true heritage treasure that houses churches, and museums.
As we are not that keen on big cities, for us one day was enough and one overnight stop in the carpark of the Teleferic. The ride up the mountain with the teleferic and the views were a little disappointing.
it was time to explore Cotopaxi National park. The Cotopaxi volcano, an almost perfect snow cone that stands at 5,897 meters of altitude is something unique on the planet. Cotopaxi, one of the highest active volcanoes in the world, located in an area also called “Avenue of the Volcanoes” dominates the whole area, which also includes two smaller ones, Morurco (4,880 m), close to Cotopaxi, and Rumiñahui (4,722 m).
It was very cold and windy on the top carpark (4600 meters high) hence we decided to stay a little lower in the Park. After 2 days in the park we moved to the other side of the Pan Americana Highway into some rugged countryside, criss-crossed tracks which are crawling all over the area which is still home to many indigenous peoples, who make their living farming on the land much as they have for thousands of years.
You meet them on the roads and small villages, usually wearing traditional Andean clothing and often herding sheep with a llama or two. On the end of the Northern Loop you arrive in Quilotoa at around 3890 meters high.
This is where Laguna is located. When the Quilotoa volcano last erupted in 1280, it left behind a gaping caldera 3 kilometres across, which is now filled with brilliant turquoise water.
Time to head north back to Quito and Otavalo, just north of Quito, is the number one tourist destination in Quito Mitad del Mundo. The country takes its name from the Equator line, hence why the famous Equatorial Monument and the city of Mitad del Mundo are iconic sites in Ecuador.
Having crossed the Equator numerous times over the 16 years of overland travel and already five times in South America, Far North East Brazil in Macapa, Far North West Brazil half way Manaus and Boa Vista, In the far East of Ecuador near Lago Agrio we crossed twice within around 100KM and the Galapagos Islands we did not want to miss the last crossing in Ecuador.
We learned that the Equator is a strip approximately one kilometre wide that divides the surface of the planet into two parts: the northern hemisphere and the southern hemisphere. This is also an imaginary line that is constantly changing due to the axis of rotation.
It was time to go to our Christmas destination Finca Sommerwind, around 100km north of the Equator just outside Ibarra. On the way we did stop at the markets in Otavalo a must do destination in many books but being so touristy we decided to continue having seen many great local markets while in Ecuador.
Finca Sommerwind is located on Yahuarcocha Lagoon and has been known for the great Overlander Christmas and New Years Eve parties. Trust me it did not disappoint.
PART 3, VIDEO
- Ecuador Part 1, Far North Peru to Cuenca
- Ecuador Part 2, Cuenca to Puyo
- Ecuador Part 3, Puyo to the Amazon Region
- Ecuador Part 4, Amazon Region to Quito
- Ecuador Part 5, Far North Ecuador (Under construction)
- Compilation South America Part 1, 2016 to 2019
- Compilation South America Part 2, 2019 to 2020 (Under construction)
- Ecuador Part 1
2. Ecuador Part 2, Cuenca to Puyo
Ecuador Part 3, Puyo to the Amazon Region
4. Ecuador Part 4, Amazon Region to Quito
5. Ecuador Part 5, Northern Region Ecuador. (Under Construction)
6. Compilation South America Part 1, 2016 to 2019
7. Compilation South America Part 2, 2019 to 2020 (Under Construction)