A view from Pedro Moncayo in the Pichincha province. Photo courtesy of Olivia Lloyd.
On a recent trip to Ecuador, I experienced a beautiful country that sometimes does not attract attention like other South American countries do that draw tourists by the droves. The Galápagos Islands attract tourists due their unique wildlife, but there is more to Ecuador than these fascinating islands. Additionally, tourism has created issues concerning pollution in the Galápagos and Amazon basin regions. I will describe the take-away from my time in the country at the “mitad del mundo.”
The diverse ways of life in mainland Ecuador reveal a country full of rich cultures and communities of indigenous people, as well as unique geographies that vary based on the micro-climates of the mountains and volcanoes surrounding them.
The degree to which mass culture affects and permeates local culture often determines the relationship of indigenous people with their country. In Ecuador, many indigenous cultures have persisted in their traditional ways but have allowed tourists glimpses into their lives. The residents of one group in Tena, which is in the Amazon basin, pan for gold in the Napo River and make pottery and ceramics to sell to tourists. Such tourism allows them to sustain themselves economically but maintain a degree of isolation.
A group in the Tungurahua province called the Salasaca lives off subsistence farming and the selling of handicrafts. They speak a combination of Spanish and Kichwa (or Quechua) and sell their wares to tourists who pass by the area. Their society is largely self-contained with a strong sense of community, as their shared culture and connection to the land they cultivate unites them.
In Ecuador, mass culture fuses much more intrinsically with the long standing, persistent indigenous cultures of the country. The mestizos, an ethnicity composed of people of both Amerindian and Spanish descent, comprise roughly 72 percent of the population of Ecuador according to CIA statistics. With such a significant percentage of the population of indigenous descent, the respect for and coexistence with the native culture is much more seamless than it is in other countries with histories of colonialism.
In Quito, graffiti art and signs exhibit hints of resentment towards the U.S. This may stem from a degree of perceived economic imperialism on the U.S.’s part after Ecuador adopted the U.S. dollar in 2000 following a serious devaluation of the previous Ecuadorian currency, the sucre. The U.S. is also the top destination for imports and export from Ecuador, accounting for 31.5 percent of all exports and 22.8 percent of all imports, according to the CIA world factbook. Ecuador’s economy depends on their exportation of petroleum and bananas, as well as remittances from the U.S. This relationship may create a sense of economic dependency that could breed resentment among Ecuadorians.
A sign in the capital of Quito that reads in English "Get the United States out of Ecuador." Photo courtesy of Olivia Lloyd.
Although I only speak from personal experience, it appears that Ecuador has a reputation as not a particularly well-known or accessible country to visit, as some other countries in South America are. Yet the culture and landscape are vibrant and woven with a long history that is worth exploring.