It’s easy to imagine how life-changing this road improvement will be for the people who live in these remote mountain villages. The road is barely passable in parts due to the mud and it’s not even the rainy season. A tremendous amount of water comes down off these mountains. Controlling it will be a feat of engineering. There are times when towns are cut off, no one comes in our out, due to the road being washed out, landslides or otherwise impassable.
In many ways the road improvement will be good. The people will have faster and more reliable access to services in the city of Loja. When the road is paved, it will become a more efficient shipping route for goods to southern Ecuador and northern Peru. Tourist busses will be able to pass, making it a route to/from Peru on the Gringo trail. The additional traffic and tourism will bring income into these communities. New businesses will sprout up to support the growing tourism.
But progress always comes at a cost. Part of the identity, values and way of life of these mountain people will inevitably be changed as they have more regular exposure to outsiders. The traffic will shatter the silence of the mountains (particularly the engine brakes of the big rigs). Currently, several minutes pass between vehicles. I recall Joy speaking nostalgically about how quiet the Vilcabamba Valley used to be, 30 years ago, before all the traffic poured in. Increased traffic will create pollution. Trash, the eyesore of all well-traveled roads, will litter the roadside. People will drive too fast on the new road. Children won’t be found playing games in the roads through villages. There’s something charming about cycling into these sleepy towns and having to maneuver around a ball game and dogs sunbathing in the middle of the road.
Old men will use this as a reference point to their stories “Ahhh, I remember back before the road was paved…”
One thing is certain, these villages will be changed forever. We’re glad we were able to experience this part of Ecuador, a place still relatively isolated from the outside world, but a place in transition.
Living on the edge: The road bulldozed through a landslide. No guardrails here.
The road cut into the side of the mountain: