Thursday, January 29, 2009

Costa vs. Sierra

Now that I've had a chance to see some more of the coast, I feel like I can make better comparisons on the regions of Ecuador. I still haven't seen the Oriente, and I'm going to the Galapagos next month, so until then I can only speak on the differences between the coast and the mountains. In some parts they are only separated by a short, 2-3 hour drive, but they might as well be thousands of miles apart. To me, it seems as if the cultures, people, and traditions of each region are like their own countries in themselves.

Take for instance on the coast the heat factor. It's so hot that no one wants to be in the house baking even more. So everyone is just outside in the streets. As a result, it seems like people mingle with their neighbors more and are more social in general. The whole culture on the coast is about being friendly and open to neighbors, so even if you've never met someone before, you're going to talk to them as if they were your long time friends. In the sierra, the people are just as friendly, but because it's colder, no one hangs out in the streets. You do what you have to and then you get back inside your house. This results in less interaction with the neighbors, in my opinion.

Also in the sierra you will find more of an indigenous influence, and as a result, it comes across in the culture. Everything from the mixing of Quichua in the language to haggling at the market it somehow related to the indigenous influences. I've been told that in relation to the indigenous culture in Peru, the part of the culture here is treated worse, but I won't be able to speak about that until I go to Peru next month. Down on the coast, however, there is a considerable drop in indigenous presence, and it seems as though the majority of the culture gets its influence from Spanish traditions. That isn't to say that in the sierra there isn't Spanish influence either. It's quite prevalent. Yet on the coast it seems much more evident.

And of course there are the little things. You can get away with wearing shorts and sandals on the coast because it's so hot, but if you wear them in the sierra, people will look at you like you have 3 heads, even if it's hot out. On the coast, men will fold their shirts up over their stomach and up to their chest, revealing their often bloated beer bellies. If for nothing else, it's to get a little air on the skin, but it's just odd that they wouldn't take the whole shirt off. In the sierra, it would never be hot enough to pull that off.

Furthermore, there are the differences in how people look at each other. Those who are from the sierra call the costenos, "monos" or monkeys. It's all in good humor, but I think they deep down consider themselves a little better. On the contrary, those from the coast think of people from the sierra as a bit snootier, and they use their accents as a way to mock them. Understanding costenos is another headache in itself. People also look at the coast as more dangerous, which might be true based off of reported incidents alone. However, you will still find some of the friendliest people you could imagine, ready to open their arms and welcome you in to their world. It's somewhat ironic that Guayaquil, one of the richest cities in the country, is also one of the most dangerous. Because of the success of some, violence has become a problem there for almost all.

There are many other things to consider when talking about the cultural differences, but these are just some ideas to scratch the surface and think about how difficult it is to define a country with one idea. Each region is its own entity, just as each city is different from another, and each person is different. Ecuador is extremely diverse, and that's as easy as it is to put it.

Above: Montanita, Quito

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