After eight weeks of pretty non-stop travel, I slowed way down and put the breaks on for Month 31 — a much needed Christmas present to myself. Our original plan for this period was even more sloth-like, but insane prices in Montañita caused us to slash our time there to a third of what we had planned and keep pushin’ on through Ecuador.
In the end, it was the perfect decision — we spent Christmas by the beach, and New Year’s Eve in the mountains of Baños, our favorite destination of the month. However, for me the defining aspect of this period were the people we met along the way. While we didn’t walk away with any lifelong friends, the little interactions we had with both locals and our fellow travelers were profound.
Where I’ve Been
• Eleven days in Mancora / Peru
• Five days in Montañita / Ecuador
• Three days in Guayaquil / Ecuador
• Six days in Baños / Ecuador
• One night in Papallacta / Ecuador
• Five days in Quito / Ecuador
• Being sloth-like and gluttonous in Mancora. Damn, was it nice to stay somewhere for a whole eleven days and more or less do nothing. We worked, hung by the beach and pool, and ate. Oh, how we ate. I still dream about the yellow curry rice at Tao and the lunch burritos at Surf ‘n Turf — and now that I’ve moved onto pricier pastures, I also dream about the final bill!
• Hitting the water again. I said we did more or less nothing in Mancora. The more was scuba diving for the first time since I left Indonesia! Breathing underwater again was all I needed — the seahorse, stingrays and puffers were all bonuses. I also delighted in the story of our Spanish divemaster, who is seven years into an unbroken journey from Mexico to Argentina. He hasn’t gone home once! Now that’s what I call long term travel.
• While actual Christmas day was a week later, our time at the luxury tent hotel was when I was most in the holiday spirit. While I mostly credit my delicious spa day and resulting gold sparkly manicure, I’m sure waking up to the sound of the waves and drinking wine on the beach at sunset had something to do with it too.
• Meeting the right people in Montañita. Though we didn’t stay nearly as long as we’d originally intended, we got to experience a bit of the expat life in this tiny beach town when we were befriended by a great group of locals and transplants. We were invited to a fantastic Christmas Eve dinner, where we chatted with an Ecuadorian entrepreneur who spoke Danish(!) with Anders, as well as an Ecuadorian surf photographer with whom we compared notes on our travels through Indonesia.
• Our first morning wandering through Baños. I had been feeling a bit unsure about what direction our travels were going in, if we were making the right choices, and what we should be doing with the rest of our time in Latin America. When we arrived in Baños and walked through the town and out towards the mountains, I just felt totally at peace with everything — the decisions we had made thus far and whatever ones came in the future. I can’t quite explain what it was that soothed me, but the feeling remained with me the whole week.
• The moment the clock struck twelve on New Year’s Eve. Baños could not have been a better location to ring in 2014 in. It was the perfect mix of lively (crazy parties in the streets) and laid back (I wore my Keds to a club), and once again we were surrounded by fellow travelers we had made great connections with.
• Screeching with that perfect blend of joy and fear while white water rafting in Baños. While canyoning and biking were also amazing adventures, if I had to pick just one favorite, it would undoubtedly be rafting. I can’t think of a better value thrill I’ve had anywhere!
• Our impromptu (and unblogged!) night in Papallacta. On our rafting trip we met a very sweet Ecuadorian-Argentinean couple, and realized we were all heading to Quito the next day. They generously offered us a ride with a one-night stopover in Papallacta, and we happily accepted. En route, we stopped at so many little gems that we never would have seen had we taken a bus, and learned so much about life in Latin America along the way. It was the kind of organic, spontaneous show of local hospitality that travel writers drool over — and I can see why.
• The free Quito walking tour we joined. While it was your basic simple free walking tour, our guide Gabby was so sweet and charming she won me over completely. And we clicked with our fellow tour-goers too — we ended up meeting again for a fancy dinner in the La Ronda district and exchanging hilarious travel tales late into the night.
• Realizing how lucky we were to have the luxury of time. We met so many travelers in this month in particular who were positively sprinting through the South American continent. Our first night in Mancora we talked to two travelers who were en route to Colombia via Ecuador — as we were getting ready to leave Mancora ten days later I realized they’d been in three countries in the time we’d been lazing by the beach. And you guys think I travel quick!
Lessons & Lowlights
• This was the big lowlight: I was struggling emotionally during this period. It waxed and waned, but there was an underlying unhappiness that seemed to seep through all my experiences (Baños being a notable exception.) I still don’t fully understand it, but I explained it the best I could in my post.
• Losing my lens cap was just this ridiculously stupid tragedy. Because I misplaced a $7 piece of plastic in a country where they are completely and utterly irreplaceable, I basically destroyed my $700 lens despite all my best attempts to protect it. Knife, meet heart. From now on, I’m traveling with a spare.
• Speaking of losing things… Anders lost both his one pair of jeans and his iPhone in Mancora. The iPhone is obviously devastating, but while the jeans might not seem like such a lowlight, try replacing pants for a 6’6″ Danish giant in South America: Not. Happening.
• Guayaquil was by no means a disaster, but it certainly wasn’t a highlight either. It’s not a place I would recommend devoting three days to — you could easily see the highlights in one long afternoon. The lesson here: buy your departure bus ticket as soon as you arrive. Our blind trust in our guidebook’s timetable left us stranded.
• Guys, the Ecuadorian diet…. just no. I was starting to think I was crazy and all the vegetables in the country were just hiding from me, but then I spoke to several locals who assured me that no, ha ha, Ecuadorians just don’t eat vegetables silly! A typical Ecuadorian meal consists of 90% carbs, 9% protein, and 1% vegetables (I couldn’t bear to actually post that photo, so you’ll just have to click through to see the evidence.) In Montañita and Baños, we were able to find some healthy-eating options geared towards travelers, and I was more than happy to pay tourists prices for some greens.
• Christmas was pretty sad. Yes, we were on the beach; yes, the sun was shining; yes, I ate red and green waffles. But all I wanted was to be home decorating the tree with my mom, listening to my dad read The Night Before Christmas, getting the church giggles with my little sis, and throwing my crazy annual dinner party for my nearest and dearest. It was a hard day for me.
• We had quite the scare on New Year’s Eve when Anders fell off a moving tram and landed on a glass bottle. When I hopped off the tram and ran back and found him with blood covering his hands and running down his face my heart stopped. Luckily it wasn’t as bad as it initially looked. It was about fifteen minutes until midnight and we sprinted back to the hostel to clean and bandage the wounds. We made it back to the square just in time, which ended up being a dramatic and exhilarating moment. But the high didn’t last — we were still picking glass out of those wounds a week later, and Anders’ shoulder was still acting up after a month. So, lesson learned: Don’t mix drinking and tram-riding.
• Clearly, I didn’t love Quito. Between the non-stop rain and the ever-present threat of poop attacks, I just couldn’t find any joy there. But hey, you can’t win ’em all.
• While it would drag on for over ten weeks, in the middle of this month was when my CitiBank disaster first began. All I can say: ugh.
• I had a really hard time deciding whether my commentary on Ecuadorian buses should fall under “lowlights” or LOLs.” One one hand, our bus rides were some of the most hell-ish and nightmare-inducing moments of the month, and certainly the worst I took anywhere in Latin America. However, there was something comical about my fellow passengers’ behavior: repeatedly answering their cell phones and carrying on long, full-volume conversations before 5am, listening to staticky radio church broadcasts at 6am, and watching TV shows at full volume on their laptops without headphones at 7am. That’s fine. I’m sure no one wanted to sleep, quietly converse, or hear their own thoughts on this bus anyway.
• There is a strong possibility that this month holds the distinction of hosting the funniest language barrier moment to ever take place in the history of the world. Scene: Anders and I are discussing why Che Guevara is so important to the Peruvian people. I’m telling him about how Che had this huge South American adventure which he relayed in The Motorcycle Diaries (which I was reading at the time.)
Me: …And he stopped in Peru for quite some time and worked at a leper colony in the Amazon and that time had a huge effect on him and shaping his ideals.
Anders: So what exactly did he do with the lepers?
Me: Well he simply showed them a dignity that most people…. [Pause.] Do you know what a leper is?
Anders: Yes. A big cat.
This month was kind of the peak of my fitness failures on this trip. I kept making half-assed attempts to get myself together, but I never established a real routine. I went for a few runs in Mancora and Montanita, and went to yoga and the gym a grand total of three times. But none of that really offset the horrible eating I was doing (see list of lowlights), and so overall I felt unhealthy and unfit. This started to take an extreme toll on my mental health, as well.
I spent a grand total of $1,607 in Month 31 — a bit more than Month 30, but a lot less than Month 29! It broke down a bit differently than my previous months as well, which had big ticket expenses in the areas of transportation and entertainment. Here, we really slowed down and enjoyed taking a little break from running around and trying to do it all. However, I admit things got a tad indulgent at times in the food and spa categories! But hey, it was the holidays, right?
My biggest expense was food, totaling $600 — I blame Mancora’s amazing restaurant scene! (And, um, the $50 dinner I treated us to for Christmas.) Next was entertainment at $351 (a whopping $98 of that was our one day of diving). Accommodation clocked in at $295, while the always mysterious “miscellaneous” reached $177! (Some of that is due to an indulgent shopping spree day in Mancora in which I bought a bikini, a pair of sunglasses, and a sarong for $32, some of it is due to a $52 post office bill, and some of it is due to our copious use of sunscreen and bug spray, which are like liquid gold in South America.) My bill for one cheap massage on the beach in Montanita and one indulgent spa day in Manora came to $114, and for once, our transportation bill was tiny — just $70 (we didn’t move much, and Ecuador lacks the luxurious bus options that tempted us in Peru).
Luckily, this was an incredibly profitable month for me. I had plenty of fun freelancing projects and a healthy advertising flow, and for the second month in a row I actually turned a profit while on the road. Shazam!
Two more destinations in Ecuador, and then on to Panama!
Thank you for coming along with me as I travel! I truly appreciate being a part of your day, and you a part of mine.
Since I left home for my Great Escape, I’ve been doing monthly roundups of my adventures filled with anecdotes, private little moments, and thoughts that are found nowhere else on this blog. As this site is not just a resource for other travelers but also my own personal travel diary, I like to take some time to reflect on not just what I did, but how I felt. You can read my previous roundups here.