Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Ecuador (in brief) Love Life

The last major trip of 2015 is in the books! With a few final passport stamps to round out the year I’m now giving that bad boy a rest for a few weeks. I feel a little naked without it on me and everyday needing to make sure that it’s still where I left it the night before. But now it’s time for holiday celebrations and ringing in the New Year. 

Apologies for not sending out Christmas cards this year, but stamps from Ecuador to the States were $2.50 and I've just been too lazy since I got back! So Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year from me and my sea lion friend...

The first trip of 2015 was to South America so it seems fitting that the last trip would be back there. Ecuador was amazing and three and a half weeks there turned into some of the best travel that I’ve had this entire year. The destinations were fantastic, hello the Galapagos(!), and obviously I saw lots between cities, beaches, rain forest, and mountains, but it was more than sight seeing this time. This trip was incredibly fulfilling and the shared experiences with others recharged my desires to keep these traveling shenanigans going we much as possible. The Ecuador tourism slogan is 'Love Life' and I was indeed loving it all throughout my time there. I was also pretty happy about the cheapness of almost everything there - 10 months without a paycheck needed a budget friendly destination! 

I went into the trip excited but I’ll admit that I was somewhat hesitant and just felt like I was filling time until Christmas. When I got on the ground in Quito I decided that I needed to fully embrace the time there and make as authentic an experience as possible and also go as much backpacker style as I could (I’m not 25 anymore so there are some comforts that I want and will pay an extra $5 for). This was definitely the right way to go - between hostels, day trips, buses, and just chatting with folks wherever possible, I met more people in these few weeks than in most of my other travels and traded tips and stories helping to shape my route. Even though I was by myself I was rarely alone. I worked on my Spanish with lots of patient locals and despite usually only talking in the present tense and often just conjugating verbs into ‘I’ or ‘You’ I made do. Compared with my first travel of the year I was much more successful and loads more confident!

When I arrived in Ecuador I had only one real plan and that was to go to the Galapagos. I knew the dates I’d be on the islands and everything else until my return flight to San Francisco - all of my other destinations, transportation, accommodation, activities, etc - was on the fly. It’s really a good thing that my overly planning project manager self is pretty much non-existent these days and a low key flexible self has emerged. I’m working on a blend of the two now and allowing indecisiveness to just be known as willing, able, and flexible. You never know where a day or a night might take you so just be ready and willing!

I’ll put up a few different posts about the specifics of each of the spots that I visited but for now here’s the super Cliff’s Notes version. Also, now that I’m back to 1st world wifi all of my photos (read... 1500+) are now uploaded and organized into albums. Between my phone, DSLR, and GoPro this was definitely a photo heavy trip especially in the Galapagos and Amazon. I admit I just couldn’t stop snapping pics of the sea lions everywhere I saw them for eight days!

The trip shaped up like this (you can see these spots on a map here):

  • Quito [3 days] [Photos] - massive capital city of Ecuador, nice old town with squares and churches, questionably safe especially at night, easy half day trip to Mitad del Mundo to see the Equator

  • Galapagos [8.5 days] [Photos] - 600km off the coast of mainland Ecuador this is a world unto itself and a stunning display of wildlife both on land and in the water. It doesn't have to break the bank to visit if you're willing to play it a bit by ear!

  • Montañita [2 days] [Photos] - famous mainland beach town perfect for stoners, surfers, and partiers. It’s relaxing but not…

  • Cuenca [2 days] [Photos] - well preserved colonial city much smaller and cleaner than Quito with a nice National Park nearby

  • Baños [2 days] [Photos] - outdoor adventure town, Ecuador’s answer to Queenstown New Zealand, with rivers, waterfalls, mountains, volcanoes, and a very photogenic tree swing. Definitely wishing I had more time here!

  • Cuyabeno Reserve [4 days] [Photos] - Part of Ecuador’s slice of the Amazon rain forest, home to all sorts of birds, critters, and creatures, and much more beautiful with rivers and lakes than I imagined the rain forest to be

  • Otavalo [½ day] [A few photos in the Quito album] - town two hours north of Quito with famous craft markets perfect for last minute shopping before my flight

Enjoy the photos - more to come soon if you're interested in the location and activity details. And if you're curious what's coming for 2016 that's in the works too and let's just say it's going to be très magnifique!