I recently visited the beautiful country of Ecuador. It's an amazing place of time, sights, and smells. A tiny little country (about the size of the state of Nevada) with a vast variety of elevations and environments.
It's a nation divided into at least four diverse areas. The home of The Galapagos Islands, just a 1000 kilometers off the Ecuadorian coast. And then there are the highlands, that include the colonial capital city, Quito, laying in its Andean mountain bowl at around 9000 feet in elevation. There is the rain forest of the "El Oriente", the Amazon Basin lowlands east of the Andes, which is home to numerous indigenous groups, exotic animals, and many jungle lodges. Lastly, the there are the lowlands that include the country's largest city and most important port, Guayaquil.
With that said, this article is not written as a travel review, it is simply some of my personal observations while a guest in this wonderful little country for a short but sweet visit. And without order or particular reason, I pass these rambling thoughts on anyone who is bored enough to read them.
Ecuador is a country where the official government approved currency is the U.S. dollar. Dead American Presidents abound, the difference being you really do get more cluck for your buck but we will go into that later. The primary choice of money used in most transactions, is that little gold one dollar coin that is looked on with utter destain here in the good old U.S. of A. Any bills used here are used there (with the exception of the bill noted below), and in addition you can shop with your half dollars, quarters, dimes, nickels and pennys. If you don't have any, you will quickly find that, in your change, there are the equivalent coins of equal size and value but engraved with the busts of dead Ecuadorian presidents. One is quick to discover that Benjamin Franklin is revered and respected in this country so far from his home. However, I amazed and confused my Ecuadorian friends by handing out $2 bills, which were loudly denounced as counterfeit and not be used in any circumstance.
"Yes, we have no bananas
We have-a no bananas today
We've string beans, and onions
Cabashes, and scallions,
And all sorts of fruit and say
We have an old fashioned tomato
A Long Island potato But yes, we have no bananas
We have no bananas today." (Billy Jones, October 1923)
You better not run out of bananas in Ecuador, especially green ones. Fried green bananas are a staple food there. Called patacones, these little snacks are served with everything. One of the most interesting dishes I ate in Ecuador was shrimp ceviche. I love ceviche, but to my surprise, the local version is always served with patacones and, yes, popcorn.
My host introduced me to the national Ecuadorian breakfast. Again green bananas come into play. The dish is known as "bolla". My friend took me to a local restaurant where about 100 people were in line, she set me at a table to save seats and joined the line. About ten minutes later she arrived with a tray that had a large multicolored grapefruit sized ball in the middle of it. That ball was the revered "bolla", she quickly cut the globe in half and deposited each on separate plates. I was told to go ahead and enjoy this epicurean delight laid out before me. I tasted and found that the dish, to my simple palate was, well, boring. "Bolla" is mashed green bananas, mixed with mild cheese and bits of fried pork skin, served without any sauce. When asked how I liked it, I gave my quick one word review, "Bland". I was quickly dismissed as suffering from a lack of culture and, certainly, was born without any sense of taste in fine food. It is a guilt I have forced myself to live with.
I am practicing advocate of the theory: "I will eat anything ONCE, if I don't like it I won't ever let it pass my lips again." In my pre-travel studies of this country, I discovered that in Ecuador and most Andean countries a popular dish by name of "Cuy" was served. "Cuy" (pictured above) is basically a Guinea Pig on a stick, roasted over a charcoal fire. I was itching for the opportunity to experience this culinary delight, and at the first opportunity, I found a restaurant that served the crispy little critters. I opened the menu, my heart pumping with anticipation, when I was shocked into reality. This blackened rodent came with a price of $20, in a country where filet Mignon at TGIF (Yup, the same restaurant you find in malls all over America, right down to the red pin striped uniforms) was the top menu price at 11 bucks! No way was I was paying twenty bucks for a $1 rodent. When I asked my hosts why it was so expensive, it was explained that no Ecuadorians of any statue would be caught dead eating such a thing, but the tourist clammored for it and were willing to pay the price. I will happily pay $20 for the smallest of small teaspoon of Beluga caviar, but 20 bucks for something that might sit in one of my grandkids bedrooms, joyously spinning it's wheel hour upon hour....NO, I shant... I drew my line in the sand. Someone else will have to give a report on what I missed.
CALIFORNIA SEEDLESS GRAPES:
I promised my friend and her family to put on a show of my fantastic cooking skills and prepare a great spaghetti meal for all. This prospect was met with delight by all, and I was whisked off to the Ecuadorian version of the "Whole Foods Market". Located in the local three story mall next to the Tag Heuer watch store, across from the 20 some plex cinema, close the Nike store, the market was huge. I quickly bought my extra lean ground sirloin, virgin olive oil, fresh herbs and fresh mushrooms and other needed ingredients when a sign in English caught my eye."IMPORTED CALIFORNIA GRAPES", it said. Yum, I said, as I quickly motored my cart over to the display. I love grapes and eat them here daily. I was stunned when I recognized the bag in which the grapes were packed. It was the identical bag, right down to the code numbers, that I purchased reguarly at my local Albertsons for $2.99 a pound. The price there in Ecuador, thousands of miles away from the California home was $.80 a pound. Common sense washed over my mind and the question was silently asked by myself to myself..."How can it be cheaper to buy California grapes, the same grapes sold in my neighborhood store, here than in California? The answer is obvious, just another situation of "fuck the consumer." I brought the bag home and asked the local manager at Albertson's how could this happen...He was dumbfounded and simply responded, "he didn't have a clue."
The largest chain of gas stations in Ecuador is Shell, if my memory serves me right, Mobil also had a huge presence . A gallon of regular gas sold for $1.42. Hugo Chavez had been in Ecuador the day earlier and he promised to fund new refineries at a cost of millions of dollars. I had received an e-mail from a friend in Uruguay the day I arrived, two days earlier Mr Chavez had promised the little country a never ending supply of gas. No wonder he is looked upon as a hero in these third world nations. And of course American oil companies having no problem selling and profiting from Mr Chavez's oil.
So there you have it, random thoughts of a really cool vacation in a very cool place, I will go back soon and maybe the next time talk about the places to see and the things to do. For hippies, stoners, surfers and those just looking for a mellow vibe, GOOGLE, Monanita beach, I could have just hung there for a month.
WORLD - AN EDGE IN MY VOICE
Copyright © 2010 Steven Lane
Ecuador....And a Jumble of My Useless Thoughts
Copyright © 2010 Steven Lane
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