Okay, so I often get asked where exactly in Ecuador I'll be living. It's not exactly a country that most people know well, and it doesn't help that I'm going to be residing in a city that's quite off the beaten tourist path, as it were. Hence, I present a short study of Machala, Ecuador.
First of all, where is Machala located? It is in the far south coastal region of Ecuador, on the Gulf of Guayaquil, about 60 km from the border with Peru. The province in which it is situated is known as El Oro Province (yes, the gold province).
If you search for information on Machala almost anywhere, one particular distinction pervades: Machala's status as the "Banana Capital of the World." Take a look at the stickers on the bananas in your fridge. They may very well say "product of Ecuador." If they do, then it is highly likely that those bananas were produced somewhere in the region around Machala. Come October, Machala even hosts a beauty pageant searching for the World "Banana Queen." Seriously. Girls come from all over the world to compete and it is apparently quite the big deal. Coffee and cocoa are are also important, but less ubiquitous to Machala's identity.
Despite the banana lore, Machala is not really a city of tourists. Few make the trip so far south, and if they do, it is often only as an overnight en route to Peru. In addition, it is quite isolated. Ten hours from Quito by bus, it is closer to many Peruvian cities than other Ecuadorian cities. It's not a huge city either - I couldn't find a solid statistic but the population seems to be somewhere between 200,000 and 400,000. I think that's a good size, though. Growing up in Tillsonburg, I'm just glad that I get to live in an actual city instead of a small town.
I am so happy that I got placed in Machala. From what I have been told, it is quite the shocking cultural experience to be plunked down in a city where few speak English and foreigners rarely penetrate. I think it will be good to get an unadultered version of Ecuadorian culture, away from the beautiful colonial cathedrals maybe, but deep in the heartland of an incredible country.
P.S: 25 dias until I leave for Ecuador!