To see photos from my 2010 visit to the Galápagos with Margarita, go here: http://witanco.com/gallery2/main.php?g2_itemId=2243.

After leaving Quito I made my way back to the boat, spending a couple of days in Puerto Ayora, on Isla Santa Cruz in the Galápagos, en route. There, I dealt with a passport issue – Puerto Villamil, where the boat was anchored, has a port captain but no Migración office, so I couldn’t get my exit stamp right before departing. Fortunately the local Migración official is a very amiable guy and agreed to stamp me out if I could get to his office in Puerto Ayora a day or two before we were actually going to set sail. Which I did; mission accomplished without drama.

I would have been fine with just leaving Ecuador without the stamp – I need a new passport next year, and it will presumably have a different number from my present document. But who knows, maybe the Great Database in the Sky would nevertheless remember me by name and not just passport number and somehow know that I had cut a corner, and would put me in trouble with the scary people who wear uniforms and carry guns. And, seemingly, are aware of our every move.

And as cruisers everywhere so frequently do, while ashore I also scoured Puerto Ayora’s three or four hardware stores for various nuts and bolts and bits and pieces needed for assorted small repairs on line. As usual, partial success – found a few items I didn’t expect to find and couldn’t find some other things that I thought would be universally available.

It would be too strong to say I have a love-hate relationship with Ecuador. But I do have some ambival­ence. It’s a strikingly beautiful country in many places, from huge Andean peaks and volcanoes to tran­quil coastline, to dense Amazonian jungle lowlands. It’s culturally rich, with two or three indigenous groups going strong as well as the mainstream Spanish/mestizo population. I’ve had many wonderful adventures and good times there, indeed some of the happiest times of my life. And of course I have family – the Moreno family – and friends there.

But accomplishing things, even routine things, in Ecuador can be really frustrating and amazingly time consuming. The bureaucracy, while perhaps a bit slimmer than in past decades, is still grossly inefficient and byzantine in its complexity, while large social problems continue to be insufficiently attended-to. The country continues to claw its way out of third-world status – indeed, it is absolutely first-world in many respects – but progress is much slower than one hopes for.

I’m reminded of the closing line in the famous movie “Chinatown,” in which detective Jake Gittes uncovers but ultimately is powerless to change profound corruption in 1920s Los Angeles. In the closing line, Jake’s partner advises him, “Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown.” Same with Ecuador – sometimes you just have to remind yourself that the vexing contradictions of the country and culture are just the way it is.

It’s not a country for the faint of heart. All that said and in the final balance, I do love the place and will certainly return.


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