2012 Cuenca Perspectives Collage

2012 Cuenca Perspectives Collage


My mission in publishing this blog is first to provide a living history of my settlement and life in Cuenca, and to provide myself and the reader with a journal account delineating my reasons for why I have chosen to settle in Cuenca. Second, the posts are my way of staying in contact with family and friends back in the states, and to provide them with an understanding of a country and culture that most North Americans have little knowledge and awareness. Third, the blog is open to one and all who wish to compare and contrast the experiences of expat bloggers living in Cuenca, so that you can determine whether or not from your perspective Cuenca is an appropriate move for you. Fourth, my blog provides another example of how expats view and interpret life in Cuenca. Ecuadorians and Cuencanos who may read this blog are especially invited to post comments that may enhance all expats understanding and appreciation of Cuneca and its people, or to correct any misinterpretations in my assumptions and perceptions of Cuencano culture. Finally, I hope I can convey the feeling of love and appreciation that grows within me each passing day for this heavenly city nestled in the Andes and its very special people.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

All You Need Is Ecuador

Written for http://expatisland.net/all-you-need-is-ecuador/

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Ecuador has been highlighted by “International Living” and other world-wide publications as one of the ten best countries in the world for retirement. The Ecuadorian government recently launched a marketing campaign focused on attracting tourists to Ecuador called, “All You Need is Ecuador”. I think as you read today’s post, you will agree that at least when it comes to the natural beauty and nature’s incredible variation in Ecuador, much substantiation is given to the claim that “All You Need is Ecuador”.
What is it that makes Ecuador an attractive destination for many tourists and for expats looking for a new home away from home? Today’s post will focus on one such feature of allurement; the astounding physical features and bio-diversity of this small South American country, which is only the size of states like New Jersey or Nevada in the United States. Expats and tourists alike are mesmerized by much of the utter beauty of what for many folks seems like the closest thing to a Garden of Eden.

Coastal Region:

Ecuador Coastal Region
Ecuador Coastal Region

The coastal areas of Ecuador are the country’s most fertile areas for cultivation. These lowlands along the Pacific coast are extensively dotted with plantation farms of bananas, papayas, mangoes, pineapples, and chocolates—all of which Ecuador along with being the world’s largest producer and exporter of bananas is also the seventh largest producer of chocolate. A French exhibition in 2013 ranked Ecuadorian chocolate as the world’s best. Rice and cotton production and exports are very high as well. Lumber is another industry where mangroves growing along the coastal banks of the Pacific; and Eucalyptus trees, which are plentiful along the coast and the mountain valleys; are found throughout the country, and provide major sources of timber for exportation.

The Pacific coast of South America is teaming with fresh fish and shellfish. It has been the least exploited coastal area in the world, with some of the least contaminated fish in the world. Fresh seafood in the coastal areas of Ecuador is among the world’s best. Shrimp farms are bountiful, and often compete for coastal space with the mangroves. The area has been relatively free of commercial fishing trawlers, and many of the Ecuadorian fishermen continue to fish with nets the way fishermen did back in the days of Jesus. Ecuadorian fishermen troll the seas in small boats with nets. Once the nets are full, the fishermen pull the nets aboard and dump the contents of the nets into the boats. Other fishermen wade in the Pacific along the shore, and stretch out their nets, as they accumulate their catch, and bring them to shore to be sorted.

Guayaquil is Ecuador’s largest city with a population of approximately 2,387,000 (2015 estimate). Guayaquil is also Ecuador’s largest manufacturing center as well as Ecuador’s largest port city. The city is located on the Guayas River about 30 to 40 miles from the Gulf of Guayas. Interestingly, New Orleans and Guayaquil are both located on rivers located from about the same distance to their respective gulfs. The South American Pacific coast, however, does not endure the hurricane seasons that plague the areas bordering the Gulf of Mexico. Guayaquil is very hot and humid—think Houston, New Orleans, or Miami. The coastal area, however, is the most vulnerable area in Ecuador for earthquakes.

The beaches of the coastal region are munificent, and for the most part undeveloped by man.  About ninety minutes north of Guayaquil is the town of Montanita, where the best surfing can be found in Ecuador. Surfers come to Montanita from all over the world. However, while Ecuador’s coastal area is blessed with warm ocean water and warm air, there are copious amounts of time during the year when the beaches are covered in clouds with minimal sunshine.  Ecuadorians and tourists who want more sunshine head for the beaches south of Guayaquil, like Playas. The coast south of Guayaquil becomes increasingly desertous, and therefore, increasingly drier and sunnier, as one travels southward into Peru.



The Galapagos are islands off the coast of Ecuador across from the northwest corner of Ecuador about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) from the mainland part of the country. The islands are a UNESCO world heritage site. Needless, to say, the islands are a major tourist draw, which along with other man-made factors, are threats to the preservation of the islands despite their protective status with UNESCO. The islands are famous for their huge land tortoises and the blue-footed boobies, and for the birthplace of Darwin’s theory of evolution, as a result of their tremendous variations in fauna and animal life,

LaSierra, “The Highlands” Region:

The Andes Mountains run north and south through the central part of Ecuador, as the flat lands of the coast give way to the increasing elevations of the mountainous region of the country. Snow-capped mountain peaks and volcanoes in the Andes of the northern region of Ecuador include Mount Chimaborazo, which is 6,268 meters high (20,560 feet above sea level). Mount Chimaborazo is the most distant point of the earth surface. The Avenue of the Volcanoes in northern Ecuador is one of Ecuador’s most popular tourist destinations. The northern part of the Andes in Ecuador is also densely covered in cloud forests.

Quito, the nation’s capital and second largest city, is located in the Andes of northern Ecuador, and has a population of 1,271,000 (2014). The city is the officially highest capital city in the world, and sits at an elevation of 2,800 meters or 9,350 feet above sea level. Quito is located in the river basin of Guayllabamba on the eastern slopes of Pichincha, an active stratovolcano. The Andes in northern Ecuador are the second most prone-area for earthquakes in Ecuador. Quito is also the closest capital city to the Equator, where many tourists are attracted to the spot where they can literally stand with one foot in the Northern Hemisphere and one foot in the Southern Hemisphere. Needless to say, Ecuador derives its name from the fact that the Equator passes through the country.

Ecuador Highlands
Ecuador Highlands

The Andes in Southern Ecuador are free of volcanoes, and are also dotted with river valleys of people who live in the basin areas of the mountains. Cuenca, meaning basin in English, is Ecuador’s third largest city with a population of approximately 332,000 city population and 603,000 canton (county) (2014). Cuenca sits at approximately 2,560 meters (8,400 feet) above sea level. Four rivers flow through Cuenca, and the official name of Cuenca is “Santa Anna de Los Cuatro Rios”. The majestic Cajas National Park is the entrance way to the city of Cuenca, and people traveling from Guayaquil to Cuenca will pass through the awesome beauty of the Cajas in their three-and-a-half hour trip. The seven hour motor adventure from Cuenca to Quito is even more breath-taking, as one views the magnificence of the mountains from below, and the panoramic vistas from above at even higher elevations. As one travels further south near the border of Peru, the Andes becomes less green and increasingly marked by jagged cliffs. Of the four zones of which Ecuador is divided for purposes of earthquake vulnerability, Cuenca and the southern Andes in Ecuador rank third.

The valley people of the Andes, farm an incredible number of varieties of potatoes, the most varieties found anywhere in the world; the high quality avocados; the delicious yucca, known as cassavas in other parts of the world; maize grown primarily for human and cattle subsistence; and the nutrient-rich quinoa, as well as other root and garden plants are all grown in the mountain valleys. Coffee is also grown in the Loja valley of the Southern Andes. Most of the coffee is exported. Brazilians and Colombians are the major coffee producers, exporters, and java drinkers in South America. Ecuadorians are generally not coffee drinkers. Tea is the national hot drink beverage of choice.

Snow does not visit the valley people of the Ecuadorian Andes, which may seem surprising to people living in the northern latitudes of the Rockies, Smoky Mountains, or Swiss Alps. However, because of Ecuador’s proximity to the Equator, the Andes valleys have a relatively consistent spring-like climate the year-round, if the definition of “spring-like” is defined with the spring weather associated with the northern United States. The Andes are also the home of the photographic llamas and alpacas, which are primarily found in Ecuador and northern Peru.

The rivers of the Andes are generally narrow and treacherous due to the many rapids and to the steep declination in the eastward flow to the Amazon River on the east side of the Andes. While the rivers on the west side of the Andes flow westerly to the Pacific Ocean. The Andes, therefore, serve as the continental divide for South America.

La Oriente (The East), La Amazonia

La Amazonia
La Amazonia

When I first came to Ecuador, I wondered why a part of Ecuador was called, The Orient. I wondered what this region had in common with the Far East. Well, actually not a thing, other than direction. It simply means, “The East”, in other words, the area of Ecuador which lies east of the Andes. This area is part of the mammoth tropical rainforests of the Amazon, which extends into Ecuador. Like all tropical rainforests, the climate is very hot and humid, with dense vegetation. Only three percent of the population lives in El Oriente. Most of the area has been set aside for massive national parks, as well as lands for the indigenous, some of whom still live in remote isolation, and live as their ancestors did in Neolithic times. 

Recently, the Ecuadorian government’s approval to increase mining activities and oil drilling in El Oriente has environmental activists claiming that such government actions are a threat both to the eco-system of the Amazons and to the indigenous ways of life as well. The government retorts that both the environment and the indigenous cultures are being protected. Of the four zones in which Ecuador is divided, the Amazonas are the least vulnerable to earthquakes.

Ecuador: A Virtual Garden of Eden:

As you can see, the incredible number of bio-spheres in one small country is astounding in itself, making Ecuador the 17th mega-diverse country in the world. When one considers that many of the higher-ranked countries like the United States are immensely larger than Ecuador, Ecuador’s bio-diversity is truly amazing. Such ecological variations result in major diversity in animal and in fauna groups as well. Ecuador has 1,600 bird species, of which thirty-eight species are endemic to the Galapagos alone. All together, fifteen percent of the world’s bird population lives in Ecuador. The country also contains over 6,000 species of butterflies. Ecuador is very popular among bird and butterfly fanciers. There are 106 species of reptiles that are native to Ecuador, and 138 species of amphibians. Over 16,000 species of plants are found in Ecuador as well. New species of animals and fauna continue to be discovered on an almost annual basis in Ecuador. The beauty of this small South American country certainly is not the main reason why many expats may settle in Ecuador, although it often-times is the primary reason why many tourists visit the country. Nevertheless, the awe-inspiring landscape of Ecuador certainly figures as one of the reasons why a number of expats are motivated to make Ecuador their home.


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