Last stop in Ecuador: Otavalo, in the northern highlands.
I took my parents to my favorite hostel, Hosteria Rose Cottage, where I’ve stayed twice before. The surrounding mountain views are unbeatable and offer such a peaceful atmosphere to relax and reconnect. My parents loved our little house, which my dad called our dollhouse.
Outside our dollhouse!
Day 1: Parque Condor & a fancy dinner by Lago San Pablo
Our first afternoon in Otavalo we spent at Parque Condor, a bird sanctuary and rehabilitation center. The Andean Condor is a symbol for South America, a giant bird (one of the biggest flying birds in the world) in the vulture family with a wingspan of up to 10.5 feet! They are now endangered, and Parque Condor is trying to protect them, as well as other birds such as owls, eagles, hawks, and smaller birds.
We walked around the sanctuary reading about all of the birds before seeing a flight exhibition in the sanctuary amphitheatre. It was amazing to see the birds fly free, all the while returning to Parque Condor. We all got the chance to hold one of the birds, too!
Beautiful views walking through the park.
After the Condor Park, we treated ourselves to a fancy dinner at Puerto Lago Inn, right on the banks of San Pablo lake. We sat by the window, overlooking the water with a perfect view of Volcan Imbabura, the largest volcano in Otavalo.
Day 2: hiking around Rose Cottage to the waterfall
On our second day in Otavalo we spent the morning hiking the hills behind the property with beautiful, panoramic views. From Rose Cottage, you can see four different volcanoes in the province.
After about 3 hours of hiking, we were pretty tired, and spent some time relaxing at Rose Cottage, laying in the hammocks, hanging out with the dogs (who followed us everywhere! a new part of the family haha), reading, and taking in the views.
Mom enjoying the mountainside view.
Dad exhausted after our hike.
Our new friend.
Day 3: The famous Otavalo market & horseback riding in Peguche
Saturday morning we got an early start, and went to the market by 8am for some shopping. The Saturday market is HUGE, with vendors sprawling out into every side street. It can be overwhelming, but if you’re patient, you can find some great deals on anything from alpaca blankets and sweaters, to jewelry, to art, to backpacks and purses, to different textiles.
After a few hours of shopping, we made our way to Peguche, one town away, for horseback riding with Juan and his son, Sebastian. It turned out to be a wonderful experience riding to the Peguche waterfall and through the countryside, up to a tree called el Lechero, which is said to have healing properties. Though we only signed up for one hour, Juan took us out on the horses for 3 hours, showing us different plants and sights along the way, and telling us the legends of the surrounding countryside. Sebastian, who is about 9 years old, had a ball with his horse, riding backwards and sideways and spinning around, eagerly taking our picture and telling us stories.
El corazón (the heart) in the side of the mountain. According to legend, a giant stepped on the volcano, making this shape.
El Lechero, the healing tree, with our guide, Juan.
Hugging the tree sends you some of its healing magic.
After a few beautiful days in Otavalo, we spent Sunday resting at Rose Cottage for the morning, until it was time to move closer to the airport. We were sad to see Dad go home and back to work, but happy to have made these amazing memories. As for Mom and I, it was almost time for the next adventure in Peru!
After an amazing 5 days in the Galapagos, it was time to go back to the Andes for more exploring.
Next stop: Cuenca, in the southern highlands.
We stayed in an old mansion-turned-hotel called Casa de Aguila, and the antiques and old-style architecture was beautiful.
Breakfast in the hotel.
Resting with some tea out on the balcony.
We spent our first day in Cuenca exploring the city, shopping at the market in Plaza San Francisco, walking the streets, the river, and the park, and enjoying some quiet after a busy week in the Galapagos.
Walking by the river.
Day 2: Visiting Ingapirca, one of the few remaining Incan ruins in Ecuador.
We learned how to identify the style of rocks used and built by the Inca. They were near-perfect, and have stood the test of time. The Inca were experts at using the land and connecting to Mother Earth, with an intricate system for farming and water filtration. We saw an Inca home, the farming terraces, the houses where virgins were kept before being sacrificed, and walked the path to see an Incan face on the side of the rock. Before we left, my dad tried canelazo, a local hot alcoholic drink made from aguardiente, sugar, and cinnamon.
Day 3: Cajas National Park
Our last day in Cuenca we decided to do some hiking at the nearby Cajas National Park. We took a bus about an hour to the park, and bundled up for the cold, but beautiful walk around the lake.
Despite the cold and drizzling rain, the walk was wonderful, taking about 2 hours through the mountains. We ended at the refuge, and sat by the fire to warm up and eat some lunch before catching a bus back to the city.
Our last night in Cuenca we took a walk through the park after a delicious dinner of pizza and wine, and were greeted with a parade and fireworks on the way home, in celebration of a religious holiday in the city. It was the perfect end to our stay in Cuenca!
Next stop: the Galapagos!
(photos courtesy of my mom - can’t complain about all her picture-taking this time!)
I wasn’t sure I’d make it to the Galapagos this year, as it can get expensive having to fly out to these famous islands. Luckily, my parents decided to include it in our trip, and I’m so thankful I was able to share that experience with them!
We flew into Baltra, a small island with just the airport and a military base. We were all surprised at how dry and desert-like the island was. I had pictured a lush, almost tropical environment. But, while the wildlife is incredible, the islands themselves are still young to have much vegetation. From the airport we took a bus to the other side of the island, where we saw some wild tortoises and explored a cave formed by lava!
After lunch, we took a boat to Santa Cruz, where we took another bus to the harbor, where we took a little water taxi to our hotel. This is how transportation was for the week- boat, bus, boat, bus. It was cool to get to so many places only by water!
Waiting for the water taxi to our hotel, Finch Bay!
We stayed on land, in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz in a wonderful hotel, and took day trips out on the boat to three different islands: Santa Fe, Plaza Sur, and Bartolome.
My parents in front of the harbor on Santa Cruz.
Santa Fe island
Our first day we traveled to Santa Fe island. There we saw sea lions, land iguanas (they never go in the water, and instead wait for their food to drop from the tops of tall cacti. They are very patient, and also very territorial), a rare Galapagos hawk, blue footed boobies, pelicans, and crabs.
It was amazing how close you can get to the animals. One of our guides told us the animals don’t see humans as a threat, because they have never been hunted on the islands, and have always been protected. Because of this, they come right up to you! We were instructed not to touch the sea lions, despite their friendliness, because sea lions recognize each other by smell. If a human touches a baby sea lion, for example, its mother will not recognize it and the baby will be abandoned. So, we were very careful to keep a respectful distance, while at the same time enjoying the playful and extroverted sea lions.
A photo from the water taxi.
On the boat on the way to Santa Fe island.
The famous blue footed boobie!
A land iguana.
Sea lions like to pose for pictures.
The hard-to-find Galapagos hawk.
The sea lions may look lazy - but they rest in between long swims between the islands, and are actually very active creatures!
After a few hours on the island for our tour, we went back to the boat for lunch and snorkeling! The snorkeling was by far our favorite activity each day. Off the coast of Santa Fe, we swam with the sea lions, who come right up close to you before playfully darting away, and I swear, they smile while doing it!
Happy, sleepy, and sun-kissed, we came back to the hotel each day to relax by the pool and clean up before a gourmet dinner. Our waiter, Carlos, was especially kind, and made the experience that much better.
Plaza Sur (South Plaza) island
Our second excursion to Plaza Sur started, again, on land and then brought even more amazing snorkeling. We saw turtles, a variety of beautifully-colored fish, and sharks! I was having so much fun in the water that I didn’t even notice the group get back on the boat, and when I finally looked up, alone in the water, everyone was calling me back. I wish I had brought an under-water camera to capture some of the amazing snorkeling, but I guess you’ll just have to go see for yourself!
Fun in the water.
Sea lions basking in the sun.
The most adorable baby bird, safe from the wind under a rock.
On the land tour of Plaza Sur.
Relaxing poolside at the end of the day.
Bartolome was the most barren of the islands we saw, with no vegetation. You can see the indentations in the volcano from lava flow. We climbed up the hundreds of steps to see amazing views of the surrounding water and volcanic cones.
After the tour of the island, we took the small motor boat around the rocks to see penguins. They were much smaller than I had imagined, but nevertheless impressive to see. At first glance, these islands don’t look like they would support much life, but the variety of animals, mammals, and birds living in the Galapagos is truly incredible.
Despite the barren volcanic rock, some plants, such as this cactus, do manage to grow here.
The pelican landed just as we raised the camera for a picture. They just love the spotlight!
On the boat!
Special dinner set up by Carlos, our waiter, on our last night. We sat between the pool and the ocean.
Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island
Our final day in the Galapagos we visited the Charles Darwin Research Station, and learned about how they are preserving and protecting the giant tortoises that are famous around the islands. So that the babies are not eaten, they live at the Station until they are about 5 years old, at which point they are ready to be released into the wild. The tortoises can live over a hundred years! Though it is impossible for researchers to know the exact age of a tortoise, the size, color, and smoothness of the shell tells them approximately how old they are. Despite their impressive size, tortoises have small brains and are very simplistic. They have no need for socialization, and rarely interact with the other tortoises. They spend their lives moving slowly around the islands, staying near fresh water for bathing, and eating the grass.
Scientists believe the tortoises were once on the mainland before being moved to the islands, and a tour of Incan ruins we saw near Cuenca shows that the natives knew about the tortoises.
I realize these posts are now going to be out of order, as I have been so busy traveling and spending time with friends that I have some catching up to do. I want to write these posts with a fresh memory, so here is the most recent travels!
I spent the last three weeks traveling with my parents in Ecuador and Peru. I can´t describe how good it felt to see them again after so many months apart, and seeing them discover this beauitful place for the first time.
We traveled to Quito, Mindo, the Galapagos, Cuenca, and Otavalo before my dad had to return to work, and my mom and I set off for a mother daughter trip to Peru.
My parents tried some local Ecuadorian food our first few days in Quito, and of course they loved the fresh juices as much as I do. We spent day 1 exploring Old Town, or el Centro Histórico, with my friend Hugo, visiting the Panecillo, the big angel statue overlooking the city, the churches, the president´s palace, the museums, taking pictures with the big Quito sign, and walking around la Ronda.
First breakfast in Quito at one of my favorite fruit stands!
Having some fun at the Quito sign.
My dad loved encebollado, a typical hot fish stew, and he and Hugo drank some Ecuadorian beer, Pilsener and Club. After a teary goodbye, Hugo went back to Riobamba and my parents and I walked around Parque Carolina and went back to our hotel to rest.
Day 2 we took the Teleferico up Volcan Pichincha, and took in some amazing views of Quito. The city had always felt so small to me, since I was always in the same neighborhoods, but seeing it from the top of the mountain it sprawled for miles and miles along the valley.
At the top of Pichincha after taking the Teleferico.
Our third and final day we decided to take a daytrip to Mindo, in the cloudforest. On the way, our guide stopped at a crater, where a whole community is now living.
My parents wanted to try ziplining after hearing about my experience in Costa Rica, so we hired a guide and drove 2 hours north. My parents loved ziplining, and even tried superman position! We spent about 90 minutes and did 10 cables through the beautiful cloudforest mountains.
After ziplining, our guide took us hiking to see some waterfalls. I hadn´t seen this area of Mindo, so it was a new experience for the three of us. We hiked for a couple of hours, soaking in the sun and humidity that was absent in Quito, and ended the trip with lunch and a stop at the chocolate factory to try their famous brownies!
for everything I learned this year, and especially for the people that came into my life. I believe everyone we meet has something to teach us, and there is a reason they are in our lives - for however long they are meant to be.
I met a lot of new people while in Ecuador: my fellow WorldTeach volunteers and CJ and Lee, our directors, all of my friends and co-workers at ILE, Pilar and her daughters at Quinta Dorada cafe, other travelers from around the world, and countless others in Riobamba that have impacted my life this year.
They have shown me remarkable generosity and love, and they make me want to be a better person. Those are the kind of people I hope to always be surrounded by.
This post is looong overdue, but before Nora left to begin her travels, we went with Abby and a few other friends on a week-long trip from Banos, to Puyo, to Tena.
After changing our minds repeatedly, and deciding between the mountains, coast, or jungle, we finally decided on the jungle. We spent the first night in Banos, indulging in the good food, clean air, and a comfortable hostel. The next morning we met up with Alexa and Zach and rented bikes to ride to Puyo, in the Amazon. The ride took about 6 hours total, including a stop for lunch, and, though exhausting, it was amazing to see the beauty of the natural world surrounding us, and to take our time seeing all there was to see.
The ride was harder than had been described to us, and the uphills were physically demanding. While Nora was a trooper (she’s an awesome biker, and even went on a 2.5-month long bike ride from Texas to Alaska!), the rest of us walked up many of them. There were moments when each of us thought of giving up and flagging down a bus, but in the end, I am proud to say we made it all the way to Puyo just in time to meet the car with all our bags.
The next few days were spent in Puyo. Puyo was Nate’s site this year, and he showed us where he teaches and took us along the river through a beautiful walk. We even saw some of Ecuador’s military training there, climbing ropes and crossing the river!
The highlight of our time in Puyo was visiting the orchid gardens. The family who cares for the gardens has spent the past 25-30 years reviving the natural plants and insects in this part of the Amazon. They have done extensive research on the plants and life in the jungle, and their passion was obvious and heartwarming. These people have dedicated their whole lives to these gardens, and to the gentle and respectful research and care of the jungle. We spent a couple of hours touring the gardens, which felt like being immersed in the middle of the Amazon. We ate leaves and plants that tasted like cinnamon, lemon, garlic, you name it. Our guide pointed out medicinal plants and strange fruits, and we saw and heard monkeys from a distance.
From Puyo, we took a bus to Tena, a bit further into the Amazon. We got the number of a tour guide from Nate, and spent the next few days with him. The vibe in Tena was relaxed. People were friendly, always smiling at us in a neighborly way. They seemed completely at ease, We met our tour guide, Alex, for beer and discussed what we wanted to see.
We spent all of the following day on the river, whitewater rafting, and the rapids were bigger and more difficult than they had been in Banos. We each took turns sitting on the front of the raft, and Alex pulled every trick he could think of to dump us out into the water.
Abby and me in the raft.
Riding on the front of the raft.
Some of Alex’s tricks to get us into the water!
It was a fun, eventful, and exhausting day and after a shower, some food, and rest, we were ready for the next adventure the next day: a jungle tour. I’ll save that for the next post!
My time in Riobamba is coming to an end. I have just under 2 weeks left here, and a lot of goodbyes coming up. But it’s not sad, at least not right now. I am excited for what lies ahead - traveling, seeing my family and friends, going home, embarking on a new journey training as a yoga teacher, and all the unknown awaiting me in the days ahead. Don’t get me wrong - it will be difficult to leave my friends here. They have become my world this year. But maybe, just maybe, I am getting better at accepting the flow of change, and learning to trust that there is always more ahead.
I have less than a week left of teaching, and I can’t believe how fast the time has passed. Before I leave Riobamba, Abby, Melanie and I are giving a speech at graduation - in Spanish! We have it written out in English, and will work on translating and practicing it this week.
I went to my favorite cafe in Riobamba, Quinta Dorada, the past 3 days. Pilar, the owner, and her daughters are some of my favorite people in this small city. The other day Pilar asked me when I was leaving and then said, “Who am I going to serve cafe lattes to all the time? I need another gringuita, exactly like you. You have to come back and visit us, and stay for a while more.” She gave me a big hug and we went on our way, and it felt good to know my presence here will be missed as much as I will miss being here.
It feels like I’ve been in Ecuador so long, and I miss home a lot. But I know that a few weeks after I arrive home, I will miss this. My life here, my friends, the culture, even when it drives me crazy, it warms my heart. This year brought a lot of challenges, and I have learned a lot about myself. There have been ups and downs, but I will remember this year with fondness, and use all that it taught me going forward.
Here’s to continuing along the road - next stop Quito with my parents! I can’t wait to show them around this beautiful country and travel with them for the next couple of weeks!
Spent all day today reading, lazing around at one of my favorite cafes in Riobamba, and then at my favorite park, taking in the sunshine and the joy of children running around, kicking soccer balls, chasing after dogs, and laughing. Watched a dog accidentally run into the pond while playing with another dog, went on a beautiful walk as the sun was setting, and came home to make empanadas with my host mom. I talked with her as we cooked, just the two of us, about life, family, dating and marriage, aging parents, tragedy, you name it. Then I had dinner with my host family, and retired to my room to look over my lesson plans and relax for the night. What a great Sunday.
This morning I had to say goodbye to one of my good friends in Riobamba. I met her just four months ago, but it’s crazy how close you can get to people in such a short amount of time. She went from being a complete stranger, to being my roommate, to being a good friend, and I couldn’t have asked for a better person to share breakfast conversations, bus rides, river rafts, dance classes, and teaching tips with.
Nora moved in in January, and started teaching at ILE, where I work. As we both experienced the ups and downs of living abroad, her friendship brought me a lot of comfort. We have many similar interests, including yoga and meditation, the outdoors, rock climbing, hiking, traveling, etc. Nora, Hugo, and I always joke that we became the three adventurers, because it was always the three of us that wanted to climb, hike, and camp on the weekends. Every morning at breakfast, and at night after teaching, we would share conversations about travel, careers, lifestyles, relationships, and anything else that came to mind, and it was always nice to talk with someone who shared my understanding of life.
Today Nora left to start a new part of her journey, and travel around the country with her mom. Saying goodbye brought tears of both sadness and joy, and promises to see each other soon. It was weird to look at Nora’s empty room, and it will be weird to not hear her music playing or have her next door to share the funny things our students do, but I am excited for her and all the adventures she will have going forward.
I realized today it is going to be enormously difficult to leave Riobamba and Ecuador. This place has become another home, and I have made incredible friends that have found a permanent place in my heart. So many goodbyes at once will be a challenge for me, as I have always been emotional when it comes to goodbye. But that is travel, and that is life. People come into your life, grab hold of your heart, create unforgettable memories, teach you invaluable lessons, and then they go, for they have their own journeys ahead. I will go ahead in my own journey thankful for the memories and the friendships I have made this year. I used to kick myself for getting so closely attached to people, because they always left. Now, I am grateful for my emotional, crazy self because I have met people who have changed my world for the better.