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The Afroecuadorians of Esmeraldas
Ecuador is a tiny country and most of it is well-known to tourists. But the northwestern province of Esmeraldas is still well off the beaten track, thanks to its inaccessibility, and its border with Colombia. But those who undertake the seven hour bus journey from Quito will find themselves in a completely different world. The chill of the highlands is replaced by the sweltering heat of the coastal Choco rainforest, and the Quecha reserve is swapped for beaming, dancing, Afroecuadorian hospitality and warmth. The Afroecuadorians were brought here 200 years ago as slaves, and the villagers today are descended from those who escaped the mines or survived shipwrecks off the coast. Salsa, bomba and bachata are the ubiquitous soundtracks here, and the rivers, forests and Pacific Ocean contribute a diet of ceviche, fried plantain, coconut and fresh fish. But go easy on the home-brew sugarcane rum - the lethal aguardiente. Many of the villages here have intermittent electricity and no running water; laundry is done in the river, as these girls demonstrate. The Choco is incredibly biodiverse, and it houses sloths, howler monkeys, armadillos, snakes and forest hogs. But it is disappearing at an alarming rate, thanks to logging and gold mining. The small-scale tourism projects being developed here are one way in which people are being encouraged to preserve the forests and coastline, and to avoid hunting endangered species.
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