One of the early road blockades on the Pan-American highway between Otavalo and Ibarra.

Making plans is usually worthwhile.

But if happiness depended upon things working out as we expect, then happy days would be few and far between (for most people).

Our travels have been a (fairly extreme) example of this truth, as the Ecuador fuel strikes diary will detail.

Scuppered…

In my previous blog I described our travels in Ecuador prior to the strikes, including an enjoyable day in the indigenous city, Otavalo.

Otavalo’s famous market, one day before the strikes

We planned on staying in our hostel in a small village called Iluman — a 15 minute bus ride from Otavalo centre — for 4 nights. After which, we planned on heading back to Baños.

But today (Sunday, 13th October), Baños still evades us…

Here’s the story of why that’s the case.

Day 1: Thursday, 3rd October 2019

The Straw That Broke the Camel’s Back

The Ecuador fuel strikes diary will begin with a little political context:

One day earlier (2nd October), Lenín Moreno (Ecuadorian President) signed Decree 883, which cut a 40 year-old fuel subsidy. This resulted in fuel prices increasing by more than double on the 3rd October.

Moreno was previously Vice-President under the administration of Rafael Correa, who was heavily pro-welfare; Correa also made international news in 2007 for removing U.S. military bases from the country, after having his own amusing request to install Ecuadorian military bases in the U.S. rejected.

Succeeding Correa, the expectation was that Moreno’s government would be a continuation of a similar kind of politics; but he soon proved (for better or worse) that he had his own ideas.

His austerity package came after an agreement with the International Monetary Fund to reduce Ecuador’s fiscal deficit. That deficit is mostly blamed on Correa’s big-spending.

Moreno’s deviation from expectation turned large sectors of the population — including workers, students, and indigenous communities — against him. Decree 883 was, apparently, the last straw…

“Sorry, This Road is Closed”

Meanwhile, Rebecca and I were completely unaware of any decrees, strikes, or unrest; as far as we knew our day trip to a nearby town, Cotacachi, would go ahead as planned.

I wrote in the previous blog post about our host informing us of public transport strikes; about the blockades made of people, rocks, trees, barbed wire, and burning tyres immobilising the roads; and about seeing riots on the news.

The first cyclists, making a wise decision… That motorcyclist got turned around; but the cyclists got through the blockade

Seeing those big city riots on the T.V. showed us that the strikes were pretty bad…

But I’d like to add that the protestors we encountered were always friendly. We never actually felt in danger at any time; so, in spite of the news, we didn’t expect that the strikes would last particularly long.

That expectation gradually changed over the coming days.

Day 2: Friday, 4th October 2019

Our sleep was disturbed on this night/morning. We heard megaphones and crowds of people cheering, getting excited. We assumed it was to do with the strikes, but our weak grasp of Spanish meant that we didn’t know for sure.

Local dogs were far more vocal that night, too. As an aside, more dogs seem to live in Iluman than people — virtually every household had at least two dogs sat outside all day, barking almost aggressively at all passer-bys … intimidating.

In spite of that, it still seemed unlikely (to us) that the strikes would go on for more than a few days, given our experiences of strikes back in the UK.

Yet the other guests in our hostel spoke of nothing else — a German couple were concerned that they could miss their flight on Wednesday, 9th October.

We thought they were overreacting! A comical thought, looking back.

Waiting Game

Our host later explained that, having spoken to protestors, the strikes were significant; and he thought they could last for 10 days.

Bus services all over the country were unavailable — taxis, too, were unable to take anybody anywhere. Some motorbikes did manage to get around via mountains, but those were long, complicated routes.

We were starting to doubt that we’d be back in Baños by Saturday, as planned.

But they can’t strike forever,” I kept thinking. Which is still true, in fairness!

That afternoon, though, the electricity went out in all of Iluman. Our friends at the hostel seemed sure that the protests were responsible.

Time To Move On

Furthermore, the shops and eateries in Iluman — consisting only of a couple of small vegetable stores, a bakery, a sort of ‘off-license’, and two fried chicken places — all closed down.

There was no electricity, thus no WiFi (21st century problems, eh?); and there was a growing sense that things would only get worse.

One shop that was open, though, was the bicycle shop.

Protestors made exceptions for cyclists getting past the blockades. Therefore, a disastrous situation for everyone else became a boom for bicycle suppliers!

No fuel? No problem! Iluman’s bicycle shop.

Folk from the hostel opted to take the 3 hour round-trip (on foot) to Otavalo centre for WiFi, as well as food supplies. We decided, then, that it’d be sensible to walk there ourselves to book accommodation in the centre.

So we booked a place for 3 nights, expecting that we’d (surely?!) be able to get to Baños by Tuesday.

(Wrong again!)

Momentum…

The road blockades on the Pan-American highway (Ecuador’s equivalent to Britain’s M6) were many. The blockades we’d already seen on Day 1 were bigger. Plus there were new blockades every 200 metres or so.

Beside every settlement/village on the highway, the blockades had community gatherings of 50 to 100 people each.

When you consider how many blockades there must have been up and down the country (which has a population of 16 million) … that’s a lot of people. And their numbers only grew in the coming days.

The Highway to Otavalo

The fact that we wouldn’t arrive in Baños by Saturday had virtually sunk in by the evening. Moreover, the noise from Iluman that night was even louder than the previous night.

So we waited — and are still waiting.

Keep an eye out for the second entry into the Ecuador fuel strikes diary…

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Twitter: @tautologicaltom