Lying in bed in an utter state of anxiety over a lack of restful sleep, realizing that I’m about to spend two sweaty nights in little more than a screened-in porch without air conditioning. Sweltering humidity and intense sun-exposure has caused me to be slightly less-fun and a lot more damp than my normal self and I begin to reflect on our day at Anaconda Island, the balsa wood raft ride through the white-capping Napo river, and the hairy Tarantula that attempted to take a swim with me before dinner. The details of my health-coverage being sketchy, I’m thinking yeah, Ecuador is to die for – literally.
Of course I’m just kidding although there are probably many ways to die here, of which might possibly be the river Cayman, Piranha, Anaconda, the mysterious Tatura flower’s “sweet dreams” tea, and possibly choking on the fried “Iron Palm” pork served at the restaurant at the Center of the Earth Lat’ 000 marker. Truthfully, all I’ve accomplished thus far is to prove to everyone just how entitled I may be because mostly, the Ecuador I’ve visited has been found to be immensely beautiful but I’m still here whining about two hot nights. The temperatures throughout much of Ecuador are actually perfect due to high elevations. You’ve just royally screwed up and found the blog of a spoiled and sarcastic traveler.
Honestly, if bucket lists are something you often think about, traversing through the Amazon jungle has to be somewhere on everyone’s list. It was for me. And now I have the wounds and bug bites to prove it. I’m kinda hoping I end up with a few permanent scars from all of the bug bites so I end up with a few great conversation starters with my unborn grandchildren. The jungle can be dangerous but it can also be uniquely entertaining. On one outing, a grey-winged trumpeter sort of imprinted on Emily while touring an animal rescue center deep in the jungle and proceeded to follow her everywhere she went. It was kinda like having a big chicken for a buddy. She liked it cuz they kill snakes.
Rita, our new friend from Hong Kong, was wearing some sort of bug patch she purchased in Hong Kong. She never got a single bite. I, on the other hand, took a sponge-bath in a mosquito and tick repellent so strong that the warning label warned against applying it directly to your skin. The Amazonian jungle vermin simply laughed at me and my silly Yankee bug potion. Who says the Chinese are always borrowing American technology – I say “bug-bite mitigation technology” is clearly an area where we need to start stealing secrets from the Chinese. Who gives a shit about 3 stage rockets and advanced cell phone technology when you can repel every annoying bug known to mankind?
I’ll admit that Ecuador surprised even me: half of a globe-trotting duo hell-bent on visiting less-traveled destinations. To answer everyone who intimated that we might be crazy for traveling here, I’ve herein provided you with a list of great reasons to travel lovely Ecuador. Y’all know that “facetious is as facetious does” so please try to humor my Southern sarcasm because there really are a few valuable lessons strewn all about. The trick is to find them so sit back and I’ll do my best to educate.
One of my first observations was that traveling Ecuador just may be the polar opposite of traveling around Europe. In Europe, you travel over mostly uninteresting landscapes – forgeries of which you could find somewhere in the U.S. – in order to find magnificent “old towns” and walk among or study the ancient art and architecture. Many of these places are so inundated with the tourist trade that much of the intrinsic beauty of the culture, language, and the natural state of the site is lost. In Ecuador, the travel between places is through a continuity of spectacular landscapes and ecological masterpieces to find cities and villages that will mostly underwhelm the typical European traveler but are instead wrapped in an endearing naïveté. The tourist trade is so new that the destinations are mostly unspoiled and the people are unwitting subjects of our curiosities.
Of course there are architectural masterpieces to be found in Ecuador such as the Jesuit built Church of the Society of Jesus in Quito, but for the most part the masterpieces of interest for travelers to Ecuador are going to be the natural-wonders created by God. There are 84 volcanos in this tiny country, 24 of which are active. It seems that everywhere you travel is within a telephoto lens distance of one of these magnificent geological features. There are also a number of fantastic Haciendas scattered throughout the country. One of which we visited was built in 1680 and included its own beautifully appointed chapel built just 10 years later. Another sitting atop a steep mountain in full view of an active snow-capped volcano was 200 years old and once boasted 200,000 acres of land.
Driving through the country of Ecuador can at one moment mesmerize you with its deep river canyons, cascading waterfalls or the patchwork-quilt of agricultural art that canvas the mountainsides in unpredictable patterns at unexplainable elevations. At other times, it can be dizzying by an uninterrupted sea of unfinished or collapsing concrete homes, storefronts and brick walls that secure the perimeter of every palace and pig pen. It’s not what we’re used to but it is this simplicity of life that draws us in and says without words that these are simple and hard-working people worth every moment of our allotted eight days to better discover and explore.
Regardless of whether you’re seeing straw and bamboo homes on stilts or modern concrete structures accented by clay tile roofs, the homes and villages of Ecuador are almost always resting in the shadows of magnificent volcanoes or foreboding mountain vistas that can instantly turn your attention away from any lessor inspiring view such as the occasional road-side pee-pee bandito. The city of Baños, for instance, sits at the base of an active volcano with a lovely cascading waterfall in full view of its public square, completely nestled inside a circumference of steep mountainous terrain.
Every city seems to have its own specialties of locally-produced products; a city for roses, one for jeans, leather products, alpaca wool products, chocolate, tobacco, Panama hats (see explanation below), seafood…, you name it. Ecuador also boasts several fruits, vegetables, plants and flowers that one can only find here. Whether you’re in the high elevations where the sweet tree-tomato grows or in the jungles of the Amazon eating lemon flavored ants, you’re always surprised by something new to try.
Ecuadorians are a complex homogeneous tribe of haves and have-nots just like the snobs we love at home. They’re a tall, short, skinny, chubby & lovable, dark or light skinned group of hard-working and honorable people who want all the same things we want. They just ask for them in a completely unintelligible language called Spanish. In case you’ve never heard of it, I can say that when spoken by a local it does sound somewhat romantic (pun intended).
One thing I couldn’t help but notice along our way is that there is seemingly an endless strand of aluminum clothesline wire stretching all the way from Quito to the Amazon Jungle dressed in the most intimate of Ecuadorian couture – framed between every porch post and elaborate perimeter wall – of which is dressed atop by shards of colorful broken glass and Dr. Pepper bottles. The rainbow of cotton and alpaca fabric is like a woven fanfare that welcomes visitors to every village and community. I’ve begun to believe that the common Ecuadorian architecture doesn’t include clothes storage and that everyone just uses these clotheslines as permanent open-air storage for their entire wardrobe. The Spanish totally got it wrong, El-Dorado lies at the end of the clothesline rainbow, not on the shores of Lake Parime.
I promise it doesn’t take long to grow a real appreciation for some of the local rituals as the people here are so genuinely kind and accepting of tourists and our own little tourist proclivities such as taking photographs of them in the marketplace like they’re circus animals. You soon grow to love the Ecuadorian people and all of their quirky roadside displays. One trip through West Virginia will remind us that the “other” America isn’t all that shiny on all its surfaces.
Be prepared, however, many of the public restrooms require a “tipping fee” in order to partake of the convenience of a porcelain solution to your biological travel-needs…but the “fee” only provides for three or four tiny little squares of toilet tissue, perhaps enough to remove only the coarsest of organics made from unfamiliar diets. The unintentional consequence of hoarding all that precious paper is that many locals can be found with their “plantains” in-hand urinating in public places or on the side of roadways as a way of national protest. It’s OK though, it helps you to feel like part of the family.
If ornamental iron is your thing, Ecuadorians have lots and lots of it. That said, most of it is carefully shaped and sculpted from rebar. If you have lots of leftover rebar from a building project and have absolutely no idea of what you’re going to do with it, come to Ecuador for inspiration. You won’t be disappointed.
The Panama hat? You’ve heard of it? It’s really from Ecuador only there was a mix-up at the hospital and it went home with the wrong parents. It’s a very old story that ends in the collaboration of an indigenous Ecuadorian hat and a Spanish hat which resulted in the famous head cover known the world over by its alias because the hat was exported to Europe and North America through the port of Panama before the canal was built. Now, you know the rest of the story.
I cannot fail to mention that Ecuador is very travel-friendly for Americans. In fact, the U.S. Dollar is their official currency. They have a representative democracy, national healthcare and education, good roads, and all the colada morada you can drink. If exotic birds and animals get your blood boiling, they have way too many to mention individually. Individually speaking though, just for reference purposes – the Ecuadorian camel-toe can be found in vivid abundance – just sayin.
If you’ve dreamed of visiting an indigenous Quichua village; trading for shrunken heads; climbing an active volcano; eating BBQ Guinea Pig; floating on a balsa raft down an Amazon basin river; seeing the Galápagos Islands; or watching a monkey ride a chicken through a town square, Ecuador is definitely your next destination. When you make up your mind and decide to book your trip, there’s no doubt that some of your friends might say, “Why Ecuador”! There are many reasons for you to visit here, no doubt, but seriously…a monkey riding a chicken? Where else can you see that?
I have to give kudos to our travel partner, Gate One Travel. This was our 4th Gate One trip and each one continues to surpass the former – and our expectations. Its just so easy. Also, our wonderful 13 fellow travel companions. We loved our entire gang and I know we will stay in touch with many of them. FYI, Duncan, someone found some damp underwear in your room, they’re waiting for you at the reception desk at Casa del Suizo. Last but not least, our local tour guide Javier Estrella was fantastic. He’s a wealth of knowledge, kind, with a mother-hen commitment to his flock of inquisitive followers. You’ll never find a better person to spend eight days without air conditioning. He also free-lances so if anyone is convinced that Ecuador might be perfect for their next adventure, his contact information is as follows: 59-398-007-5760.