Ecuador: the wrapup
There have been some amazing times, and there have been some downright awful times. But all up — as with everywhere I've been on my trip — I have no regrets about visiting Ecuador. So, what can I say about Ecuador: it's a little place with a lot of variety. :P Despite its size, I've only seen a small part of Ecuador, and plenty of it is just begging to be visited on a future trip. The adventure, the partying, the scenery: all are really great in this country. And it's made a fabulous end to my time in the Central Andean region of South America, which is the only part of the continent that I've seen so far, and which in my opinion couldn't possibly be matched by the rest of the continent, for being the "authentic South American experience".
So, let's tackle some of the less glamorous stuff first. In my entire 4 months in Peru, Bolivia, and northern Chile, I saw rain 2 times, maybe 3 times (excluding on the jungle trips). Here in Ecuador, it hasn't bloody stopped raining for 3 weeks straight. Quito seems to be slightly less prone to rain than my other travel spots in Ecuador: but basically, this is a very wet country. It's supposedly the "dry season" here: but unlike further south, where "dry means dry", "dry" means "only raining every 2nd day" up here. If you're going to Ecuador, then do yourself a favour, and bring a raincoat. You'll need it.
However, the constant rain does reap its rewards. Ecuador is also easily the most green country that I've visited so far. I've never been to England, or to New Zealand; but I imagine that (in most parts) it's as green as the countryside in those places. The mountains of Peru are quite alive with plant life: but the mountains of Ecuador are lush. The rolling hills in this country are thick with trees and plants, and they're a very rich green indeed. Same with the farmlands: it's all extremely fertile around here. And as for the jungle: well, that's just kicking with life.
For over 6 years now, Ecuador has been using the US dollar as its official currency. I'm not terribly fond of this, for two main reasons. Firstly, it's made the country more expensive. It's still fairly cheap here in Ecuador: but there's no denying that Peru and Bolivia are substantially cheaper. For food, tour bookings, and Internet use (to name a few), prices in Ecuador are about double those of its neighbours to the south.
Secondly, apart from the literal price increase, it also feels more expensive to pay for everything in US dollars. You feel like more of a gringo; and you have this constant feeling in your gut that "everything costs too much", even if it doesn't. I'd prefer it if they still had their own currency, and they just tied it to the value of the US dollar: if I just wasn't handing over those green little bills all the time, I'd feel a lot better.
Ecuador's a great place to do adventure activities, and I have to say that I'm very satisfied with how much adventure I managed to cram into my 3 weeks here. Rafting, canyoning, bike riding, hiking, and mountain-climbimg: what more could you ask for? Next time I come to Ecuador, I'd like to do more of all of the above: and all of the above can be done, at various places in the country that I didn't get a chance to visit, this time around.
Compared to Peru and Bolivia, Ecuador has both a very small size in area, and a very good road and bus network. This makes it incredibly quick and easy to get around, anywhere inside the country. In Ecuador's southern neighbours, a 10-hour bus trip is pretty standard from one city to another. But in Ecuador itself, you can go almost from one end of the country to the other, in that time.
This makes logistical planning a completely different ball game, for people travelling in Ecuador. You can get anywhere within a day, from anywhere else (especially from Quito). Instead of trying to plan your route in a circuit — in order to avoid travelling more than you need to — you can just base yourself in one place, and shoot out in straight lines there and back. Just hold on tight, because Ecuador also has the worst drivers I've seen so far on this continent (they have good roads, and they like to make the most of them!) — and bus drivers are most certainly no exception.
The people of Ecuador are generally as friendly and as laid-back as their cousins to the south. But, to be honest, I'm not terribly impressed with the culture here: it's neither as attractive, nor as authentic, as what you can see in Peru and Bolivia.
Basically, Ecuadorians seem to be quite westernised; and there seem to be quite a lot of Ecuadorians that are wealthy, or at least comfortable — and this isn't necessarily a good thing. In the big cities, in particular, most people have their own car, they'll go eating and partying at fancy places (that would be tourists-only elsewhere), and they look and dress in a completely Western fashion. Even in the smaller towns — such as Otavalo, and Tena — the place feels a lot more Western than what I've gotten used to lately.
Ecuador was once as important a part of the Inca Empire as Peru. And yet the old Inca heritage, and the Quechua culture, doesn't seem to have survived nearly as well up here. Sure, they have the same alpaca-made souvenirs, and the same traditional dancing in the mountain villages: but it just all seems half-done and half-washed-away up here. Maybe it's just me, but as far as the "Central Andes experience" goes, Ecuador seems like the worst place to go and see it.
I'd like to end this wrapup on a positive note, by talking about my favourite place in Ecuador. I spent a week in the small town of Baños — and despite it being overrun by tourism, and a little bit pricey, it still has a special place in my heart. It's got terrific activities to be had, it's a party junkie's paradise (and I'm hardly one of those), and it's just really cosy and has a great atmosphere. I can see why it's so popular, both with domestic and with foreign tourists. It may be at permanent high-risk of being completely destroyed — by an eruption from the neighbouring volcano of Tungurahua — but that doesn't deter most people from it, and it sure as hell doesn't deter me.
Quito is positively overrated, as the "tourist hub" of Ecuador. Baños, on the other hand, is underrated when people call it "a good place to visit" in Ecuador. Great little town, in a great little country.