Like in all of Latin America, fútbol (football or soccer) is played by young and old throughout Ecuador.
In addition, there are a number of traditional ball games which are part of the fabric of the country, either unique to Ecuador or shared with one of its neighbours. It is generally men who play and a fair bit of swearing accompanies the action. In many cases betting among the spectators make the game all the more exciting.
Walk by a park in any city or town in the late afternoon and you will see a crowd cheering around a volleyball court. If you pay close attention, you will see that there are only three players on either side of the court and that the ball is handled in a way not permitted in ordinary volleyball. This is ecuavolley or voli, Ecuador’s very own sport.
A unique form of paddle ball most commonly played in the northern and central highlands is pelota nacional (the ‘national’ ball game), requiring considerable strength. It is also known as pelota de tabla (board ball) for its impressive paddles or tablas. A 1m-long square wooden paddle with rubber spikes weighing about 1.5kg is used for batting and another, up to 6kg, for returning the heavy natural rubber ball. The paddle is secured to the forearm with a leather glove. There are five players on either side of the court and the rules are like those of tennis. Pelota nacional is played in the afternoons in the Yacucalle neighbourhood of Ibarra, south of the bus station, and in Quito on weekends at Parque La Carolina and in the southern neighbourhoods of Mena 2 and Quito Sur.
A similar game, also played in the north is pelota de guante (glove ball), where the ‘glove’ is really a wooden disk around 35cm in diameter, covered in leather and studded with thick nails on one surface. Also similar is pelota de mano (hand ball), where a rubber or leather ball is struck with the hand.
Bolas is yet another popular game. The term refers to marbles, also known as canicas. These are placed inside a circle and each player tries to hit their opponent’s pieces. In a similar fashion, large steel balls (bolas de acero) are propelled from about 50m away to a court with an inner circle of small balls or palm fruits (coquitos). This game called bolas or cocos, is played in the central highlands and in Quito at Parque El Ejido.