Catherine! Un gusto conocerte! This was a phrase I heard over and over again in Ecuador, always with the emphasis on gusto – it was a genuine pleasure to meet me. Contrary to how this might be construed, it says more about the Ecuadorian people than it does about my likeability as a person (although I am charming).
I crossed the border into Ecuador at 5am on a dark, but already warm and sticky morning. Going through immigration was a shock to the system, ejected from the dark morning into the harsh fluorescent lighting, to stand in line for a passport stamp while babies cried and a group of teenagers on a school trip shouted excitedly over one another. It was not a particularly pleasant experience, but it was soon forgotten. Back on the bus, I could not bring myself to doze, overcome as I was by the sensation of being in a new country.
My eyes glued to the glass, I witnessed the daylight slowly creeping over the banana plantations in the south, and simultaneously a feeling of inexplicable connection washed over me. Despite having been in Ecuador for less than 2 hours, and my experience of the country limited to the interior of an immigration building, and seemingly endless rows of plastic-clad banana plants (as seen through a condensation-heavy bus window), I was in love with Ecuador.
Sometimes one’s first encounters of a place can be likened to meeting a new person for the first time – each place has a different soul to it, different moods, different attitudes and ways of making you think and feel different things. And it may sound funny to say, but I guess there is a certain amount of chemistry that flows between a traveller and a destination. Ecuador and I clicked instantly.
My initial impression of the landscape – green and vibrant, the weather – a clingy heat accompanied by blue skies, and the people – relaxed and open-faced, felt right to me. Sharing my impressions with the costeños (always eager to engage in conversation) I met over the first few weeks, I became aware of some inter-Ecuadorian rivalry. ‘Aaah,’ they would respond knowingly, ‘That is just the coast. In Quito it is cold and the people are too.’
When I was finally ready to move on, I took another long bus journey to Quito, and again arrived early in the morning. The costeños were right, Quito is chilly…at seven am. By nine though it was a perfectly acceptable temperature. After an early check-in and a long chat with the receptionist (a Quito native), we headed into the old town for some breakfast – the meal that would fuel our explorations for the day ahead.
Over the course of a week or so we wondered the colonial streets, climbed to the top of the basilica, caught up with friends-of-friends in their homes, while sitting around tables over-flowing with the odd-sounding but delicious-tasting rice soup, a variety of stews, and classic chicken and rice. We even braved a nightclub, dancing salsa into the early hours of the morning.
When I moved on to Cuenca, I fell in love all over again. A small city with a warm heart, I loved the colonial buildings and the gentle landscape surrounding them. I was touched by the bus driver who flagged down the bus going in the opposite direction because he surmised that as a tourist, I was definitely way past my stop, and the hostel owners who invited me to an asado (barbeque) at their family home.
And thus, with a balanced experience of coastal and highland attitudes, and a complete disregard for any loyalty agreement that may have existed between me and Ecuador’s coast, I had to conclude that the people in the interior of Ecuador are just as friendly as any other Ecuadorians.
Furthermore, while the climate and landscapes vary as the altitude changes, I would be hard-pressed to say which I prefer. The coast, with its warm yellow sand, inviting ocean temperatures and weird and wonderful bird and plant life is easy to love, but the snow-capped volcanoes, striking mountain passes and swathes of green farmland are lovable in their own ways too.
When it came time to leave, I had plenty to reflect on – the crazy array of landscapes and climates packed into such a tiny country, the inviting attitudes of all the people I met, be they vendors, or business people, hospitality workers or unemployed, European-influenced Quiteños or indigenous Quechua folk, and how glad I was to have the opportunity to get to know Ecuador.
Cheesy as it sounds, I think I left a little bit of my heart in Ecuador. It’s ok though, because although it’s nearly 3 years since I first laid eyes on those banana plantations, my love-affair with Ecuador is still going strong, and I’m confident that anyone who visits will experience a similar warmth emanating from the tiny country.
Even on a structured tour you will experience the highs and lows of this remarkable place, from the sea-level marvels offered by the Galapagos Islands – lazy sea lions, frigate birds with balloon jowls, myriad fish species – to the soaring peaks of volcanoes and churches in the colonial cities, and the glistening bird species and sweeping scenery of the cloud forests. Guides, hotel staff and even people on the street will be warm and friendly, and you’ll soon discover that the Ecuador Tourism campaign is indeed is true: if you’re looking for a holiday experience that ticks all the boxes, #AllYouNeedisEcuador.
Thinking of embarking on your own Ecuadorian adventure? Have a look at our range of Galapagos cruises and mainland holidays here.