previously documented love of adventure a little more than usual in the past few days ...
Together with my lovely friends GP and CS, I have been planning a 10 day trip to Ecuador for the past couple of months. We were set on going somewhere in South America and had originally envisioned going to Peru and climbing Machu Picchu. But upon reading that it had become a bit of a tourist circus, we started reading up about other surrounding countries. Ecuador stood out pretty much immediately - it's the smallest country in SA, which makes it easier to travel around, and yet one of the most diverse in terms of landscape, culture and wild life. It's also meant to be one of the safest and when you are traveling with two other girls, that makes a big difference.
Our itinerary was soon decided. We will fly into the capital - Quito - this Saturday and spend a couple of days there exploring the old town (a UNESCO protected site) as well as go to the Equator line of course. From there, we will board a small plane taking us to the edge of the Amazonian rain forest, followed by a 2 hour canoe ride to our lodge, deep in the jungle. After about 3 days of facing all imaginable killer insects, arachnids and reptiles known to man (and perhaps doing a spot of Piranha fishing), we will make our way back to Quito to catch another flight to the Galapagos Islands where we will embark on a 4 day boat trip with 13 other passengers and a naturalist guiding us through their incredible wild life. Bearing in mind my keen interest in Evolutionary Biology (I have, over the years, read as much Darwin, Dawkings and Pinker as possible for one who actually works in an unrelated field), the Galapagos have been what I thought was an unattainable fantasy for me for many years. Needless to say that because of all the above and the eye-watering cost of it all, I anticipated this to be a trip of a lifetime.
But the dream was almost shattered last Thursday. I got an email from both GP (Italian but based in London) and CS (British who still reads the BBC website religiously) about some trouble happening in Ecuador. It turns out that there was a military coup of some sort and the President was taken hostage. Fights ensued that lead to 5 people being killed and hundreds injured. The airport was closed, many European governments issued a "no travel warning" and the country declared a state of emergency for 7 days.
What troubles me the most about it all is that I would have never heard about it had it not been for them. In fact, when I came in to work the next day and mentioned it to my colleagues and then to my friends later that night, not one of them had heard the news either. It is simply because it was not covered (and still isn't) in the US media.
I realized a while ago but US news outlets are rather selective about what International events they cover. If it is anything controversial/salacious or could directly affect the safety of Americans (on their own soil or in war areas), it will be covered at length (understandably). But everything else seems to be simply ignored. For example, I remember vividly the lack of coverage of the sweeping forest fires that devastated huge parts of Australia last year (a country nearly the size of the USA).
I have been checking the US government travel advisory website for days now and found no mention of any unrest in Ecuador. Instead, I was surprised to read a post advising American citizens not to travel to Europe. They seem to forget that Europe is a continent made up of 50 official countries (or 27 if you chose to count only the ones in the European Union). It is in a way as ludicrous as advising against travel to North America because there's a potential threat in New York, which must sadly happen more times than we'd like to think.
I know this will sound like I am bashing America and that's not really my intention. There are many, many things I love about this wonderful country or I would not live there. But the fact that I have only been able to get updates on the Ecuador situation from British, French and Australian news sites, has been rather frustrating for me and, I have to admit, kind of embarrassing.
Thankfully, things seem to have quieten down there and the President is back in power and looks to have the support of his people - whether that's right or wrong is another issue. Our travel agents and airline's advice today is to go ahead with our trip. Traveling to South America always means a certain amount of political volatility, which I guess we should have anticipated.
We have all managed to alleviate our respective parents fears and now all the travel shots and our preparations do not seem in vain anymore. But it is of course with some remaining nervousness, and clearly a bit of pent-up frustration, that I look forward to finally going on this rather incredible trip!