Ryan is a master’s student at the Albert-Ludwigs University of Freiburg in Germany. Originally from Massachusetts in the U.S., Freiburg’s Global Studies Program has allowed him to live and study in Buenos Aires and New Delhi in addition to Germany in the past two years. His research interests include politics, social movements, labor & environmental rights. He is currently writing his thesis on worker led movements within the company Amazon in the U.S.
Sharing a passion for nature, local & sustainable food systems, and community sovereignty - Ryan is highly looking forward to contributing to TRR this spring.
by Gloria Grasso
Saying that chocolate is not only one of the best known food but also one of the greatest pleasures in our world is probably not a stretch. Nowadays, it comes in all shapes and forms, as bars, candies and bonbons, with several tastes and cacao percentages, in order to accommodate the taste buds of even the pickiest of the eaters. Thinking of its distinctive smooth and sweet taste is enough for causing an immediate mouth watering sensation. Although it may not come as a surprise that chocolate comes from cacao beans, which are endemic of South America, it may be shocking to find out that originally chocolate was consumed as a beverage, and a salty one, nonetheless. In fact, the origins of the word “chocolate” must be traced back to the Aztecs and their word “xocoatl”, that used to describe a bitter drink brewed from cacao beans. However, the origins of the beverage itself or of the use of cacao beans as a possible source of nourishment may be even older than that, dating back to Mayan societies or even before, to the Olmecs. What is sure is that cacao beans have been cherished from centuries and even used as a currency at some point among the pre-Columbians societies of Central and South America.
In order to find the sweetened version of chocolate that is more familiar to us we would have to wait until the appearances of Europeans explorers and colonisers in the American continent, in the 15th century BC. According to some legends, the at-the-time Aztec ruler Montezuma II was a huge chocolate addict, drinking gallons a day, and believing it had great energetic nutrients as well as aphrodisiac properties. Similar legends say that it was him who offered the chocolate beverage to Hernan Cortes, after having him mistaken for the reincarnation of a deity rather than a conquering coloniser. At first, the peculiar bitter taste of the drink did not appeal to the foreigner’s tastebuds, but it quickly became a fashionable drink in Spain, after it started to be mixed with honey or cane sugar. Once the Spanish started importing cacao beans from America, chocolate became the latest trend all over Europe, and the high demand was followed by the creation of chocolate plantations, tended by thousands of slaves.
The creation of chocolate powder and bars came comparatively rather late in chocolate history, not earlier than the 19th century. At first, a Dutch chemist managed to pulverise the cacao beans deprived of their natural fat, making the powder product known as “Dutch cocoa”, and then, a British man named managed to add back the butter into the cacao to form moldable bars. This gave start to the further expansion of the chocolate market and the creation of the treats that are most known in our times. However, modern-day chocolate production and high consumptions of the product comes at a cost, including the poor condition of its workers and the exploitation of natural resources, which is also why many organisations have created appeals for more ethical and sustainable ways of chocolate production.
Editors, H. com. (n.d.). History of Chocolate. HISTORY. Retrieved 17 March 2021, from https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-americas/history-of-chocolate
McCarthy, N. (n.d.). The World’s Biggest Chocolate Consumers [Infographic]. Forbes. Retrieved 17 March 2021, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2015/07/22/the-worlds-biggest-chocolate-consumers-infographic/
The History Of Chocolate In Ecuador | Southern Explorations. (n.d.). Retrieved 17 March 2021, from https://www.southernexplorations.com/history-chocolate-ecuador
Gloria is a 24-year-old student from the south of Italy. She completed a Bachelor in European History in 2018 and is currently finishing a Master in Global Studies at the Albert-Ludwig Universität of Freiburg. She has not been to Ecuador yet, but she spent some time in Latin America, living in Mexico and Argentina as part of her studies. Her academic research areas are mainly in the field of human rights and gender studies, but during this internship, she would like to celebrate the beauty of the animals, food, and natural landscapes of Ecuador.
Originally from New Mexico, USA, Jacqueline has made her way around the world, delighting in the unknown while laughing deeply. She is in her final semester at the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg, in Germany. Her research interests center the protection of traditional knowledge and challenging and revealing global power structures. Having visited a dear friend from Esmeraldas, Jacqueline was entranced by Ecuador; a truly magnificent place. She looks forward to being an intern for the Two Rivers Reserve and eventually returning to Ecuador.
New Spring 2021 Interns
Two Rivers Reserve is very happy to have a second round of virtual interns this spring! While we are sad our interns can't physically come and stay with us, we are very happy to have them in the Learn more about who our new interns are!
The Rights of Nature
By Sarah Lander
Ecuador is home to many sacred species and sites. Two Rivers Reserve is an ecological reserve in the Amazon, seeking to protect and revive the nature that the unique environment fosters with reforestation at its core. Two Rivers is a part of the overall movement in Ecuador towards nature preservation and protection, and organizations such as TRR play a key role in such. Ecuador is unique in that it is the first country in the world to recognize nature as something that holds innate rights, the same way that human beings have rights. In the Ecuadorian constitution enacted in 2008, all living beings, including nature and all its encompassing parts hold intrinsic rights which by law, need to be protected. This is an important step taken by one nation to attempt to heal the damage that has been done to our planet by human degradation. Moreover, it seeks to preserve its own vast and unique nature.
The Rights of Nature are a controversial topic in Ecuador and around the world. Intervening on nature is a common means of financial gain, making it a point for contestation from many corporations. Furthermore, some have put forth the argument that nature should not hold the same moral rights as people. Nevertheless, establishing the Rights of Nature in the constitution means that human beings are held, by law, accountable to uphold the responsibility to protect the environment and the nature that surrounds them. Furthermore, the chapter on the Rights of Nature in the constitution instills the very values that indigenous people have been holding throughout history in all Ecuadorians- that nature is to be protected and valued. Including the Rights of Nature in the constitution represents a greater overall shift towards healing the nation’s relationship with its indigenous populations.
Pachamama is a term originally used by indigenous populations in Ecuador, and is a term embraced by the Quichua community who live on the land where Two Rivers Reserve is located. Since the constitution adopted the Rights of Nature, Pachamama has become a more commonplace term. Pachamama embraces the ideology that nature, as an entity in and of itself holds innate rights. Furthermore, nature not only has rights, but holds powers within itself if we embrace it as an equal. Pachamama is roughly translated to Mother Earth, however it goes further than its English translation, associating more in depth meaning to the nature which we reside upon and alongside. Pachamama is now a term embraced by a whole country, challenging the structures and shortcomings of modernity.
Ecuador having included the Rights of Nature in its constitution has set an important precedent for the rest of the world to follow. Although protecting the Rights of Nature has been contested and not always carried out in practice since its enactment, it remains a significant step in the right direction for the protection of our world’s nature.
Berros, María Valeria. “The Constitution of the Republic of Ecuador: Pachamama Has Rights.” Environment & Society Portal, Arcadia (2015), no. 11. Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society. https://doi.org/10.5282/rcc/7131.
Echeverria, Hugo. “Rights of Nature: The Ecuadorian Case”. Research Gate. 2017. Web.
Hayden, Rebekah. “The Rights of Nature in Ecuador” The Ecologist. 2020. Web. https://theecologist.org/2020/nov/06/rights-nature-ecuador
Identity in Ecuador
By Sarah Lander
Identity in Ecuador is a complex concept. Although Ecuador is relatively homogenous regarding religious views and values, there are several different layers of Ecuadorian identity held by its diverse population. In the past, Ecuador’s population has grasped at a common identity, however with a movement towards inclusivity of its Indigenous population and other smaller groups, this can no longer be held as legitimate. There has been an overall shift away from embedded colonial ties, which embraces cultures and practices that were held before Ecuador’s encounters with colonialism. Identity in general is a concept which is often difficult to grasp or define, as it can mean different things to everyone. In Ecuador, there are several understandings of what constitutes an Ecuadorian national identity.
National identity as a concept is blurry and open to interpretation and personal perception. Historically speaking in a global context, it has been both a point of tension and a tool for togetherness for many nations. It can reflect the common values and pride of the people within a nation’s borders, but there is a potential for it to be divisive for lack of a common collective understanding of what it means, in this case, to be Ecuadorian. As with any colonized nation, Ecuador has struggled to embrace a national identity due to its encounters with colonizers and further encounters with an increasingly globalized world.
Indigenous populations in Ecuador have long struggled with having their indigenous identity represented in an overall Ecuadorian context. In a national attempt to unify and homogenize Ecuadorian identity, many indigenous populations were left out of the equation. In recent years though, there has been a shift to include indigenous cultures and identities in an overall Ecuadorian national identity after many peaceful protests and movements from the indigenous peoples. With this shift, Ecuador has embraced more of a multi-layered national identity which seeks to encompass all those living within its borders.
Mestizos, or mestizaje is a term used across Latin America and it can be defined as “a mixed race” identity. In Ecuador, the mestizo identifying population are a mix of indigenous and European background. Approximately ~70% of Ecuadorians identify as mestizo; however, it is important not to discredit the other mixed identities in the nation such as Afro-Latinos and more. In 1895, Mestizos were declared the heart of Ecuadorian national identity moving forward. Although a majority of Ecuador today can be defined as mixed race, there still exists certain racial and ethnic hierarchies within the society at large, making a national identity difficult to grasp at.
Music, language, religion, culture and other factors keep Ecuadorians different, but also somewhat unified. There is not one single national identity for Ecuadorian’s, but there is a common acceptance of one another’s various identities.
Beck, Scott H; Mijeski, Kenneth J. “Indigena Self-Identity in Ecuador and the Rejection of Mestizaje” Latin American Research Review. 2000. 35:1. 119-137.
Garcia, Denia; Telles, Edward. “Mestizaje and Public Opinion in Latin America” 2013. 48:3. 130-152. Web.
Huarcaya, Sergio Miguel. “Imagining Ecuadorians: Historicizing National Identity in Twentieth-Century Otavalo, Ecuador”. Latin American Research Review. 2014. 49:3. 64-84.
Segreda, Rick. “A Brief History of the Mestizo in Ecuador” Culture Trip. 2017. Web. https://theculturetrip.com/south-america/ecuador/articles/a-brief-history-of-the-mestizo-in-ecuador/
Political Structures in Ecuador
By Sarah Lander
Ecuador, officially the ‘Republic of Ecuador’ has a political system which can be most accurately defined as a representative democracy. There are local and federal level governments who are voted in democratically. Ecuadorian’s are legally allowed to vote at the age of 18 and are expected to vote until the age of 64. Women were granted the right to vote in 1920, making it one of the first amongst its regional counterparts to recognize women’s role in democratic politics. Ecuador’s head of state is called a President, and their current head of state is President Lenin Moreno Garces. The current Vice President of Ecuador is María Alejandra Muñoz.
Ecuador gained its independence in 1822 but has since had a long and rocky road to becoming a consistently democratic nation. Since 1979 with the implementation of the constitution, the country has seen democratic stability in terms of frequent and fair elections. The government is structured between municipal (referred to in Ecuador as ‘cantons’), provincial and federal levels of governance.
At the local level, are electoral districts called cantons. There are 221 of them in the country, and cantons are democratic electoral districts where a leader is locally elected by the people residing within that canton. The next level of government is provincial, however the person in charge of provincial government (governor) is not democratically elected by the people living in the provinces. This person, referred to as a governor, is rather appointed by the President at the federal level. Although they are not directly democratically elected by the people, they typically represent the President’s party values. The leaders of the cantons within each of the 24 provinces hold a significant amount of pull in decision making for local communities.
At the federal level, the President is elected democratically for a four-year term. On the federal ballot, when casting your vote, you are to select your choice for both the President and the Vice President. The Vice President’s role is more supplementary and supportive than active, and the Vice President would only actively step in to govern in extreme circumstances. Although there are elections every four years, the President may only serve one term and not run in the election following their term in office. The President and their executive reside and govern from Quito, Ecuador’s capital city. To become the President of Ecuador, there are certain requirements that must be fulfilled by the individual such as being at least 35 years in age, an Ecuadorian citizen, etc. For the President to be voted in, votes are cast anonymously by secret ballot. In order to gain Presidency and Vice Presidency, the respective candidates must gain the ‘absolute majority’ of the vote, which can be defined as anything more than half of the votes.
“Ecuador Government Structure” Country Studies. US Library of Congress. http://countrystudies.us/ecuador/58.htm
“Ecuador: Local Government” Britannica Places. https://www.britannica.com/place/Ecuador
“Ecuador: Government” Global Edge Country Profiles. https://globaledge.msu.edu/countries/ecuador/government
Religion in Ecuador
By Sarah Lander
Ecuador, although predominantly Roman Catholic, constitutionally embraces an open attitude towards diverse religious and spiritual practices. Ecuador is a secular state, meaning it separates religious and political life in its policies and practices. Although it is a secular state, approximately 85-95% of Ecuadorians identify as Roman Catholic. Historical events have shifted religious and spiritual practices amongst Ecuador’s diverse population over time, crafting the religiously homogenous but religiously tolerant nation we see today.
Most of the indigenous populations in Ecuador have adopted Catholicism and shifted away from their prior spiritual and religious practices since colonization from the Spanish. Although Ecuador is predominantly Roman Catholic, there is a small Jewish population, as well as other smaller followings of Christian faiths and other miscellaneous religions. The constitution in Ecuador is one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, especially regarding religious freedoms. This constitution instills religious freedoms and tolerance upon the nation and discourages religious based discrimination in any form.
Roman Catholicism was brought to Ecuador with Spanish colonialism in 1534. This was when the first Catholic church was built, and now churches are one of the biggest attractions for tourists and locals with their elaborate architecture and history. Although it is commonly assumed that the first church was built in Quito, the capital, this is not the case. Before Quito was deemed the capital city, the capital was near the Chimborazo volcano, high in the mountains. The climate was deemed too difficult for a capital city shortly after the first Catholic church was already underway. It was with this realization that the Spanish shifted the capital to Quito where it remains today. The oldest known church is called the ‘The Balbanera Church’ or ‘Iglesía de Balbanera’, named after the virgin of Balbanera. This church was built with volcanic materials and, although done with colonial influence, shows off many local practices and habits such as regional food and cultural traditions in its architecture.
Churches in Ecuador provide great significance and insight into the country’s colonial encounters and present-day religious practices. These structures are an everyday reminder of how embedded Catholicism and religion is in Ecuador’s knitwork. Catholic churches in the country are a common tourist attraction, and they are often large and extravagant. The implementation of attractive churches came with the overall colonial shift towards Roman Catholicism and has now become a large part of Ecuador as a nation’s identity at large.
Secularism is represented in the education system as well as other facets of everyday life. For example, public schools must put Ecuador’s secularist constitution in practice and are not to mention religion in schools at all to ensure a separation of church and state. With that though, privately funded schools may still promote religious ideology through their curricula. Ecuador is a unique example of modern-day progression and secularism, encountering a long history of embedded religious homogeneity.
Drake, Angela. ‘The Story Behind the Oldest Church in Ecuador’. 2017. Web. https://theculturetrip.com/south-america/ecuador/articles/the-story-behind-the-oldest-church-in-ecuador/
“Ecuador 2018 Religious Freedom Report” 2018. Web. https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/ECUADOR-2018-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf
“History and Culture of Ecuador”. Web. https://www.adventure-life.com/ecuador/articles/history-and-culture-of-ecuador
By Sarah Lander
Ecuador’s position in Latin America provides diverse opportunities for ethical tourism. Within its borders it holds diverse landscapes, allowing for accommodation of a vast field of interests. With tourism generally, it is crucial to acknowledge the complexities of the nation you are planning to visit and how to enjoy your holiday with these in mind. Tourism accounts for a good chunk of Ecuador’s annual revenues and is becoming increasingly important to the nation’s economic stability in recent years. It is important to do your research before travelling to Ecuador or any new destination, to ensure that your trip will be ethical and beneficial to the nation you are visiting. Travelling of course inherently uses harmful emissions through air travel and other means of transportation, but there are certainly ways to guarantee that your time away from home will be as ethical and environmentally efficient as possible. This guide does not necessarily only apply to Ecuador but will use Ecuador specific examples given its unique diversity and geographical location.
The most crucial responsibility of any tourist is to put an effort into understanding the place you are visiting, before, during and after your trip. Not only is it necessary to understand basics such as geography and currency, it is also of equal importance to learn about the languages, cultures and customs you may encounter on your travels. For example, Two Rivers Reserve is located on the indigenous lands of the Kichwa people. Where you may have done your research and are conscious of traditions and values in Quito for example, in this region and other regions, these may differ. Moreover, preserving and reclaiming traditions are of utmost importance to this community and other indigenous communities around the world. Always make a valiant effort to immerse yourself in your surroundings without being offensive or harmful to them.
When travelling to Ecuador and its regional counterparts, most people assume that the language used is Spanish. Ecuador holds within it a diverse population and has at least eleven languages spoken throughout the country- so be weary of this when assuming Spanish will be the spoken language of the region you are visiting. As well as language, Ecuador offers a diverse range of activities and landscapes that suit every kind of tourist. Whether you are interested in backpacking, eco or adventure tourism, luxury beach vacations or volunteer work, Ecuador has something for you. Regardless of your interests, there are ways to guarantee that your trip will help and not hinder the economy and the nation at large.
Eco-Tourism, a trend that began in the Galapagos has gained ground in Ecuador in recent past. Eco-tourism aims to immerse tourists in natural environments without damaging the local life at said destination. Furthermore, it focuses on benefitting the people and the land in the region while maintaining significant tourism into the area. In this particular region of the world, there has since been an increase in “green” tourism that preaches eco-tourism’s values, however in practice does not carry out the same principles and values which guarantee a beneficial experience for the host and the tourist. Deforestation is a major issue in Ecuador, and organizations such as Two Rivers Reserve serve the purpose of allowing tourists to engage with and re-establish local life without doing any of the damage that larger corporate “green” tourism companies would do. Always do your research into the values and principles of organizations when choosing an organization to volunteer with.
If your travelling style leans more towards luxury travel, look into the tour companies and hotels you book with to guarantee that these offer authentic local experiences that benefit the local economy and environment, rather than manicured experiences which harm both the locals and tourists’ experience. If you have more of a taste for adventure and wish you do your trip on a smaller budget, there are certainly ways to do this which would benefit local life. You can book yourself into locally owned eco hostels and meet other likeminded travelers or eat and shop at locally owned restaurants and eateries. Ensure that you are avoiding large chain fast food where possible. This can also save your budget and allows you to try new foods which better help you connect with your environment and enhance your experience and understanding. There is certainly something for everyone in Ecuador, and there are always ways to be a more responsible tourist, regardless of your travelling style.
This page is happy to have many authors! From some of the Two Rivers' staff to our lovely volunteer interns. WE hope we can see Ecuador in as many perspectives as there are trees in the Amazon.