Country Profile: Ecuador
Ecuador is located in South America. If you look at a map, it’s the bulge at the top left-hand corner of the continent. Its name comes from the equatorial line that runs through it. Ecuador’s flag is yellow, blue, and red, and with the of the coat of arms in the center of the flag. The flag looks very similar to the flags of Bolivia, Venezuela, and Colombia. Along with Peru, these countries share many similarities and form the Andean region.
Ecuador prides itself on its ecological diversity. The country, only the size of Colorado, contains three distinct geographical regions, each with its own climate, cultures, wildlife, flora and fauna. From east to west, they are called the Oriente, the Sierra, and the Coast. In addition, the Galapagos Islands, the famous site of Darwin’s investigations into the theory of evolution, are part of Ecuador.
The most inland region of Ecuador, bordering Peru, is called appropriately the East, which in Spanish is oriente. This is the beginning of the great Amazon jungle basin. The selva, or jungle, is home to tigers, piranhas, spiders, monkeys, and culebras, including the famous X snake. There are many medicinal plants in the rainforest, and shamans from the Oriente often come to the main trading centers of the Sierra to sell their wares. Famous dishes include monkey’s heads, snakes, and chica, a fermented beverage made from masticated yucca root.
The region in the middle of Ecuador, bordered on each side by a row of mountains, is the Sierra. The Sierra is characterized by a milder climate than either the Oriente or the Coast. It includes both mountainous terrain and a long valley called the Avenue of the Volcanos. Greenhouses produce gorgeous long-stemmed roses that are exported all over the world. The Sierra has the largest population of the three regions in Ecuador, the highest education and literacy rates, and the greatest concentration of wealth. Some of the major cities are Quito, Ambato, Riobamba, Cuenca, Otavalo, and Ibarra.
The coastal region, or La Costa, is hot and humid. People wear little clothing, and what they do wear is often short and tight. The culture is one of dance and nightlife. In many coastal cities, the restaurants just begin to buzz for dinner at nine to ten o'clock at night. Young men often walk down the street with their t-shirts pulled up over their chests to show off how sexy they are. On the beaches, the party lasts all night long. Cabañas, or round-shaped wooden stands with a conical roof of palm leaves, sell fruity tropical drinks. Hammocks are struck across every corner. The Coast is home to a variety of plantations that raise bananas, black pepper, papaya, mango, passionfruit, pineapple, coffee, and cacao. This paradise of fruits translates into a stunning variety of fresh juices available at every Ecuadorian meal.
Because of the geographical differences, the cultures of the three regions are quite distinct. A lot of teasing goes back and forth between the regions. The Costeñans (people from the coast) call the Sierrans "lousy" because of the unfortunate belief that the Sierrans, living in cold regions, rarely bathe. The Sierrans call the Costeñans "monkeys" because of their thick slurring speech. Additionally, each region has its own distinct indigenous culture. Even today, Ecuadorians can identify where a native person is from by their form of dress and speech. The indigenous in Ecuador speak Quecha, the ancient language of the Incans.