Ecuador, May 2002

Ecuador is one of the smallest countries in South America, but that doesn't mean it's a small country by European standards - it's bigger than the UK, for example. However, it has only about a fifth as many people (about 12 million).
The equator passes through Ecuador (the country's name is the Spanish word for "equator"). Mainland Ecuador can be thought of as having three distinct zones: Since we like to be comfortable, we spent all our time in Ecuador in the second zone. Apart from the pleasant temperature, we found that it's almost devoid of insects. Even an open-air fish market attracted only about 3 or 4 flies. It took a couple of days to get used to the altitude, and even after two weeks, I found I got breathless quickly when walking uphill (complete adaptation to the altitude takes several weeks and involves changes in the bone marrow to produce more red blood cells).
Quito lies between ridges which do not look very high, because they have no snow on them - but they go up to 4700 metres. The snow line at the equator is roughly 5000 metres, and to see snow, one has to get out of Quito. This is Cayambe, 5790m, about 50km from the city.
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Pululahua (near Quito) looks at first like an Alpine valley, but when you look around, you see that there is no way for a river to flow out of it. It is in fact the caldera of a huge extinct volcano.

The Incas conquered present-day Ecuador relatively late - only about 70 years before the Spanish conquest (Pizarro arrived in 1532). This was long enough, however, for them to obliterate the native languages of the region and substitute their own, Quechua, which is still spoken by Ecuador's Indian population (in addition to Spanish). The Inca remains in Ecuador are not as impressive as in Peru, but are still interesting. This administrative centre, Ingapirca, is near Cuenca.

As you can see, the stones are not laid neatly in straight rows, like bricks

However, they are trimmed to fit together with the impressive precision that is characteristic of Inca construction:

As far as a visitor can tell in only three weeks, Ecuador's different racial groups live together in harmony, possibly because the majority of the population is manifestly of mixed race. Many Indians, however, live in villages and follow much the same way of life as their ancestors did under the Incas. Their dress varies from place to place, but is usually picturesque. This picture was taken in Cuenca.

The Indians run the most interesting markets, for everyday fruit and vegetables as well as for specifically Indian craft products aimed at tourists.

This market is also in Cuenca:

Sometimes the markets include livestock.

By the way, the relatively clean streets you see here are typical of the parts of Ecuador we visited.

Both Quito and Cuenca have many fine churches and other buildings constructed in the 17th century. This is in Quito.

And this, in Cuenca:

This is an old facade that has been preserved in Cuenca: