October 9, 2012

Reasons You're Not Ready to Visit Ecuador

Before people get up in arms about this post, I'm going to follow this up with one about why you should visit Ecuador. I'm just being honest here - visiting a developing nation is very different in some ways from the US, Canada or Europe.

In other ways, Ecuador itself is very westernized. You hear American music, see English-speaking films and can find American clothing and food brands here without much trouble. But regardless of that similarity, visitors need to keep in mind that they are not coming to a country like the US or Canada.

Here are my reasons on why you're not ready to visit Ecuador:

1) Pollution
The buses here can be old and belch black smoke. My way of dealing with it: take a scarf with me to hold against my nose and mouth when going by the busy streets AND avoid the busy streets as much as possible.

2) Chance of getting robbed
This is mostly an issue in the big cities and on buses. But we haven't gotten robbed yet and we've been here more than a year. Knock on wood!

There are some areas of Quito where this is more of a problem and the time of night certainly doesn't help. Also, if you're drunk and/or look like you have money (i.e. walking around with an expensive purse, diamond earrings or a fancy gadget), there's a good chance you'll get robbed whatever time of day.

3) Food poisoning
I've been sick here more often than anywhere in my life. It's not for lack of being careful, but you have to wash all your fruit and veg for 5 minutes in an anti-bacteria wash before eating them raw. And you never know if the place where you're eating has done that or not.

Places where tourists eat aren't as much of a problem, but in the small towns and villages, there isn't always a restaurant just for tourists. So you've gotta be extra careful with your food and making sure it's cooked through and through. I hope I don't have to say this, but street food is a big no-no.

4) High Altitude
This of course is only a problem in the Andes region, but it affects a lot more than people think. Not only does it mean my brownies don't cook well, but you also have to be extra careful about the sun and about exerting yourself too much. It's easy to get winded here.

Other effects of high altitude when you first get here are headaches, waking up at odd hours of the night (for the first few days, I kept waking up at 2 or 3 am even though I was exhausted), racing heart beats, getting winded walking or going up stairs, dehydration and more fun stuff!

5) Poverty
If you can't live with the sight of 4-year-olds on the sidewalk by their parents' kiosk or an 11-year-old helping with road construction (and not in school), you should not visit Ecuador. This is a regular sight and it breaks my heart every single time.

I don't think I'll ever get used to it and I will carry these sights with me for the rest of my life. If there is a good side to this, it's that it makes you really want to make change in the world so that no child has to grow up in this way. And it also makes me think of how much more we have in the US that we take for granted.

6) Bad, Unsafe Driving
I have not yet seen an accident here, but I read in the local newspaper that every day there are 13 deaths and 136 wounded in the country due to traffic accidents (stats taken over the last 4 years). It's not hard to see why. People drive like they're crazy, swerving and veering through traffic. Buses can be old and not maintained well, and the crazy drivers don't help matters.

We take taxis a lot and I have only had a few times where I've climbed into a taxi and found a seat belt AND a seat belt buckle. People just don't use them. I've seen taxi drivers who've used them only if they see the police nearby. Buckling kids in properly (in a car seat) is a rarity. Normally, when I look into other cars, I see mothers holding their babies on their laps in the passenger seat.

7) Little English
People may laugh at this, but I've definitely heard Americans who have come to different countries and been amazed that they don't speak English. Sorry, but duh! It's no different here, except worse because you cannot rely on hardly anyone having English skills except at hotels where they cater to tourists. If you come here, you should prep by learning common Spanish words and phrases beforehand. The good thing is that most people are so nice and try to be as helpful as possible.

8) Noise
I think we already covered this enough with our post about top noisiest nights in Quito. It's a bit quieter and  more tranquil outside of the big city. If you're in Quito, expect noise at night regardless of where you're staying.

9) Unsafe construction
I wish I had a picture to show you of the sidewalks in Quito and how unsafe they are. You really always have to be looking down to make sure you're not going to trip. One friend of ours tripped on a sidewalk and fell, breaking her front tooth. Another colleague of Greg's tripped and sprained her ankle while simply walking on the sidewalk. The sidewalks here take no prisoners!

Construction sites tend to lack the safety requirements that are normal in the US. Sometimes you'll see a site that requires hard hats for their workers. Other times, there's no hard hats for workers and safety goes out the window. If a sidewalk is closed for construction, often times people have to walk on the side of the road because there's no other way to get around it.

10) Potential for Natural Disasters
This could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you look at it. If you've never seen a volcanic eruption before, you have a good chance to see one if you go down to Banos in Ecuador. Same goes for landslides and floods. We've often seen the aftermath of a landslide on the highways on our trips, but have not been in a natural disaster ourselves.

11) Horrible Bathrooms
I've braved many horrible bathroom situations in the past (the best one was the squatting toilet in a cafe in Turkey), but nothing compares to the amount of horrible bathrooms I've found in Ecuador. The smells, the lack of toilet paper or soap, the filth... agh, that is one memory I hope I leave behind in Ecuador.

12) Yucky Beer
Greg has been making due with the horrible beer here, but the first thing he wanted to do this summer was get a great beer when we were back home. At least the wine is pretty good from South American countries.

I hope this list doesn't dissuade people from visiting, but rather, makes people understand that visiting a developing country isn't all fiestas and happiness. There's some bad parts to it, too. You'll love all the good things that you can see here though - just wait for our next post about it soon!

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