New on Sidetracked:

Ecuador – Where Land Equals Life

Written by Gilly Rose // Photography by Dorian Lloyd

High in the Andean foothills, the light shifts from moment to moment. Clouds swirl over Quito’s patchwork of modern, colonial and favela-style buildings, darkening their pinks, ochres and oranges, before bursts of sunshine pour through, flooding the city’s winding corridors and cobbled streets with light. The canopy of the Mindo cloud forest that hangs to the north west is as lively as the vibrant bustle of the city below – the chorus of birds, insects – of life – every bit as intense.

From here our team journeys through Ecuador’s rural interior to Riobamba and the stunning Chimborazo volcano, a central point of Ecuador and, thanks to a bulge at the equator, the closest point to the sun anywhere on the globe. Then, sweeping down towards the UNESCO World Heritage city of Cuenca and its abundant architectural treasures, and on, moving east towards the ocean, lies Montañita and the Pacific coastal villages of Ecuador’s Santa Elena Peninsula, where life comes to a halt for the sunset, and the balmy days turn into long warm nights. The speed of life picks up again in Guayaquil where skyscrapers vie for attention against its multi-coloured houses, and from this point, the intrepid make their way to one of nature’s greatest creations: the Galapagos Islands.

For its size, Ecuador is the most biodiverse country on the planet, but beyond its wild jungles and gargantuan volcanoes, beyond the Pacific swell and the colonial charm, are its people, a kaleidoscope of cultures that shine as brightly as any of its skies.

Many societies strain to negotiate the gulf between modernity and tradition, but the people of Ecuador have come to embrace it. How? Perhaps through a heightened sensibility of its multi-ethnic tapestry; perhaps the deep roots of indigenous cultures that remain intact among its now scattered population. Both help to preserve and celebrate this proudly diverse nation-state where the customs and beliefs of its 13 major tribes continue to flourish.

Ecuador’s cultural integration is more than just an awareness of the country’s origins, though. It is actively being harnessed to help forge its future. From the young, urban and politically conscious to the farmers far in the interior, we discovered a growing movement towards a return to traditional belief systems, values, attitudes and behaviours that place the protection of the natural environment above all else, and that, in turn, perpetuates a willpower to use ancient Incan farming methods as an effective antidote to climate change. So intrinsic has this mindset become that it was drafted into government policy in 2008 when, after a general referendum, the constitution was re-written to include the establishment of Earth Rights, making it the first country in the world to view nature not as property, but as a living entity to be defended by its people.

Nowhere is this philosophy more apparent than in the sanctuary of the Galapagos Biosphere Reserve – a land barely touched by human interference, a place where the rich, warm waters teem with marine life, where time stands still, and wildlife flourishes.

In Ecuador there is much to revere – from colonial city streets to cloud forests, volcanic basins to humid jungles, to its crashing shores and the effervescent Galapagos. Yet the most important lessons are learned from its people, eager to re-affirm their Incan, Mestizo, Montubio and Amerindian origins. To explore Ecuador, is to experience a deeply privileged insight into a country where land equals life.

Photos by Dorian Lloyd: @dorianlloyd // Video by Nick Lloyd:

Produced in partnership with Pro Ecuador and Quito Turismo