Now that we have actually arrived home and have begun to "get back to normal," everyone asks, "What was your favorite part?" Actually the entire trip was wonderful, but the 20 pictures are the highlights of the nature, the people, the animals and our accommodations.
Reflections and recompilation
As I (Tom) sit in the Quito International Airport waiting to check-in for our flight, I am reminded that this is indeed a 3rd World Country. We have been traveling with guides who are middle-class citizens. The middle class is a small minority, yet there are travelers in this airport who seem to cover a wide range of Ecuadorian citizens. We saw a family of small stature Otavalan stroll across the waiting area in the airport. Old and young populate the seats. Small children run around like in any country. Yet, we were told that the majority of the population is very poor. The current “dictator” president (8 years now) caters to these poor who love him and keep him in power. The country has gone to extreme socialism while catering to big oil which is the main source of national revenue and the chief perpetrator of natural destruction. We saw this on our Napo River adventure. There are oil camps all along the river. The national park that had been designated “forever wild” has been sliced up into oil well after oil well. Because the country has so much oil, the price at the gas pump is $1.48 a gallon due to a government subsidy. El Presidente has doled out millions of dollars (yes they use US dollars!) to the poor to buy their vote and since the middle class and the few rich have no power politically, has essentially cut imports (a typical socialist strategy) by imposing import taxes in the 60% range. Of course, those who can afford to travel out of the country, become smugglers by buying clothing and cutting the labels out after wearing them filling their empty suitcases with goods that are just not available in this mainly agricultural country. There is only one tire company and its product is retreads. If you want new Michelin tires, you will have to pay the duty of 60% - or drive over to Columbia on your old tires and drive back with the tires installed on your car. Now that’s the country of Ecuador.
The Galapagos is another story in itself. Besides the general oppression of the government, it is being overrun by tourism. In the last 20 years, cruise ships and land based tourism has proliferated. My original vision of these islands was remote, undeveloped, and “forbidden.” The $100 per person entry fee by the National Park is merely a convenient way to expand the coffers of the government. The introduction of animal species like dogs and chickens has begun to contaminate the indigenous creatures. A disease has been plaguing the native sea lions that has come from dogs. The “regulations” imposed by the National Park regarding where tourists can roam and the cursory inspection of luggage for the exportation of native species like land tortoise or iguanas is only lip service when these creatures are more endangered by invasive species that come in with full approval.
The Galapagos rely completely on the freighters that sit in the harbors and unload their cargo on barges. A grounded freighter almost brought commerce to a grinding halt in San Cristobal with millions of dollars of damage to the perishable cargo. An explosion on a tanker created a shortage of cooking fuel when the propane ignited in the wee hours of the morning.
Yes, those with an interest in running a business often complain about government and disasters. However watching from a distance by a tourist and seeing how badly managed the government is, makes one sad. It will be interesting to see if the experiment in far right socialism survives in the next 10 years.