Saturday, January 24, 2009


Ecuador may not have great fame as a tourist destination, the Galapagos islands aside, but I would have no problem in recommending it. The cities are not unpleasant and there is plenty of scope for those who enjoy mountains, jungle and the coast. Most of our trip was concentrated in the central Andean highlands of the country, in addition we had time for a few days in the Galapagos but we left without having seen anything of the Amazonian or coastal regions. I plan to blog over the next few weeks on different parts of the holiday, highlights were the walks we did on the high volcanoes and the famous train ride to the Nariz del Diablo where passengers have to find their space on the roof of the train.

The country is largely very safe and easy to travel around as the bus services are both frequent and cheap. Overall it may be a bit more expensive than some other Latin American destinations because of the dollarization of the economy a few years ago following a period of prolonged political and economic instability. We found the locals to be both very polite and helpful; obviously knowing Spanish is a great advantage although there are parts of the country where you can just about get by with English. To do a trip like this you need to pack for all weathers, temperatures high up in the mountains can be very cold and the opposite will be the case in Galapagos or the Amazon. Protection from the rain and high factor sun cream are both essentials, the equatorial sun is amazingly strong even on the days when it hardly appears.

Ecuador has been governed disastrously in recent years, with a couple of presidents having been hounded from office. The current incumbent, Rafael Correa, is said to have an approval rating at the moment of around 70%, which is not bad going. Ecuador is in an election period and if that rating reflects reality then he is going to win very comfortably. One or two of those who do not approve of him expressed their opinions quite forcefully to us. A favourite target of his opponents seems to be the "bono solidario" which is intended to help the poor get by in a country where dollarization has meant a high cost of living not reflected in salaries. It seems almost unbelievable but we heard complaints that the bono, amounting to just $30 a month, was meaning that the poor no longer had incentives to work their way out of poverty! Some things never change, when governments give money to the wealthy this is seen as sensible policy, but giving money to the poor is always dangerous and “populist”. Despite such allegedly lavish assistance, the fields still appeared to be full of people tending their crops and livestock.

Ecuador is going to be hard hit by the current economic crisis. A significant percentage of the population works overseas, many of course are based in Spain, and the money the emigrants send home is important. At the same time the country depends for much of its revenue on oil prices, and these have slumped - making for a double whammy of emigrants affected by the crisis in Europe combined with a big fall in petrol revenues. Those emigrants who lose their jobs in Europe face a bleak outlook if they return home, something which probably indicates that many will take their chances on the economic storm passing in Spain and other countries.

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