Bursting Volcanoes and Romantic Notions in Ecuador
The South American country of Ecuador is often overlooked by the hordes of travelers who flock to the continent in pilgrimage towards Machu Picchu or Carnival. However, nearly any visitor who decides to extend their stay with a trip to this north-western adventure playground will surely be enticed to dig a little bit deeper. To avid Latin American travelers this ‘green’ country will, at the surface, resemble a bit of a mix between Costa Rica and Guatemala. It has all the tourism potential that Costa Rica holds, but it has somehow fended off the collections of backpackers and resort-stayers that now dominate its Central American counterpart. Like Guatemala, the country has a varied population of people who are eager to welcome you regardless of your particular origins. People here wave to passing cars welcoming them in without any prejudice, or regard, as to who is occupying the vehicle.
Towns like Baños de Agua Santa offer everything a backpacker could ever need and more. It sits in an ideal climate where the temperature is never too hot, and rarely cold. The cloud forest of Ecuador lends to nostalgic notions ofscenes from Hollywood movies, where plus-5000 meter tall volcanoes stand guard over a countless number of towering waterfalls. The clouds hang carelessly low among the lush green mountain sides. They billow into puffy white and grey cotton balls as they seem to be in constant motion, as if they have somewhere important to be. In a world where most cultures and societies worship the sun to some extent in the cloud forest you learn to cherish the clouds. Whereas in the rest of the world rain is dreaded, in the cloud forest the rain means life. The rain greens the foliage, fills the rivers, and feeds the valley’s myriad of tall whimpering cascades.
Ecuador’s share of the Amazon basin too leaves visitors standing with a blank sensation of insignificance and awe. At the surface la selva (the jungle) appears monotonous in colour and form. The jungle’s endless valleys of green shrubbery lend to the basic idea of a simplified environment; but as you dig down within the numerous layers of the forest’s canopy you can only start to understand the diversity and character of the Amazon basin. Whether it’s a troop of squirrel monkeys passing overhead during the day or the chirping sound of busy beetles at dusk, the jungle is never quiet. The rain forest is constantly breathing, it is full of live, and, in turn, provides more than we can imagine. To us the jungle provides adventure usually reserved for the likes Indiana Jones and Laura Croft, but to the local indigenous people the trees, the roots, the flowers and the fruit all come from their tropical provider. As is the case with the cloud forest, the jungle is one of those places so rich with environmental beauty it can leave you at a standstill forgetting to take a picture. In most common life people spend their time trying to add meaning and significance to their life. But in travel, we spend our time trying to find the places that make us feel insignificant; Ecuador’s piece of the Amazon provides that to us.
In Ecuador, one should not forget to dive in and experience the cities as well. The Urban enclaves of Cuenca and Quito combine the benefits of the modern world with the charm and character of the colonial era. Balcony stuccoed houses and narrow cobbled streets line the old/colonial parts of these cities. Massive hallowed churches, government buildings, and bustling plazas form the social centers of the cities; these parts, essentially, act as the heart and the lungs of Ecuadorian cities. In these plazas and squares people seem to still have to time to simply sit, share, and converse as the world continues around them.
Like any adventure oriented travel destination, Ecuador still provides the volatile intrigue. The indigenous people of la selva still often set up roadblocks intending to retard the country’s flow. Less then 15 years ago the country was still involved in both inter and intra state conflicts, many which seems to still simmer in the undercurrents of Ecuadorian society. Natural disasters are still a part of everyday life. Mudslides, torrential downpours, and earthquakes are all a possibility and any given moment. Moreover, many of Ecuador’s volcanoes are still very active. In fact, the large volcano which guards the entrance into Baños has been growing steadily in activity, and spews off large amounts of Lava on a regular basis.
All-in-all, Ecuador remains just a small bleep on the global tourism radar. However, its rawness is, in large part, what makes this country such a jewel. It is well worth the exploration, time, and challenge. In Ecuador you can find yourself navigating your way down narrow waterfall-lined canyons one day, rafting down segments of Amazon basin the next, and then soaking in the urban colonial atmosphere the following. Regardless of its lack of a Machu Picchu or significant Carnival, it is that aforementioned diversity and rawness that may set Ecuador off as one of the next new hot travel destinations in South America.