2014 Brazil World Cup and Ecuador’s Fíºtbol Mecca
As soccer frenzy reaches a fever pitch and all eyes are on Brazil for the 2014 World Cup matches, people are rallying around their countries and their favorite footballers. It’s hard not to be swept up in the excitement of the soccer matches, and many people want to learn more about their favorite players and the places that they call home.
Ecuador’s soccer team’s story is one that is inspirational and says a great deal about the country and their passion for the sport. Ecuador first qualified for the World Cup in 2002, and then qualified again in 2006. While the 2010 World Cup qualification eluded the team, they’ve made a strong presence in Brazil for the 2014 matches.
Ecuador is a small country with a population of just over 15 million people. What may surprise people is the fact that over half of Ecuador’s most talented soccer players come from one place: the Chota Valley. Located in the northern Andes, this remote valley is the epicenter for Ecuador’s soccer success stories.
Chota Valley: An Overview
Populated by the Afro-Ecuadorian descendants of slaves and largely ignored by the rest of the country prior to the country’s World Cup success, the Chota Valley is remote and rugged, but is also a beautiful part of the country and one that deserves recognition. Sandwiched between two massive portions of the Andes Mountains in the upper region of the Chota River, the Chota Valley sits at an altitude of 5,600 feet above sea level. Its residents grow sugar cane, produce a local brandy known as aguardiente, and raise various types of livestock.
The weather in this part of the Andean highlands of Ecuador fluctuates widely, with summer temperatures reaching nearly 30 degrees, while winter temperatures are more mild. Precipitation is generally light, but heavy rains can cause mudslides that are devastating to the local community.
Chota Valley is easily reached from Quito, and provides travelers a unique glimpse into the rich yet complicated history of the Afro-Ecuadorian population.
Ecuador’s Soccer Mecca
Prior to Ecuador’s rise to World Cup stardom in 2002, no one outside of the country was very familiar with the Chota Valley and its residents. However, once word got out that this remote region was largely responsible for the country’s success on the soccer field, the rest of the world began to take notice.
Ulises de la Cruz, one of Ecuador’s most loved footballers, comes from this region. After his World Cup success and his enviable position with some of England’s Premier League teams he has returned to his roots and is working to aid the community. His charity foundation has been instrumental in the creation of schools and clinics in the region, but the soccer school here might be the most instrumental service of all.
The journalists of the world have taken notice, as well. News agencies have been visiting the Chota Valley in record numbers, and a documentary film was created that followed the struggles of three young men who dreamed of soccer as their way out. Now that Ecuador has again demonstrated their success on the field in the 2014 World Cup, it’s likely that more and more people will take notice of this very special part of the country.
Visiting the Chota Valley
No adventure to the highlands of Ecuador is complete without a visit to the Chota Valley. Just a train ride from Quito away, this part of the country can feel magically different. Once you arrive in Chota, there are a number of things to see and do.
Bomba del Chota is a fascinating combination of local music and dance that will leave you enthralled. A sampling of the local cuisine can include a variety of meats and vegetables, as well as a delicious dish called guandul, also known as pigeon pea, which is a scrumptious staple in this part of the world.
No visit to Chota is complete without a stop at the local soccer school. This facility provides the local children with the opportunity to learn the game and master their skills. You’ll even have the chance to meet some of these young stars and their coaches, and learn more about the talent that exists in this remote part of Ecuador.
While the World Cup only comes around every four years, Ecuador’s Chota Valley remains a reminder of why sports such as soccer have the ability to uplift communities and unite us all. Consider adding a journey to this incredibly unique part of the country on your next visit to Ecuador.