Lourdes Umajinga for Assembly Seat! I've seen this campaign ad painted all over the place in the mountainous regions of Ecuador and I was struck by how unusual and interesting it is.
My little epiphany occurred in a moment of frustration and bitterness, wishing for something else and truly not appreciating my circumstances. In the midst of it, my eyes literally burning from smoke filling our little room, my body aching and tired, Adam next to me sick and exhausted, the air outside cold, the windows wide open to vent the smoke. I suddenly thought to myself, "What if this was fun?" It was at that moment that it felt as if everything had changed, or rather nothing had changed but my perception of it. So I came to the conclusion as so many others have done before me, that if you so choose, you can re-frame your experiences to be enjoyable. I have so many stories that become funny later (when I am out of whatever situation and can laugh from a comfortable distance) but my new thinking is that you can actually change how the situation feels In that moment. Just a thought, but I'm going to try it out and see what happens.
From Quito, we headed out on recommendations to Banos, a pretty little mountain town that offers outdoor activities, thermal pools, dozens of hostels, and great restaurants. We met up with our new friend Jessica, a Med-School student from California who had stayed at our hostel in Quito. The three of us decided to rent bicycles ($4 for the whole day) and thought a 2 or 3 hour ride down the meandering road through the green canyons would be nice, stopping for a couple of hikes to waterfalls and hanging bridges. We were told we'd be able to take a bus back up the long slope to town. We had a great day, took some amazing photos, rode through a couple of pitch black tunnels, hiked in a little sprinkling of rain, and then decided to head back. We thought we'd ride along until a bus came by, hail them and just pop the bikes on top. It didn't turn out like we'd planned. The light sprinkle of rain turned to a drizzle, and then just plain rained. No buses came by. At one point we had to go through a long, dark tunnel which curved so you could not see the light at the end, it was pitch black, and there was a line of impatient traffic behind us. Luckily, a large semi truck had seen us getting ready to enter and waved us on ahead, they tried (and failed) to light our way as we pedaled frantically (I managed to fall into the watery ditch at the side) horns honking from behind, pitch black in front, and just trying to make it out alive. Which we did.
Then it was another 1 1/2 hours of uphill riding, soaked to the bone, me stopping every 100 yards or so to rest my poor legs. Apparently Jessica and Adam are tougher than I am. We finally made it, returned the bikes and helmets (yes, Mothers, we wore helmets) and sat down for an absolutely delicious vegetarian lasagna and hot chocolate at a restaurant on the Plaza Central. Later we soaked in the heat of the thermal pools (with about 50 other people) met up with our Irish pals from the boat to Colombia. We also ran into Woody, who we've now seen on the boat from Panama to Colombia, on the streets of Bogota, and now in Banos, Ecuador.
After catching up, soaking in the deliciously hot water and becoming thoroughly dehydrated, we returned to the pizzeria for more hot chocolate and pizza.
The next morning we said goodbye to our friends, deciding to backtrack North to ride the Quilotoa Loop. Woody had just come from there and proclaimed to us that Ecuador was officially his favourite country. Adam was pretty fired up at that, and we quickly decided to put this story to the test.
The road winds and winds along the edge of steep hillsides through the incredible mountains and along the base of a snow-capped volcano. Quechua families (the indigenous locals descended from the Incas) roam the windy plains watching their sheep and alpacas. Their crops stretch up the slopes in varied greens and browns, long strips of earth that bewilder the mind (how do they get up there, let alone till, plant, and harvest?).
We turned off the road and down a narrow sandy track through heavy fog toward the small village of Chugchilan. Sadly the cold Adam had been fighting hit him full on, and by the time we arrived he was done for. We had dinner and went straight to bed, and for the following two nights he slept 15-17 hours. Mama Hilda Hostel was a bit pricey, but included breakfast and dinner for $17/person, a warm, comfortable bed, and lots of hot tea. There are fireplaces in the rooms, but ours smoked so badly we decided not to bother with it the second night.
On the second morning Adam was well enough to ride on, and we headed back up the sandy road to check out the sights. Nearby, Laguna de Quilotoa is incredible. You can't see it from any roads leading up to it, and it requires heading out to the edge of an ancient volcano crater to see down to the water. A four hour hike will take you full circle around the rim but we were a bit hiked out, so just took some photos, admired a bit, and headed on our way.
We spent one night in Ambato, dining on real Chinese fried rice for dinner (surprisingly enough, this is a very difficult thing to come by South of the US border), and we were on our way South to Guayaquil.
We started the day in the mountains, but went higher and higher nearing 14,000 feet. Hardy olive-green grass shuddered in the icy winds, and the snow covered peaks of Volcan Chimborazo stood imposing out from the fleeting, rolling clouds. We had all our layers on, our breath fogging up the visors.
Coming down from the mountains through the cloud layer and fog created by the tropics below clashing with the cold mountain air was incredible. Scrub brush and scattered pines gave way to jungle and climbing vines, which turned to rice paddies and cane fields. The rice is a brilliant green stretching out to either side for miles and miles, the watery ground shimmering in the sunlight. Houses are built on stilts with long wooden ramps connecting them to the roads and other buildings.
Now we are in Guayaquil where Lyria (from Orcas!) is living with her boyfriend Gabe. We arrived two nights ago just as they were getting ready for a BBQ on their tropical garden rooftop terrace. They put Michael Jackson music videos on, were well-stocked on beer and tasty food, and had a group of fun friends over. They even had Tiki torches.
Since our arrival we've pretty much taken over their apartment, washing laundry, watching movies, eating some tasty olive and cheese sandwiches, and playing with the kitty. The air is warm and humid again, and a bit of an adjustment after our time in the misty mountains. Last night our hosts took us on a little tour of the downtown waterfront which concluded with a 500 step climb to the top of Cerro Santa Anna for a fantastic view over the city.
I have to admit, there's nothing quite like the rush of wind around your head while warm inside, watching the wild world unfold around you. I'm beginning to like this motorcycle riding thing.
Grace and Adam
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