Ecuador: A Small Country That Packs a Punch

Ecuador, according to the Lonely Planet is roughly the size of the State of Nevada. I’m not really sure how big the state of Nevada is, but I don’t think that I would want to spend a month backpacking around it. However, after spending a month traveling around Ecuador I can confidently say that I hardly scratched the surface of what this relatively small, but amazing country has to offer.

Here’s a look back at my month in Ecuador.

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I spent my first day wandering around Otavalo admiring not only the handicrafts of the local indigenous people, but also the traditional dress of the woman, who wore long black skirts with intricately embroidered blouses, tiny head scarves folded in complicated geometric shapes, and long strands of golden beads wrapped around the length of their necks.

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I met friends of friends in Quito, who welcomed me into their city with warmth and graciousness, as they shared their candid thoughts about the state of Ecuador, as well as, their experiences growing up and living in the country over endless dinners and brunches. Not to mention several glasses of wine, beer, and cuba libres before getting the courage to share their moves on the dance floor, as well. Not to mention the other travelers I met; one who shared a day traveling with me to the middle of the world. Where we posed astride a yellow line, marking the planet’s symbolic equator. A young woman who bravely told me about her travel experiences for this blog; the loss of her uncle who died climbing Chimborazo and how special and emotional it was for her to hike in his footsteps and visit his small memorial.

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I fortified my nerves as I climbed across a narrow wooden plank suspended high in the roof of the Basilica del Voto National before climbing a steep set of stairs leading to the top of the Gothic church providing heart-bounding, but amazing view of the city below.

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My last night in Quito, a cold, windy, wet night where a fellow Brooklynite, a German, and the Swiss girl I had met days prior ran around the city looking for a place to drink and dance and celebrate our last night together. And the unforgettable time spent in a rather unremarkable middle eastern night club where we danced and posed for countless cell phone photos with locals who shared their beer, as well as their stories, with us.

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I spent two, magical weeks at Paseo de los Monos, a monkey rescue center on the edge of the Amazon rainforest. I learned about their mission to help save the Spider and Woolly monkeys from extinction and had the extraordinary experience of bounding with a young woolly monkey named Bebe.

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I spent one of my free days running around the town of Puyo during Ecuador’s National Election where I interviewed a candidate for National Assembly and the other free day hiking to a waterfall that truly lived up to its name: “Hello Life.” Weeks later, an internet search showed the candidate that I interviewed won his election and would go on to Quito on behalf of the people of his province. My experience volunteering at Paseo de los Monos culminated with a trip to the Vet’s office where I helped a vet x-ray Bebe’s injured arm, while one of the Cocker Spaniels, Paulina had her rotted teeth removed, and I had a splinter taken out of my eye with a needle that more aptly belonged in a horror movie. It was an experience I will never forget.

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I spent the days after, trying not to think about my time with the monkeys by hiking into the clouds, touring waterfall after waterfall, and sitting in the hot thermal baths in the city of Baños, before leaving the Amazon Basin and the Central Highlands behind in favor of the sun route on the coast.

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I spent a morning chatting with a fellow American who reminded me of grandmother and helped me feel just a bit closer to her as I stared out onto the horizon thinking about home. The following day, I took a day trip to Isla de la Plata where I had many close encounters with the Blue Footed Booby, a bird that also lives on the Galapagos Islands.

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I spent a night in a small cabin on one of the most beautiful stretches of beaches I’ve ever been too, searching for perfect storm weathered rocks, while surfers perfected their craft around me.

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I made my way to Guayaquil where I marveled at the strange iguanas living in a tree-filled park next to huge cathedral. I hiked up a small hill with brightly colored homes, a former slum turned into a gentrified community frequented by locals and tourists alike. Before leaving I spoke with the owner of a travel company about his business and his own experiences as a traveler; learning a lot about Ecuador in the process. I was also treated to a dinner by an incredibly nice and equally hospitable friend of a friend that I met in Quito, who just wanted to make sure that I was enjoying his country.

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I spent the day walking through Parque National Cajas, a park full of lakes, shrubs, fog, and the surreal feeling of trekking in an environment that was so beautiful it was akin to living in a painting.

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My last stop, Cuenca, a small colonial city packed full of beautiful churches, museums, and some of the best Mexican food I’ve had outside of New York.

Like Colombia, Ecuador was a culmination of experiences difficult to describe individually and near impossible to rank in terms of best or worst. Also like Colombia, I arrived with expectations. Travelers along the way had strong opinions of their time in the country and either loved or hated it. Most described the country as dusty, devoid color, and less than friendly locals. Thankfully, I encountered a country completely different than some of my fellow travelers. I found the people warm, friendly, and interested in not only me, but the experiences that I was having in their country.

And the country: from the sweeping sun-kissed coast, to the rugged mountains of the Andes, to the tropical forests spilling out from the Amazon, the country was anything but devoid of color. From the distinct color and flavor of countless groups of indigenous people to the rich vivid landscapes lifted straight from the galleries of the world’s best museums, Ecuador is brimming with color and life and excitement. I left the country reluctantly, and hope that our paths will cross again in the near future.

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