On the advice of a friend, Kochi-based entrepreneur Balram Menon went on a holiday to the Latin American country of Ecuador. Situated 19,000 kms from Kochi, first he flew to Delhi, then to Amsterdam. Thereafter, a 14-hour flight landed him in Ecuador’s capital, Quito, which is at an altitude of 18,000 feet. First-time visitors face altitude sickness. So, when they check into a hotel, they are given cocoa leaves. “You warm it in hot water and drink it like green tea. It helps ward off uneasiness,” says Balram. Incidentally, cocoa leaves are used to make cocaine.
Not many people know that the Equator is located in Ecuador. The place to go is the Ciudad Mitad del Mundo (middle of the world). “You stand on a yellow line and the latitude and longitude is 0 degrees,” says Balram. On the left of the yellow line is the Northern Hemisphere while on the right is the Southern Hemisphere.
Balram has travelled the length and breadth of the country. He went to Banos, 220 kms from Quito, to see the Pailón del Diablo or Devil’s Cauldron waterfall. The fall of the water, from a steep height of 240 feet, is a fascinating melange of sound, foam and mist. Another highlight is the Galapagos Island archipelago, which is 1,000 km from Quito. On one island, Santa Cruz, one can see the Charles Darwin Research Station, which was established in 1964.
Darwin spent time here in 1835 and was so inspired by the wildlife that he wrote the Theory of Evolution. In fact, the world’s biggest tortoise, which is 110 years old and weighs 400 kg, can be found in Galapagos. Unusual birds can be spotted as well. “One species is called the blue-footed boobies,” says Balram. Booby means clown in Spanish. When the mating season arrives, the males raise their feet and flap their wings to attract the females. Then if the female is receptive, they rub their long beaks together.
On the cuisine, Balram says, “They use bananas in everything. They even mix pork and beef with bananas. Their national dish which is called Ceviche comprises uncooked shrimp with lime juice and pepper. They also eat crabs, octopus and oysters. But their speciality, Cuy, is a small guinea pig rat. It is roasted and eaten. Sometimes, it is grilled. They also use potato, rice, pasta and yuca (a type of bread roll).”