*Written 2010-07-08; posted by airport WIFI 2010-07-15*
We’ve seen many different kinds of places so far during our stay in Ecuador. From what I’ve seen so far, Ecuador seems opposite of the US in at least one aspect. In the US, or at least that portion of it which I’ve seen so far, the poorest areas are often the urban slums, the housing projects, the inner city, while the farther from the city you get, the bigger the houses are, the more suburban or rural the landscape is, and the wealthier the area seems. Exceptions exist, of course, such as family farmers trying to stay alive in the midwest amidst the big factory farms, and the extremely expensive real estate that can be found in popular areas of cities like San Francisco. In Ecuador, however, it seems that the further you get from the cities, the poorer the area is. In the city, you find automobiles, shopping malls, schools, well-dressed businessmen, etc. In the countryside is where the indigenous communities still live, with houses often built of mud and stone, thatch, or crumbling plaster, and any paint that once was is now in dire need of repair. The cities are connected by the highway; the countryside, by a barely traversable, pothole-filled, mud and rock pathway. In the cities, the roads are filled with cars; in the remote country, the cars go through, not to, and the people travel by hitching a ride in empty cattle trucks.
Yet each community in these remote areas is different. Otavalo had the most stray dogs I’ve seen anywhere so far, though everywhere has some. It also seemed the most used to foreigners, since its large market draws quite a tourist crowd on Saturdays. A small indigenous town we passed through on our way to Crater Lake yesterday had a fight happening in the middle of the street, and the whole town was standing in a mob watching it, following it, smiling, etc. Just farther up the road, when we stopped to take a picture of a canyon, a small boy came up to us with his dog asking for us to give him something. When we took a picture of some people herding sheep across the road in front of us on a different hill, the women looked at us accusingly with their hands out, wanting us to pay them for taking the picture. On the other hand, in the animal market we visited today in Guamote, a young woman literally jumped into a picture Ted was taking of chickens so that she would be in it too. (She missed, and I obliged her by taking a picture of her directly, after which she asked me if we were taking pictures and I let her excitedly look at some of them while she asked where we were from.) Guamote seemed to be the least accustomed to foreigners, as it was where people have stared at us the most out of curiosity, especially the children. One tiny girl was staring at me with wide eyes until her mother noticed and pulled her away, after which she promptly snuck back out from under mom’s arm to stare at me again; older children and adults would wait until we’d passed and then turn around to stare at our backs.
The attire of the women changes with each locality as well. The women farthest north wore black linen skirts that wrapped around their waist like a sari and hung to the floor, with elaborately laced and embroidered white blouses covered by a black shawl wrapped diagonally across one hip and the other shoulder. Just south of them, the women wore a similar but more colorful outfit. In the center of the Ecuadorian Andes, the women wear brightly colored knee-length felt skirts with a decoration around the trim, a sweater, a large brightly-colored felt poncho-shawl for warmth that covers most of their torso, tights, and flat shoes that remind me of nurse’s shoes in the US. In the large mestizo cities like Quito and Cuenca, you see general Western attire–jeans, hoodies, tennis shoes, skirts, heels, brand-name jackets, and anything else you might expect to see in a typical American city.
The food has some similarities and some differences. Every place we’ve stayed at, for instance, has offered us eggs and fruit for breakfast, sometimes with a variety of breads, jams, etc. At first, I thought this was because they were afraid foreigners wouldn’t eat anything besides eggs and fruit for breakfast, but Paul said that is pretty typical breakfast food here as well. However, the variety of juices available is phenomenal. One place might offer us a choice of pineapple, papaya, blackberry, naranjilla, jackfruit, tree tomato, and perhaps more. As someone who loves fruit juice, I’m loving it… For lunch or dinner, we quickly learned that we are generally better off ordering fish than beef; the beef here is generally pretty tough, while the fish is fresh (with one exception… swordfish at dinner last night). Roasting entire pigs is commonly seen around small towns, and the pork here is tender. I don’t really have anything to say about the chicken; it’s been neither great nor terrible. We passed many quinoa fields, but rice and potatoes are most often served with the meat we’ve had, and the meat is generally grilled or fried. Vegetables are often slow-roasted and caramelized as desserts, making them warm and sweet. We’ve also had quite a bit of food that tasted way too salty, generally in more remote areas where it was probably salted for preservation. One thing that is uniquely Ecuadorian, however, is the chili sauce that must accompany *everything*–no matter the meal, the food, all items get flavored by some version of the chili sauce. Ted has been brave enough to try it; I haven’t. Apparently all foods taste better with it, though…