Categorized | Ecuador

Travel Ecuador with Man in the Middle

me and inca face

His name’s not Malcolm but he’s very much stuck in the middle. Of Ecuador that is. After getting an email from the mysterious “El profe britanico” we had to delve a little deeper and find out everything we could about this man living life to the full in the deep heart of South America. Here he is to tell us everything about Ecuador.

1. Could you briefly introduce yourself, your site and your experience travelling and living in Ecuador?

Once upon a time there was a Brit who strayed.  He arrived in a new place, scratched his head in befuddlement and tried to work out what the hell was going on.  Every once in a while he would absent-mindedly wander off and end up someplace new.

Unfortunately for the world at large, this Brit was not illiterate and persisted in subjecting his ill-formed opinions upon them in writing.

The aforementioned wayfaring scribbler is me, and the ill-formed opinions, which you would be well-advised to avoid like a rather verbose dose of the plague, are located at:

…you have been warned.

2. What made you choose to focus your site on this country and what is special about it?

As with most of my travelling, the decision to focus in on Ecuador was based upon my own monumental ignorance.  I had stumbled across most of South America on previous journeys, but knew a surprising amount of not very much about Ecuador.

The cracks that have started to appear in that monumental ignorance have allowed me to glimpse a rather intriguing land.

For me, the thing that is most special about Ecuador is its incredible, and somewhat compacted, diversity,  It has an estimated 25,000 species of plants (more in its 283,520 square kilometres than in North America’s 24,709,000), 1600 bird species (twice the total in Europe) and over 300 mammal species (more per square metre than anywhere else on Earth).

From where I am currently based in Cuenca, 2500m above sea-level in the Andes Mountains, I’m just half-a-day’s travel from the Pacific Ocean and half-a-day’s travel from the Amazon rainforest.   The variety in such a small area is pretty astounding.

3. How much money can someone travel around Ecuador for? What are the greatest expenses? What things are relatively cheap?

A hearty lunch with soup, a main course of meat, rice and veg and a glass of juice should set you back between $1.50 and $2.50.  Anyone paying more than that should hear gringo-trap alarm bells ringing (the reason the proprietor is so jovial is that he knows the only fresh meat in the establishment is you).

A 600ml bottle of beer (the two big brands are Pilsener and Club) costs around $1 – $1.50.

Hostels cost around $7-15 a night, hotels upwards of $20.

All in all, a budget traveller could get by on $20-30 a day.

What is expensive in Ecuador is electrical goods and electronics.  If you are a gadget fiend, I suggest you bring all your technological crutches with you, as they are already expensive enough here even before they add on the high taxes (ah the joys of being in a socialist utopia).

4. What is the local cuisine like? What are some of your recommended dishes?

Ecuadorians pride themselves on their soups, which are mostly delicious.  The most distinctive is Locro de Papas; a warming, creamy, cheese and potato soup.

At breakfast you typically get Mote Pillo, a kind of corn-based scrambled eggs, and/or Llapingachos, a cheese-stuffed potato patty, often served in a peanut sauce.

If you’re down on the coast, get stuck into the fantastic Cebiche; fresh fish, marinated in citrus juices and spiced with chilli and pepper.  Unlike its Peruvian neighbour (spelled ‘Ceviche’), Ecuadorian Cebiche often includes tomato to add extra tang.

In terms of drinks to try, there’s Morocho; a sweet, milky, spiced corn drink vaguely reminiscent of rice pudding, and my personal tipple of choice, Canelazo; which combines two of my favourite things, cinnamon and near-medicinal-strength alcohol, into a cockle-warming concoction custom-designed to keep the chill of an Andean evening at bay.

5. What cultural activities and events would you suggest everyone seeing or taking part in while travelling in Ecuador and why?

It’s difficult to spend much time in Ecuador without coming across a parade (a few days ago in Cuenca it was the Day of the Clowns parade), musical performance (stages seem to pop up in public spaces for no clear reason every few weeks) or one of the many Independence Day celebrations (as different towns and areas of Ecuador declared independence at different times there are plenty to choose from).

For culture buffs, Ecuador has some of the oldest and best preserved city centres in the Americas, with Cuenca, Quito and Loja being particular highlights.

For outdoorsy types, there’s plenty of Andes and Amazon to trek through, plus lots of rafting, canyoning, tarzaning up in the forest canopy and other acts of derring-do to try out.

However, my personal recommendation for adrenaline junkies would be The Swing at the End of the World in Baños: a swing in a treehouse hanging over the edge of a cliff, with a stunning view of the Tungurahua Volcano to distract you from the buttock-clenching terror of it all.

6. What is your favourite thing about travelling in Ecuador? What is your least favourite thing?

My favourite thing is the surreal surprises, like when I was asking if I could use the phone in a hostel and the receptionist responded by bending over and tying up my shoelaces.

One thing I don’t enjoy about Ecuador is the vestiges of the old caste system.  Black and indigenous Ecuadorians are often treated to undisguised acts of racism.  It seems much less prevalent amongst young people, but there’s still a long way to go before claims of an equal society have any real resonance.

7. What things do you focus on most when you blog about Ecuador? Why do you choose these things?

I’m interested in the odd, the obscure and the unexpected.  I’m also keen to put a little historical and cultural meat on the bones of my travel.

8. What’s one thing you can’t travel around Ecuador without?

My body: although I’ve heard that there are shamans down in the Amazon who can prescribe a drug called Ayahuasca to remedy the problem.

Apart from that, I’d go for a really solid pair of walking boots.

9. What kind of response have you had to your blogs about Ecuador? What post had the most interest?

The post which seems to have attracted the most interest was about the Ecuadorian Day of the deceased on 2nd of November.  I suppose because people normally associate the Day of the Dead with Mexico it piqued some curiosities.  It also started with one of my students offering me a baby in a black plastic bag, which may also have raised some eyebrows.

10. If you could think of one thing to tell people before they started travelling in Ecuador what would it be?

Have fun, but don’t take fliers from people on the street. Like as not they’re probably innocuous pieces of paper, but some unscrupulous types have taken to impregnating them with Scopolamine, a hallucinogen which renders the victim highly suggestible.  Take the flier and you will willingly empty out your bank account and hand it over.  Forewarned is forearmed.

Apart from that, just go crazy and drink in all the variety the country has to offer.

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