*Written 2010-07-07; posted from airport WiFi on 2010-07-15*
Some notes on unexpected tidbits from my time in Ecuador so far:
The radio stations play a *lot* of American music. They mostly play Top40 hits from the 1990s to present, but I’ve also heard older stuff like the BeeGees. One of the hotels we stayed at also played 30s jazz music after dinner.
The government of Ecuador introduced a lot of non-native trees. In particular, one national park was dotted with California pines, and Australian Eucalyptus trees are *everywhere*. According to our guide, Ecuador does not have very many native trees in the highlands, so the government introduced these species to improve air quality, diversify industry, and beautify the landscape. I found this really strange because in the US, the government spends a lot of resources preserving natural ecosystems and kicking out non-native species.
The air in the cities and on the roadways here is nasty. I expected Ecuador, with its mostly-agricultural economy, to have clean air, but it’s actually quite polluted, mostly because of lax air quality regulations and enforcement. Many of the trucks and buses we pass are both visibly and odoriferously emitting noxious gasses.
The weather in the Amazon Rainforest is what you might expect — hot and humid, with sudden periodic downpours and thunderstorms. In the highlands, however, we were greeted by cloudy days, occasional showers, and weather much, much colder than we expected.
Apparently the altitude (we’ve been traveling between 9k and 16k feet so far) compensates for the closer proximity of the sun. Where we’d have snow at 6k feet in California, Ecuador has snow at 16k feet. Perhaps the equivalent California weather would be the Sierra Nevadas at 3-6k feet. Anyway, we foolishly came with only a few long-sleeved shirts and thin jackets and would have frozen long ago had our guide not lent us some of his clothes.
On a few different occasions, we found ourselves driving down twisty unpaved roads for hours, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. After one drive, we found ourselves at El Angel national park — apparently we were the only ones visiting, because the parking lot was empty, and even the ranger station was abandoned. I guess this was surprising because I was expecting something more like the national parks in the US, where tourists are buzzing around everywhere.
A second drive was supposed to take us to our next hotel. After driving for hours through endless darkness, we climbed one last hill, and somehow ended up at a hot-springs resort. Someone apparently had the bright idea of building a resort on top of this mountain, far away from civilization and paved roads. At least that trip ended well — the hot springs did wonders for our achy muscles.
A third drive took us into Cotopaxi National Park where we saw a few other cars, which we found a bit more promising than El Angel. After entering the park, we turned on the four-wheel drive and bounced over rocks and through streams for an hour through what appeared to be a wasteland — only rocks, dirt, and shrubs as far as the eye could see. We were supposedly headed to a restaurant for lunch. Finally, we came to a lone building in the middle of the park with a single bus in front — and found it packed full of people. The restaurant also served as a hotel, and had WiFi, satellite TV, hot running water, etc. It was quite a surprise.