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About Ecuador

The People

With a population of about 15.8 million, the majority of Ecuador´s people today are descendants of the ancient Indian tribes and Spanish Conquistadores who settled in its highlands, and of the shipwrecked Africans and Polynesians carried across the seas by ocean currents who populated its Pacific shores.

Map of Ecuador

Roughly half the population is mestizo (a mixture of Spanish and Indian). The Indian population is estimated to make up 41% of the population with the majority living in the Andean highlands, and 150,000 Indians of various tribes living in different areas of Ecuador´s Amazon Rainforest. Afro-Ecuadorians are estimated to number 500,000 with the greatest concentration in the northern province of Esmeraldas on Ecuador´s Pacific Coast. All are part of a multicultural nation and fascinating ethnic mosaic.

In a country with many different altitudes, climates, cultures, and environments it´s no surprise to find variations in life styles and habits. Yet throughout the country Ecuadorians are warm, hospitable peoples, open and welcoming with foreigners, enduring and creative in the face of adversity.

Spanish spoken on Ecuador´s Pacific coast is clipped and rapid while in the highlands, it tends to be slow with very clear pronunciation. Variations of Quechua is spoken in Indian communities throughout the Andes and in the Amazon jungle.

Coastal people tend to be voluble, gregarious, and risk takers while highlanders are more reserved and thoughtful in their social and business life. Good times are had by all as fiestas are an intrinsic part of Ecuador´s social fabric. Festivities in Indian and some coastal communities, a mix of Catholic and indigenous traditions, can go on for days with ceremonies, parades, bands, dances and fireworks. Cities have their share of festivities too, especially on founding days or during the Christmas season with street theater and music, bullfights, pageants, and a series of cultural events. Special dishes are prepared all over the country at special times such as fanesca, a fish and grain stew served during Lent and colada morada, a thick purple drink made with various types of herbs and berries on and around The Day of All Souls.

Major Cities

Quito

Quito at Dusk

Quito, the second highest capital in South America at 9,400 ft. above sea level with a population of 2.3 million, is situated in a long, narrow valley at the foot of Mt. Pichincha to the west and a lower Andean mountain range to the east. Although only 15 miles south of the equator, it has a mild springlike climate all year round because of its altitude. If the sun is shining, temperatures in the daytime can reach over 80° F. but usually remain in the 70´s. The evenings are cool, ranging from 40 to 50° F.

It has often been said that old Quito, one of the best preserved colonial centers in South America and a World Heritage Trust site, is a giant outdoor museum. Unlike a museum, however, it is a living, breathing, vibrant part of the city housing about a fourth of the city´s 1.5 million inhabitants. On Sundays Old Quito is closed to vehicles and all museums, churches restaurants, and most shops are open.

Guayaquil

Guayaquil

Guayaquil, the industrial and commercial center of the country, is Ecuador´s largest city with a population of 2.7 million. It is a port city with a tropical beat and Caribbean flavor. Temperatures range from 75° to 90° F.

Until the mid 1990´s Guayaquil was a neglected, unattractive city but recent and current municipal administrations are gradually transforming it into a tourist destination, improving its infrastructure, and attending to the needs of marginal neighborhoods. A major attraction is Malecon 2000, a pleasant 2.5 mile boardwalk along the Guayas River with gardens, restaurants, fountains, frequent open air concerts, and the Museum of Anthropology and Contemporary Art. To the north it ends in one of Guayaquil´s oldest neighborhoods, Las Peñas, with shuttered pastel colored houses on steep and narrow streets winding up Santa Ana Hill overlooking the city and the Gulf of Guayaquil.

Cuenca

Cuenca , Ecuador´s third largest city (population of .5 million) with a year round springlike temperature is located in the Andes rimmed Pucarambamba Valley in the south of the country. Its great charm lies in the purity with which its quaint colonial style has been preserved. Many consider it to be the country´s finest and most cultured city and often refer to it as the Athens of Ecuador as Cuencanos have contributed significantly to Ecuadorian literature and the arts. It is also a major craft center for weavings, ceramics, jewelry, leather goods and where the misnamed Panama Hat originated.

Big cities-major challenges:

Beginning in the 1960´s migrants from depressed rural areas came pouring into Ecuador´s cities, especially Quito and Guayaquil, looking for work. As a result, marginal neighborhoods and settlements lacking the most basic infrastructure sprang up in and around metropolitan areas. Family life disintegrated as parents looked for menial jobs and children were left uncared for or sent to work on the streets selling candy, flowers, fruit or shining shoes. While cities struggle to provide for these marginal dwellers, it is never enough and local NGO¨s and foundations are working to improve the life and future of this sector of society. Many depend on volunteer help to carry out their projects and programs as many children from broken homes and domestic violence need safety, affection, to learn how to play, encouragement, and motivation.

History

Little is known about Ecuador´s history before the 1400´s . Archeological findings, however, indicate that Ecuador was the center of a relatively advanced indigenous civilization thousands of years before. Many believe that Ecuador was shared peacefully between the Duchicela and the Cañari tribes. In 1463 the expanding Inca empire from Peru reached Ecuador. It was not an easy conquest, however, as the defending tribes did not submit and it took almost 40 years before the Inca had control of the region. The Inca reign in Ecuador lasted only 100 years before collapsing under the Spanish Conquest in 1533 and after the Incan ruler was put to death. Under colonial rule indigenous customs, social order, and religious beliefs were severely suppressed with the Indians forced into slave labor and ravaged by European plagues and diseases. Despite the domination they endured throughout history, indigenous groups have survived and managed to preserve their cultural identity.

Unsurprisingly, the treatment meted out to the indigenous people and later Spaniards born in Ecuador was enough to ferment anti-colonist sentiments sparked by the Enlightenment sweeping Europe at the time. An anti-Spanish revolutionary movement, with troops from Argentina, Venezuela and Ecuador under the leadership of Simon Bolivar decimated the Spanish Crown´s army at the Battle of Pichincha in 1830. It was this decisive battle that consolidated Ecuador´s independence and its birth as the Republic of Ecuador.

Ecuador´s birth, however, was not an easy one. Tensions between liberals and conservatives kept the country on tenterhooks for decades. Even today Ecuador´s political scene is unpredictable. Stability comes and goes with Ecuador´s fickle economic highs and lows. The populist president, Abdala Bucaram elected in 1966, was forced out of the Presidency after 6 months in office for his erratic and scandalous administration. Fabián Alarcón, then head of Congress, took over until 1988 when new elections were held with Jamil Mahuad, a former Mayor of Quito, being elected. While popular at first for having signed a peace treaty with Peru after centuries of border disputes, Mahuad had to face a series of bank failures throwing the economy into chaos and hyperinflation. Bank accounts were frozen and the US$ installed as the national currency. With the social, political and economic situation completely out of control, Mahuad was forced out of office by social and indigenous movements that was followed by an attempt to install a military/social movement government in a coup which lasted only a few hours in 2000. The military abandoned the attempt and installed Gustavo Noboa, Mahuad´s vice-president, as President. Colonel Lucio Gutierrez, the leader of the coup, pardoned but dismissed by the military, went on to form his own political party and was elected President in October 2002 with the support of indigenous groups and under classes.

Gutierrez did not come through on campaign promises of social reforms and was forced out of office in April 2005 by a peaceful but determined civil uprising. Subsequently, his Vice President, Alfredo Palacios, was sworn in as President and finished out the term in January 2007. Presidential elections held in November 2006 put Rafael Correa, a respected economist, in office for the 2007-2011 period.

Despite Ecuador´s turbulent history of past years, political turmoil has taken place without bloodshed as Ecuadorians are by nature a peace loving people and have learned to make the most of difficult situations. At the same time native groups have gained a major role in national political events. In the last decade municipal governments of major cities have demonstrated efficiency and creativity in the improvement of their cities and the lives of their inhabitants. Nevertheless, Ecuador continues to be a developing country with most of the wealth in the hands of few and the majority of the population at the poverty level in both urban and rural areas.

Small is Beautiful

"You can breakfast in the mountains, lunch in the cloud forest, and enjoy the beach, all in one day".

Ecuador, the second smallest country in South America tucked in between Colombia and Peru, occupies a mere 0.19% of the planet´s continental mass yet is one of the world´s most megadiverse countries. It hosts 18% of the world´s bird species, over 4,500 species of orchids, and 10% of the world´s plants.

The eastern and western mountain ranges of the Andes, running from north to south through the center of the country, are punctuated by eight snow-capped volcanoes ranging from 16,000 to 21,000 ft. above sea level and a half of these can be sighted on a clear day from Quito, Ecuador´s capital city. On the slopes of the Andes minor changes in altitude can produce major changes in temperature, cloud cover, sunshine and rainfall. The combination of these elements and variations in altitude have created distinct ecological niches for specific flora and fauna adapting to each different environment.

Bird

In the cool highlands, mountains and snow-capped volcanos tower over bustling cities, towns and Indian communities of the interandean valleys. To the east of the Andes lies Ecuador´s Amazon Basin, the Tropical Rain Forest, with gargantuan trees and vegetation and the most complex ecosystem on earth. West of the Andes you find vast plantations supplying the world with bananas, cocoa, sugar cane, coffee, and a diversity of tropical fruits. Further west great stretches of warm, sandy beaches adorn Ecuador´s Pacific Coast. And a fourth natural region lies 600 miles and a 90 minute flight from the country´s coast: Ecuador´s enchanted Galapagos Islands which emerged from the sea six million years ago and through the ages became home to animal species not found anywhere else on earth.

With the discovery of oil in the 1970´s, Ecuador´s economy changed from being essentially agricultural to one largely based on petroleum. Petroleum exploration, road and pipeline construction and oil spills have taken their toll on the country´s rain, cloud and tropical forests. The lumber industry´s exploitation of Ecuador´s primary and secondary forests in natural reserves has produced deforestation and desertification in many areas. Fortunately, and over the last decade, there is growing awareness that Ecuador must protect its natural heritage and support sustainable development. Environmental legislation is now tighter, Indian communities and private reserves have embarked on eco-tourism projects to protect and support natural environments. Here again it is never enough but volunteers can support these growing endeavors with their help and understanding of the threats and challenges facing conservation in Ecuador.

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