The main focus of today’s educational experience was to visit the unique, Afro-Ecuadorian community of Salinas. To note, today is Good Friday and it was interesting to observe what similarities and differences that are practiced on this holy day in Canada and Ecuador.
In particular, we were travelling in high tourism destinations. The morning commenced with a second visit to the handicraft market. Some of us were surprised to see market stalls and regular stores open for business on a holy day, in a country that is over 90% Catholic.
After an hour of bargaining and acquiring leather goods, alpaca blankets and ponchos and handmade jewelry, we ventured to Ibarra (a large city of 120 000 people). The main economic sector is financial, as well it's one of the main towns where goods from Colombia come into, even though it's still very far from the border.
The train station that we entered was extremely new and of modern quality. It was evident that a significant amount of financial investment has gone into the train tourism enterprise. This observation peaked our curiosity as to why the Ministry of Tourism would funnel a large amount of infrastructure and money for people to take a train to an impoverished area that lacks much touristic appeal, or so it seemed anyway?
As we rode the charming red train, we were guided through a variety of landscapes that presented dry forests, tunnels (one over 400 km long), mountains, sugar cane fields and the city of “Knowledge”. After an hour and a half ride we rolled into the small town of Salinas (population 1250 people), which is predominately of African descent.
The tour included a visit to the salt museum(how they extracted sat from the soil), a walk through town, lunch at a local restaurant and concluded with a visit to gift store (local handicrafts, jams and chocolates). Our interpretation of the reason for the tourism project is to provide another source of income for the town, which once relied on salt as the primary engine for the local economy.
As we walked through the town we saw flats of bricks ready to be laid into place for the new town square. The climate was hot, and you could really tell that it rarely rains in Salinas. During our time in the town, and with our guide, we learned about how the slave trade influenced Ecuadoria culture, and how Salinas was reocgnized, at times throughout history, as a place friendly to the African community.
Though not often discussed in our own history classes, the slave trade actually had a much more profound impact on the Carribbean and Latin America, than it did in the US and North America at large. Originally Jesuits who founded Salinas attempted to use local indigenous populations for labour, but when it was determined they were not suitable for this type of work, they went to purchase slaves who were brought to South America from anywhere from Ghana to Angola and the Congo.
Our time in Salinas was brief. We only really scratched the surface of the history of the town and it's people. Based on the activity the train has brought, I think all of us were left with a hopeful sense that Salinas is now on a better economic path.
- Holly Newsome, Teacher, Woodroffe Highschool