What’s it like to live in Ecuador? By @florabaker 13

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On the corner of my street in Cuenca, there’s a family of four who sit on the kerb each day. They’re entertainers, looking for small change; father and mother juggle for the cars that are stopped, momentarily, by the traffic lights, while the two children, little more than babies, play with their toys in the shade.

Every morning, I wave hello to the dad on my way back from work as he stands between the cars, his children perilously close to the road; and every morning, I feel I should probably engage them in more of a conversation. But it’s yet to happen.

For the last five months, I’ve been living in Cuenca, Ecuador, in a six floor apartment building owned by my host family. I volunteer as an English teacher at a local high school in the morning, and at a daycare centre in the afternoons. As a city girl, growing up in the constant frenzy of central London, I absolutely adore the compactness of Cuenca: the commonly-heard phrase that “you can get to anywhere in twenty minutes”; the fact that I can work to and from my placements each day, and watch a myriad of typical Ecuadorian happenings as I go. The indigenous women with babies strapped to their backs, the parents snoring open-mouthed in their parked cars, the local markets and the jaw-dropping graffiti that covers huge parts of the city.

Its size is useful, too, because in Cuenca it’s virtually sacrilegious to miss lunch with the family at home – the most important meal of the day, and the time when everyone’s news is shared amongst my host parents and two host brothers.

And the hour when I begrudgingly practice my struggling Spanish.

What I’m doing in South America

I’ve been travelling on and off since I left school in 2007; through a gap year, four years of uni and two years after it. The last two years in particular have been more ‘on’ than ‘off’ – spending six months in Asia, another six months flitting around Europe and now almost half a year in South America.

And as I’ve moved from country to country, I’ve realised the style of travel I enjoy most. Zooming through Europe’s biggest cities on a month of Inter-Railing is fun, sure, but I could barely catch my breath. and when I found a small town that wasn’t in the guidebook, I loved it so much that the days would melt into weeks and I still wouldn’t leave.

fruit market, Gualaceo in Cuenca

I like to travel slowly, almost at a level which ends up not even resembling travel at all. Spending a minimum of a month or two in one place lets me build up a rapport with my surroundings in a way that a three day visit can never achieve.

Moreover, I’ve started committing more and more time to volunteering in the countries I visit, discovering that I gain a unique perspective of these places and people who live there that I prefer infinitely more than simply being a tourist.

So why Ecuador?

I’ve been tempted by the South American continent for years, and I’ve always known that when I finally got here it’d be for a rather long time. Quite apart from being in love with the romanticised notion of immersing myself so much in the Spanish speaking culture that I’ll eventually become fluent purely by osmosis (laugh if you want, but it’s happening!), there’s something about this part of the world that fascinates me.

When I found a six month volunteer project in Ecuador, I decided it’d be a perfect place to begin my explorations of the continent – to study Spanish, learn how to handle the people, the culture, the weather, and even get to grips with the constant discussion of how dangerous everyone thinks South America to be. And my time here has given ample provision for planning the rest of my journey – in particular finding small, grassroots volunteer projects I’m hugely excited to start working on.

But apart from anything, it’s introduced me to Ecuador, properly, as if I was a resident. I’ve learned the rules for riding the bus (if you don’t have 25 cents change, you wait at the door asking every new passenger for their money until you can pay); I’ve become used to things running perpetually late, a typical Latin American trait; and I’ve walked the city as the sun drops and the streetlights flicker on, as music echoes from tiny plazas, as barefoot men spin fire and ask for spare change on the various bridges that cross the Tomebamba river. Cuenca becomes something of a carnival at night.

street performer, Cuenca

The bigger picture

It’s these kinds of observations that make Cuenca real for me – and they also lend themselves well to the type of articles I’ll be writing here at Go, See, Write.

Travelling, for me, is picking up on the little things; the details and the differences that make up an experience and tell a story. Establishing any number of little routines – whether they’re waving to a street performer, making friends with the students I teach at school, or spending whole taxi journeys conversing in Spanish – make me feel like I’ve become thoroughly absorbed into the daily life of the place I’m living in.

Next month, I’m finally leaving Ecuador and heading north into Colombia, for Spanish classes, a few local festivals and some drop in volunteer work. I hope there’ll be plenty to observe and write about, not to mention a new country of people to get to know, work with and learn from.

It’s also hugely exciting to know I can share these stories with a new audience, on a new platform – so a big thanks to Michael for providing me with the opportunity. I can’t wait to introduce you to South America from my perspective!


Flora is a writer and travel blogger who chronicles her adventures at Flora The Explorer. A traveling storyteller with a self penned obsession for the weirdnesses of the world, she spends her time collecting tall tales, small souvenirs and a delightful array of crazy adventures.

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13 thoughts on “What’s it like to live in Ecuador? By @florabaker

  • Lauren Rains

    Hi Flora!
    This is a great guest post! I am a very similar traveler to you. When I’ve traveled hopping from one place to the next, I don’t feel like I truly get to understand, appreciate, or be part of the culture, my surroundings, the daily life there. In the blink of an eye, it’s gone.

    It’s the little moments of daily life in a place so foreign to the daily life we’re used to that I live for. Suddenly, their daily life becomes yours, and you develop such a greater understanding for that place, and for the world in general. It’s a beautiful realization.

    I’d love to know where it was you volunteered in Ecuador for the 6 months by the way?

    Well, bueno viajo. Ojala que tus viajes siguen bien. (I’m pretty sure seguir is an irregular verb but I can’t remember how to change it for the subjunctive! 😉

    – Lauren (@outdoor_minded)

    • Flora

      Thanks Lauren – I think a lot of travellers have discovered the benefits of staying put in one place for a while. You end up learning so much more about where you are, not to mention becoming a part of that world for a time: something I think has the capacity to really change you.

      I’ve been volunteering in Cuenca for the last five months with a British-based company, but will be heading out to pastures new in a couple of days. Pero yo siempre te amaré Cuenca 🙂

  • Sam

    Cuenca sounds so magical! Can’t wait to visit. We have really started to realise that slow travel is for us too, and staying in a place a month at least sounds like exactly what we want to start doing. Looking forward to reading more about your South America experience, and how it compares to ours!

    • Flora

      It’s a wonderful city, Sam! Although many visitors just passing through don’t stay for long because Cuenca’s real draw is it’s Ecuadorian ‘normalcy’ (if there is such a thing) – I’d highly recommend giving it a bit longer than three or four days and really get under the skin of the city a bit.

      Great to hear we have similar outlooks on slow travel. I look forward to hearing about your adventures too!

    • Flora

      What a great way to see a place and get to know it properly, Andreas! Although I don’t know how much of Ecuador Mr Snowden is actually going to be able to see..

  • Beth

    Loved reading this guest post!

    I’m like you in that I much prefer slow travel. I had lived in Japan for 6 months and have now been in Hong Kong just over 1 year. It’s nice to sometimes live in the fast lane and take short trips, but overall I like finding my bearings in one location before moving onto the next!

    • Flora

      I think that when you spend so much longer in one place it starts to make travel become a lifestyle, rather than a brief fling. That way you can still make short trips to other places and get the best of both worlds!

  • Arianwen

    Ecuador is one of my favourite countries! It’s a shame a lot of people rush through it. I missed Cuenca and I’m pretty gutted about that.

    • Flora

      I’ve talked to a lot of people who were either rushing down through Ecuador to get to Peru, or up to reach Colombia, which is such a shame as Ecuador has so much to offer. I’m glad you’ve seen why it’s such a special place though Arianwen! You’ll have to make it to Cuenca next time you’re in the continent 🙂

  • Ed Graham

    When I read this, I feel like I’m there. Great writing as always and your focus on volunteering is downright inspiring.

  • Tim Horgan @ On and Off the Gringo Trail

    Have you been to El Cafecito cafe and hostel in Cuenca? It’s such a whacky place, with people out of some sort of abstract Monty Python sketch.

  • Darla

    I love becoming a part of regular life. It’s my favorite part of traveling. I don’t get to do it nearly as often as I like, but it just feels so much more authentic, like you’ve really SEEN the place, then when you’re just running through hitting all the tourist stops.

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