Monday, 19 April 2010

Ecuador: underrated

Many of you probably have heard of Ecuador but don't know much about it. As embarrassing as it is to admit, I was in the same situation - but not anymore - because unlike you, I went there and I loved it. In-your-face, reader!

I only went to Quito, which is only a few kilometers below the equator, and it was a good surprise. The first thing that made me feel comfortable was the obvious lack of poverty. I don't know if it's inexistent or if they hide it well, but in any case it was pleasant to finally feel understood.

The streets are clean, the buildings are nice, the cars are new (I literally saw only two old cars) and it has many shops, boutiques, restaurants and bars - all this in a poorless environment.

Quito old town. Clean, lovely, lively.

A bit of history. Ecuador was also home to the Incas, the second most important city of the Empire is in the south of the country and is called Cuenca (supposed to be lovely). The Incas started going up north from Peru because they wanted to reach the equator. The reason was that once a year, at noon, the sun is in perfect alignment with the earth and for a couple of minutes every single shadow disappears. 

In other words their God, the Sun is in perfect harmony with Mother Earth (Pachamama), and that was the best thing ever for these guys, it was what they were waiting for their whole life - kind of like the iPod for us.

I wanted to go to that equatorial line and cross to the northern hemisphere for a while - just to say that I've done two hemispheres in a day: because that is cool - but turns out there are three equatorial lines!

First, the French absolutely wanted to find the middle of the earth so they conducted massive research in the 18th century in order to determine where is that line. After four years of scientifically-loaded work they got it, made a monument, a museum and gave the country its name - in French: Equateur.

But they were wrong. Their line is about 300 meters away from the real middle of the Earth.

Secondly, way before the French and with no scientific instruments whatsoever, the local indigenous found their middle earth.

But they were wrong too. Though much closer to the actual equatorial line than the French, they probably were less than a 100 meters away from the real thing. 

And finally, I got to the REAL middle point which has been measured by GPS so that we believe it.

This place may not have an impressive monument but it has a museum where they can do interesting experiments like this one: 

They took a bucket filled with water and a hole in its bottom that you can close (kind of a portable sink). If you go to the northern hemisphere and open the hole, the water goes down forming a vortex (or water-twister) counter-clockwise / on the equatorial line, no vortex is formed, the water just goes down straight / and in the southern hemisphere, the vortex is clockwise. Very weird. 

You can also do this when standing on the equatorial line:

It has something to do with forces, rotation of the earth and hemispheres but I was too proud of my achievement so I didn't really listen to the explanation.

Heading back to Quito, which means Middle - Earth (Qui - To) in some Amazonian language, you can find some amazing landscapes. The city is 2'800 meters above sea level (the second highest capital after La Paz) and is surrounded by snow-capped volcanoes from the Andes mountain range, lakes and vast green fields.

I know this volcano is not snow-capped but don't complain it's either that or no-volcano-at-all

As I said, the city didn't seem to be poor which makes it one of my favourite cities so far. Quito is divided between the Old city and the New city. The new city is beautiful, clean, safe and organised but nothing very special. The old town on the other hand is interesting and rather unusual.

It has a lot of French influence.

Very Notre Dame

It also has a lot of European/Spanish style to it. Not colonial Spanish, but Spanish Spanish.

It seems the Spaniards manage to create a mediterranean ambiance in most of their colonies in South America, and it is particularly noticeable in Quito. Even though it is at almost 3'000m high, you sometime get the feeling that the sea is just around the corner.

The city is charming, the food is good, the people are friendly, the landscape around it is fantastic, poverty feels far away and the local currency is the US dollar so no need to get lost in exchange rates (yep, the USD is not an alternative currency, it is the actual currency) - but it rains a lot. And when it does, you don't want to be anywhere under it.

People seemed to be surprised and unprepared when it rained, even though it rains EVERY SINGLE DAY AT THE SAME TIME during the rainy season. I think a little bit more investment in education should be considered, Mr. President.

Anyway, I have yet to visit the rest of the country but Quito certainly motivated me to get back to Ecuador and discover this unknown treasure, and you should too. 


  1. Dude! Why didn't you visit the Maronite monuments? Come on! They had two Maronite presidents in the last 15 years. Jamil Mahuad (read M3awad) and Abdalá "El Loco" Bucaram, who happens to have a moustache like Hitler, but likes to sing bad pop music. They have one of those "Our Lady of Lebanon" churches, complete with a Mna2eesh-fest after Sunday service. Occasionally, Druze families like the Abdulbakis show up for fun (Ivonne Juez de Abdel Baki used to be their Ambassador to Washington, and she has a hat collection that rivals Sophia Loren).

  2. Because they don't mention all these cool Maronite stuff in the Ecuadorian Rough Guide. I would have loved to see the hat collection!

  3. You should write for the Lonely Planet. Except the dictator-style paragraphs that you write from time to time :). But this is interesting stuff keep it going.