Sunday, August 2, 2009

Ecuadorian Adventures

Recently, I was in Ecuador for a very short time for certain reasons. Traveling to Ecuador for the first time was also the first time I had traveled to Latin America. It was a beautiful, poor country with incredibly friendly people. I did see a total of three gringos when I was there - a couple, and another lone traveler. But people there were very nice to me. Little kids would run up to me and ask me (of course in Spanish), "What is your name? Where are you from?" They were so adorable!

I stayed in a friend's husband's family's home. Most people there have store fronts attached to their homes, where bottled water, shampoo, soap, and some food is sold. CVS Pharmacy does not exist there. No big box stores like Ralphs, Target, or Kohls exist. The only fast food restaurant I saw was KFC in the Quito airport. Whole chickens (feet and all) are brought into homes, and slaughtered pigs hang in certain places around the town square. Being a vegetarian, I tried not to look repulsed, while I secretly told the dead animals, "I'm sorry you're dead." The sanitary conditions of Ecuador are not anything like the U.S.

Outside of most houses I saw, cement water basins existed. I think they were an old-school version of modern-day water basins, as if this water was for a rainy day. I was lucky when I took a shower with hot water.

Laundry is done, probably once a week, by laundry service companies, and all clothes are usually washed by hand. Even women who have washing machines usually scrub the clothes with soap and a sturdy, whisk brush. Drying machines don't exist there. The clothes are all hung up to dry, on clothes lines, usually on top of roofs. When I saw the landscape littered with litter (in certain areas), and squished, poor homes huddled too close together, I also saw lots of color - from the clothes hanging on the rooftops. Lots of stray cows and stray dogs roam the streets. They are friendly, but it was evident that no veterinarian clinics exist. I kept seeing a black dog, with a white chest, that only used three of its four legs. It broke my heart!

Every car is little and every car is a manual. While certain congested city areas made me think of a Latin American New York City, I thought: these people have it right. No one cuts each other off without the other driver wanting to hurt them. Everyone uses the signals on their cars. Most roads don't even have lane lines painted on them, yet all the cars never once hit each other (at least, I didn't see any accidents). The cars came awfully close to each other, but never hit each other.

I heard that people in Italy drive frantically, yet their cars and mopeds always screech to a halt - people will not run red lights. I think plenty of accidents happen there, here in California, and everywhere on the roads, but it's nice to think that at least people don't run red lights in Italy and in Ecuador.

Wearing seat belts in Ecuador is not a law. Some cars have them. Some cars don't. Maybe seat belts aren't necessary, because, well, they figure out how to not crash into each other. It is not illegal to drink beer while drivers are driving or passengers are passengers in a moving car.
I was very grateful to return home, because seeing Ecuador reminded me of how lucky I am. Yet, I think we Americans can learn a few things by traveling to Ecuador, too, or at least traveling a bit away from home.

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