Exploring Ecuador

Distractions. I needed a lot of distractions and money. After Italy, there was no jingle in my pocket as I spent it all on arancini, vino and great views. No regrets. In order to save up more of that green, I picked up a serving/bartending gig for the summer and fall semester of 2013. I’ll give you one guess as to what kind of restaurant… yep. Italian! I was obsessed (still am) and didn’t care who knew it, and every once in a while I would get a customer with whom I could practice my lingo. I made friends, partied, stayed with my family and had fun, all the while asking the universe for my next adventure.

If you ask, you shall receive! For christmas my parents came in clutch with a big surprise for me, my sister and her husband. In five months time, we’d be in the mysterious country of Ecuador. Mystery indeed because I didn’t even have any stereotypes for this place. I knew it is in South America, the locals speak Spanish and the equator goes through it (hence the name). Nevertheless, I was pumped! Like a bodybuilder on that pre-workout juice.

The reason my parents had chosen Ecuador to visit was because they wanted to retire in either Ecuador or Italy. At the time, I was all for Italy and didn’t understand why there was even a question, but apparently Ecuador has a large number of American expats living near Manta, they use the American dollar as currency and everything is DIRT cheap. I was still unconvinced – we were comparing Italy, but I did my best to be open-minded until May came, which couldn’t be soon enough!

Sunset in San Lorenzo

May showers bring April flowers and trips to Ecuador. We landed! At baggage claim we saw our last name held up on piece of paper by our tour guide for the next 2 weeks, Octavio. He was the best, so helpful and kind. He drove us to our beach house in San Lorenzo which took an hour.. or two… or three. I honestly can’t remember, but it was a ways. Along the way he showed us everything he could, explaining each in turn as we held our eyes wide open at the crazy drivers in Ecuador! They did not seem to care to use the lanes to drive and zoomed across them in a flash to exit or go faster. We hadn’t known before, but we were really paying Octavio to keep us alive and safely drop us at our locations.

(I looked it up… four and a half. It took us four and a half hours to get to San Lorenzo!)

All fear that had gripped us let go at the sight of our home for the next week. San Lorenzo, a quaint town on the ocean’s edge. Creeping down the rocky, dirt roads I examined my surroundings. I saw the locals stare at our large vehicle as we drove through. Joy radiated from all attendees and players at a local soccer team that the whole town seemed to be watching. Three restaurants in total were spotted and two convenient stores. Bulls roamed the roads without tags or brands; the white sands of the beach dazzled through the dilapidated buildings as we strained our eyes to see the ocean. The blue sky laid as a backdrop for the surrounding hills, and the shining sun welcomed us into this wholesome town.

The backyard of our rental house!

Our temporary house we were renting seemed like a palace compared to the rest of the houses we saw. It was all white and had at least six bedrooms, four bathrooms, a sun room, kitchen, dining room, living room and a long walk made of stone leading to the rectangular pool and a hot tub that were raised to see over the wooded fence and into the sparkling waters of the Pacific. I was in awe. The best part… the wifi was down. We loved it! No internet. Just books, coffee, beer, swimming, tanning and ceviche – pure relaxation.

Tidbits of our week in San Lorenzo:

  • Mornings spent drinking pot after pot of delicious local coffee on our pool deck, watching the waves crash onto the shore as the tide came closer
  • Afternoons at El Delfín Azul sipping on $1 Pilsner and eating fresh ceviche from the fish caught that morning
  • $1 “Taxi” rides into Manta to buy groceries (and booze) – spoke to locals in the back of a two-door, low riding truck with a sun cover over the bed and enough room for eight people, ten if we utilized the floor – where we met some of the sweetest Ecuadorians and fellow travelers
  • Watching the children from the school run to the beach for P.E. class
  • Looking for baby turtles at night as they would be making their way to the ocean – never saw them
  • Getting “gringoed” by local merchants as we bought fish, but not minding overpaying because DAMN did they work hard to get it
  • Exploring the jungles for monkeys and gorillas
  • Climbing the hills around us barefoot when we should have worn shoes for that rocky incline – boy was that view worth every blister
  • Enjoying our little bubble, disconnected from the outside world
Basically every meal we had – I could eat this everyday. So much yum! Beats, avocado, tomatoes, fries, rice, beef and eggs!

Octavio picked us up in a week to take us to our rented apartment in downtown Quito. Saddened to leave our beach paradise, we tried to just be excited about the next phase – like how beautiful our next rental home was! The entrance walked into an open courtyard with vines latched onto the stone, a hammock just waiting for a nap and a clear view of the sky. A window from the kitchen looked into the courtyard and into the hallway that led to the living room, a bathroom and two bedrooms. An entire little chapel complete with stained glass and rows of pews was built in the basement. The next floor had three more bedrooms, another bathroom and a library looking down to the courtyard below, and the NEXT floor had a door leading to the rooftop terrace with a washing machine, brick oven and a killer view. Blown away. Apparently, the family that owns it has had it for generations. Smart. Smart people.

Excerpts of Quito:

  • Almuerzo specials at $15 total for five people to have two courses and a drink
  • Days of Octavio driving us to small towns like Otavalo and Cotacachi to barter at markets and see the landscape from glistening water falls to towering mountains, all the while learning how much respect the people have for their land
  • Drinking “special” hot chocolate each morning to decrease the altitude migraines – I really don’t know what was in it that helped us but it made a hell of a difference what with us being over 9,000 feet above sea level

    Who doesn’t love a nice trek to a waterfall in the country?
  • On the equator we balanced eggs on nails, lost our strength and watched water not swirl down a drain but just drop straight down (for real) all due to the decrease in gravity
  • Venturing in, around and through all crevices of this downtown city finding cute puppies, ancient churches and legit micheladas
  • Taking a ride to the top of one of Quito’s mountains to see this city of almost 3 million people
  • Dancing the night away in multiple clubs the city has to offer
  • Wishing we didn’t have to go back to America

After experiencing Ecuador, we were all vacillating between it and Italy… just being in this wonderful country humbled me to my core. It was heartwarming to see such happy and carefree individuals who had next to nothing. Then I thought, it really is all about perspective. I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood; I received presents on my birthday and christmas; I got a car for my 16th birthday; I had an allowance to buy more unnecessary things I wanted.

On the top of Quito!

Once reviewing my life and understanding that’s what I was just born into, it is the same for these people. These kind-hearted people who are beyond happy to see their little brothers, cousins, sisters, nephews kick around a ball on a muddy field were born into this. For them, they’re solely grateful for having a decent pair of shoes and a roof over their heads, to have caught extra fish to sell that morning and clean water to drink.

It’s experiences such as this that can make you feel like an asshole for having so many materialistic items, but don’t. Don’t feel badly for what you have, just appreciate it, don’t be greedy and if not now, then someday, you’ll be able to share what you have with those who will appreciate it on a whole new level.

Nerd out.

*If you’re not ready to venture down to South America yet, how about Texas? Take a wine tour with the help of my article “Deep in the Wine of Texas“!*

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