Last thoughts on Ecuador

Some final observations from my last four months in this country as I prepare to leave Ecuador for Peru:

  • I highly recommend Ecuador to you North Americans looking for a quick (2-3 week) vacation. It’s a small country, so it’s quick and easy to get around, yet offers a ton of variety. Beautiful tropical beaches, interesting indigenous people, great mountain hiking and biking, volcanoes and Amazonian jungle – which I didn’t even see (I’m saving that for Bolivia). There is a well-developed tourist infrastructure (good food, U.S. dollars, internet, lots of affordable hotels and transportation), quite safe for the most part, and the people are friendly. Ecuador reminds me of Guatemala (probably my favorite Central American country) in many of these ways.
  • Ecuador sees far more tourists than Colombia or many other Latin American countries and probably for this reason, fewer of them speak Spanish.
  • Every town has an independence day celebration commemorating the day that town was liberated.  There must also be several other specific festivals throughout the year, because it seems like I encountered parades and fireworks in half the towns I visited.
  • The country is taking H1N1 quite seriously – you see signs up all over towns instructing the residents to wash their hands and how to avoid infection.
  • Eloisa says that Colombia is more developed than Ecuador, but I think it depends on how you measure it. The markets in Ecuador are much cleaner and more modern than in Colombia. And the country is far more wired – every tiny town has many internet shops with LCD screens and reasonably fast connections; many parks, restaurants, bars, and hotels have WiFi.
  • The current president, Rafael Correa, has imposed very high duties on imported products, while locally produced goods remain quite cheap. Which accounts for some strange prices – a small bottle of olive oil, for example, is 10x the price of a large bottle of beer.
  • Ecuadorians have different notions of interpersonal communication than I’m used to. For example, on three separate occasions I’ve had people text or call me with: “What’s the address of your hotel? I’ll be there in 5 minutes”. Or, “I’m downstairs.” Without having made plans beforehand! To me, that’s rude. But I guess to them, last-minute dropping by is normal.
  • Another cultural difference: Where you were born is where you’re from – even if you grew up and lived your entire life somewhere else. I met a girl whom others call Colombian, even though she only lived there the first month of her life!
  • A trait shared with Colombia: people don’t leave messages on machines. I’m one who doesn’t answer the phone unless I know who it is, so it’s really annoying to get dozens of calls, none of whom leave a message.
  • Kids born out of wedlock and unmarried pregnant women don’t carry the same stigma here as they do elsewhere in the world. There are a LOT of single mothers around.
  • Kids seem both happier and more well-behaved here than in North America. I love watching them spend hours playing by themselves with nothing, making up games in the park or on the street corners.
  • Life is shorter, and therefore lived earlier, than in North America or Western Europe. [At least in the countryside; these examples apply less to upper-class well-educated people in the cities.] For example, girls start looking for husbands around age 14 and might have three kids by the age of 17. An unmarried 21-year old girl is hopeless. Kids take on responsibilities much earlier than where I come from, which is nice to see. People age faster, too – the other day I met a woman who I thought was in her late 40’s only to find out she’s 35. This is not unusual.
  • New species are constantly being discovered in Ecuador. In the last month alone 13 new creatures were discovered, including a remarkably ugly bug-eyed salamander and a tiny but beautiful poison arrow frog.
  • Rottweilers and pitbulls are both banned in Ecuador.
  • Ecuador is the world’s foremost exporter of bananas, accounting for 50% of the world market and 1/3 of Ecuador’s trade market. Shrimp is the next biggest product for export, led by the company with the wonderful name Exporklore. There’s a joke in there somewhere.
  • Shops never have change. Sometimes they even have trouble changing a $5 note, for Pete’s sake. It’s not difficult – part of running a business is going to the bank each day to get change for your cash drawer. The gringo shopkeeper does it, but nobody else. So I have little sympathy when I pay with a $20 and they act so put out.
  • Speaking of change, it’s hard to change people’s ways down here, even when shown a better way. For example, I got some locals to taste pasta al dente instead of al mushy, and they agreed it’s better. But they keep on cooking it the way they always have.
  • I have found the bus attendants (the employee who collects money and deals with luggage on buses) to be honest and earnest without fail. Somehow, out of a bus of 50 people all getting on and off at different places and times, they seem to always remember who is owed change and exactly how much.

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Conspiracy Theories and the expats who love them

It seems that I bit off more than I could chew. I started writing this post about two months ago and it’s slowly grown out of control. I became fascinated, and just a little bit obsessed, by all of the conspiracy theories I’ve been hearing around town and the bigger view of what makes people believe them. Following links endlessly down the rabbit-hole, I’ve spent many a day and night researching each of the various tangents. It’s given me interesting insight into the human condition and social theory constructs. I hope you find it as fascinating as I did in compiling it. And please comment!

Many thanks to Wikipedia for the wealth of information, much of which I’ve paraphrased below. As this post is simply a rumination and not an academic paper, I haven’t bothered to exhaustively credit or footnote all of the sources.

Note that this discussion only represents theories (which locals take as fact) that I’ve heard discussed around here in Vilcabamba. There are many wonderfully more outlandish theories. Here is the full list, and here is a sampling from A to Z.

The seminal reference book General Psychopathology defines three main criteria for a belief to be considered delusional:

  • certainty (held with absolute conviction)
  • incorrigibility (not changeable by compelling counterargument or proof to the contrary)
  • impossibility or falsity of content (implausible, bizarre or patently untrue)

Many, if not most, of the expats living here in Vilcabamba exhibit the classic indicators of delusion.

New World Order


One theory holds that the Illuminati is behind the so-called “New World Order“. This is ironic, since the organization was originally set up by freethinkers, secularists, liberals, pro-feminists, etc who were bent on overthrowing the existing oppressive ruling class of the 18th Century. Of course, some believe that the Illuminati have been operational for thousands of years. Others believe that Skull and Bones and other modern secret societies are today’s continuation of the Bavarian Illuminati. By the way, the Wizard of Oz was an Illuminati mind control project funded by the CIA. Where does it stop?


Then there are the Freemasons. This conspiracy theorizes that the founding fathers of the United States interwove Masonic symbolism and sacred geometry into the Great Seal of the United States (on the one-dollar bill – the words “Novus Ordo Seclorum” means “New World Order”… well, actually, it doesn’t, but wouldn’t it be creepy if it did? It makes you think, doesn’t it?), the National Mall, and even the street layout of Washington, D.C. All as part of a great plan “to mystically bind their vision of a government in conformity with the Luciferian plan of the Great Architect of the Universe who has tasked the United States with the eventual establishment of an hermetic ‘Kingdom of God on Earth’ and the building of the Third Temple in New Jerusalem as its holiest site.”

Masonic Washington, DC“The Pentagram connected to ‘The White House’ is geographically up-side down. A classic, or rather the classic logo of Satanism! Also important to point out is the fact that ‘The Pentagon’ is angled at thirty-three degrees (as in the thirty-three degrees of Freemasonry) and that at this angle appears as an another upside-down pentagram!” Notice how the large pentagram on the left is completely arbitrary – any geometric symbol could have been laid on top of the street layout.

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Vilcabamba Diary

More from the wilds of Vilcabamba, southern Ecuador. I thought sharing some random encounters with you might give some insight into the life down here.

Got into an argument with a Canadian anarcho-capitalist about political systems. He honestly believes that the world would be a better place if all governments were eliminated and every public service became privatized – schools, roads, hospitals, police, everything. [Here is a great chart of what America would look like under that system.] He makes a point that the state uses violence and coercion to enforce laws – but I’m not sure those would go away under a private system. Every time an industry has been deregulated in the U.S. it has proven worse for the consumer. An anarcho-capitalist society would be a wonderful place for those with money, that’s clear – and the rest of us would become more and more destitute! The question is, would you rather be poor in a capitalist country or in a socialist one? Because in my view, “the strongest nation is the one that takes care of it’s weakest members”. The answer is obvious to me – Cuba (for example) treats their poor far better than the United States does – free, excellent health care and education for all. The one thing we agreed on is that the U.S. does not currently have a capitalist economy – it’s corporatist – with limited liability preventing true capitalism from operating. He argues that in a true capitalist society, market forces would eliminate practices we currently label as evils of capitalism. For example, without the safety net of limited liability, the repercussions following an Exxon Valdez-type environmental disaster would put the company out of business rather than being protected by a legal framework that favor corporate interests above all else.

A great band played at the corner bar tonight and all the South American hippies that camp in the hills surrounding came out to dance.
I keep hearing about questionable murders and suicides of people who “knew too much”… I think it all revolves around the town rapist and his powerful family. There are apparently just three families that own most of the property and businesses (at least, pre-gringo influx).

This town is so small that if you want to go to visit a friend, all you have to say to the taxi driver is “Blair’s house, please” – and they know where to go. There are about a dozen or so taxis which are actually 4×4 pickup trucks in order to get around on the rough dirt roads.

I keep taking hikes in the late afternoon and ending up in the middle of nowhere after dark. The first time I got a bit nervous since I was on the side of a ridge full of brambles, miles and many valleys away from town. But I calmed myself down and simply backtracked the way I’d come, although it was a bit of a challenge in the dark. [I often subconsciously put myself in challenging situations simply to overcome them.] Returning to town from these night walks I’ve often accidentally come upon young couples courting on the edge of town. Sorry, guys!
The hiking here is superb – almost any direction you go, there is a different type of terrain just minutes from town. It’s great not having to organize a tour or take transport to begin a hike.

Met a guy tonight from Silicon Valley who retired at 44 with multiple degrees and who it turns out is a paranoid conspiracy theorist. He runs one of the most popular 9/11 “truth” web sites, and believes that Wikipedia is “being controlled” because they still label it the “9/11 conspiracy theory”, despite the “overwhelming” evidence to the contrary. “Truthers” believe that the government/mass media/scientific explanation is the conspiracy, not the other way round. Leaving aside whether 9/11 was an inside job or not, I tried to explain the meaning of “theory” – as in, the theory of relativity is still a theory even though it’s the accepted truth of modern science. Regarding Wikipedia being “controlled”, I know for a fact this is not true – the stewards of Wikimedia take any kind of undue influence, governmental or otherwise, very seriously and have numerous safeguards against such intrusion.

This guy proceeds to explain to me that AIDS was created by the U.S. Government at Fort Dixon, that the “mandatory” inoculations for H1N1 are actually nanobots or chips that will later be activated, and that the Rothschilds run everything, start wars, choose presidents and prime ministers and pit countries against each other for profit. I asked how people like Noam Chomsky, who is so well-read and informed, could not know of all this going on. He says that Chomsky and others like him are “gatekeepers” – someone who is allowed to satisfy the rebels, but whom they know won’t go too far (and if he does, he’ll be eliminated).

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Horse Trekking

I’ve been on three horse trips in the last couple of months while here in Vilcabamba. Here they are combined into this one blog post.

Gavin (the Kiwi cowboy I wrote about in the last post) convinced me to try a one-day horse trip. He didn’t have to twist very hard, I’ve been curious for a while now. I’ve never been on a horse before if you can believe it.
Gavin isn’t riding these days since he’s still recovering from testicular surgery after getting kicked in the balls by a horse, so there were two guides on the trip plus myself, four German girls and an Australian woman named Ferne that I hit it off with. Ferne grew up riding, so naturally she looked beautifully right at home on the animal. I was a bit nervous at first but managed to relax (which is the best way to not get sore and injured) and get into it. Heading out of town, I was impressed that the horses were not spooked by cars or chasing dogs. I guess they’re used to it. I really didn’t have to control the horse much – he knew the way by heart. “Your horse will lead you home.” We rode for several hours up into Podocarpus National Park, eventually making it to a beautiful high waterfall.

Wow. Being carried on a living, thinking, feeling animal is something special. The trust you hold in one another. The non-verbal communication. They’re amazing creatures – carrying all that weight on those spindly legs. Powering straight up 45° hills, scrambling over rocks and mud and straight through rivers. And all they eat is grass! It’s hard to believe they can summon such strength without eating protein. Point goes to the vegetarians.

The cantering and galloping was my favorite part – the horses really loved to run, leaving me holding on for dear life. The whole experience was fantastic, I immediately fell in love with riding. I also became intrigued by all the associated gear (the “tack“) – the saddles, stirrups, straps, bridles, bits, halters, reins. They’re all hand-crafted out of leather and steel, specially purposed and really tough. But my sore butt was asking why they don’t make modern saddles out of the same gel that those fancy bicycle seats are made from (which Aunt Marty says “feels like human flesh”). One would think in this day and age that nylon, neoprene, and other modern materials would have supplanted the leather of old. Perhaps I’ve found my calling.

After a hike to the bottom of the waterfall and a picnic (why does food always taste better outdoors?) we returned to town. About six hours round-trip. I was saddle sore for a couple of days afterward, but hooked.

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