We never really knew what to expect from Ecuador. Before arrival we knew that Ecuador is a small country that grows coffee and cocoa, we also knew it was neither the richest or poorest in South America and that the President was a somewhat radical character (sheltering Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for one). Other than this we knew little about the place so we arrived pretty much without preconceptions.
Thanks to our Spanish course we spent seven weeks in Ecuador in the end, far longer than we’ll spend anywhere else. Also thanks to the Spanish course we were able to live with some of the locals and really get a little more under the skin than we’ll be able to do anywhere else.
After saying goodbye to our family in Quito, we set off for the second week of the travelling Spanish classroom. We walked to the school and sat outside the front door as it was a Sunday and the school was closed. Waiting with us was Mario, our teacher for the next week, a short balding man with thick glasses and a baseball cap. It’s lucky that he was there because at 8:30am nobody had yet arrived for our 8am pickup. A few minutes later a tired old estate car pulled up, driven by Augustin, the man who owned the school in the Amazon. Augustin was polite and spoke perfect English, we piled the luggage into his boot and climbed in, Mario in the front and Prisca, Alex and I in the back. The back of the car only seemed to be designed for two people with the wide bench seat split in two, with Alex sitting over the middle. It was not ideal and the idea of a four hour trip without seatbelts (not at all unusual in Ecuador) did not fill me with excitement. Luckily we didn’t need to worry as, after a quick detour to collect Augustin’s wallet, we headed for the open road and realised with its broken rev counter and wobbly speedo the car wouldn’t do a lot a more than 40 mph.
As we headed away from Quito the roads went from excellent to fair then slowly got worse. As we drove through the mountains it became obvious that, thanks to frequent landslides, the road was often either in the process of being cleared, or in many places had completely washed away. We saw many teams of workers repairing the road but they were obviously fighting a difficult battle. We climbed up to 4000m over the Andes and through fog, then slowly started our descent into the jungle. Every hour or so we stopped so that Augustin could buy us a snack or sometimes just to admire a particular plant.