The first full day after we landed in Ecuador was to explore the city of Quito, the highest official capital city in the world – 2800 m above sea level. Because the city is so high, some of us felt the effects of “altitude sickness”, including headaches, tingly fingers, and shortness of breath. Our trusty EF tour guide, Victor, told us to take it easy on our first day, until we can get acclimated. Lots of water, and hard candy can help. Fortunately, I myself did not suffer too greatly.
Ecuador is one of the richest places on Earth for plants and animals. It rests in the foothills of the Andes mountain range, and on the other side of the mountains, is the Amazon Rainforest. There are 1600 species of birds and 4000 species of orchids, but despite this high biodiversity, there are not very many of each individual species. There are 13 ethnic groups in Ecuador. When the Spanish settlers came over, 90 million indigenous people were killed, either directly or by the spread of diseases. One the most craziest differences from Canada, is that they don’t flush their toilet paper in the toilet because the plumbing system doesn’t support it – they just put it in the garbage instead. I certainly got used to it quickly though!
It was warm in Quito, but not too unbearable, due to its high elevation. Quito consists of a newer, more modern portion as well as colonial portions with beautiful churches, plazas, and convents, all with rich history. One of the most famous churches, the Basilica del Voto Nacional has statues of animals from the Galapagos embedded in its structure, like gargoyles. In addition, majestic mountains that were absolutely breathtaking overlook the beautiful buildings.
There were many vendors selling various items, including fabrics, bracelets, fruit and cocoa leaves – the latter apparently helps with altitude sickness. We were also told by Victor to be aware of pickpockets, although none of us had any major problems. Locals in Ecuador make about $300/month, so it is relatively cheap to purchase things there. For example, I bought 2 bottles of water for $1 US – it is unsafe to drink the tap water. We tried granadilla, a fruit that sells for $1 US for six, while here in Canada you can get one for about $3 CAN. This fruit is also the first non-maternal food that babies eat in the Ecuador. The countries main exports are oil, bananas, and roses, where you can buy 25 roses for $1 US. One of the things I liked about Ecuador is there were no taxes on things I wanted to buy!
We visited the Museo Inti Nan, which had information about the indigenous people, as well as the site of the equatorial line. There, we saw real shrunken heads (one human, one sloth), indigenous tools, and houses. We were shown white powder on a cactus plant, that if it is rubbed into your hand, the powder turns red and is used for dyes to paint the bodies and faces of indigenous South American tribes. On the Equatorial Line, we got to put one foot on each of the hemispheres, north and south. There are some crazy experiments you can do on the equator, such as balancing an egg on a nail. Did you know you weigh less on the equator?
– Vincent Evans-Lucy