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Livin’ la vida Local: Latin American contradictions

In this monthly column, project coordinator Megan van der Moezel writes about her experiences in Quito. Livin’ la vida Local: a humorous beginner’s guide to this fascinating country. This month a column about contradictions between Latin American countries: a comparison between Cuba and Ecuador

By Megan van der Moezel

This month I got to thinking about Latin America. The region is so often referred to as a whole, that you would almost forget how distinct every separate country it is comprised of actually is. But if my recent two-week holiday in Cuba has taught me anything, it’s exactly that. The lovely Caribbean island and Ecuador share a common tongue and were both once colonies of the same European nation. But how much further could you really stretch the comparison, I wondered?

Public transport performance

The very weekend I got back to Quito after my trip, I got treated to the worst public transport performance in the history of busses. Or performers. Maybe even both. I was on my way to the centro historico, when a little boy with a high-pitched voice hopped on with the clear intent to grab his fifteen seconds of fame. He immediately burst out singing very dramatically, and very much off-key. When he started ending his every sentence with a heartfelt ‘ay ay ay’, it became too much to bare. Even for my otherwise completely stoic fellow passengers. I don’t think I have ever seen a group of travelers as united in laughter as we were in that moment.

‘This kind of concert would have never been allowed in Cuba’, I thought, while trying to regain a straight face. Music – as could be expected – had been an important part of my Cuba experience. There, you could hardly turn a corner without some live salsa or bachata tunes reaching your ears. Whether the musicians were there merely as a ploy to lure in tourists or not, they all seemed to be having a marvelous time playing regardless. And I sure enjoyed listening over some tasty frozen daiquiri’s. The performance by the Quito bus-boy, on the other hand, would not have been salvaged by any number of cocktails.

The people: Ecuador vs Cuba

I was seriously considering letting the Caribbean island take the lead in my little comparison. Right up until the moment I hopped off the bus in Quito’s beautiful city center. Strolling around undisturbed, I was quickly swaying right back over to Ecuador’s side. Sure, there were some salespeople eying me hoping to make a buck. But they looked that way at all pedestrians. No one was shamelessly staring at me specifically. No one was making creepy kissy noises, or worse: trying to grab my behind without permission. Ok, the latter only happened once, and the purp was unequivocally wasted. But still. It wasn’t the most effective way for Cuba’s most celebrated colonial beauty Trinidad to vie for my affections. It just underlined how nice it was to walk around in Quito again, feeling like I belonged there.

In the end, I guess there’s no denying it. Cuba has postcard-perfect beaches, an outrageous amount of sun, cocktails and great music. But how great is it to come back home to fast internet? Or any working internet at all, really. And you gotta love the efficient, cheap, and surprisingly comfortable public transportation system in Ecuador. Not to mention it’s lovely locals. Can you imagine eating lunch in a restaurant and being wished a nice meal by every single customer that happens to pass your table? If not, you should really visit Quito. You won’t be able to stop smiling. Even though you should try to, really. A mouth full of grinded rice and chicken is not the most appealing thing in the world to be greeted by.

Well, there you go. Cuba was an amazing holiday destination. But in the end, it turns out it takes more than spirited cities, sunny beaches and loads of palmtrees to turn me away from my adopted home country.

© Local Dreamers, Latin American contradictions during volunteering in Cuba and Quito, Ecuador

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