Feliz Ano Nuevo 2015 everyone! Just returned from a very fun trip to Ecuador with our good friends John and Margo. Alan, our neighbor and friend, was a sweetheart and took care of the house and Marley while we were gone, so we were free to explore Ecuador for almost 6 weeks. Thanks to Bruce, my spanish teacher, I had a pretty good idea of where we would go and what I wanted to do and see. Backpack stuffed, guidebook and map in hand, I was ready.
We landed in Guyaquil and headed to the Funky Monkey hostel for the night. The city is not much to look at, big and crowed with warnings galore of theft and crime, but we had no problems and headed out in the morning to Playas, the first of 3 beach stops we had planned. If you love ceviche, then Playas is the place for you. Wonderful little restaurants along the malecon were hard to resist, so we didn’t.
From Playas, we moved on to Puerto Lopez, a small fishing village beginning to attract tourists with restaurants, shops, and boat rides to Isla de La Plata, home to the Blue Footed Boobies. Known as the poor man’s Galapagos, we couldn’t resist and had a great time hiking the island. Watching the fishing boats come in and drag nets the way fishermen have been doing it for hundreds of years was great. Birds swooping in for runaway fish made for an exciting time.
Leaving Puerto Lopez, we bussed over to Montenita. This is a chill surf/hippie haven filled with hotels, clubs, more restaurants, and fabulous beaches. Dennis grabbed a board and spent the day surfing while I walked the beach and played in the waves, read, journaled, and checked out the local shops.
Next stop, Cuenca for 2 weeks. We toured lots of churches, museums, art galleries and met lots of really nice folks. We took a day trip to Sig Sig, where I met with a shaman healer for a bit of ‘cleansing’. Then off to Chordeleg to see the silverwork they are known for. We found a nice place through Airbnb, and it was nice to settle in for a bit and prepare meals after being on the road and eating out so much. John, Margo, and Dennis made some excellent meals and I was the designated cleaner upper. The mercados in Cuenca were amazing with every possible fruit and veggie and anything else you could possibly desire. We quickly found reasons to go to the market every day. Haircut, keys, spices, backpack (for all the trinkets I was picking up along the way) etc. What an exciting place? We took a short bus ride to the Ingapirca Ruins on the winter solstice was awesome. Our guide performed a short prayer and chant tapping into the energy of the area for manifesting good into our lives as well as for the good of the planet. This occurred at the highest point of the ruins and created a beautiful vibration in the rock chambers in which we were standing. It was a great great day!
Dropping south, we transferred buses in Loja, and headed to Vilcabamba. The drive was spectacular and we had such good weather that the views were endless. I loved Vilcabamba for its sleepy little town square with organic restaurants and hippie vibe. Yoga, meditation, friendly people, Vilcabamba is home to several communes, mixed in with local residents riding horses and burros to town for a bit of visiting and business. I was very happy here. Muy tranquillo. Our hostel was the perfect spot to relax in a hammock with a book while enjoying the gorgeous gardens within its secret walls.
Back to the bus and headed to Alausi for the Devils Nose Train Ride. We almost didn’t get a ticket, but fate intervened and we got last minute seats for a lovely excursion through the Andes. We continued on to Banos, a resort area for New Year’s and found ourselves reveling with thousands of folks dancing and walking the streets. Men dress as widows of the old year in sexy dresses, high heels and wigs and put on quite a performance stopping cars and asking for money. Lots of folks were wearing costumes, much like Halloween and it was a sight to see. There were paper mache effigies of politicians and pop icons everywhere being burned to get rid of bad events in the Ano Viejo (old year).
From here, we moved on the Quito and enjoyed exploring the historical section of town. Quito is one of the oldest cities in Ecuador, with cobbled streets and incredible architecture, but with 2.2 million people, it was a bit too big for me. We did have fun riding the teleferico up to the highest point and looking down on all of Quito.
Onward and upward, we found ourselves in Mindo, known for its chocolate, butterflies and birds. On the way, we made 2 stops. The first was to Mitad del Mundo, located somewhat near the equatorial line, but not exactly. Good enough for me though. We jumped out of our taxi, took a quick picture and moved on. Our second stop was an incredible crater which is now a very fertile valley and home to many farms. Pressing on, we arrived in Mindo, about 2 hours from Quito. While this is a small town on the edge of the jungle, I think it was one of my favorite spots for its beauty and peacefulness. We did a short hike by the butterfly farm and wound up having lunch along a pristine creek with birds and iguanas and plants galore.
Our last stop was Otavalo, home of the largest indigenous marketplace in Ecuador. We stayed outside of Otavalo in a sweet little area called Araque with incredible views of Lago de San Pablo. Our hostel was run by a very nice family who made our stay very special. We sat around the livingroom fireplace in the evenings and had a wonderful time getting to know one another and practicing our spanish and english simultaneously. We took a quick day trip over to Cotacachi and a tour of the area and then said our goodbyes to our wonderful hosts.
Ecuador is a beautiful country and the people are friendly and proud of their heritage. Everywhere we went, we met people eager to help us, share their love of their country and just make new friends. We met so many wonderful people from all over the world and treasure each moment we shared with them. It seems the more we travel, the more we embrace the reality that we are all just neighbors, meeting however briefly and enriching one anothers lives by sharing our experiences.
Flying out of Quito to Panama City was a quick trip and left us with a bit of time to try out a restaurant our friends have been raving about. It was indeed yummy (The Smoke Shack) and then we took a quick ride on the new subway that runs to Albrook Mall. Dennis and John found a coffee spot while Margo and I cruised the mall a bit before heading to the airport and arriving home.
Ecuador was great, but being home and relaxing on the patio here in Boquete is pretty great too. We’re unpacked, laundry is done, garden is tended and life is back to normal. Think I’ll head over to the Flower and Coffee Festival downtown for a little walk about tomorrow.
“TO TRAVEL IS TO TAKE A JOURNEY INTO YOURSELF.” Danny Kaye