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Ecuador – Living near the Center of the Earth

Introduction

The first word that Ecuador should evoke in everybody’s mind should be Equator. Ecuador is one of the countries through which Equator passes. That in itself is an attraction of this place. Add to that the diverse geographic regions including the Galapagos Islands where Charles Darwin solved the mystery of human evolution and one cannot resist and opportunity to visit this land.

The Government and Political Environment

Ecuador is a democratically governed country although it has had its share of trouble. In September of 2010 there was an attempt to overthrow the present government by the police of the country. They held the president for a few days before the army rescued the President and restored normalcy once again. The country has had a volatile history including lynching of one of the Ex-Presidents by the country’s populace.
Political power centers are Quito which is the capital and Guayaquil which is the biggest city along the coast and there has always been a power struggle between the two sides.

The People and General Culture

The language spoken in Ecuador is Spanish. Very few people speak or understand English. The people are very friendly at a personal level. There are essentially two sections of people; the first are the people who are of Spanish origin; and the second is set of people belonging to the native tribes. The former are the descendents of the Spanish rulers who came to this continent and established their colony in the Latin American countries. The native population has its own languages although most of it is dying and most of them speak Spanish.
The education is primarily in Spanish. There is a smattering of private schools which are bi-lingual and teach English alongside Spanish. But these are only within the reach of the elite and so only a very small portion of the populace is able to take advantage of this.
The people are in general Catholic Christians.
The gentlemen greet each other by shaking their hands like in other countries. It takes a while before they start addressing each other by first names. The ladies greet all others by touching their right cheek.
Their greetings is elaborate and irrespective of the urgency of the work they go through the elaborate greeting sequence before getting down to business. Their greetings go as follows:
1st person: Good Morning.
2nd Person: Good Morning. How are you?
1st Person: I am fine. Thank you. How are you?
2nd Person: I am fine. Thank you.
And after this exchange the business can start. In case of ladies the touching of cheeks happen along with the greetings. If this is a meeting which involves multiple people then this greeting is exchanged with practically everybody in a meeting before business starts.
When boarding a taxi one is expected to greet the driver in the above fashion, or atleast exchange a “Good Morning” or “Good Afternoon” as the case may be and then request the driver to take you to your destination with a please.
When sending email the ladies like to be addressed as dears and it is good to use “please” before we ask them to do something. The name changes when one addresses them as dear. E.g. a lady called Laura become Laurita, a Susana becomes Susy and a Consuela becomes Consuelita. The word for please is “por favor”. This is a word that one will hear and speak numerous times in a day.

The Economic Situation

Although the per capita income is about 7500 USD which is much above the Indian per capita income, it is not a rich country. The gap between the poor and the rich is very wide, probably wider than it is in India. The Economic policies in Ecuador is similar to the Indian policy before the liberalisation. It is a closed economy with all protection for the local industries. The import duties are high to discourage buying of foreign goods and services. They do not have their own currency but use US Dollars as their currency. This was a change introduced about a decade ago as their economy was in a state of collapse and their currency was sinking. Despite this the ruling government, today, has a leaning towards Hugo Chavez of Venezuela who is anti-american.
Ecuador is one of the biggest exporters of Cocoa. Crude export is another trade that sustains the economy. Thankfully they have not opened up the Amazonian forests for oil exploration like other other countries in the region, especially Brazil. The crude is mined only from the coastal region.

The Work Culture

The work culture is like the one in the Indian Governmental Organization and/or Public Sector undertakings. The laws of the land are labour centric and the union mentality prevails. The people are laid back and work only during the office hours. One will find hardly few souls working late hours.
The work will get done only if the manager instructs the work to be done. They do not feel obligated to do the work if it comes from somebody other than one’s manager.

The Travels

Ecuador has three distinct geographic regions; the Amazonian Forests; the Andes; the Coast. In addition it has the Galapagos Islands. One has a lot of diversity to experience in this country. The Equator is about 21 Kms north from center of Quito. One would expect a hot and humid tropical climate because of this fact. But one would be surprised to find that the maximum temperature in Quito is only 24 degrees Celsius and the temperature can fall to as low as 8 to 9 degrees Celsius every night. This is because it is situated at a height of about 2800 meters above the sealevel. This is higher than many of the hill stations that we have in India. Quito has many attractions, the main one being the Equator. The place where the Equator passes through is called “Mitad del Mundo” (The Center of the Earth). There is a monument erected there in memory of the pioneers who explored and reached that place. There is also a museum where one can see some interesting facts like the Coriolis effect. This is the effect which explains why the cyclones/hurricanes rotate in the clockwise direction in the Southern Hemisphere and rotate in the anti-clockwise direction in the Northern Hemisphere. If one drains the water from a sink at home one can see that the water always goes in the anti-clockwise direction when left to itself because we are in the northern hemisphere. If we go to the southern hemisphere we will see the water draining in a clockwise direction. At the equator one can see the water draining within a circular motion.
Quito also has a collection of churches which have interesting stories to tell and have an interesting architecture. The city has a lot of parks where one can enjoy a day of picnic. The main ones are the Metropolitana which would qualify to be a small woods on its own, then one has the Carolina Park and the El Ejido and many others. One also has the Teleferiqo or the Cable car which takes one up to a height of 4100 meters above sealevel close to the crater Pichincha. From here one can trek upto the mouth of the crater which is at a hieght of about 4650 meters above sea-level. In the Andes one can easily get the feeling of being literally in the clouds as from the top of these mountains one can see the clouds wafting below in the valleys.
Ecuador is a country known for its volcanoes. The major ones are Cotopaxi, Tungurahua, and Antisana. The Tungurahua is an active volcano from which one can see fire and smoke coming every once in a few months. One can also here the rumbling if one is close to the mountain. Some craters, like the one at Cuicocha, are not active and are filled with water now forming a lake. It is difficult to describe the beauty of the place and one has to see it and experience it to understand it.
The Amazon forests have their own beauty. The greenery, needless to say, is abundant in this region and one has perpetual rains in this region. There are very few wild animals and it is difficult to spot birds unless one goes with a person who knows the locale. And since as a tourist one does not venture into the real dense forests one does not see snakes either. But it an experience staying in the Jungle, far away from the madding crowd and hustle bustle of the city. The only sounds that one can here are either the insects chirping away to glory or the river water gurgling nearby.
The border between the Andes and the Amazonian forests has numerous cascades and each one is a treat to see.
The coast has its own beauty to offer. Aquamarine waters and clean sand and equatorial sun. The ideal place to get a tan. One needs to be careful too as one can get sun burnt if one does not take the necessary precaution.
One has adventure sports at most of these locations not limited to kayaking, bungee jumping, canopying, riding the rapids, para gliding, rappelling the cascades. If one likes trekking this is one of the places that one would enjoy the most. It is a wonderful place for trekking and one can trek for hours together without seeing another human soul.

The Travails

Despite the beauty Ecuador has its dark side, especially Quito. Since Ecuador has an open border, i.e. one does not need a visa to enter Ecuador as a tourist; one can get a three month visa on arrival; one can encounter violent muggings in the streets. This is limited to the big cities of Quito and Guayaquil and few others. One cannot safely move around with expensive equipment like laptop or camera or even a mid range phone. One can get robbed of these at gun point. It is always better to move about in groups and stay away from lonely place especially during the time between 7:00 PM and 10:00 PM to avoid unsavoury incidents. The local police does not help much in tracing these crimes.

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Yesterday another incident took place which highlighted the insecurity of living in Quito. One other colleague was robbed of his laptop at gun point. We dropped the colleague in front of another colleague’s house and took the taxi ahead. Before the person could walk into the building a person stepped out of a car that was parked nearby, he showed the gun, relieved my colleague of the laptop, and he got back into the car and drove off.
As I had tweeted a few days ago:
Look at the crime in Quito
One feels Quit O.
Really there is no clue on what can be done to safeguard oneself from these kinds of crimes.
How did they know that he will come? He actually was staying elsewhere till a couple of days back?
How did they prepare for this?
Only they know and that does not make us any wiser.
Day 1
Landed in Quito, Ecuador on the 1st of December 2010 without knowing to speak Spanish. Was made to wait at the immigration counter for close to an hour.
After the immigration clearance, there was no customs check.
Went to the hotel booked for by the company. Had some lunch and went hunting for an apartment. Selected one and moved in the same day.
The apartment did not have any phone or other facilities.
The long halt (17 hours) at Amsterdam seems to have helped. Not having a Jet Lag.

Day 2
Signed the contract for the apartment.
Went to office to report.
Went to the nearby supermarket and got a mobile and some things to survive on.
Friends helped a lot.

Day 3
Spent time at office. Went to supermarket to get some more items.


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