We spent 34 days in Ecuador, it is now time for us to make a small assessment.

First of all, here is our route

  • 2 days in Loja
  • 16 days in volunteering near Vilcabamba
  • 2 days in Cuenca
  • 1 day in Latacunga
  • 4 days hiking around the Cotopaxi volcano
  • 3 days in Quito
  • 3 days in Mindo
  • 1 day at the Mitad del Mundo
  • 2 days in Quito

Some numbers

We slept:

  • 1 night in a bus
  • 3 nights in tent
  • 3 nights hikking and sleeping in an inn
  • 3 nights in AirBnB in Loja and 3 nights in Quito
  • 5 nights in hostel / inn
  • 15 nights at the volunteering

General feelings

The fifth country on our road, we crossed Ecuador by its mountains, from south to north.

Ecuador possesses four very different ecosystems: the Amazonian forest, the Sierra (the mountain range which crosses the country from north to south), the coast and the Galápagos islands .

 

Only country in the world where the natives are part of the constitution, their cultures, their traditions and identities are recognised and protected there. There are about fifteen communities all over the country. We were lucky to exchange with some members thanks to our volunteering (to know more about it, it is this way). The Incas also had a major impact on the country (even if it is less visible than in Peru), by bringing ingenious system of irrigation. The Incas wanted to create a way connecting Cusco (“the world’s navel”) to Quito for example.

 

A curiosity of the country? Panama hat, straw hat known all over the world is effectively native from Ecuador, as its name does not indicate it! Indeed, Ecuador is the only country where grows the palm leaf (paja toquilla) which once dried and braided manually forms Panama hat (or sombrero of paja toquilla). Then why this hat exclusively made in Ecuador has the name of another country? The story wants that during the construction of the Panama Canal, the authorities imposed a hat to the workers to protect them from the sun: the sombrero of paja toquilla is adopted. During his visit in the construction site, the president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, received one in present and called it Panama according to the name of the country in wich he was. Today, Panama hat is one of the Ecuador’s emblems, still produced manually by native women, there are any forms, colours and especially fineness there. The fineness of the straw gives the fineness of the hat. Some of high quality can require more than 6 working months!

Concerning our farming discoveries

We made 16 days of volunteering in a biodynamic farm right in the heart of the Sierra.

It is necessary to know that Ecuador is largely covered by the Amazonian forest in the East, then there is a Sierra in the centre with heights from 1,600 to 5,800 m (the peak is the Cotopaxi volcano with 5,897 m) and finally a narrow strip of land following the sea or the heights do not exceed 1,000 m. In reality there is even a fourth ecosystem: the Galápagos. Not having visited the islands, we will not speak about it.

With all these assets, it is almost normal Ecuador possesses the biggest animal and plant diversity of the world! Yes, only that! 25,000 plants species, with a much represented family: Orchids: more than 4,000 species of Orchids are present in Ecuador on approximately 25,000 species present in the World. Concerning the fauna, Ecuador is the country of birds! More than 1,500 species, more than in any Latin American country, approximately 18 % of the total of the present species in the World. We do not forget about vertebrates, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fresh water fish, sea water fish … Brief, for all the tastes!

 

Ecuador is also the paradise for tropical fruits! We arrived at the end of the mangoes season ( snifff ) but we completely enjoyed pineapple, passion fruits, pitaya, avocados and others which we do not know the name. But if you are rather grapes, apples or pears, they come from Chile!

 

Ecuador is also the ancestral place of the cacao, the only country where the high-quality flavour cacao is still produced, not crossed, but unfortunately in danger of extinction. Several reasons in it: the ancestral plant takes more time to produce fruits that the crossed one, its fruits are in lesser quantity and the tree requires particular weather conditions. Fortunately some enthusiasts are mobilised to save this plant, produce it and make it recognise for its just quality! It is thanks to a cacao lover in Mindo that we were able to discover the fruit, to enjoy its seeds, to clean, to roast, to peel and finally to taste delicious high-quality cacao dough! Mmmmh, we still salivate! The cacao is produced only in some regions of the country; indeed, the tree grows in slopes at a height lower than 1,000 m. If you have read well higher, you will understand why it is rare (only a narrow coastal band is lower than 1,000 m height).

 

We cannot speak about Ecuador without speaking about its coffee. The coffee was discovered in Africa, in Ethiopia in the XVth century (for the anecdote, it is a goat breeder who guessed the exciting properties of the beans. Indeed, his goats were free in forests. One day he noticed that they overflowed energy, and by observing their food he discovered the coffee). It is then the conquistadors who imported the coffee in South America (Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador) between XVII and XVIIIth centuries. Ecuador is now one of the main coffee producers of South American! Always in Mindo, we were able to follow the route of the coffee since the tree up to a cup. Fruits have to be hand-picked, because the ripening stages are very different on a same branch. The coffee is a product where almost nothing is lost! For example, the layer of parchment which includes grains is used in some papers. The caffeine molecule found in drinks, cosmetic creams for example is extracted from the pulp.

For the anecdote, approximately 58 coffee beans are needed for one single cup! Then the next time, savour your coffee, imagine the forests of banana trees with are protecting coffee plants, visualise the beautiful red colour of the perfectly ripe grains, guess the smell of the roasting and amuse you by looking for all the flavour of your coffee!

 

A last point on the culture and the breeding of Ecuador. We had the opportunity to discuss with Cristian and José during our volunteering near Vilcabamba. We were in a biodynamic farm where were also used the traditional agricultural techniques. José is an important member of his community (situated just a step from the Peruvian border), he came to work on the farm to learn biodynamic, the vegetable association and be able to reintroduce these techniques with the farmers of his village. We adored exchanging with him, he is a fount of knowledge about nature and has a brilliant curiosity! Definitively, there is no age to learn!

In Ecuador, the farming with pesticides is very present, nevertheless, in numerous villages, the traditional cultures, without chemical incomers, are majority. A lot of people are opposed to the industries to protect  the soil. Let us hope that the resistance continues!

 

Moreover, concerning the consumption of pesticides, Ecuador is a big consumer of pesticides with in 2014, 255 kg of used pesticides per hectare of arable land (over the same year, the world consumption was 138 kg of pesticides by hectare of arable land and 152 kg for France (Source: The World Bank).

Zero-waste objective

We did not produce many waste in Ecuador. One of the reasons in it is we spent half of our time volunteering, we did not go shopping then. Another reason is that during our hike around the Quilotoa volcano, we slept in hotels where the breakfast and the dinner were included, thus fewer shopping for us!
In brief, the rest of the time, as usual we wandered the markets and were able to find bulk food!

We did not keep the exact detail but globally on 34 days we produced as not recyclable or not biodegradable waste:

  • 1 bag of wheat, rest of Peru
  • 1 bag of quinoa
  • 1 bag of pastas
  • 2 plastic glasses, 1 plastic spoon and 1 plate in polystyrene during our participation at a meeting of Cristian’s association
  • 5 plastic teaspoons
  • Plastic around a bottle of sauce and a bottle of olive oil
  • 2 small plastic glasses during a chocolate tasting (or rather chocolate honey)
  • Medicine
  • Dental floss
  • Bandages
  • Condoms

A financial point to conclude

With Bolivia and Peru, Ecuador are among the cheapest countries of South America. The average budget per day per person seen repeatedly was 22€.
The cost of transport is very low in particular, because Ecuador possesses some oil in Amazonia (but that it’s a different story). Globally it was around $US 1 (80 centimes of euros) for 1 hour of route by bus. The food is relatively cheap also. In other words, with two weeks volunteering and our habits, we were able to maintain a very low daily budget. Don’t worry, we also enjoy our time and makes tours to learn more about coffee or chocolate in Mindo!

So we spent 11€ per day and per person:

We hope that you liked reading our balance assessment of Ecuador. You can find our other series on the following links. The portfolio it’s here and the production of the pupils of Quinson it is there!

Good reading on Yakoilabas!