Sunday, May 3, 2015

Almost Perfect in Ecuador

I didn't intend on visiting Ecuador (which would have been my loss) but sometimes people come into your life and change your plans. And so my journey to Ecuador actually started in Valparaiso, Chile at the end of February.

I had enjoyed a fun couple of days touring around Valpo and was waiting around for a wine tasting hosted by a guy from the hostel.  I was sitting on the couch, minding my own business (AKA - checking Facebook) when a friendly American asked me if I was waiting for the wine tasting. I confirmed his suspicions and asked if he was doing the same. He explained it had been a rough night the night before and his plan on this Friday night was to go to bed early.  But he managed to squeeze a quick conversation into his busy schedule. We covered the traveler basics: Where are you from? Where have you been (on your travels)? Where are you going?  His answers: Buffalo, NY but Oahu has been home the last 12 years. Started out in Argentina in January and was working his way north through South America, ending in Colombia in June. Somehow the conversation turned to talk of tiny houses and Colorado which piqued his interest. But I had some Chilean wines to learn about so we promised to catch up later. 

Later became sooner when I found out the wine tasting required 4 participants and we were only 3, my companions being two fun Canadian girls, one of whom was celebrating her 23rd birthday. If we didn't find a 4th, Jalisa's birthday plans would be ruined. But I had a feeling I could find a 4th. And I could hear his voice down the hall.  Typical American. I went to find the source of the voice and heard him Skyping... with a girl.  My boldness quickly turned to timidity so I lightly knocked on his door but it was apparently not loud enough. I went back to my Canadian friends and proposed that the birthday girl should try and recruit our 4th wine taster.  He seemed too nice to turn her down. From down the hall I heard Jalisa explain the situation. Next our 4th wine taster is explaining the situation to the girl he is Skyping with: "Sis! 3 beautiful women are begging me to go drink wine with them. Gotta go! Catch you later!" 

And this is how Jamie from Hawaii became wine taster number 4 and a fun night with new friends began.  He and I had so much fine that evening that we decided to spend the next day together as well. We wandered around Pablo Neruda's house, Chile's poet laureate, and took in the incredible views of the city from above. We talked of our travels around the world and leaving our jobs and living simply and discovering so much more we had in common. Not gonna lie, it was pretty exciting. 

And then later that afternoon, out of the blue, Jamie asks: "Are you religious?"
My response was my typical response: "I don't like the word 'religion' but yes, my faith is important to me. I'm a Christian."  

Jamie expresses a dejected "Nooooo!" And then adds, "Almost perfect."  Followed by "I'm and Atheist."

My response. "Noooooo! Almost perfect!"

We immediately decided it would never work out between us. He could never be with a Christian, not to mention the fact that his friends would never let him hear the end of it after being such an advocate for atheism. And I could never be with an Atheist. After all "Christian" is at the top of the list of the "9 C's," the 9 things I'm looking for in a husband... all of them start with C. (If you know me well, you've probably heard me talk of them. As you can see, it's working out really well for me. I know you are wondering... it's been considered as blog material.  We shall see...)  

So, where do we go from here?  He was leaving for Bolivia the next day and I was headed to my last Workaway assignment in Santa Cruz. We decided to make the most of it and enjoyed our last night in Valpo, walking around, continuing our conversation, sharing our books on our "To Read" lists catalogued on our phones. And I managed to send his blood pressure rising by explaining who Jesus was and why he had to come to earth and then that I also agreed with science but just that God created all that science has been discovering since man started to wonder. I could see I had my work cut out for me if he was ever to have a change of heart. 

We promised to keep in touch and went our separate ways. 

Long story longer...

We kept in touch.

Then I began to plan what I would do with a two week window of time after Moms and Pops South American Adventure ended and I had a flight to catch out of Buenos Aires on May 3. It just so happened that Jamie was going to Ecuador and it was one country in South America that I had missed. After much contemplation, we let a coin toss decide if I should join him. Well kind of. But that's another story.  So I booked a flight to Quito!  I think my Dad's response to this news was "Well, that's a good way to mess with your emotions."  But I was confident that I knew this relationship would never happen and it would just be a fun 2 weeks with a great travel buddy in a new place. 

And that's exactly what it was. 

Neither of us had many expectations of Ecuador. And maybe that made the experience even better. 

We started out in Quito and enjoyed the city's free walking tour and some good food as well. 

Basilica in Quito

Guarding the Presidential Palace, where the President doesn't live...

Protesters gather in front of the Presidential Palace

The Virgin watching over the city

Oldest street in Quito, renovated

Quito at night

But neither of us are city people so we were excited to leave the city behind and head to Mindo. Lonely planet made it sound like heaven on earth.  And it was pretty close... Although Jamie might use another phrase to describe it.

An awesome chocolate tour from El Quetzal

Chocolate - from beginning to final product!

Cacao beans

Tiny House inspiration...

It's a "Gypsy Wagon"

Butterflies fluttering about...

Hummingbirds buzzing...

Incredible Orchids... Although microscopic which made them that much more amazing.

If you look closely at the center its a perfect heart!

Isn't God's handiwork incredible??
And running into fellow traveler Cath from Quebec whom I met at a campsite in Cerro Castillo and was now giving Chocolate tours!  Again... "don't goodbye, just see you later!" 

We extended our stay in Mindo we liked it so much. Especially after eating the "best burger ever", Jamie decided we should stay one more night so he could eat at Inti Killa again... a little hippie joint run by a sweet French woman and her Ecuadorian boyfriend. It was so hippie, in fact, we were surprised when burgers were the only thing on the menu when we expected vegetarian. 

Our next destination was Latacunga as a jumping off place to hike to the glacier of Volcan Cotopaxi. 


Guide Diego and new friend, Bianca from Berlin

And to take off on a stunning 3 day trek known as the Quilotoa loop. Jamie was thinking hanging out in coffee shops would be a better way to spend a few days, especially after I made a rather grueling 3 week itinerary for him in Peru including the Salcantay trek to Machu Pichu, the Colca Canyon trek and the Santa Cruz trek through the Cordillera Blanca... all during the rainy season. I forgot that I had done all these things over the course of several months. Whoops. 

Regardless, for me, Quilotoa was the highlight of Ecuador. If you have a trekking bone in your body, I would say, "Get thee to the Quilotoa Loop!" Start early for a beautiful view of Volcan Quilotoa which helps to avoid the rain that comes in the afternoon. 

I found my tiny house!

Stay at El Vaquero in Chugchilan. Norma and Victor have built a spotless hostel with incredible views and great food! $15 per person includes dinner and breakfast. We were expecting pretty meager accommodations and were blown away! But nothing compared to our next stay. 

Victor is a thumbs up!

We made our way to Isinlivi but were delayed an hour when Maura, an opportunistic young girl, saw gringos heading her way and realized that her English homework could be completed much easier with the help of a native English speaker. An hour later I had translated the fairy tale of the poor couple who had three wishes that were wasted on sausages. And then Maura wrote her own fairy tale I translated to English for her. I'm pretty sure Maura was thinking she could get the rest of the semesters worth of homework done that morning, if I hadn't explained that we had to be on our way. 

Just another morning in Chugchilan... our new friend "Princesa" awaits and homework is getting done!

I would never do this at home!

Greatness awaited at LluLlu Llama hostel. Our host, Jasper for the Netherlands, made us an incredible sandwich and then we settled into a cabana with incredible views... More tiny house inspiration!  Dinner was great and shared with new friends from Denver, Portland, Toronto and Myanmar.  I left by inquiring about Jasper's job. He was volunteering there to get the feel for running a hostel as this is a career his is considering for his future. Hmm... sounds familiar. 

Along the way we drew the attention of a few street dogs. Princesa followed us from Chugchilan and Mama Negra (we named her for the festival that is celebrated in the area) found us an hour before we arrived to Isinlivi. When we left on our 3rd and final day, they were both waiting for us outside our cabana to continue the trek. But we discovered that Princesa was actually a boy so I changed his name to Pat the Perro. Anyway... Pat hung with us to our destination in Sigchos. Mama Negra decided to return from where she came.  

Amazing trek. Backpacker luxury. Quilotoa... Where dreams come true. 

Next stop Baños. It seems every traveler through Ecuador goes to Baños.  I don't think it's quite the same during rainy season but we enjoyed some good cafes and movie days. Although we did manage to squeeze in a spa day at Luna Runtun where I had the best massage of my life. Seriously. And the views weren't bad either!

The extent of our adventurous sprit in the Adventure Capital of Ecuador was a hike to Pailon del Diablo (Devil's Caldron). It really was an incredible sight. On the way we took a little cable car across the canyon, the standards of which I cannot imagine would meet US safety codes. But this could be said about many "adventures" in the rest of the world. 

And the sun managed to clear on our last afternoon in Banos, perfect for a swing from the Casa del Arbol (Tree House). 

Last stop: Cuenca. 

Our first morning in Cuenca, we ventured to Cafe Nucallacta, recommended by Cassie, my workaway roommate in Santa Cruz who lives in Cuenca. (Another "not goodbye, just see you later" story... Got to catch up with Cassie over pizza at the incredible Fabiano's!)  

But at this cafe I became convinced that AARP must have published an article about the Top 10 Places to Retire To. I wasn't too far off:

We spent most of our time in Cuenca bouncing between coffee shops. But we did manage to squeeze in the bus tour and a trip to the museum.  Nice town... And great community if you are 65 or older and looking for a foreign country to land in!

So Ecuador in a nutshell: 
It's a beautiful country that has invested a lot in tourism recently and one you should visit. 

Jamie is still an Atheist. 

I am still a Christian. 

And we are still friends. And another person I'm sure I can add to the "Not goodbye, just see you later" Hall of Fame. 

But one last thing...

I've spent one year of my journey in South America.  I will be leaving here in a few hours. And even though I've been here so long, there are places I still plan to return to, namely: Bolivia, more of Patagonia and Brazil. Of course I'd love to revisit friends in Colombia, Peru and Chile as well. I'm thankful to have improved my Spanish during my time here. I'm thankful to have learned more of what it means to live simply and intentionally during my time here. I'm thankful to have explored some amazing natural wonders from north to south in this continent. I'm thankful that I've been immersed in a rich culture of music and dancing...things I've loved before but love even more now. But above all, I'm thankful for the people I've met along the way, both fellow travelers and locals. As always, I've discovered that this is what the journey is all about. 

Until next time South America... Next stop Germany!  It will only take 25 hours on 4 planes (3 of them overnight) over 3 continents and 35 hours waiting in airports.  But I know what awaits on the other side will be worth every minute of it!

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