I learned a LOT in Ecuador including but not limited to the facts that antibiotics are really important, piranhas don't eat people, and ... um.... Spanish.
One of the most interesting themes of our trip was development in a global communications world. I'm sure lots of people who study South America, actually speak Spanish, and pronounce Chile CHEE
-lay (rather than "brr... it's Chile in here") can better expound on Ecuador's development patterns than me, but I'm going to try anyway.
1) We saw a lot of weird stuff for sale from street vendors such as individual sneakers (as in, not in pairs), plastic bags of coconut milk, lottery tickets, artificial Christmas trees, and roasted guinea pig. (Actually, the last one isn't true. I had to make a conscious effort *not* to see roasted guinea pig because I had a pet for eight years, but if you want to see a roasted guinea pig for sale, they are amply available.) The absolute weirdest, though, was the man walking down the street with an armload of television rabbit ears. They all were different shapes and sizes and were obviously used. At first, Eric and I thought he must be insane, that is until we saw a second rabbit ear - hawker. Eat your heart out Best Buy.
2) Internet cafes are absolutely everywhere as is WiFi access. A typical cafe features half western (northern?) backpackers and half local kids playing Worlds of Warcraft. At the same time though, the actual buildings that the internet cafes are housed in are literally collapsing. In Montanita, a stray dog kicked my cable and briefly disconnected me while napping under my chair. It appears from my cursory observations that information and information technology are racing past other infrastructure development.
3) That other infrastructure is just present enough to lull you into a false sense of security. When you turn on the stove, you get a flame. Simple, right? That is until you notice the hose coming from the stove and running out the window to a propane tank in the backyard. Then, you start to notice the guys on tricycle carts who deliver the propane tanks to homes and businesses.
4) The same goes for water. If you turn on the tap, deceptively delicious-looking clear water comes out. But where does it come from? Well, if you walk out onto the balcony of your hostel (past the hammocks), you can find your building's giant plastic water tank. Eric even opened ours to look inside. While there is nothing visibly floating, this water is pure poison to North Americans not accustomed to salmonella and dysentery. Also, these critters are incredibly resistant to alcohol, so no matter how many mojitos, pina coladas, or games of flip-cup there are prior to bacterial exposure, you will pee out your butt. (And likely get a nasty hangover for trying.)
5) Ecuador has many many vehicles on the road such as buses, trucks, mopeds, propane tricycles, etc.... but not a whole lot of driving laws. There are theoretical lanes, but Ecuadorians have noticed that they can often create a new lane just by driving a little bit closer together, so why not, right? There is a designated bus lane in some cities which is set aside by a small curb-sized barrier. Luckily, buses can drive *over* this impediment whenever they feel like driving in the car lanes. Finally, pedestrians have the right of way unless there is a car coming. In those instances, pedestrians have the right to scramble in all directions before they become hood ornaments.
My overall impression of Ecuador was productive chaos. There is what appears to be old school local capitalism with no chain stores - just thousands of small storefronts or street hawkers selling everything you need. Bargaining is expected; although, you feel like a bit of a punkass haggling over a three dollar taxi ride, so we just stopped by the end of the trip. Bus drivers will drive loops around a downtown with their co-drivers hanging out the door, yelling the bus's destination, until the bus is full enough to make a good profit. There is construction everywhere, but a lot of it is pretty shoddy. The buildings are almost entirely made from concrete with the main concrete posts made on-site rather than prefabricated. Many buildings still have steel rods sticking haphazardly out their tops after construction is completed.
Most young Ecuadorians were dressed like Americans or Europeans. The middle class all have cell phones in the cities. Nintendo Wiis were for sale in electronics stores (next to the rabbit-ears guy). With global branding and advertising and easy internet access, everyone can see what the rest of the world has, and shopping patterns are easier and quicker to change than basic infrastructure, but the western culture shift makes the shocks of the infrastructure shortcomings even more jarring. After playing rounds of flip cup, dancing to "Jump Around" by a bonfire, and swapping Facebook pages with international friends, a dysentery hangover is the last thing you expect to wake up with, but it reminds you of how lucky we are to have critter-free water here. In American water, we just have carcinogens that will slowly alter your cells until you meet a slow cancerous demise. (Yay!)
Oh, and I saw a sloth.