Ecuador is Awesome – Part 10

Despite its small area, Ecuador constantly proves itself to be one of the most bewitching countries on the planet. The magnificent cross section of nature, cultures, geography, foods, activities, holiday destinations, people and languages all combine to assert this impressive little country’s status as a must-see destination in South America. Straddled either side of latitude zero, Ecuador never fails to amaze; from the Galapagos Island to the Coast, from the Sierra to the Amazon, nowhere else can one experience such incredible diversity. Maybe I’m biased because I live on the Pacific Coast but, over the last 30+ years, I have traveled through, lived in or visited 45 other countries on this planet, and Ecuador is the one place on Earth that has inspired me to grow roots and stick around for a while.

When I began to think about some of the wonderful things I love about Ecuador that I’d be proud to share with people who are thinking about visiting, or even staying for a while, I learned that many of my friends and acquaintances often felt the same way about the same things. Therefore, in the spirit of fairness, before I sat down to write this ten-part series, I asked everyone I know who lives now or has lived or traveled in Ecuador this one simple question: “What is/was the best thing about your experience of Ecuador?” This series of ten posts are all about what they said.

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At the end of last year, I spent two months traveling around Ecuador. The journey included several fantastic destinations including Mindo, Otavalo, Ibarra, Salinas and Quito. We also visited Baños and Puyo. We went to Galapagos. On the coast, we stayed in the fantastic fishing village of Mompiche. One of my favorite parts of traveling around this country was the bus snacks.

There is a vast range of snack available to travelers while moving from place to place, and you don’t have to go anywhere to find them. They come to you. Vendors of all ages, carrying all manner of wares get on the buses and sell. It could be either bravery or stupidity, but we tried everything! At the bus terminals, there were restaurants where we dug into a cheap lunch, stocked up on novel bus snacks, or grabbed an ice cream for a treat. Street snacks were everywhere. At no point during any of our journeys did we suffer from hunger or thirst.

On the way to Baños, we munched on roasted broad beans and tried out cheese empanadas; made with green bananas. Riding into Mompiche, we ate llapingachos (yucca and cheese patties) and corviche (green banana filled with fish and salad). Santo Domingo gave us iced coconut water, home-made ice cream and banana chips.

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As we traversed the length and breadth of Ecuador, experiencing the spectacular train from Otavalo to Salinas, dipping in the Hola Vida Cascada outside of Puyo, and sitting for a quiet hour in the tranquil (and frequently over-looked) tile garden on Santa Cruz, Galapagos, we enjoyed such a diverse range of snacks that it’s difficult to remember them all. The main ingredients of the snacks were beans, bananas, potatoes and yucca.

Heading out of Baños to Puyo, we bought potato pies. On our way to Quito we snacked on salty roasted corn nibs. We picked up warm bizcochos with string cheese somewhere between Cayambe and Otavalo.  Quimbolitos (steamed corn puffs cooked inside a leaf) were a favorite in Otavalo, as well as large cups of strawberries and cream sold by meandering vendors. Mindo satisfied our chocolate cravings and we visited the Yumbo chocolate factory more than once!

In Mompiche, we melted with delight while sampling warm muchin (a banana dessert with cheese, wrapped in a leaf and baked over hot coals), declaring it the best snack of the whole trip. Mama Sara spends her morning mashing lady finger bananas, adding her own magic, and then wrapping it all up into bijao leaves to roast over the fire.

In Galapagos, home-made ice cream was our favorite snack. There are plenty of places to grab a cone of pistachio or triple ripple where you can sit in the shade and cool down after an afternoon tour in the hot sun.

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Everywhere we went, the food on offer was amazing. The street food was incredible, and the bus snacks were impressive.  This totally proves that Ecuador is Awesome! Buen provecho.

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Ecuador is Awesome – Part 7

Despite its mere 283,561 square kilometers (109483.5 square miles) Ecuador is one of the most diverse and interesting countries on Earth. The amazing variety of nature, cultures, geography, foods, activities, holiday destinations, people and languages makes this tiny country straddled either side of latitude zero a definite stand out destination in South America. You may think I’m biased because I live here, but I have traveled in, lived in or visited 46 countries over the last 33 years, and Ecuador is the only country that has ever inspired me to build a house and stick around for a while. (True story!)

When I began thinking about some of the fabulous things that I love about Ecuador and want to share with others who are interested in visiting, I learned that my friends and acquaintances often feel the same way. Therefore, in the spirit of fairness, before I sat down to write this ten-part series, I asked everyone I know who lives now or has lived or traveled in Ecuador this one simple question: “What is/was the best thing about your experience of Ecuador?” This series is all about their responses.

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The baker on his daily route to sell his freshly baked wares, riding a tricycle cart.

You might wonder what transport has to do with sightseeing in Ecuador. Most of us can just jump in a bus, on a train, on a plane and go wherever we like. In enormous cities like Los Angeles, for example, many people find it impossible to get around if they don’t have a car. Some places in LA can take so long to get to on public transport that it’s hardly worth the trip. (It once took me 5 hours one way to get to Santa Monica Pier from North Hollywood!) In Ecuador, however, the majority of the population do not own cars.  We travel from one end of the country to the other, and beyond on such a vast collection of transport that the mind boggles.

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These little moto-tricis run around all over rural towns and the fare is usually just a few coins.

 From major centers such as Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca, it is possible to travel to the furthest, remotest corners of Ecuador on a varied fleet of transport unlikely to be found in many developed countries. The ingenious resourcefulness of Ecuadorians to move people around is unparalleled. True adventurers can find themselves traveling on anything from a simple horse to a luxury tour coach, and everything you could possibly imagine in between. Getting into the deepest Amazon requires light planes and donkeys, along with dugout canoes and a fair bit of Shank’s pony. Visiting the Galapagos Islands is done by air or sea, and traveling between islands on turbo-motor-boats is not for the faint-hearted. The Coast and Sierra are more easily traversed on wheeled vehicles ranging from motorbikes to limousines, and pick-ups to air-conditioned coaches.

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An entire family can be easily transported on a small motorbike.

When venturing further afield than the main centers, transport can become very interesting. People are piled into the back of pick-ups and whizzed all over the mountains and coastal areas, or shoved into local buses until there is not even standing room. I have hitch-hiked countless times in Ecuador without fear of the usual risks because everyone is hitching and the driver normally receives a small tip for his generosity. Higher-end tourists usually miss out on all this fun riding around on their luxury coaches and limousine taxis but, after seeing the length and breadth of Ecuador on jam-packed local buses with ear-splitting salsa music and blaring kung-fu videos, there is something to be said for a quiet ride in the cool air-con and comfortable western-butt-sized seats with plenty of leg-room. Even so, I wouldn’t miss being tossed around in the back of a pick-up for all the bananas in Ecuador. There’s something wild and free about zooming down the highway, hair flying everywhere.

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Locals pile into the back of a pick-up to head for home.

If you’re going to take the time and spend the money to come to Ecuador for the experience, then I recommend you experience all of it, bongos, moto-tricis, pickups and rancheras included. It’s one thing to look from the window of a bus, but it’s an entirely different thing to feel the wind of the Sierra whipping your face and hear the chatter of the locals – even if you don’t understand it. It’s a whole new realm of potential travel memories and future stories just waiting to be explored. The sights, sounds and smells of Ecuador will take on a whole new meaning when your hair blows around in the back of a ranchera (not to be confused with Huevos Rancheros which can be found on menus in Mexico). Even if you do it only one time during your vacation, it will be worth it. Trust me!

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An open-backed Ranchera can reach the furthest corners of the country.

If you’re into adventures and traveling the local way interests you, get in touch with Footprints Ecuador now! We’ll hook you up.