What do I need to know about Ecuador?

The Republic of Ecuador straddles the Equator and is one of the smallest countries in South America. It covers approximately 109,483 square miles (283,560 km), about the size of the state of Colorado. Despite its small size, Ecuador is one of the most geographically varied countries in the worldIts continental territory borders Peru to the south and the east, Colombia to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the west.

The Andes Mountains, which cross the country from north to south, divide continental Ecuador into Costa (Coastal Lowlands), Sierra (Highlands), and Oriente (Amazon Region). The Galapagos Islands constitute the fourth distinctive region. Ecuador is divided into 24 provinces.
The Costa extends the length of the coast and offers beautiful unspoiled beaches, some resorts and rich agricultural land.

The Sierra lies between the western and eastern ranges of the Andes Mountains. This valley has been populated for many centuries. Nestled in the valley is Quito, the capital of Ecuador. The Sierra also contains six active volcanoes. The worldʼs highest active volcano is Cotopaxi, which reaches 5897 meters.

The Amazon Region begins on the eastern slopes of the Andes. This region, completely covered by the Amazon rainforest, contains vast animal wildlife and vegetation.

The Galapagos are a group of isolated and protected volcanic islands 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. The vegetation and wildlife have existed in isolation, which makes the Galapagos a fascinating place to visit.

Quito, the capital city, is in setting of great natural beauty, overshadowed by the volcano Pichincha. Guayaquil, Ecuadorʼs largest city is also the chief port and commercial center.
Quito was founded as San Francisco de Quito on Dec. 6th 1534 by the Spanish conquistadors. Quito is considered to be one of the most beautiful capitals in the world.

The historic center of Quito, known as “Quito Colonial” is replete with narrow and winding cobblestone streets, magnificent churches and wide-open squares. The buildings that line the streets reflect Spanish colonial influence with their balconies, tile roofs, thick columns and central patios. The Old City of Quito lies over the ruins of the pre-Incan city of Kitu, principle city of the Shyris (12th century). Kitu was later replaced by the capital of Atahualpaʼs Incan empire (16th century). The city was razed by the Incan General Rumiahui as a measure of the resistance against the conquering Spanish.

Advanced indigenous cultures flourished between 10,000 BC and 15 AD and by 1450 AD, most of these cultures had developed into organized ethnic populations. The Incas, the largest culture, originally from the central regions of what today is Peru, dominated most of western South America the latter half of the 15th century. By 1600, Spain had conquered most of Central and South America. The Spanish colonial rule lasted about 300 years.

The History of Ecuador extends over a 9,000-year period. During this time a variety of cultures and territories influenced what has become the Republic of Ecuador. The history can be divided into five eras: Pre-Columbian, The Conquest, The Colonial Period, The War of Independence and the Republican Era. The beginning of the history is represented by a variety of cultures and finishes with the Incan invasion. The Incas were followed closely by the arrival of the conquistadors, the Spanish Conquests. The Spanish would found modern day Quito and Guayaquil as part of the political administration era which lasted until the war of Independence, the rise of Gran Colombia and Simon Bolivar to the final separation of his vision into what is known today as the Republic of Ecuador.

The Republic of Ecuador celebrated its first Independence Day on the 24th of May, 1822 when they got their independence from the Spain. 'El Primer Grito de Independencia' the local name for Independence Day of Ecuador is widely celebrated throughout as a National Holiday. The anniversary of the nation's independent statehood from under the Spanish rule marks the beginning of a new era for the Ecuadorians.

After nearly three hundred years of Spanish colonization, the first major attempt for independence was made in 1809, but this only lasted for 24 days before the Spanish army regained control of Quito, the capital of Ecuador. Simón Bolívar, who first led the fight for freedom in Venezuela and Colombia, then made his way to Ecuador to lead the independence movement in 1820. The two-year battle of the famous Battle of Pichincha, on the slopes of the Pichincha volcano, 3,500 meters above sea-level, right next to the city of Quito, in modern Ecuador, saw the defeat of the Spanish royalist army led by Bolívar on 24th May, 1822.

In 1830, the Republic of Ecuador became an independent entity, seceding from Gran Colombia. Traditionally a farming country, Ecuador's economy was transformed after the 1960s by the growth of industry and the discovery of oil. There was rapid growth and progress in health, education and housing. But by the end of the 20th century a combination of factors, including falling oil prices and damage caused by the weather phenomenon El Nino, had driven the economy into recession. Inflation, which had become the highest in the region, led the government to replace the national currency with the US dollar in an effort to curtail it.

Not all Ecuadorans have benefited equally from oil revenues. The traditionally dominant Spanish-descended elite gained far more than indigenous peoples and those of mixed descent.
Steps to stabilize the economy, such as austerity measures and privatization, have generated widespread unrest, particularly among the indigenous poor.

Despite its history of internal rivalry, border conflicts with Peru and nine presidents in less than 9 years, life in Ecuador remains relatively peaceful. The Ecuadorian flag has three horizontal stripes, which from the bottom up are red, blue, and yellow. The yellow stripe is twice as wide as the red and blue ones. The symbolism of the colors is as follows: Red stands for the blood shed by the soldiers and martyrs of the independence battles. Blue represents the color of the sea and sky. Yellow symbolizes the abundance and fertility of the crops and land. The Coat of Arms of Ecuador rests in the middle.

The Coat of Arms was given to the country at the National Congress of 1900. In the shape of a heart, the Coat of Arms rests on a bundle of sheaves, which is the Republicʼs insignia for dignity. The palm and laurel branches between the four flags symbolize victory. The condor perched at the top offers shelter and protection under its outstretched wings and stands ready to strike out against any enemy. In the background is the majestic Chimborazo Mountain rising to a lovely blue sky. The highest in the Andes Range, this mountain unites with the Guayas River, formed from its snows, to represent the brotherhood of the Sierra and the Coast. In the lower foreground, the steamboat “Guayas” is seen crossing the wide river. This boat, the first of its kind in South America, began service in 1841. The mast, with two wings at the top and two snakes encircling it, symbolized accord and trade.
Ecuador, with its four distinct geographical regions, has a varied climate as well.

The Sierra, where Quito is located, is mild throughout the year. Although it in on the equator, because of the altitude, temperatures range from 55-78 (average 64) year round. This region claims to have “eternal spring”, where a typical day in Quito can be sunny in the morning, cool and cloudy in the early afternoon, rainy in the late afternoon,  and cool/cold and clear in the evening/at night. Typically, the rainy season occurs from October to May.

The Costa is warm and humid during the entire year (76-90, average 83). Rainy season is usually December to May.

The Oriente is also warm (72-80, average 76), humid and rainy. The rainy season is constant with less rain December to February.

The Galapagos Islands enjoy warm and dry weather year round, with an average yearly temperature of 85!

As you cross into the Ecuadorian culture, with many subcultures, it is important to keep an open mind. Remember, just because something is different doesnʼt mean it is wrong. Ask God to help you see the Ecuadorian people as He sees them. Try to understand why things are done differently than the way you would do them. Learn to appreciate the differences. It is not right, it is not wrong, it is just different.

Remember you are the visitor; you have the different opinions and odd perspectives.

You are a guest who has been given the privilege of visiting Ecuador by the local government.
Do not judge the value system you will encounter according to your own cultural norms. “It is not right, it is not wrong, it is just different”.

Remember that the missionaries you will be meeting have dedicated themselves to ministering to and with the people of Ecuador. They will be happy to discuss the country and culture with you. However, when speaking with them, avoid criticizing the country or people of Ecuador.

Remember most Ecuadorians in the Sierra are conservative in dress as well as many other ways.

Control your body! Facial expressions and body language often speak louder than words.

When eating: Be grateful- say “gracias,” smile, and compliment your host.

Eat what is before you. North America is one of the few cultures where people throw food away, in the rest of the world it is not only insulting to the cook, it is wasteful around people who cannot afford to be wasteful.

Many Ecuadorians speak or at least understand English, so only say what you want understood.

Ecuadorians are very patient and forgiving of bad Spanish. Use all of the Spanish you can, “por favor” (please) and “gracias” (thank you) are very much appreciated.

Be prepared to shake hands with/kiss everyone you meet. You will also shake hands/kiss when you say goodbye, even if you have only exchanged a few words.

Share your faith when you have the opportunity.

If you see something you donʼt want to, i.e. nursing mothers or men peeing, it is not their fault, but yours because you looked. Donʼt stare!

You will encounter many beggars. A coin is an acceptable gift if you choose to give one, but it is not necessary. View these people as Christ views them!

If you are from North America, introduce yourself as a “North American”. Ecuadorians are American too… “South Americans”!

When giving your testimony, be culturally sensitive. Many of the people to whom you will be speaking are much poorer than you, and with a different set of norms.

People will talk about their bodies and your body. You might be called “gorda” and “flaca” in the same day, it is not meant to insult – everyone has a body so why not talk about them.

Most importantly: If you are unsure of what to do in a situation step back and let the missionaries take the lead. You will learn a lot by observing.

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