We spent several days of our Ecuadorian adventure in Ambato, where Kim lives. Ambato is a city south of Quito, high in the Andes along the Pan-American Highway. Like the slogan says, the city is known for their flowers and fruits, and they even have an annual fiesta to celebrate this distinction. Near as I can tell, Ecuadorians have festivals for EVERYTHING and they all travel to each others’ cities to attend them. If you’re looking for something to do, you basically figure out who’s hosting the party and that’s where you go. Everyone knows the weekend that Ambato hosts the Festival of Flowers and Fruits in February during Carnival and the population swells to the point where they have to call in the military to assist the local police in providing security. We missed the Festival (probably a good thing….it sounds like a week meant for people much younger, livelier, and needing far less sleep than us), but Kim’s friend from the US did visit that week and shares her impressions here.
As I mentioned in a previous post, we were privileged to meet Kim’s friends and host families while we were in Ambato. When someone invites you over to their home for dinner, it is nice to bring what we in the US might call a “hostess gift.” We ended up making gift bags with some goodies & snacks from a local fancy-type of food market. But you might bring a bottle of wine, or in some cases, flowers.
NO, not flowers! In Ecuador it would be considered odd to actually give someone flowers, which are so abundantly available and inexpensive, if not free. Flowers are so cheap and common in Ecuador that bringing a bouquet as a hostess gift is akin to picking up a loaf of Wonder Bread at the 7-11 on the corner and then presenting it as a gift. Boyfriends in Ecuador are off the hook in this regard. I think they sort of thought we were kidding when we talked about how one of the most romantic gifts an American girl might receive from a boyfriend is a bouquet of flowers, and the pricetag that can go along with that gift.
Ecuador is filled with flower farms. Many of the flowers, including roses, that we pay muchos dineros for here in the US are shipped from Ecuador. Kim told us how the flower farming business in Ecuador has traditionally been full of corruption and worker exploitation. Laborers are typically women who work long, hard hours for low wages, no benefits, and in unsafe environments. A cut rose you buy on the streets of New York, Chicago, or San Francisco may have been harvested by one of these women earlier in the week. There are now unions and efforts toward Fair-Trade Certified flowers, but like many such changes its a slow process, particularly if the effect includes higher prices for Americans. One of Kim’s Fulbright friends who lives in the nearby city of Latacunga works toward this effort on one of the large flower farms in the area by helping teach the children of the laborers. I found this PBS link and video about a rose farm in Latacunga and how they are approaching this issue. I don’t know if this is the farm where she works, but if you have a few extra minutes, its interesting and informative.