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Vacaciones

September 2, 2010

So I’ve finally uploaded pictures from Baños and Tena, woo! More to follow, probably sometime next week. [Edit: Puerto López pictures here]

We survived our vacation, though almost all of us got sick. Probably the laziest vacation I have ever had: we hardly did anything the last 3 days. Overall a great experience.

The coast of Ecuador is completely different than the Sierra. It’s hot and dry, the people talk faster, and there’s just a different atmosphere in general. In the beach towns, of course, the attitude is more relaxed. In Puerto López, the main industries seem to be tourism and fishing, evidenced by the large number of hostels and beachfront bars, and fishing boats and seagulls, respectively. Near Puerto López is a large national park, which includes part of the continent, as well as the Isla de la Plata I mentioned in the last post. The continental section of the park encloses some isolated beaches and a large swath of forest.

The beaches are beautiful, with very fine, fairly dark sand interspersed among cliffs of sedimentary rock, and I have never seen anything like the forest. The type of vegetation is called bosque seco (dry forest), and is very interesting: the area has the appearance of a desert, everything is brown and dry, and the only green in sight comes from the scattered cacti and the occasional bush that has discovered some hidden groundwater. But despite the appearance of drought, there is a huge amount of biomass: the vegetation is tall and dense, and covers every free centimeter of land. During the months of the dry season, the plants shed their leaves to conserve water and go dormant. But when it rains, everything flourishes again. I would like to come back for the start of the rainy season in January: the transformation from barren dryness to vibrant greenery would be really amazing.

After exploring the mainland park for an afternoon, we took a boat out to the Isla de la Plata. On the way we saw humpback whales!

On our two-and-a-half hour hike around the island, we saw more bosque seco, a bunch of lizards, and blue-footed boobies! Only found in this part of the world, these birds were a real treat to see. Besides their bright blue feet, which they acquire in adulthood (Genetically determined, or is there a pigment in their diet that accumulates in their feet, similar to flamingos? My guide couldn’t tell me.), they were pretty interesting birds. Totally unafraid of us, they mostly hung out in pairs in the brush or posing for incredible pictures on the edge of the cliffs:

The males would make these wimpy whistling noises, and the females would respond with deep resonant belching sounds. A perfect image of my dating life.

From Puerto López some of us split off and went to Montañita, a fun/crazy little beach town. The main attractions seem to be surfing (there wasn’t too much of it while we were there, and I was too lazy to try), the party scene (which never stops), and the hippies (who were everywhere). It was the highest concentration of foreigners I have seen in Ecuador so far. Too tired to party, too lazy to surf, we accomplished absolutely nothing, which was a major success in my book.

Then we went to Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city and by far the most active economically. I would have liked to have explored it more, but I was sick by the time we got there, and the only thing I managed to do was curl up in the dark in my hostel room (mercifully a single) for about 18 hours. By Monday morning I felt better, and we went out and explored for a while.

I find it extremely interesting how much all of us loved Guayaquil. I suspect that this was the case because it is such an obviously modern, wealthy city. The streets are wide, the traffic flows, and everything is clean and shiny. The feeling of Americanization is pervasive, too: English was everywhere, and almost all the music we heard in public places was by US artists. I got a little uncomfortable when I realized that this is probably why I felt so happy to be there. I have spent practically my whole life viewing the consumption culture of the USA with an extremely critical lens, yet here I was feeling the most comfortable in the one part of Ecuador that has successfully mimicked the USA: ostentatiously affluent, with almost all signs of poverty and social injustice safely locked behind closed doors.

I want to find an alternative to economic development. I want to see people of the world empower themselves, stop focusing on the US as the model of a good society, and realize the importance of their own community and way of life. But how can I support that movement if my own value system obviously favors the model of material success preached back home?

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 8, 2010 2:08 AM

    I have to write about the last paragraph of this post. Today in one of my classes we had a whole lecture on social darwinism, and at the end we talked about how Social Darwinism (colonialism) persist today only we like to call it “development”.
    So my question do you think Development can be a reality without colonialism (or people modeling US values)?
    And if so what does this development look like?

  2. September 8, 2010 5:32 PM

    I hadn’t heard too much about social darwinism (It irks me to use that term; from the little I know of his politics I highly doubt Darwin himself would have supported the movement) and colonialism being linked like that, though I suppose it makes sense. And I can see how the idea pervades a lot of development thinking today: especially neoliberal policies and structural adjustments that weaken social services (Lewis gives a horrifying example of this in Race Against Time, thanks for lending it to me!).

    You raise some extremely complex questions. I hope to be able to answer them someday. You guys make any progress in your class?

  3. gracebuezis permalink
    September 11, 2010 12:45 AM

    So social darwinism, apparently people figured since the natural world moves through evolution (Darwinism, whatever you want to call it) and we’re a part of the natural world, then we must move culturally through evolution (hence social darwinism). But anthropologists obviously no longer follow this line 0f thinking.
    I am hoping to eventually figure out a way to practice humanitarianism (my nicer word for development) without creating a power disparity. I think by the end of the course were supposed to come to some sort of conclusion, but I’m not patient enough for that, so I may actually go to my first office hour ever. I’ll let you know if I learn anything.

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