In 1835, Captain Robert FitzRoy navigated the HMS Beagle out into the Pacific Ocean about 600 miles west of Ecuador to the Galápagos Islands. And on his ship was the famous naturalist Charles Darwin. It was here that his observations in finding that certain birds and tortoises differed between the islands. Much of his research here was included in his infamous work On the Origin of Species. (Fascinating book – I read it several years ago.) Those tortoises, by the way, are the largest living species of tortoise in the world.
|This one named Harriet (which also happens to be my other name) lived to be 176 years old.|
Ecuador itself lies in the northwest corner of South America, surrounded by Columbia to the north, Peru to the south and east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. The Andes Mountains run through the center of the country, separating the coastal regions and highlands in the west from the Amazon Rainforest regions in the east. Ecuador gets its name from its location about a ¼ of a degree south of the equator.
Ecuador has a wide variety of climates: from temperate and dry in the Andes Mountains, to subtropical on the coastal and rainforest regions. These vast changes in climate also contribute to a wide variety of flora and fauna as well. Ecuador is considered one of the 17 countries who has the largest biodiversity – and per square kilometer, Ecuador has the most. Because of its location close to the equator, the sun rises and sets pretty much the same time year round – around 6am and 6pm, give or take about a half-hour.
The earliest inhabitants were the Incas. They were actually several different tribes that came together from various areas of Central and South America. While their cultures were similar, they all spoke different languages. Compared with some of the nomadic tribes of the Amazon, the Incas developed into a hunting, fishing, farming, and gathering society. The Spanish arrived, led by Francisco Pizarro, and tried to convert the Incas to Christianity, but that didn’t go over well. Pizarro and his crew ransacked, pillaged, and burned down the town and killed many of the people. Of course, the Spaniards also brought their own European diseases for which the Incas didn’t have any immunity to, causing a high number of deaths during the first years after colonization. The city of Quito became an administrative city for Spain, later for the Viceroyalty of Peru and then for the Viceroyalty of New Grenada. They did manage to break free from Spain and joined Simón Bolívar’s Gran Colombia. In 1830, they broke away again and became its own independent country. There was a lot of economic instability in the first years, and the government changed hands several times. But they did manage to abolish slavery in 1851. At the end of the 1800s and lasting into the 20th century, Ecuador engaged in several fights over land and other issues with Peru. Even up until recently, border disputes and fighting between Ecuador and Peru continued, and in 2010, Peru shut its border with Ecuador.
The capital city is Quito, or more formally San Francisco de Quito. It’s considered the highest capital city in the world that houses the administrative, legislative, and judicial branches of the government. (As opposed to the capitals of Bolivia, who splits those branches between the two cities.) While Quito is the capital city, it’s not the largest city in Ecuador; that honor goes to the coastal city and cultural hotspot of Guayaquil. Quito’s historic center is one of the best-preserved and least-altered cultural centers in the world. It was also declared as the first UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites in 1978.
Ecuador’s economy has more or less risen consistently since 2000. That was the year that Ecuador adopted the US Dollar as their legal tender, abandoning the sucre. Even though there were some rocky times, especially during the global economic crisis of 2008, it seems to have recovered: unemployment was around 4.8% in 2012, and the extreme poverty rate went from around 40% in 2001 to around 17.4% in 2011. Crude petroleum accounts for about 46% of Ecuador’s exports. They’re also a major exporting country of bananas and plantains, flowers, and cocoa, as well as shrimp, sugar cane, rice, cotton, corn, palm, and coffee.
In Ecuador, about 8% of the people don’t have a religion (atheists and agnostics). Of those who do, about 80% of them are Roman Catholic, 11% are Protestants, 1% is Jehovah’s Witnesses, and about 7% are other religions (mainly Buddhist, Jewish, Bahá’í, Muslim, and Mormon). In some rural areas, indigenous religions may be practiced side-by-side along with Catholicism.
The official language is Spanish, and it’s the language that most Ecuadorians speak. However, a large number of them also speak Amerindian languages, the largest being Quichua, part of the Quechua group of languages.
The New York Times published their “52 Places to Go in 2014” recently, and Ecuador came in #7. Their recently refurbished train called Tren Crucero is proving to be a new and awe-inspiring way to see the country. It starts in Quito and winds its way through the Andes Mountains and past volcanoes to the city of Guayaquil. Cotopaxi National Park is also a popular side trip for great opportunities to see a lot of the local wildlife. I think Ecuador would make a great trip, and perhaps, one day I can make it down there.
Up next: holidays and celebrations