What’s so great about Ecuador? 5 things for asylum seekers to look out for

5 reasons why those seeking political asylum like the smell of what Ecuador is cooking (yes, one of them is guinea pigs)

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Back in the day, Brazil was the top South American safe haven for fugitives. But 2013’s hot destination for political refugees is Ecuador. First WikiLeak’s Julian Assange is holed up on the sofa in London’s Ecuadorian Embassy, now CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden is expected to arrive in Ecuador itself today. Esquire reports on what the plucky Latin state has going for it, and what Snowden can expect when he gets there.

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People
Ecuador’s left-leaning president Rafael Correa is an outspoken critic of the US. While his country has an extradition treaty with the US, his government previously said it would grant Julian Assange asylum on the grounds that he “would not have a fair trial” if extradited to the US. Assange’s WikiLeak’s is said to be helping Snowden is his bid for asylum in Ecaudor, “via a safe route”.

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"We act upon our principles,” Ecuador’s foreign minister recently told journalists in relation to the Snowden case. “We take care of the human rights of the people."

When they aren’t fighting for human rights, Ecuadorians are fighting for the right to party, with every town boasting at least one fiesta. Snowden should arrive in time for national holiday San Pedro and San Pablo (29 June). Legend has it that women who jump over bonfires the night before will fall pregnant (or get singed trying). 

At the other end of the circle of life, the country was also recently voted the best place in the world to retire to.

And while the country isn’t noted for its whistleblowers, Ecuadorians know their way around a set of pan flutes.

Geography
Forget the Copacabana, Ecuador has some 2,300km of coastline, and some pretty spectacular beaches. Would-be residents should hit the glorious Spondylus Route, the country’s Pacific highway, and stop in at or buzzing party towns such as Atacames and Same, chilled-out surf spots like Canoa and Montañita or quiet fishing towns in between. 

The Galápagos Islands come under Ecuador’s charge, as does oil-rich Amazonian national park Yasuni, and the country boasts one-sixth of all bird species on Earth. It also backs onto the Andes, with Cotopaxi, one of the world’s highest active volcanoes and the site of one of a handful of equatorial glaciers, towering over the capital Quito.

Last year, it was revealed that a government-owned theme park purporting to mark the centre of the world in fact stands 100ft too far south.

Food
While the fare from the neighbouring Peru is presently the tostada of the town, Ecuador doesn’t really register on London’s restaurant map (Holloway Road’s bustling El Rincon Quiteno excluded). Yet (a nod to any ahead-of-the-curve restaurateurs).

The South American country itself, however, is fast becoming quite the foodie hot spot, and those seeking political asylum can expect to tuck into locro, a hearty potato stew that serves as the national dish, as well as Ecuador’s take on ceviche, which comes with tomato sauce.

Corn and yuca are staple ingredients (it’s also the world’s biggest exporter of bananas), but more adventurous eaters might want to sample spit-roasted cuy (guinea pig), as well as beetle larvae, tronquito (bulls’ penis soup), yaguarlocro (the aforementioned potato soup, but with a splash of pigs’ blood) and a hallucinogenic cacti broth. Yum.

Sport
Football is the country’s national sport. While not quite the home advantage that Bolivia’s Estadio Hernando Siles offers, Quito’s Estadio Olímpico Atahualpa is high enough to be included in Fifa’s 2007 ban on World Cup Qualifying games at altitudes above 2,500m. (Fifa later moved this particular goal post to 3,000m, meaning Quito was back in.)

Here, Ecuador have toppled both Brazil and Argentina twice, and comprehensively beaten Peru 6-0.

Languishing in the wilderness for years, the national team is currently enjoying its highest-ever Fifa ranking (10th) and looks likely to qualify for next year’s World Cup.

However, Ecuador’s Olympic medal haul — if you can call it that — isn’t quite so impressive. The nation has two: a gold from the 2008 Beijing Olympics and a silver from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, both in the, er, Men’s 20km Walk.

Fashion
Panama hats are in fact from Ecuador. So there.

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