Ecuador – la costa y la sierra

The people are proud of their cultural and geographic differences. To a stranger who does not speak the language, it is difficult to absorb more than a superficial understanding of this cultural difference without some serious research.

The physical landscape transitions from the rampant green growth of sugarcane, bananas, rice and cocoa plantations through the ferny and treed “cloud forest” to the high and much drier landscape of the true Sierra. At the highest altitude there is a more alpine appearance. There are  green valleys which support chequered farmlands and picturesque and traditional Spanish buildings – white with terracotta tile roofs. Black and white dairy cows make it seem almost European.

The cities, towns and villages are crowded and the covered mercados are packed and stifling. On the humid coast the common dress is predominantly Contemporary in style; jeans and T-shirts for men and variations of tight fitting jeans or leggings and skimpy tops for young women. In the highland areas the youthful uniform is much the same but the older men and the women in particular, are striking in their traditional clothing. Distinctive hats, and the colours of  shawls or capes and skirts are indicative of the particular area. The peoples of Ecuador are quite short in stature. Their diet is normally high in starch from potatoes, rice, beans and corn. This is now supplemented with inexpensive, readily available and highly refined foods inevitably labelled “ALTO” in either salt, sugar or fat or all three.

As I struggled in the higher altitudes, I marvelled at the stamina of tiny, wizened old men and women walking up steep hills and carrying very large loads slung in big baskets or sacks over their shoulders.

Children are obviously nurtured by all but they can be seen alone or in groups quite independent of adults in situations where our parenting style would demand closer supervision. Teenagers and Millenials look like young people everywhere – particularly in towns and city streets. The young men obviously pay close attention to branded clothing and cool haircuts and young women to meticulous application of make-up, hair styling, glittering accessories and tight, body hugging stretch fabric.

While there are quite obviously wealthy and middle class communities within these towns and cities, So many of the people in the streets seem “poor” to our Australian eyes. Many dwellings in the country are little more than basic shelters and even in the towns with their more affluent suburbs there is an array of haphazard buildings – some in ruins, some apparently abandoned but actually ‘under construction’ as funds become available; in many areas the houses have small, untidy gardens with a few chickens, ducks or geese and maybe a vegetable garden or some fruit trees. Further into country areas there may be a few pigs. Some homes are brightened with flowers and most have at  least one sleeping dog. The dogs may be part of a household but most look, at the best neglected with matted coats and at worst, diseased. Inevitably there is washing to be seen strung on a variety of inventive outside lines.

BUT who are we to say these people in a land and culture strange to us are “poor”? Without interacting with them we do NOT KNOW THEM. We do not know how satisfied the might be with what, for many, is probably a subsistence style of living.

The markets and roadside stalls are amazingly abundant in produce of all types – especially fruit and vegetables; street food stalls, household goods, the inevitable array of bright plastic gadgets and toys; all spill out onto pavements from tiny shopfronts or are crowded together in the covered mercados. Handcrafted clothing, the ubiquitous tight jeans and branded T shirts beckon and most of it, apparently, is for local consumption.

It is fortunate that the roads (on the whole) are good because the traffic can be daunting. There are heavy fines for exceeding speed limits but other rules seem to be optional. Depending on the driver, the journey can often be a hair raising experience.

I would much prefer to take award winning photos to record the experience.  I will add a few to highlight points in my observations. Note to self; if you have not mastered the basics of the language or learnt about the history and culture of the places you travel to before your visit, your experience will be so much diminished.

Next post – Glimpses of places visited in Ecuador – photo story