Puerto Quito, Pichincha

Puerto Quito, which has its own Wikipedia entry, is a cantón (like a county) located in the province (or state) of Pichincha. It has a town center with businesses and residences and government seats along with a large number of neighboring communities, or "recintos". There are about 88 of these recintos, in addition to about 7 sectors in the town center, to make about 95 communities. The town center has about 2000 people, and the villages altogether have about 17,000 people (making about 200 people in each village, each roughly equivalent to El Chontal). The people are mainly mestizo, having immigrated because of droughts from Manabi and Loja in the mid-to late-20th century, and there are a few afro communities.

Puerto Quito is in the Sierra but has coastal weather, especially because it is located in a valley in a forest region. There are two seasons, rainy and dry, and every day the temperature peaks out close to 85⁰F. The uniqueness of this climate makes it especially ideal for growing two types of agriculture products: African palm, which is used to make palm oil, and cacao, the base ingredient in chocolate. In Puerto Quito grows the highest quality chocolate base in the world. The unique climate is a major reason that the government, investors, and immigrants from other parts of Ecuador have stimulated a fast growth in this region over the past 30 years.

The vast majority of residents of Puerto Quito are laborers in farms that grow palm and cacao, with some owning their own and others living in the center and having businesses related to the commerce there. Tourism is also a growing aspect of the life here, as this region has great biodiversity and beautiful natural landscapes. You will see a wide variety of nature like hummingbirds, fish, and exotic insects (oh yeah, the exotic insects make themselves quite at home.) Like all of rural Ecuador, the way of life is much slower and simpler than in the States, though the average laborer would make about $4000 a year. Though you can actually feel this poverty as in all developing places, there is also an openness that is welcoming.

In the center, there are a several schools at different levels, including two high schools, one public and the other Catholic. There are fiestas and parades at various times throughout the year, and the schools always play an important part in them. In each of the villages, or recintos, there is a one-room school, a bathroom, and a small living quarter for a teacher to stay overnight. Together with a sports field for soccer or volleyball, this usually identifies the village center, and there may be a few other things there, too, like a shop selling convenience-store things. In the center of Puerto Quito, there are also a few government-run medical clinics, and a large hospital is currently being built. There is an indoor gymnasium and a little outdoor sports complex called a polideportiva. There's a Catholic church, and several other denominations are also present, including Evangelicals, Jehovah's witnesses, and Seventh-Day Adventists.

There are various visitors to Puerto Quito from Europe (especially Germany) and the US. Many are doing a gap-year after high school through a "global citizens" program, and there are volunteers from the Peace Corps in the area as well. Missionary priests and religious sisters are also here. I've come to Puerto Quito as a friend of theMissionary Society of St James the Apostle, or the St James Society. These priests have invited me into the life and ministry here. The pastor here for over 20 years, Fr Martin Kelly from Ireland has helped to build a church and Catholic elementary and high schools.

For a great introduction to Puerto Quito, check out this introductory video that the English Club at the Catholic high school made as part of a cultural exchange with a high school in Massachusetts: http://youtu.be/Zy-lFXAHUnY

The priests have also started a ministry to the disabled here, Amigos del Arca Ecuador, that includes not only therapies of different types, but also a form of communal living and working together in the vein of the L'Arche communities founded by Jean Vanier. The Franciscan Missionaries of St Joseph assist in Amigos del Arca, and the Oblates of St Francis de Sales operate the schools. It's in these aspects of the life here that I've spent most of my time here in Puerto Quito.

Well, are you ready to cross the bridge?