Musings on a barbarian's interests
I went to Ecuador thinking it would be a parallel to Peru, where I had the opportunity to travel several years ago. I went to Colombia thinking it would be a sweaty, pressing place, still working its way out of years of drug-fueled warfare, internal upheaval, and a wide-held external view of travel risk. On both counts I was wrong.
The goal of this post is not to make a travel advertisement for Colombia; or a geopolitical warning about Ecuador. Rather, it is to muse on how easy it is for external views on a place to ossify, and how, to an outsider, particular geopolitical perceptions all too quickly conflate: Ecuador – part of the “good South America;” Colombia – part of the bad.
I found Colombia to be a great place: the people were friendly (a local surgeon we ran into on the street offered to give us a ride to dinner when he realized we didn’t know exactly where our restaurant was), the weather was lovely – hot, sunny, with spotty but high Carribean-esque cloud-cover, and getting around was straight-forward. Go. To Cartagena (great food scene), to the Islas Rosarios (we were on Isla Pirata, which is adjacent to Pablo Escobar’s former private island lair) – I found Colombia to be a terrific place for a vacation.
Ecuador was another matter: hosted by a friend from college, we were forewarned to be very careful about which cabs to get into (lest we get kidnapped or worse) and to not enter bars, for risk of local roughnecks responding to our obvious US-anianness. Ecuador’s government recently aligned with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela (yes, I say this is a definitively bad thing). Talk of widespread property seizure (individual and corporate) has led to capital flight, and a collapse in the local real estate market (as anyone who can liquidates their hard assets so as to expatriate capital). And unrest is visible: in one particularly intense 20-minute interval, our host was pick-pocketed by a thief ring (we pieced this together after the fact), we were hit with pepper spray as police beat back protestors outside a social event for the rich, and we witnessed some unpleasant police violence toward a group of teenagers who had some role in the protest and following conflagration.
On its current path, I can’t imagine Ecuador remaining a tourist-friendly place. Perhaps this will be all the better for the Galapagos, suffered as they have from over-visiting. And so perhaps perceptions will change. Fortunately, Colombia is right next door.