We’ve been in Ecuador for almost 4 weeks now and have had some amazing opportunities. We have visited some beautiful places and certainly experienced some culture shock. From what we’ve learned so far, Ecuador and Canada have many contrasting characteristics and some surprising similarities. Here are a few of our observations.
It’s known that Ecuador is one of the worlds most biologically diverse countries in the world. This country alone has 20,000 plant species, in comparison to only 17,000 in all of North America. The amazing plant life is attributed to the multiple climates all over the country. While you are standing in weather over 30 degrees, you can look over and see a snow topped volcano. Yes, the plant life in Ecuador is absolutely beautiful…and it’s also delicious. They are blessed with a wide variety of local fruits and vegetables that you can purchase at every corner. Yummmmmm!
*Hot tip – buying fruit and vegetables from local vendors is usually cheaper and better quality then the grocery store.
The locals here in Cumbayá are very friendly and welcoming. Every time we pass someone on the street we are greeted with a “Buenos Dias” or “Buenas Tardes” and a big smile. The overall mentality is of a very laid back nature. As tourists, we absolutely love this but as locals we could see how it could get frustrating. For instance when a deadline is made, you can’t take it too seriously. The term a mañana (tomorrow) is something very common to hear. A perfect example is Judith’s car, that has been in the shop now for over a month. She has been given multiple deadlines and every time the date arrives they say “a mañana” and tell her about another set of problems that didn’t even exist previously. But aside from the occasional hiccups, from what we’ve experienced as tourists the mentality here is like a breath of fresh air. Because of this way of thinking there is no real hustle and bustle, no crazy stresses. To us, people just appear to have a calm and peacefulness that we haven’t experienced before.
What’s really interesting about Ecuador is that the shops and restaurants aren’t as tightly governed as they are in Canada. This allows people to sell goods from their homes, on the street and even on the bus. Many people choose to operate small convenience stores from their homes selling eggs, bread, chips and of course beer! In Canada we’re told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day… not here. Lunch is the most important meal and there’s a lot of variety if you’re dining out. A very popular mid-day tradition is something called almuerzo (lunch of the day). Many people open up a part of their homes in the afternoon and sell a very simple, set meal. Typically the menu starts with a sopa (soup) and ends with a second dish usually made of rice, one protein and one of the many readily available vegetables. Depending on where you go, a stop for almuerzo can cost as low as $2 and it is the best authentic Ecuadorian cuisine you’ll find!
*Hot tip – If you are feeling hungry, with only a bit of shrapnel in your pocket, find a sign that says “Almuerzo”. If you have a selection to choose from, pick the one with the most locals in it! If you are really strapped for cash you can usually get just the soup. It’ll cost you a buck and likely fill you up for the moment.
Comparing the weather is obvious, especially in the winter season. Canada= snow / Ecuador= no snow. Ecuador is also currently in their winter season however it consists of rain and what the locals consider “cold weather.” Cold meaning 15 degrees not minus 15! None the less, it is the cold season for the locals so like Canadians they also bundle up in their jackets and toques to brave the outside weather. We on the other hand remain in our summer gear because this weather… well, it’s nothing!
*Hot tip- The temperature varies during the day. It goes from cool in the morning to hot in the afternoon and then cools down again at night so it is important to bring a sweater .
Something that took us by surprise is that for the most part the locals dress exactly as we do. And just as in Canada, it is easy point out the different groups…the hipsters, the rock stars, the skaters, the preppies and the not so trendy. It really goes to show the influence social media has all over the world… we all dress the same. In our opinion the winner for best dressed are the people in traditional Ecuadorian garb, but it is usually the much older generation. No one at home can rock a Panama Hat (fedora) like an 80 year old Ecuadorian woman.
Ecuador is a beautiful place to visit but what we weren’t expecting is the number of stray dogs all over the city… they’re like squirrels but big and loud. As dog lovers, it’s difficult to see so many without homes. Lots of people also own dogs but instead of being kept on leashes, they are free to roam the streets. Dogs are simply everywhere when you leave the house. What also took us by surprise was the garbage. Many people here don’t properly dispose of their waste, similar to some in Canada. In Canada however, we are very lucky to have people who work to maintain the upkeep of public parks and forests. Unfortunately here, they don’t have that luxury so much of the garbage is left to accumulate. Sadly, making some insanely beautiful areas littered with trash.
Now speaking of garbage, we know you’re all wondering and YES… there is a McDonald’s here. However, we were shocked to see that KFC is much much bigger than McDonald’s. Some of the KFC restaurants are absolutely massive! Including parking garages, kid’s play lands and heated outdoor patios! Those are the only fast food places we recognize, except for the occasional Subway and they are all expensive in comparison to the local cuisine. Coffee is also pretty pricey and is actually not very popular here. You’re lucky to find a coffee shop at all…very different from having a Tim Horton’s and/or Starbucks on every corner. What you can find very easily though is fresh Jugo (juice) of all kinds and it is always delicious.
*Hot tip – If you are used to coffee everyday, switch to the local daily habit…Siesta! Nothing like a short nap to boost your energy.
Overall, we have absolutely fallen in love with this beautiful country and the people in it. We have one week left so we hope to experience some more adventures before we make our way south to Peru!