Though the Sierra (Andes highlands) is a popular tourist destination, we're not running into throngs of Americans as we do when we travel in Europe. Today, at the Saturday market in Otovalo, we may have seen 40 people not from this area. At a cafe we talked with a couple from Fairbanks who are traveling independently. And at the Hacienda Cusin we saw a tour group of perhaps 15 people arrive yesterday. Maybe we would see more in Quito or one of the other big cities. But so far, not too many here.
In our walks in the town of San Pablo and Otovalo, we watch the people. They look content. Women carry their babies on their backs. Couples walk together; sometimes the woman is traditionally dressed and the man is wearing jeans and a jacket. Many of the men wear their hair long, in braids down their back. Teenage girls walk arm in arm; teenage boys walk with their arms slung around each other's shoulders. Mothers nurse their babies while walking on the street. All of it seems quite natural, but different from where we live.
We have run into a few beggars; they're mostly old women. No cardboard signs on offramps here! We sometimes give a dollar to the beggar, as it is clear they are in need.
Most of the people we've met do not speak any English. Our new friend Virginia is a bit more fluent than we are, so outings with her are easier for us than otherwise. I have been able to make myself understood, though, when necessary.
Where we are, we haven't run into true poverty. Homes may be simple. Many people have a single light bulb in their homes and no hot water. But the living conditions look clean.
I get no sense of Estados Unidos wanna-be's. And though this area participates in tourism, they would survive without it. I don't get the same feeling as I do in, say Puerta Vallarta, that we're being pandered to or taken advantage of. The people here are friendly and living their lives.
From the reading I've done, the Ecuadorian government has had a number of changes in the last ten years, with some corruption. I think that's pretty typical of Latin America throughout its history, though. And other places in the world!
Our housekeeper, Venancia, has a second grade education. She's been fortunate to find work mostly with foreigners, who treat her well. I have heard that some Ecuadorians who have servants treat them very badly; it's part of the social structure that has been in place here for generations.
We have most of the comforts of home where we are staying. There's no central heat, but the year-round temperatures range from lows of 50 at night to highs in the 60s, so the fireplace serves us fine. Every five days or so we order a five-gallon jug of water. We have to be careful to clean vegetables. And we have to pay attention on what we're running low on, because if it's not available in San Pablo, we have to plan for a bus or a taxi to Otovalo (15 minutes by taxi) or Ibarra (45 minutes). For example, right now we're low on milk and eggs. That's a five-minute walk into the village. But we also need meat - all we have left is a two-pound tube of ground beef - and meat that's safe for us to eat is not available in San Pablo. We've got a trip to Ibarra planned for Wednesday with Virginia. If we are careful we can make it until then. Still, the convenience factor is something we're noticing as a difference.
Most days it has been sunny in the morning, but it's been quite cloudy and we've had a couple of rainy days since we got here. Apparently this winter is unusually cool and wet. And this morning there was snow on the peak of Imbabura - quite uncommon, I hear.