Set high in the mountains, Quito was a sharp contrast from our experiences in Colombia. People were friendly, but more withdrawn and less cheerful. Markets were busy, but not bustling. Streets and thoroughfares were sometimes entirely empty. The whole city was still beautiful but it felt subdued and almost somber, as if the energy had been drained from its inhabitants.
The likely culprit behind this is economic depression. Since 2002 more than 40% of Ecuador’s export revenue had come from crude petroleum and it was one of the few exports keeping Ecuador’s international import-export balance in the green. During the boom years, as oil surpassed $100 per barrel, Ecuador brought in billions of dollars that it used to finance social projects throughout the country. Then in 2014 the price of oil crashed to $50 a barrel, collapsing in in January 2016 to a mere $30 a barrel. The oil revenues dried up, government spending slowed, and unemployment rose. The U.S. dollar (Ecuador’s official currency) also gained in value, further slowing Ecuador’s economy .
Couple these problems with a devastating earthquake that hit the north-west region of the country in April, killing nearly 700 people and and injuring a further 16,000, and the atmosphere of subdued worry makes sense. It’s been a bad year for Ecuador.
Below are photo from our visit to Quito during the end of December, in the dusk of 2016:
As in previous countries, we met so many wonderful and brilliant people here in Quito that we can’t help but root for Ecuador. The Ecuadoreans are resilient and they’ll recover, but it will take time.