Stamp that was missing in my passport, Ecuador, a country which shares no borders with Brazil, showed me what i expected: amazing similarities with other countries in our South America. I'll talk a little bit about it, i’m gonna talk also about climbing in the country, its climbers, safety and more.
Well, i went to Ecuador with bold dreams but nothing impossible i must say. It was enough a little help from Mr. Weather and i could have achieved everything, but mountains envolves that. Defeated twice in Cotopaxi (i wrote that article before the successfull 3rd attempt on Cotopaxi) and twice in Illiniza Norte, i got plenty of time to reflect and do something i'm very good at doing, observing people, and build a kind of knowledge in History which is not very popular within academic walls, people behavioral, History of Mentalities.
So, i made a series of observations and accordingly with it i was organizing notes with the intent to develop this text, to share a small “mirror” of what is Ecuador and the ecuadorean population, the climbers who live, climb, and guide there, and the profile of climbers who borrow that huge and beautiful mountains in the country to try (most of them) anything bigger than European and North American mountains limited to 4000 meter summits (14ers and 15ers).
They reminded me very much of Bolivians. But not like anthropological character but a feature that is exclusive of the Bolivians thought: multi-professionalism. Anyone who has been in Bolivia knows that everyone is multi-professional and does anything for money, to support his family. Ecuador is no different, but more restricted. Several people have more than one job, and needing extra money, they don’t deny fire. And that is not only disadvantaged classes, but is quite distinct from the big city (where the workforce is therefore a formal employment during business hours) and Pueblos (where even a good job does not keep you from run for an extra, perhaps lack of control, greed, or pure necessity). Example: In Lloa village i paid for transportation to the Guagua Pichincha to the sheriff. The SHERIFF! It was not a regular cop. He wore a suit and was driving a Vitara 4x4!
In the Pueblos the look is regular andean (indians of straight and good hair, mostly rural life), in the big city: fashion, fast food, drinking and clubbing.
Social gatherings in squares and parks of Quito are very common, and these people (mostly men) play board games, volleyball, soccer, marbles, all together. It is quite interesting to observe the customs up there.
One thing i notice, obvious difference between my country and Ecuador: Here in Brazil when people do not live in a big city like São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro, Curitiba, Belo Horizonte, they live in smaller cities deeper inside the state and we call these cities “interior”. The very concept of the word is already different. In the big city or within, the drug dealers and technology are present 100% of the time and there is no escape from that. For small towns we’re not free from that either, it finds its way (on January 30, 2011 i saw a article on TV about sale of indian teenagers by their mothers in Mato Grosso do Sul state, prostitution and drugs have destroyed the livelihood of indigenous). As i mentioned before here and elsewhere, in Brazil the indian way of life is pretty much finished. The brazilian Indian life has been "institutionalized, " modernized, updated to a “2.0 USB version”.
Ecuador is different. There (as in other South American countries) the pueblos are mostly free of drugs, life is essentially rural. Some of them even don’t have electricity. Every morning the egg is provided by the chicken, and milk by the cow. The meat comes from the llama and the clothes are handmade. Rice is andean (Quinoa), the corn is harvested in the backyard (choclo). This is an example of something that is missing in Brazil. Worse, is endangered. Living in isolated places and without the simple advent of modern technology creates a certain barrier against the evil that man himself created, saving, even for a while, these people of the pueblos. Until when? For a long time more i sure hope.
The Dollarization in the country.
Since March 2000 the country abandoned its currency Sucre, adopting the U.S. dollar as new currency. Unprecedented manifestations were not enough to stop the measures of Noboa , the country's President back then.
I asked some people about the transition, and the best kind of people to do this obviously are taxi drivers. Just as here in my country, they’re always politicized and like to talk about their country and are curious about the other countries, especially with us brazilians. What i heard showed a tremendous lack of planning: As soon as the money changed in Ecuador, the U.S. bills were brought into the country (which grew more and more Ecuador to depend on the yankees - trade agreements, imports and exports, loans - debt). But nobody had the bright idea of bringing coins too. Only bills!
What happened was a huge increase in inflation, since the little bread that cost the equivalent of five cents got the new price of US$ 1.00, a liter of milk cost the equivalent of 30 cents got a new price of US$ 1.00, a handful of fruit at the popular market that cost the same as 50 U.S. cents also got a new price: US$ 1.00. All this because the smaller change was the one dollar bill! What a nonsense ...
The problem was resolved 18 months later with the arrival of coins, which mostly disappeared from north-america, Ecuador was receiving coins that were suffering modifications becoming obsolete in the US. Even today we see north-americans in the country, tourists and climbers, having fun themselves looking at coins they did not saw at least for a decade. It was fun!
It sounds funny to hear the ecuadorian people saying the word "dollar". Does not sound natural at all.
Safety in Ecuador.
Sensitive issue anywhere i know. For tourists the safety is poor (just like in my country), unfortunately. During the three weeks i spent there, i heard four reports of four people from different countries that were robbed and lost everything from a simple mp3 or ipod to passport and camera with all the trip photos. Sad but true.
Common tactics in Ecuador to help folks here at SP:
Pickpocket: the very same i suffered in Rome. It is common in crowded buses. Sper Gavin Way (INDAY) got pickpocketed inside a bus and lost a good smartphone along with two friends.
Knife in the backpack: it's not safe to travel with backpacks on a bus in Ecuador, even if it is a short drive from one neighborhood to another or between close cities. You know when we decide to stay with the little pack in hand with the most valuable things like laptop, camera, cell phone and documents? There it is worse. It would be better if the backpack was in the trunk along with the big backpack. What they do is underneath your seat, cut the bag with a razor and remove your belongings without you noticing. In one of the four reports, the victim was embraced with the backpack and still lost passport, camera, ipod, credit cards and about US$ 300 in cash.
Gunpoint robbery: this one i know very well as i was gunpointed at least 20 times in my original birth brazilian state, Rio de Janeiro. Armed robbery. Very common in central Quito. Sundays and holidays are days to stay inside the hostel for self-preservation instinct.
REMEMBER ONE THING: THIS ARTICLE HAS NO INTENTION TO DESTROY THE IMAGE OF THE COUNTRY. THESE THINGS HAPPEN THERE, HERE IN BRAZIL, AT THE UNITED STATES OR EVEN IN FRANCE OR ITALY (as i said, i got pickpocketed in Rome!), ANYWHERE. THERE IS NO INTENTION OF REDUCE THE IMAGE OF ECUADOR AS A COUNTRY OR ITS CITIZENS.
Agencies, tours, climbing, mountain huts and equipment.
The new center of Quito is FULL of agencies which organize tours or climbings to the mountains, horseback riding, Galapagos and if you prefer, transport only.
The same agencies provide complete expeditions to climb, even combos of acclimatization and climbing mountains and the most wanted are of course: Cotopaxi and Chimborazo.
If you do not want a complete expedition, and only a guide, just hire a transport to the desired mountain and stay in the refuge, where you will find at least a dozen guides with clients, hire the service and pay on site.
But hey, let me recommend one for you guys: We all know that here at SP i am the most known brazilian dude. But the most known ecuadorian climber and guide here at SP is Boriss (Sper HIGHEXPEDITIONS). Before even step on ecuadorein soil write him and you’ll see he can really help and be a friend, as well as a fantastic and professional guide. I never used his services but we were together in Illiniza Norte and Cotopaxi, both times he had clients and i saw how professional he was. You won’t regret.
Most of the big mountains in Ecuador have a shelter/ hut. Small, medium and large capacity. Chimborazo, Cotopaxi, Cayambe, Tungurahua, and even Guagua Pichincha have huts. The largest and most impressive is the Jose Ribas hut of Cotopaxi which has bunk beds for 86 people, with individual lockers that fit with no problems 3 packs of 75 liters each. In case of overcrowding, using the floor and tables for sleeping, no doubt the hut could take up to 200 climbers at least!
For gear, many shops sell equipment for climbing but not all of quality. It's even hard to find a gas cylinder for screw fix, very much used by us here in Brazil, had to walk ten stores to find one which was expensive, but i found. The well-known tattoo shop that exists in Peru and Bolivia is also fantastic there. It has three floors, even without equipment you can enter the store and get ready for a full expedition to the Himalayas! However, the security guard of the store keep pursuing the customers who come in to see the products for sale. I went inside and i felt uncomfortable, complained to the management of the store and walked out.
Now an important issue, ecuadorean agencies:
There are good climbing/outdoor agencies in Quito, Latacunga (a big town near Cotopaxi NP), Baños and Riobamba. They all use guiding services, some of them are fair the way they treat guides. But most agencies are more focused in getting the money from "tourists" and explore the guides in a very mean way, i was told by different guides.
As i know (looking at my own country, yes we have many mountain guides and i am one of them here!) the job is not easy, guides risk their lives and still get paid such shitty ammount for what they do up in the mountains. I'm sure not only in Ecuador but in all andean countries as well (for instance, at Aconcagua porters make way more money working alone than guides, some of them around US$ 200.00 each day!). Guides cook, drive, clean, dress the clients, take care of sick ones, climb up and down, run up and down, carry heavy loads (food, heavy gear) and still get paid unfairly.
It's important for people to know that there are many agencies, especially in Quito that are "sucking out the life" of the poor guides. Many of them such as "Yanasacha", "Explorer" and others pay almost nothing to the guides and even worse, they don't even pay on time so i heard. As i said at my Cotopaxi trip report i got very known there and one of them said to me that some guides haven't got paid in a year, 12 months! WTF???!!!
Well, there are good agencies, but a great deal of the others are unfair and try to get the money for themselves and forget about guides, climbers and the quality of a good service, they just don't care. The FUCKING MONEY! That's why i hate money...
Also, it's good to know how to recognize a good agency. The best way to find it out is by looking at the gear they are providing to the clients. That's the best way of knowing if an agency is good or bad. That way you'll know if the agency really cares about the clients comfort, safety and of course that means an important thing: client and guide are being treated with respect. Whatch out!
Ecuadorian climbers and guides.
Very strong, very much like the Bolivians. They walk in a high mountain like they were on the beach at sea level, are already acclimated constantly guiding almost 4 or 5 days a week. Some of them summit Cotopaxi five times in one week!
In general they are very friendly and fun, very experienced and do not work alone, with an agency under contract. So they are kind of employees but have some freedom of decision up in the mountains. Everyone knows everyone, everyone has climbed most of the mountains of the country. The big ones, all of them of course, the lowest ones not always due to volcanic eruptions.
For example, i plan to climb with Boriss together as partners and friends Tungurahua but we could not. Every day i thought of go a new eruption began and i not even bother to talk to him. In 21 days in the country, the volcano had six explosions in six different days, as small relief of pressure, small pyroplastic flow but still with high temperatures from 200 to 250 degrees celcius near the crater, very risky to climb. It is one of the most active volcanoes in the country and it lies in a pueblo called Baños. Tungurahua is in continuous eruption for years as far as i know, with good days and bad days. Boriss never climbed the volcano and his dream of climbing it grows every year, he said to me: “Paulo, everytime i have free time and think of going the volcano erupts again!”.
Climbing in other countries: Not all guides are climbers, some do it as a profession, others are by extension from the passion for the mountains like Boriss. Some guides do cross the border to do some training in Colombia and Peru, neighbors to the north and south, training at the Colombian Sierras or in Huaraz in Peru, but short trips that provide good experiences for guides. I think just a few of them travel overseas for bigger mountains.
The climbers from outside Ecuador, foreigners like me.
It's kinda sad to see that outsiders visiting Ecuador in a incredible variety of nationality always comes blinded by Cotopaxi and Chimborazo and only that. I'm known in my country for seeking unknown mountains, by NOT wanting to climb Aconcagua (i guess i’m pretty much the only one here hehehe), and by having two first brazilian ascents to my country (San Pedro volcano and Aucanquilcha volcano, both in march 2010), so i like to seek mountains that no one cares about.
On the mountains i bumped with many north-americans, australians, austrians, polishmen, germans, spanish, slovak, portuguese, dutch, south africans, canadians, frenchmen, czechs, and many others who i can’t even remember. The objectives were almost always the same, the two highest. Sometimes someone said to me something about Cayambe or Antisana, some more dangerous and technic climbs (which were on my list of goals and i could not even go because of the damn flu/ throat infected that got me in the week the weather was clear in the country), but like 1 from each 10 i talked.
Sometimes you see fool people who can not recognize the adverse conditions and go for the climb when a terrible storm strikes outside the protective walls and rocks of a refuge. They are blinded by the summit, no matter the climb, how they get there, if you have a risk of avalanche, frostbite or whatever, they want the summit.
In my second attempt on Cotopaxi i watched it, and had already noticed this behavior before in other countries. The weather was terrible outside the refuge, bad, i barely could open my eyes of so much snow coming down at an angle of 60° because of wind, cutting my cheeks like a razor. Still, these climbers forced their guides to leave and returned as soon as they arrived at the glacier line, where cold and whiteout reached the level of unbearable, they returned half-frozen. I knew that was gonna happen and that’s why i stayed at the hut, i saw the guides talking to their clients “look buddy, i know that mountain and i see fantastcly bad weather. By my own i can go with no problem at all but you are a client, i have to make the right decisions for your safety and i say it’s better for us to stay here.”, but the climbers (or tourists i’m not sure) just couldn’t get it...Well, a couple hours later i’m sure they got it hehehe...
Almost everyone pay for climbing tours, including packages with close mountains to acclimatization (Rumiñahui - already inside the national park of Cotopaxi), Cotopaxi and Chimborazo.
The "national parks" in Ecuador.
Remind me very much of my country, unfortunately. The national parks of Ecuador exist only on paper, guardhouse, and the minute they hand you a cute little paper when you pay two dollars for entry fee. They serve to give employment to some poor guys at the entrance all day long picking up the coins.
Within the park, on the contrary to what you might expect, there are private properties with homes, hostels (ex: Tambopaxi within the limits of Cotopaxi NP), and even plantations: Extraction of wood. Pines and eucalyptus trees. I really don’t know what you guys understand by “National Park”, but i see that expression as a place to restore, protect and behold nature and wildlife as a whole, with the most possible respect. Just like here in my country, i couldn’t see that in Ecuador. But i fear that this is a common problem in many countries. I’ll wait the future comments on that article to see.
The parks are full of garbage at all roads or trails that are within the limits, and the only good thing i noticed was the signs, very well located. That was it.
Well, I think that’s it! I hope to help those wanting to know this beautiful country! Do not worry about the negative points, they are easy to avoid and as i said before, all the negative points i described here are common in most of all other countries. There is trouble in Ecuador as well as exist here or others, no country is "almost perfect" as Norway. In some points Ecuador loses to Brazil, in other wins. But anyway, this is modern life as we know ...
Modern? I think we have to relativize this therm...
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