Thursday, December 20, 2012

Ecuador Facts and Thoughts

Ecuador’s population is 15,223,680
Quito – formally San Francisco de Quito is the capital city of Ecuador with a population of 1.801 million. It is the 2nd largest city of the country.

Ethnic Makeup:
•    Mestizo (mixed Indigenous and White) 65%
•    Indigenous: 25%
•    Spanish and other European: 7%
•    Black: 3%
There are over 40 indigenous nations including the Quichua, Huaorani, Shuar (Jívaro), Achuar, Cofan, Siona, Secoya, Otavaleño, Tcháchila (Colorados), Zaparo, Salasaca, Canari, Saraguro & Chachi

In Otavalo, it is estimated that 75% of the population are indigenous peoples. Most of the people are so short; they do not come up to our breastbone. When the nursery school performed their concert, they looked like 2 year olds. If you see someone over 5 feet, they really stand out from the crowd. There are some older indigenous women we have mistaken for children until could see their faces.

Spanish (official), numerous indigenous tongues. Quichua, the language of the Incas, is the most widely spoken indigenous language and now recognized as an official language.

If we are so close to the equator, why am I freezing? I had thought that the Southern Hemisphere during their summer would mean warmth. Worthy, but faulty assumption that is, truth be told. Quito’s temperatures are fairly steady with a daytime high of 66 °F (18.9 °C), which generally falls to an average of 50 °F (10 °C) at night. This we learned is basically due to the altitude. In school, we learn that heat rises. One would think that being closer to the sun, we would be warmer. Otavalo, close to the same altitude as Quito, runs a general high of 60.1 °F (15.6°C) with a low of 40°F (4.4 °C) at night. Sure feels colder since the hotels, shops, and restaurants do not have any heaters.

The country uses the US American dollar and coins, but some of the coins are still the old Ecuadorian. There is a plethora of $1 coins, which strangely enough, they are all with Sacagawea, a coin that never caught the affection of the American people.

Regarding money, no one ever has change. If you try using a $5 bill for something that cost $4.29, they will ask you if you have any smaller bills. If you are trying to use anything over a $10 bill you are not going to be able to complete the sale. Exceptions being for example if you are in a restaurant and your bill is over $20, but even then, they want as close to the exact amount as possible. Some of the high end shops still have to rummage for change to the extent of getting employees to empty their pockets so as not to lose a sale.

We are amazed at the number of schools around both cities. One can barely go three blocks without running into a school of one sort or another. These are not shabby looking schools either. There has not been one school that I would not have minded attending myself. They seem to be putting their money into education through the high schools at a minimum.  We have seen hundreds of students wearing dozens of different uniforms. Asking around, uniforms are required for all schools, even the nursery school kiddies have their own little uniforms.

From what we heard from our tour guide, for university, the first child goes for free. All other children from that family have to pay tuition.

Botany and Exports
Ecuador has over 300 varieties of orchids. Their major exports are petroleum, bananas, cut flowers, shrimp, and gold. They are the world’s largest exporter of bananas.  There are 25,000 species of plants in the country.

It is rare to see anyone on a mobile phone. They probably are too costly. I did not notice too many Wi-Fi signs in Quito, but in Otavalo, there is free Wi-Fi in all public parks. It is not unusual to see young people in the park with their laptops.

In Otavalo, you can pass by a very high end telecommunications store selling expensive equipment while right outside will be an indigenous women with a blanket spread selling her handicrafts. You can also walk by a supermarket jammed with people, yet there will be indigenous women directly across from the store’s door selling their own produce.

Being 95% Catholic, this is country takes Christmas seriously. So far we have seen 7 different little song performances around the city of Otavalo performed by different school groups dressed in matching costumes or with girls dressed as angels and the boys with elves hats on. The streets are strung with lights and many of the shops have a plethora of decorations in the windows.

Of all things to be a Christmas treat, it is animal crackers. We see 50 pound bags of them all over the markets. There are also handfuls of them in Christmas bags with other sweets, like candy bars. These are given to children as a Christmas treat. The animal crackers are labeled zoological galletas.

We get many stares from children. They are not accustomed to seeing a white face or faces with beards. All of the locals are clean shaven, both men and women. I was coming around a corner and the same time a little chubby girl was coming from the other direction. We almost plowed into each other. As she stared up into my face, I just wished I could take a picture with my eyes that was shareable. Her look of awe was incredible and precious at the same time.

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