Blog Posts

  • Ecuador’s Uphill Battle

    So it occurs to me that I both started and will finish my dispatches from Ecuador with a photo from Quito’s Centro Historico. Unlike the first post, this one is looking up rather than down one of the capital’s historic streets. (Two weeks later, I still haven’t adjusted to the altitude, by the way). Okay, maybe I’m pushing a little cheeky symbolism on you with this photo. But after spending a couple weeks here and talking to as many people as I could, it’s clear that Ecuador is facing an uphill battle when it comes to the economy.  Much of it has to do with the country’s dependence on oil. As one source who is a former secretary-general of the country told me, “Ecuador’s salary is oil.” ...

  • Buying Souvenirs With U.S. Dollars

    Finally, some free time to buy some souvenirs to take back home (read: those chocolate bars in the background). You’ll notice I’m paying the supermarket cashier with a five dollar bill. Following the financial crisis in the late 1990s, and hyperinflation of the sucre, Ecuador switched to the US dollar. Most people I’ve met here say “dollarization” has been a good thing. It effectively ended inflation and runs on the banks. Throughout the next decade, thanks to high oil prices and a wave of foreign investment from countries like the US, Ecuador boomed and its middle class rapidly expanded. But today, oil prices are again at historic lows (as they were during the late 1990s crash). Meanwhile, the value of the U.S. dollar is high and imported durable goods are extremely expensive. I’ll...

  • Pruning for Chocolate in the Amazon

    When cacao farmers like Emilio Rivera first heard of a government-backed initiative that would help them prune branches and leaves from their trees, they were skeptical. After all, a lush, cacao tree with more, not fewer, branches meant more profits, they said. That’s been the traditional way of thinking for generations of cacao farmers here in the Ecuadorian Amazon.   But in recent years, as disease has worsened, yields have dropped pretty dramatically, and some, like Rivera, have begun embracing the initiative wholeheartedly. Ecuador is one of the world’s biggest producers of cacao; the coveted, key ingredient in chocolate. Cacao is actually an edible fruit that’s fermented after harvest. Meanwhile, the fruit’s seeds (not edible, at least initially) are roasted and the ingredients are combined and eventually cooked from powder into a cocoa-like substance. ...

  • In an Oil Boomtown

    In the Amazonian boom town of Lago Agrio, Ecuador, there is tremendous anxiety over slumping low oil prices. Alfonzo Ona, an electrician who services wells for the state-owned oil company, says everyday there are rumors of more layoffs. Even though it’s one of the smallest OPEC countries, more than half of Ecuador’s revenue comes from oil. Kirk Siegler is reporting from Ecuador on a fellowship with the International Reporting Project (IRP). This post was also published on NPR's On the Road.

  • Talking Chocolate in the Amazon

    Saturday seems like an excellent day to talk chocolate, right? It’s my favorite day of the week after all, not to mention one of my favorite sweets. And it just so happens that Ecuador produces some of the finest chocolate in the world. Here at Aprocel, a trading network for local cacao farmers in the Amazon, we’re checking out one step in a very long process of making chocolate: one that begins at the cacao farms along the Columbian border, to fruit fermenting and seed roasting to eventually that sweet rich bar you find at your favorite local grocer in the states. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend eating what this man is holding (and neither would any producer, for that matter). It tastes bitter, chalky and dry. You have to fight not to spit it out. But there is...

  • Climbing for Guaba

    We were touring a farm along the Aguarico River in the Ecuadorian Amazon. But nearby I found this teenage boy climbing for guaba, a delicious wild fruit. There probably isn’t the bandwidth to post the second photo of it cut open (with a machete). But trust me, it’s delicioso.  Kirk Siegler is reporting from Ecuador on a fellowship with the International Reporting Project (IRP). This post originally appeared on NPR's On the Road.

  • A Descent Into … a Volcano

    From the rim of Ecuador’s Pululahua reserve, it’s at least a forty five minute drive (no, plunge) down a winding, bone-crushing dirt road to the floor of the crater.  But it’s well worth it.  After all, how often do you get to say you’ve traveled to what’s billed as the world’s only inhabited, cultivated volcano? I should offer a caveat since volcanoes are very much in the news here.  This one’s inhabited because it’s dormant.  It last erupted about 2,500 years ago but the soils that were left behind in the collapsed mountain are rich in minerals and excellent for farming.   Pululahua is loosely translated from Quechua (the indigenous language) to fog.  Almost every afternoon, clouds shroud the steep mountain walls...

  • In Ecuador’s “City of Knowledge”

    At Ecuador’s newest tech university, Yachay, quotes on the bright new pastel walls range from Albert Einstein to Fidel Castro. This campus, billed as a sprawling “city of knowledge,” is being built on former farm land about three hours drive from Quito. Why so far from the capitol? “The idea is to develop other, rural parts of the country,” says Caridad Perez of the university.  Kirk Siegler is reporting from Ecuador on a fellowship with the International Reporting Project (IRP). This post originally appeared on NPR's On the Road.

  • A Rare Glimpse of Cotopaxi

    This morning I got a rare glimpse of the 19,340 ft. Cotopaxi Volcano from the roof of my hotel.  No, that’s not a cloud mingling around it and yes it’s currently quite active.  It has been like this off and on since August, in fact. The national park (hugely popular with climbers around the world) has been closed about as long and the government has been begun moving thousands of people who live beneath it as well as setting up evacuation zones and centers and other contingency plans.   The good news is this is one of the most studied volcanoes in the world, so everything is being closely monitored. The bad news is that Cotopaxi is due for a major eruption (the last major one occurred more than 100 years ago) Probably the biggest concern in the event...

  • Buenos Dias From Quito

    Buenos dias from Quito, the capitol of Ecuador. It’s said to be the highest capitol in the world, in fact, at roughly 9,350 feet. So when you arrive, take it from me, if at all possible walk down, not up, streets like this one I photographed near the city’s historic center. The good news is that despite the altitude, and the latitude for that matter (we’re right on the equator), the weather here is quite temperate. I’ve arrived with a group of reporters and editors from around the globe as part of an International Reporting Project (IRP) reporting trip focused on health and development. In the days ahead, I’ll be posting snapshots of our adventures – as well as anything odd or interesting I encounter – from Quito to the Amazon to Ecuador...

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