I was super pumped to get to Ecuador. Jumping out of my little Fishy skin. There was something about the joint that just spoke to me. I’d obviously never been there, and in reality, I knew bugger all about it. It just seemed cool, you know?
It straddles the equator. That’s cool. It has some super fine beaches. Mint. It’s cheap, but still uses the American dollar, so there’s none of this ‘Oh, 2 000 000 Souvlakian chestnuts for this bust of Michael Bolton yep that sounds fine’ business. Rad as heck. It just seemed like a sound choice in ideal destination.
So, having already tackled most of Peru, like stage 5 idiots we decided to scoot up from the bottom of Bolivia to the Ecuadorian coast over the span of a week, treating ourselves to a total of 76 hours of bus based fun times. Long form I Spy – ‘I spy with my little eye something beginning with ACBCFITSOAOCD, A Crisp Blue Cloud Floating In The Sky On An Otherwise Cloudless Day’ – was a hit. I could tell that Siz loved it by the way she kept on threatening to violently murder me. It’s called affection look it up.
But as soon as we crossed the Ecuadorian border, I could tell that this was a part of the world custom made for this little fella. The weather, the surroundings, the people, it was quickly matching the empire state sized expectations that I had wilfully manufactured in my head.
Then stuff happened.
Thankfully, a lot of it was good! I’m currently sitting at the kitchen table of Balasz & Alina, a Hungarian/Romanian combo that we met at our Workaway on the coast of Ecuador. Not only are they severely terrific people, but the city that they are now living in, Cuenca, is a stone cold fox.
A classic old-town area of cobblestone streets is as massive as it is pimp, and you feel safe as houses wherever you are. The food, nightlife and surroundings are brilliant, and in a lot of ways it reminds me of Sucre, the Bolivian town that we were stuck in for 2 months because of its extreme awesomeness.
Then there’s Banos, a little village that some loveable idiots decided to build into what appears to be a 45 degree slope on the side of a mountain. You couldn’t walk 5 metres without bumping into a waterfall, which, for a waterfall hater, would’ve been hell. Thankfully I reckon they’re just great.
The 24 hour party town of Montanita was an eye opener, and over the course of our 3 nights there it wormed its way into our hearts, minds and junk. Our stay there was probably made 10x better by meeting Kai, a German whose 30th birthday coincided with us wanting to get on the juice. With the help of a pub’s house band, I got to throw down a pearler rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ in German. Your primary school lessons weren’t in vain, Frau Baum.
And then there was the freakin’ Galapagos. I’m gunna go ahead and keep my mouth firmly buttoned on this one, as Siz has the honour of running you through the ins-and-outs of that little jaunt, but suffice it to say that most days were punctuated with a forced change of pant.
Like Ying and Yang, to appreciate the good times, you also need a smattering of bad. This smattering came in a few forms, initially by way of our second Workaway in Puerto Cayo. In a classic example of turd polishing, the Suenos Del Mar Resort proves that popping a luxury title on a bulldozeable shit-stain of a hotel is just, more than anything, dishonest.
Without going into unneeded detail, the volunteers weren’t required to do anything, which was rather silly at a hotel that pretty much needed everything done in one way or another. Our stay ended the day after we saw this cute little fella crawling over the food and kitchen utensils:
Unfortunately, the reason for the initial apparent friendliness of the locals is that the Ecuadorians quite like a gringo. I’m not one to tar all with the same brush, as the bulk of the Ecuadorians that we’ve met have been absolutely 5 star. But a certain percentage of the population, and a seemingly big one comparative to other South American countries, are dead-set rip-off merchants.
The gringo tax, the price that is tagged on to products and services based on the milky-whiteness of one’s skin, often runs at 100%. A $1 beer jumps up to $2, tuk-tuk rides can end up costing limousine money, and a $15 lady of the night might be a ridiculous $30. We’ve tanned up slightly, and our Spanish is improving, which will help, but the damage of trust between shop-keep and cracker still lingers in the mind.
And Quito. Ecuador’s current state of political affairs is particularly hard to explain, and ‘the joint is going to shit’ is probably as snappily accurate as I can get. El Presidente is fast moving into dictator territory, and the people aren’t enjoying life. Most places in the country manage to put on a brave face. Quito does not.
We had a Cuban friend at our Workaway. He’s looking to gain residency in Ecuador, as it’s one of the only options available to Cubans. He went to the embassy in Quito while we were working, and came back 2 days later with nothing but the shirt on his back, thanks to a van full of armed gunmen. We escaped the pistols to the head, but…
The Even Worse
…we did have what you may refer to as a close call. As we were walking through the party area of Quito on a lazy Sunday night, a couple of street rats decided that we looked rich enough to get the steak knife out of the back pocket.
I always wondered what my reaction to this would be. A Bruce Lee style hand chop? An old fashioned Ali rope-a-dope? A Chuck Norris flying lotus kick to the temple? Yes.
I was an absolute hero, and had both hands up ready to completely nail the dudes, slowly backing away so that I could do a sweet run-up to fly kick, saying ‘no, amigos’ to lull them into a false sense of security.
But they must have somehow misunderstood these moves to be defensive, and kept coming at me until Siz hugged me so that they’d have to have a go at both of us to get anything. That was enough for them to give up. Cheers Siz not that I needed your help but seriously cheers though.
And then there was Mike.
The ratio of good, bad and worse here probably doesn’t paint the most accurate picture of Ecuador. Like a wound-up fusspot at a restaurant, it’s always easier to whinge about the bad stuff than it is to praise the good stuff.
By the time we leave we’ll have spent about 2 months here, and for 90% of that I’ve had a smile on my dial. If you practice your due diligence, and do your best to stay away from the trouble spots, your Ecuadorian smile count could be even higher.
Just bring a knife.