Friday, October 8, 2010

Chota, Ecuador: “The Hood”

Valle de Chota in the Andes Mountains. The Home of 2000 Afro-Ecuadorians.

For several years, I wanted to visit Ecuador's black communities of Esmeraldas and Valle de Chota while immersing myself in the Spanish language to improve my level of fluency. My time finally came in December 2009. After spending a week in Perú, I took a bus into Ecuador to hang out for a few days. I didn't have time to visit Esmeraldas because it was six hours away from the nation's capital of Quito, besides, I heard stories about the heat, the malaria, the drugs, and the crime. Perhaps, one day I'll find out for myself because you cannot always trust hearsay.

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Local teens gave me the 411 on their little community.

However, Valle de Chota, or Chota for short, was only two hours from Quito where I was hanging out with Gloria, an Afro-Ecuadorian friend whom I met through a FaceBook friend. Chota is the town that produces a lot of Ecuador's soccer stars like Augustin Delgado (see his soccer plays at the bottom of this post). They even have a soccer training school for young boys who aspire to be professional soccer players. The beauty of this school is that these boys must be willing to be tutored in academic subjects and keep their grades up while training.

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Future world class soccer stars involved in a pick-up game.

My reception by the people of Chota was mixed. The fact that I was a total stranger entering the area cold, and speaking Spanish with a funny accent made some people nervous. One woman went to get the police. The police station, next door to her business, was the size of a three-bedroom apartment manned by two cops. They called me over with a pleasant smile to ask me what I was doing in their town. I tried to keep from laughing as I struggled with my Spanish and explained to them that I'm a fan of Ecuador's soccer team due to the fact that most of the soccer stars are from this little town and made Ecuador proud in the 2006 World Cup Games. The officers seemed pleased and let me finish my personal tour.


People were suspicious of me until we began to chat


As I kept touring the town on foot, I met some friendly families, took their pictures, and chatted. Finally, I stopped in a little store and ordered a can of beer. The lady at the counter seemed quite fearful giving me that “WTF-is-this” look. As I sat and chilled in the shade sipping the beer, some teens came over to make conversation. They asked me about blacks in the USA and I asked them about Chota, especially their soccer stars.

Chota's soccer school, which produces many of Ecuador's star players.

I was also told about some venues where I could party that evening and get a better feel for their culture. Unfortunately, I already made plans to be back in Quito with Gloria who was having a family get-together at her house. After chatting with the teens, I proceeded over to the very soccer field that produced so many of Ecuador's stars and conversed with the young boys practicing their game. They seemed excited about my visit and the fact that I was taking snapshots.

Cops wanted to know what I was doing in their town.

Finally, I made my way back to the police station to get directions to the bus stop for my trip back to Quito. I chatted with the cops, who seemed to have nothing to do in this seemingly crime-free town as I took their pictures and gave each one a Barack Obama post card. Everywhere I went in Latin-America, people seemed to really appreciate the Obama postcards as souvenirs. I left Chota feeling exhilarated to have to have connected with friendly men, women, and children in this famous town----a travel-dream-come-true.

Valley de Chota's own Augustín Delgado gives Poland a thrashing in the 2006 World Cup Games

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