Falling in love for the first time at 40 is a remarkable, unexpected experience. I’ve loved people before, but I’ve never FALLEN in love with anyone. My life has mostly been a series of slow burning relationships with people I was already friends with that I eventually, over time, came to love, which is not to say they weren’t special, or unique, or that I don’t think of them with anything but the utmost fondness or respect to this day. But, they were safe. They already knew what they were getting into. They had spent years interacting with me as a friend. I already trusted them to hold space for me the way I feel most secure.
When I was in Turkey, my now friend and then possible romantic interest asked me point blank, “Have you ever dated anyone you wanted to?” I was stumped. I’d never met anyone as willing as me to be so blunt and direct in their questions. I respected him for it and feared the answer so much I made a note of it so that I would never forget. I’d never met someone else so willing to challenge my status quo and I will be forever indebted to him for it.
Less than two weeks after I returned home from Turkey, I met a man at a friends wedding that I fell in love with. We began a whirlwind jetsetting romance that encompassed Tahoe and Austin that culminated in separation while I was in Ecuador. My trip was punctuated at every corner by the demise of my relationship and to avoid that fact in my Ecuador travel guide would be doing the memories of the experience a disservice. I’m proud of myself for loving unconditionally and leaving myself open to explore something that I found frightening on a daily basis. The irony that my previous international trip to Turkey was about the beginning of a romantic relationship and that this trip to Ecuador was about the end of one does not escape me. These trips are the bookends of the bittersweet mixed feelings of happiness and sadness: that the quiet moments in relationships which I cherish that brought such joy are fleeting and not to be shared again, but the fact that they were shared at all is remarkable.
Ecuador is a beautiful country that surprised me at every turn. The people were incredibly generous: they take great pride and joy in sharing their country and culture with others. They are helpful and kind people – they will stop you on the street to chat or share information. Ecuador is greener than I expected: they call it the country with “eternal spring” – the temperature is mild and temperate year round and because of its location on the equator it has an equal 12 hours of daylight and nighttime year round.
Conveniently, I was traveling to Ecuador with one of my best friends, whose entire family is both from there and resides there. His father, Diego, crafted an INTENSE Ecuador travel guide chock full of information and itineraries that I, conveniently, get to share with you. In our two weeks there, we visited all a good chunk of the continental regions of Ecuador: Quito in the Andes mountains, Casa del Suizo on the Amazon River in the rainforest, and a charming hippie mountain town called Banos.
My first day in Ecuador felt both lonely and exhilarating – it had been over 14 months since I had last traveled internationally, which is a significantly long time for me – combined with the fact that I had arrived literally alone when I hadn’t expected to. Eager to get the lay of the of the city, as I always am, I took a shower, slugged some coffee, and set out on foot to explore. I walked over 8 miles that day – circling through neighborhoods adjacent to our Airbnb so that I could get a feel for locations, directions and the culture.
We were arriving on the weekend of Ecuador’s major holiday: the city of Quito was founded on December 6, 1535 and the entire city was out day and night celebrating the event. As I wandered I kept stumbling upon outdoor street fairs filled with arts and food stands, as well as random outdoor music events and exhibitions of traditional dances.
Quito is a city filled with rich history, long winding cobblestone streets, and colorful buildings. There are plazas and beautiful and MASSIVE parks around every corner. There are incredible churches like the Compañía de Jesus, where construction took 160 years and the walls are literally adorned with sheets of gold (no photos inside y’all, sorry!). The National Cathedral (image center) is located one block away from La Compañía at Independence Plaza, which is a short walk from the Presidential Palace and plaza (image left).
ECUADOR TRAVEL GUIDE: QUITO
STAY: inexpensive and reasonably priced hotels and hostels abound in the city of Quito, but we found that an Airbnb (also inexpensive) was a more comfortable option for our group.
- La Ronda/Old Town is one of the largest and best preserved colonial centers in Latin America. Staying in this neighborhood will put you walking distance to important landmarks, but it’s also incredibly busy and one of the areas where you should be more alert at night.
- La Mariscal is the least expensive area to stay and where most of the bustling nightlife is. If you’re into hostel life or getting hustled by people who are desperate to get you into their nightclub around Plaza La Foch, by all means, stay here. It is not my jam.
- La Floresta is Quito’s hip, bohemian neighborhood: it has plenty of coffee shops, independant adorable restaurants with great food, and art boutiques. It’s home to artists, writers, universities, and students. We stayed adjacent to this neighborhood and I loved the location for it’s intermediate location between La Ronda/Old Town and La Mariscal, which allowed you to walk when you wanted in either direction with ease, but also kept us out of the hustle and bustle of the more heavily touristed areas.
- Casa Los Geranios in La Ronda was one of our more memorable traditional meals. The restaurant is on an upper story with alcoves and windows overlooking the long expanse of La Ronda. The night we were there the city was AFIRE with excitement for the holiday and the noise of the celebrations wafted up into the dining room during our meal. Order traditional dishes like llapingachos and seco de chivo.
- Pim’s is pricey but worth the view: situated at the base of the Virgin de Panecillo, the city of Quito lays out expansively before you.
- Marcando El Camino was my favorite meal my entire time in Ecuador – so much so that I returned for a second time on my way home. Charming interior, homemade bread, inventive small plates and an exceptional wine list made this a standout for me.
- Quito is finally has some independent craft breweries to call it’s own and they are worth a visit. Cherusker is a German style brewhouse with great bar food, located in a really unique old house with winding halls, lots of stairs, and pockets of rooms around every corner. Bandido Brewing was started by one of Gabe’s burning man camp mates and is one of the first main craft breweries in the city. They have great food and a number of locations in the city.
- The Teleferiqo will take you from the city, located in the foothills of the ancient volcano Mt Pichincha, up to the top of the mountain. On a good day you’ll be able to see the entire city spread before you. On a day like ours, you’ll be swathed in fog and hungover af because you stayed up until 7 AM drinking excessively and doing drugs. Regardless, those views are probably worth it.
- Walk the historical center of the city, along the Calle de las Siete Cruces and hit the major churches, plazas and museums. We actually hired an english speaking guide one day to take us on a more traditional historical tour and to be honest, it was my favorite day in Quito. 1) I love walking and 2) he was full of far more information than we would have learned on our own. I think it cost about $20/each for the afternoon.
- The Mercado Artesanal is worth a stop, especially if you can’t make it to Otavalo. This lively market has rows of vendors selling Ecuadorian textiles, jewelry & other traditional arts and crafts.
ECUADOR TRAVEL GUIDE: DAY TRIPS FROM QUITO
MITAD DEL MUNDO:
Mitad del Mundo is called “the middle of the world” as it’s where the both the northern and southern hemispheres meet. You can balance an egg on the tip of a nail, get some pretty epic photos from the top of the tower, and put one foot in each hemisphere. After wandering around Mitad del Mundo, head up the volcano to Mount Pululahua, the largest inhabited volcano crater in the world. Adjacent to the overlook is a restaurant with a view so fantastic you must eat lunch there. At El Crater order a pisco sour and the traditional Ecuadorian ceviche.
OTAVALO: If you’re interested in taking home souvenirs or textiles, Otavalo is the place to visit. It’s a few hours drive from Quito but worth the effort. The small town in the Andean highlands in northern Ecuador is surrounded by volcanoes and known for the Otavalo Market in the central Plaza de Ponchos, where traditionally clad indigenous townspeople that manufacture colorful textiles and handicrafts peddle their wares. It is borderline overwhelming y’all but I can assure you that once you break the seal and buy just ONE thing you’ll be able to handle it!
LAS TERMAS DE PAPALLACTA: Feeling travel weary? If you have time, a day trip to this spa will fix it. Surrounded by the Andean mountains Antizana and Illiniza, the resort offers natural hot springs, massages and a restaurant for a day of relaxing in an incredibly beautiful location. Cost: $25
ECUADOR TRAVEL GUIDE: The Amazon
The Amazon was a love hate experience for me. The mosquitos y’all: they are a different kind of beast there. A full week after our stay I was still taking allergy meds to keep the itching at bay. That being said, our time there was really emphasized and punctuated by the fact that Julian lost his drone in the Amazon River. And by lost, I mean that he completely ignored all no-fly warnings about a nearby airport and it flew itself into the river. While we explored the jungle that day, our resort guide commandeered some buddies to dredge the river and they FOUND THE DRONE. We ended that evening buying beers for all the locals and I may say, it was worth the expense of the lost drone to have the story, but it’s not my drone or my money.
We stayed at an absolutely beautiful river resort, Casa del Suizo. The resort is only accessed by river boat and is exactly what you might imagine: a mostly comfortable lodge surrounded by humidity, jungle and creatures, with a full buffet a few meals a day, guide led excursions into the jungle and river, comfortable accommodations, a GLORIOUS shower, and an adult summer camp vibe. Bring cards and dominos: you will need nighttime activities because thankfully there is not a daily nighttime entertainment.
ECUADOR TRAVEL GUIDE: BANOS
Banos is picturesque af. I loved it there. I also had a hard time there. I was sad and needed quiet alone time. My visit to Ecuador was coming rapidly to an end and I knew that as much as I’d grieved while I was IN Ecuador, that I was still escaping the reality of sitting with feelings which would hit me like a ton of bricks once I returned home. That being said, this place is MAGICAL. There is a family run park at the top of the volcano with giant swings that make you feel like you’re flying over the edge of the earth. There is an insanely picturesque waterfall that is worth every step BACK UP once you walk all the way down into see it. There are $20 hour and a half massages. There is an avid nightlife and a street full of packed rowdy bars every night. There are funny backpackers that like to sing karaoke and buy you shots. There are frog legs.
STAY: At the Selina Hostel. There are cheaper options but you aren’t a broke motherfucker and you are heart broken. Get your own room so you don’t share a dorm room with 3 smelly nightly drunk boys. You won’t regret it.
- Cafe del Cielo is at the base of the volcano and the city of Banos. High in the sky you can take photos from the outdoor patio with the expansive views of Banos behind you.
- Pilar Del Diablo aka the Devil’s Cauldron waterfall is breathtaking. Don’t buy a beer at the top they all taste like shit.
- The Swing at the End of the World is a family run park on the Tungurahua volcano that is a seismic monitoring station in a tree, known as Casa del Arbol. The real attraction though are the swings that send you high into the sky overlooking the canyon. Now there is also a cafe and a zip line.
Where will I go next? I don’t know but Prague, Italy, and Belize are currently very high on the list of places I haven’t been yet but would like to visit. I don’t currently have anything planned save making it through what I hope won’t be my fourth terrible year of business in a row (thanks covid). Hopefully I’ll end up somewhere amazing next November or December again. In the meantime, want more travel content? I got it.
Want an update on my love life? That’s none of your business internet outside of what I chose to relay, but if we’re kicking it in person you’re absolutely welcome to ask over a glass of wine.
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