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On the Other Side of The Andes

sunny 33 °C

From the summit of Cajas National Park at 13,000 feet it’s downhill all the way to the Pacific coastal plain and after a week of constantly climbing into the high Andes we were expecting an easy run with spectacular views. Someone in the sky had other plans and we spent two hours driving through the thickest cloud imaginable. We saw nothing besides the dim rear lights of a huge truck as we twisted and turned down an invisible helter-skelter until we emerged from the fog and found that the light, cool, mountain air had been replaced with a heavy, hot and humid atmosphere. We had slipped into another world. Gone were the clean streets and sophisticated plazas of Cuenca. Gone were the neat tiled houses; the proud indigenous people in their trilby hats and ponchos; the fancy hotels and excellent restaurants. Gone too were the spectacular mountain views with llamas and cattle grazing the alpine pastures. In their place we found visions of a third world that we thought we had left behind in Ghana, Myanmar and India…
On the swampy plain that lies between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean we found community after community of shanty-like hovels; The roadsides were littered with broken down and damaged trucks, and the ditches strewn with garbage. Some of the vehicles came straight from the breaker’s yard…
We drove three hundred kilometres mostly on excellent highways, but the road fell apart whenever we reached a town. In one community the superb, and obviously expensive, sidewalks bordered washboard gravel roads full of axle-breaking potholes…
In most communities the only buildings of any quality were the church, the cemetery and the gas station. Entire towns consisted of rudimentary concrete block buildings with corrugated iron roofs or flimsy hovels on stilts set into the mud or roadside ditches…
Ecuador’s coastal plain is a tropical hotbed for greengrocers and supermarkets in colder climes and our entire three hundred kilometre drive was hedged by plantations of bananas, (and their cousins plantains) punctuated by forests of sugar cane and cocoa, and fields of rice and corn. Bananas rule in this part of Ecuador, but the banana industry consumes more agrochemicals than any other crop in the world, except cotton – two products that most westerners think of as being ‘natural’ and good for us!
Each banana plant only produces one huge bunch in its lifetime but each bunch can weigh a whopping sixty pounds or more. We thought we might buy a couple of pounds for lunch and stopped at one of the dozens of roadside stalls to get a price. Four dollars seemed a little excessive and we were readying to haggle when we realised that was the price for the whole lot – all 60 lbs!.
We had planned to stop in the city of Quevedo in the Andean foothills but, unusually, had not been able to find a suitable hotel online. The reason became clear as soon as we saw the appalling state of the city. However, by luck, we stumbled upon an excellent hotel set amid rice paddies and cornfields just a few miles outside the city. It even had two fabulous swimming pools…

Posted by Hawkson 15:26 Archived in Ecuador

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A trip of contrasts. The banana plants look beautiful. Wasn't aware of the level of lethal chemicals. Keep safe.

by Sue Fitzwilson

Ugh. Hope you are moving out of that area soon. Good you found what sounds like a rare oasis and some clear blue sky.

by R and B

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