Destinations / JOURNEY
POPULAR TOURS AREN’ T typically appealing for my wife Nikki and me. That’s why the thought of a week in Ecuador — hiking in the Andes, riding a 150-year-old
train and prowling through countryside marketplaces —
attracted our attention.
“No, we didn’t see the Galapagos Islands,” we told
friends after returning last summer. “Instead we drove
along the Avenue of Volcanoes, stayed in haciendas and
wound up in Cuenca, a 500-year-old city so attractive and
intriguing we talked about moving there someday.” Well,
probably not, but when you are there it does seem like a
strong retirement option.
Ecuador means “equator” in Spanish and because the
equator cuts through Ecuador the country has no seasons.
Every day has the same 12 hours of daylight: essentially
the sun rises at 6: 15 a.m. and sets at 6: 15 p.m., so a day is a
day is a day — all year long. Straddling the equator means
the sun is closer here than in places north or south, so
you need sunscreen.
Speaking of splitting the earth into northern and
southern hemispheres, half an hour outside Ecuador’s
capital of Quito is where the planet’s latitude is exactly
zero degrees zero minutes. I stood there with one foot in
each hemisphere. Even weirder, when you’re standing in
the Northern Hemisphere and pour water down a drain,
it will circle clock wise. Now hop over to the Southern
Hemisphere, pour the same amount of water and it circles
counterclockwise while heading to the drain. It’s a bit
spooky, but clearly makes the scientific point.
As you look at a globe, Ecuador sits high on South
America’s left shoulder, with two-thirds the land mass
of California and just half the Golden State’s population.
Ecuador gained its independence from Spain in the 1820s
and now considers itself a presidential constitutional
republic. The country’s young and progressive president is
University of Illinois–educated Rafael Correa, who according to Raul, our young and knowledgeable guide, hopes to
make his nation into the “Switzerland of Latin America.”
Traveling in a van with a guide as we did, you can see
some possible progress toward that goal. The highways in
Ecuador are excellent: wide and smooth, with well-engineered on- and off-ramps, drainage and lighting.
As for its economy, Ecuador relies on income from the
If you plan to stay in Quito, make reservations in the
sale of petroleum, bananas, seafood, tourism and roses —
The not-so-good news is that Quito, Ecuador’s capital
with a population of 2 million plus, sits at 9,350 feet eleva-
tion, so it can require a bit of “altitude adjustment.” Also,
the city itself is hilly and prone to earthquakes, so it’s no
surprise its formal name is San Francisco de Quito.
Colonial Old Town section. That’s where you’ll find the lively