What follows are my obervations of the Mestizo people in rural Ecuador. They are based on only a few weeks of observations and a little research. Your comments are welcomed.
The Mestizo make up 72% of the population here. They are a combination of Caucasian European Spanish and the indigenous Amerindians. The vast majority speak Spanish with a small minority of older folks speaking Kichwa. They are generally short in stature (making me feel like a giant) and they have dark brown skin. The men don’t grow much facial hair (which makes my beard a novelty - especially with little kids: they all want to tug on it!). They all have black hair and dark brown eyes.
In the bigger cities, you’ll find a mix of contemporary and traditional dress. But out in the country, there is one, very specific way to dress: Everyone wears the traditional, wool poncho; The men wear darker colors, the women, brighter colors. Both genders wear the fedora style hat (which I think is very cool but I don’t think I could pull it off). Men wear jeans or slacks tucked into calf-high rubber boots. Both genders and pretty much all ages wear the rubber boots. Women wear pants with a dress over the top of them and usually a scarf - they are very modest. Adult men usually either carry a machete or have it attached to their waist.
Many can’t read or write. The average level of education is sixth grade and that’s for the younger people. That fact really trips me up when I have a whole message typed out in Spanish on my phone explaining who I am, what I’m doing and asking permission to camp; I show it to them but they can’t read it!
They are far and away very friendly folks. And very curious. If they see my tent, they will almost always come over to check me out - even when I’m camped high on a hillside or way off they road. Sometimes individuals, sometimes the whole family. They slowly approach my tent and either whistle (which I dislike) or call out, “Hola!? Buen dia!”.
This makes stealth camping exceedingly difficult: Since they are outside working on their land (almost 100% are farmers) all day, every day and because they are so curious, I’ve been ‘discovered’ (but not asked to leave) about a half a dozen times now.
Recreation for them is as simple as packing up the family and most of the animals (typically a few of each: llamas, pigs, sheep, goats and dogs - the horses and cows stay home) and heading for a local pasture for a picnic lunch. Each animal gets a metal stake in the ground and a ten foot rope. The kids and the dogs run around. The parents spread out big blankets and food. Saturday night is for socializing. Sunday is for church - even if it’s far away.
I’ve only had a couple of negative interactions with them. One older lady who was certain that I camped in her ‘official’ campsite (I didn’t) demanded $4 from me. Another younger girl wanted a dollar from me because I took a picture of her llama - I think she was kidding but I wasn’t certain. Everyone else just smiles and wishes me ‘Buena suerte!’
What I wonder as I look at these folks in their very simple, very small homes and with their very simple lives is this: Are they any better off than we are? They aren’t glued to their phones. They aren’t upgrading to a bigger TV. They don’t have cars, bills, bosses, insurance or dentists (apparently). The Mestizos have been living like this for perhaps hundreds of years. Our lives rapidly change with each generation. Who has it better?
Side note: Their restrooms often have the TP dispenser OUTSIDE the actual bathroom. This forces you to take some before you go in, thus announcing your intentions to everyone in the room. Plus, who knows how much TP you’re going to need? I take a LOT just in case. ;-)