Although I left Ecuador more than a month ago and there is plenty of things I’d want to write about right now, I owe myself a summary on the country I stayed in for 3 months.
Living all my life in Europe, I was in for somewhat of a cultural shock moving to Quito. But looking back now, it wasn’t so much of a shock. Sure the crazy driving, the ubiquity of music, and the deep fried everything was definitely unusual, but my first impression of the city was that it’s a livable place and the horror stories about public (un)safety in Quito were exaggerated.
Adapting to a new lifestyle of moving around all the time wasn’t as hard as I expected either. In fact, only taking the most necessary items with me in a 40 liter backpack made me feel freer than ever.
The first Ecuadorian I came in contact with was William, an established entrepreneur, who reminded me of something I tend to forget: ideas are overrated.
Right about the time I was getting comfy in Quito, I got pickpocketed on the bus and had my phone stolen, which didn’t make me hate the city, but made me realize a few things about myself and other people.
I met Sandra in the last couple of weeks of my stay, who introduced me to a whole new level of Ecuadorian culture and taught me a lot about going for what you want in your life.
I left Quito with ambiguous feelings. On the one hand I hated saying goodbye to all these awesome people I made friends with, but I was looking forward to getting out of the concrete jungle and going to the real one at the same time. I spent a short but memorable time in Tena, the jungle capital of Ecuador, went rafting, visited some tribal people and did not try chontacurros.
Ecuador is an amazing country, because despite its relatively small size, it’s made up of very different worlds. After the huge contrast between Quito and Tena, I arrived in Montanita at the coast and had a very unusual Christmas, which I loved.
Guayaquil is the largest city in Ecuador and is again very different from Quito. Not only does Guayaquil have a tropical climate, while Quito 3000 meters up in the mountains is way cooler, but they seem to belong to different countries somehow. The sierra people living in the land are more cautious, while coastal people are very easy going. And of course there is this rivalry between the two cities, just like between Cambridge and Oxford.
What I most liked about Ecuador is obviously the great people I met. Once I got to know the healthier options, I also got to like the food, especially because it was so cheap.
I’d have lunch that included a soup, rice with chicken, salad, a drink and a piece of fruit for dessert for $2.50. Having said that, the cost of living in Quito depends on your lifestyle like everywhere I guess. Two blocks from the place I had lunch for $2.50, I had to cough up $12 for a cocktail.
I didn’t become a big fan of empenadas. It’s usually a deep fried pastry bag of meat and vegetables. I liked the cheese and vegetable only type, but the meaty ones are sometimes a bit yucky. The variety of fresh fruits completely amazed me though. I could get a sack of oranges and lots of other kind of fruit I didn’t learn the name of for a fraction of the price I was used to. Best of all, I became familiar with guacamole, a delicious and super healthy dip made from avocados.
One thing that astounded me, and not in a good way, was the terrible quality of coffee people drink in Ecuador despite being a coffee producing nation. I kind of understand that if you ask for coffee after a $2.50 lunch you shouldn’t expect much, but when they gave me a cup of hot water and a jar of bad instant coffee, it made me laugh. worse still, I was served coffee exactly of that quality, only they made it for me, in an upmarket place called The Magic Bean.
You’ll probably expect that 3 stars in Ecuador don’t necessarily equal to 3 stars in Europe. My only advice is always check whether your walls go to the full length of the room before you pay up.
I wanted to buy a camera that wasn’t available in shops in Ecuador so I had a friend in the states buy and send it to me. Before I did so, I looked up the customs regulations on the internet, which said that importing products below $2500 had no customs charges. That was all bullshit of course as I found out when my camera got held up at customs for two weeks and I had to pay $400, about 50% of the value of the whole thing, to get it. It was stupid of me to take information like this for granted on the web and would certainly think twice before getting valuable items shipped from abroad in Ecuador again. I think the limit is around $200-400, you’ll pay dearly for anything more valuable.
Before I arrived in Ecuador, I’d read an article about life there. I laughed at the part that warned me to take all the shoes I needed as I would not be able to find large size there. I was like “come on, I won’t be the only European in Ecuador”. Sure I wasn’t. And yet after weeks of search and going to dozens of shops I didn’t find one pair larger than 43 European size. If you have feet bigger than that, do take all the shoes you need, it’s not a joke!
I got asked at least a 100 times why I picked Ecuador as my first country to visit in South America. I’d say I closed my eyes and put my finger down on a map. Which is true in the sense that there was no reason whatsoever. I had to get started somewhere, why not in Ecuador.
That turned out to be a great random choice and great start to my journey. I’d highly recommend visiting Ecuador to anyone touring South America and I’m sure I’ll be back one day.