From Bolivia to Colombia, the majority of the large cities are situated above 2000m located on several high plateaus in the Andes mountain range. The cities, while varied all have certain things in common and Quito was no exception. While 2800m above sea level doesn’t compare to La Paz’s 3650m, you still get the shortness of breath, pollution problems, cold temperatures and cloudy skies setting in every afternoon. Don’t get us wrong, Quito has a majestic historical town filled with colonial-era churches and monasteries and is full of Ecuadorian culture – I think we’ve just had enough of the Andean cities.
We probably got off on the wrong foot with Quito when we started our time there by going to check out the teleferico (which somehow came highly recommended). Almost every Andean city boasts one of these, although in most cases they are public transit and quite cheap. Conversely, Quito’s is a tourist trap, not cheap, limited views and has no amenities/sites/things to do at the top (aside from a cafe serving Nestle instant coffee).
The one major attraction Quito does get to boast about is over an hour-and-a-half outside of the city – The Equator. Of course, we had to check it out. First we went the the famous monument where the original line was drawn and then we went up the road a couple hundred meters to where the actual equator is (turns out they were slightly off). There is another mini-monument there but we didn’t feel like paying a second time to stand on a painted line so we drew a line in the road and hopped across it ourselves.
“A situation where the citizens of a country officially or unofficially use a foreign country’s currency as legal tender for conducting transactions. The main reason for dollarization is because of greater stability in the value of the foreign currency over domestic currency. The downside of dollarization is that the country gives up its right to influence its own monetary policy by adjusting the money supply” – investopedia.com
Ecuador’s official currency has been the USD since they underwent dollarization in 2000. Ecuador did so to combat widespread political and financial crisis resulting from massive loss of credibility in its political and monetary institutions. They use US bills (nothing over a 20 note is common) and coins (including the 1$ coin and 50 cent coin!) although they also have their own coins which are used interchangeably. When we first saw the US 50 cent coins we were hoping that they were worth something but turns out most are still only worth 50 cents. Interestingly, the US stopped minting 50 cent coins in 2002 (other than for collections) due to large Federal Reserves on hand of pre-2001 pieces from the lack of demand and large quantity of returns from slot machines (because they are now coin-less).
Panama was one of the first countries to undergo dollarization in 1904. Along with Panama, Belize and Costa Rica have undergone partial dollarization. Not a positive outlook for the upcoming weeks of our trip as lately the Canadian dollar hasn’t been doing too good.
Throughout Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador symbols of the rainbow were present everywhere. Flags (differing in pattern in each country) were flown in all of the government buildings, main squares and cities and in Ecuador’s case, it is their national symbol posted proudly at every opportunity. We were informed that the rainbow was an Inca symbol and the flag is the countries recognition of their culture (versus their European-influenced national flags). However, according to recent investigations there is no historical prove of the Inca relation (although you won’t hear that from any of the locals).