Sunday’s Travel: Ecuador

Let me begin with brutal honesty — I didn’t immediately fall in love.

I had high hopes in the trip. My expectations were perhaps a bit too grandiose — and as an inexperienced traveler, they were far too misplaced. I would give a description of my travel experiences, but I’m willing to guess nobody cares about my #tbt Miami pics and my Disney stories. So I will immediately move on.

I enjoy the idea of traveling. The romantic notion that a passport will make the world your oyster. I love the idea of hoping a plane and finding adventure, people, and connections. It’s like traveling represents an inner struggle to be wild and unleashed — to break roots and sprout wings. I don’t know. But then I’m overcome with a more powerful version of myself — the lazy irresponsible Shay call me Sunday LAZY. This is the me that loves the idea of traveling — and just that. This is the me with endless Pinterest boards of places I want to go. The Chilean Salt Flats? I’ve pinned it a dozen times. Will I go? Maybe….

So the fact that I landed in Ecuador and had to climb into a hotel shuttle bus put a bit a damper on my irrational expectations. This was a girls trip. Just my mom, my two sisters and I. I’m not sure what I expected, to be honest. We haven’t been to Ecuador since 1995. I was six years old and that’s freaking 22 years ago!

The shuttle bus ushered through a really ugly, graffiti-ridden town. And I DON’T MEAN STREET ART. Pointless wall scribbles like “I love you Maria…”

I’m glad you’re in love and all, guy…. but did you have to deface property to declare it? I’m sure all Maria wanted was a facebook relationship status change. #OD.

But when we finally got to our destination — The Quito Polo Club — my attitude changed. It was fabulous.




The the staff was sweet and attentive, the rooms were great, there were two pools, and the complimentary breakfast was amazing.

But this trip had absolutely ZERO breaks. Onward…

We immediately progressed into the city of Quito for some site seeing — facilitated in great part  by some family members. Sure, you can take the bus — but I work in NYC and I don’t take the bus there either. I’m not doing it here either. The front desk at the hotels are always willing and able to get you a cab — which I recommend if you don’t have an extensive network of family members all willing to work together to help your trip succeed.

Ichimbia by the Palacio de Cristal:

Views from the Teleferico:

Historic District of Quito:

We also spent Day #2 in Quito and traveled to –

La Mitad Del Mundo:

Otavalo – La Plaza de los Ponchos:


Lago de San Pablo:​

Le dije LLAMA- ME

We Stayed at the The Patio Andaluz which was a great Spanish style boutique hotel with great breakfast (not included but not expensive $15, I think, for the whole buffet spread or super cheap a la carte). I do have to say their bar sucked — and had what we’re basically NYC prices. But the staff was still amazing (pretty common there, though). They helped us get a cab from Quito to Baños. It was $80 for a roughly 2 hour drive (and be ready to tip). The drivers are always friendly and willing to pull over and let you take a picture of all the pretty scenery and every. damn. volcano. you pass. I took so many volcano pictures, I’m not sure I can identify them all without the help of google should have gotten the cabdrivers whatsapp.

I’m about 90% sure this is El Cotopaxi

At this point of the trip, I’m a little grumpy. I’m not much for being cramped in a car without booze going on long rides. Christ! I thought New Jersey traffic was horrible! So yea — I confess my temperament was the stuff of alcohol withdrawal nightmares. Whatever. Baños completely changed my demeanor.

First stop – La Casa Del Arbol


We were pretty crunched for time, so we booked a few tours the minute we got back to the hotel. I didn’t happen to catch the name of the first one, but it was set up through our hotel La Floresta (like every where else we stayed, amazing except for the rock hard pillows and our room was facing the street which had a crazy dog barking literally ALL night. ).

It was an amazing (I know, I know, I’m over using this word). The double decker bus took us to some epic spots. We rode cable cars across valleys to get closer to the waterfalls.



Insert cliche TLC lyrics here and went zip-lining … which honestly, seemed more terrifying than it actually was.



We stopped at a little fresh jugo de caña stand … which they rum spiked for an extra QUARTER. for TWENTY FIVE cents you can add a long generous pour of rum to your FIFTY CENT fresh sugar cane juice. I honestly didn’t even want to bother continuing. I could have spent the rest of my trip there.

Yes, that is me with a machete. Big mistake. HUGE.

We concluded with a trip to El Pailon del Diablo — which is a waterfall of immense pressure. I didn’t get too many pictures here because we took so long zip-lining that it was already after dark.

We finished the night with a dip in thermal baths. They make you wear bathing caps — not a good look. I broke a lot of rules to get this pic.

Day # 4 Baños part 2 —

We booked a tour with Geo Tours Baños. It was $70 each but holy shit was it worth it!

Tour groups aren’t big — which is nice. You get a small and intimate group which really shapes the experience.

We saw some rescue animals that are native to the amazons (i don’t have all my pictures at the moment but I did get a pretty good shot of the capybara)

Then moved on to a hike through the jungle. Our guide was awesome and really stopped to explain a lot about nature. Then we got to the waterfall.

Cascada de Latas

JACKPOT. I’ve been looking for this kind of photo op since our plane touched down!

So I didn’t get the best angles of myself but it was still amazing.

We were taken to see Los Shuar natives who painted us and were very happy to share their culture.

Then the locals took us down the river in a canoe that provided some of the most beautiful sites I’ve ever seen.

Afterwards we were able to climb up a mountainside to see the sun set over the river.

But not before practically plummeting to our deaths on this swing (there are a lot of swings in Ecuador)

This is the cave of a Shaman that went into the mountainside. Now, I don’t fucks with brujeria save that for the crazy white people giving testimonials on Paranormal Witness saying the devil be fucking with them at night. BITCH! get out the house! That ain’t yo kid no’mo’!!! but I do fuck heavy with Instagram. So I had to take this picture. And no lie — the second I posted it (with the caption: Don’t go looking for the devil, because you’ll find him) my phone went completely dead. I had to get a new one when I got back to Jersey.

The tour ended with an amazing visit to a little family run cacao farm. If you don’t know, he’re a little lesson on where your chocolate comes from.

We sucked on the tart little seeds and then were given a previous batch that had already been cleaned and dried. We watched them roast the seeds, which we then helped peel and then grind. Then they poured the gushy chocolate onto a plantain leaf and put it aside to harden. Okay this was awesome, I think I’m going to immediately buy cacao fruits online and have them shipped chocolate party at my house, bring wine! 

If you venture to Baños then please look them up. The company was great.

A few things to know about baños if you go to the public bathhouse —

  • keep in mind it a public bath house.
  • Entry was $1.50 (I think, maybe $2?). So you get what you pay for.
  • I was a bit shocked at first i think that hairy man was just in boxers wtf but then kind of got over it.
  • Although it is nice weather during the day (around 70 degrees) it dropped considerably at night. I was eager to get into the hot water.
  • People bring their kids. Trust me, I’m not too shy to tell your kids to get the fuck away from me. I’m not here for your obnoxious little 6 year old to practice his cannonballs. MOVE … yes, that way and generally away from me.
  • They change the water in the baths twice a day … so YAYYY. 🙂
  • You get amazing views of a nearby little waterfall
  • It gets SUPER PACKED
  • They kick you out about 10/15 mins before closing time. Although, there was this little old lady telling everyone to get out… and nobody moved or listened for about 20 mins. #sorrynotsorry

We missed out on the chance to go to Luna Runtun because of our time crunch. Even if you don’t stay there, day passes are $20 — and I hear the views alone are worth it.

Baños also has a street that is all bars and dance halls. Its a lot of fun at night. They have two bars/clubs there named The Leprechaun. I never got the answer as to why there were to Hispanic themed Irish pubs on one street in the middle of Ecuador, so if anyone knows, please let me know! Btw, they pronounce it El lo-pro-chah or something kind of weird like that.

Quickly moving on in our trip back to Quito — but only to rent a car, get a family-hooked-up chauffeur and make our pay to La Playa beach for you gringos AF.

Unfortunately we lost a great deal of time getting to the beach. We should have hopped a plane from Quito to Guayaquil (usually around $50). However, that would have left us sans transport to explore the beaches and get back to Quito for our return. What really made us lose time was the fact that a gasoline tanker went off the road and into the abyss and exploded (my family warned us that Ecuadorian roads were nothing but bottomless abysses were people fell to their deaths. I thought they were exaggerating but HOLY SHIT the roads are all winding and terrifying. The whole country is up and down roads around mountains and volcanoes. wtf.)

But I’ve never seen driving views like this. This is the cloud forest.

Our driver was so great, he rerouted to another completely treacherous road and drove all night. We arrived in Guayaquil about 8 hours later than anticipated (we waited in stand still traffic for about 6 — there aren’t many roads in Ecuador apparently.)

Okay — the town of Montañita is hideous during the early morning of the hours. It had rained the night before and everything was gross and muddy. Shops were closed and nothing was moving except for the early morning beach-goers and surfers, who were pretty cool to watch. It didn’t stop us from finding monitors and frolicking though.

We hadn’t booked a hotel in advance so we were left kind of wandering around looking for something. We accidentally stumbled upon Balsa Surf Camp. Don’t let the name fool you, you don’t actually have to surf, and the pictures on expedia don’t do it justice. They can obviously offer surf lessons — which we did, and they also have yoga sessions as well as other events we unfortunately didn’t get to experience due to time constraints.

So Surf Lessons? Awesome.


Yoga Studio — Or Photo Studio?

Montañita is also a completely different animal at night. The whole town comes alive. Live music is every where, people walk down the streets with drinks in hand (at least we did). There was a drink stand on one of the streets that made $3 mojitos. And they may have been the best I ever had. They were also huge. Wtf. You’re lucky to get a mojito for $12 in NYC. So naturally — we got pretty sauced off the cheap drinks. Luckily, food was also crazy inexpensive.

Locals will tell you that there are way nicer beaches than Montañita. But they’re full of shit. Sure, picturesque-wise — maybe? But this little beach town really embraced the laid back party/surfer culture that Americans are looking for. Sure, immersing yourself into a culture or being alone in a beautiful resort is nice. But sometimes you just want to see other tourists also ripping body shots of off some random locals jk I was with my mom and non of that happened.

I would have loved to have stayed longer, but we needed to make our way back to Quito to catch a flight home. We traveled along La Ruta Del Sol and stopped at a few beaches along the way for pictures/food.

Los Frailes

Manta:


We went up the coast just north enough to make our way to our Aunt’s home in Las Viegas just outside of Santo Domingo, where we visited her banana plantation. We were oddly excited about random little baby chicks that we encountered — and who can resist taking pics with just beautiful palm trees?

 


After a few more hours spent with family at their hotel Sumaq Kay in the trendy, Cumbaya part of Quito — our trip was coming to a close.

But not before I took a few poncho pics…

With a 6am flight, we all called it in around midnight. After a long and eventful trip, I have to admit, I was happy to get home. Here are some of my take aways:

  1. Packing is rough like the weather and the terrain. Quito can feel like a nice spring day in the city, but then you drive an hour away and people are in parkas. Then you drive another 2 hours and you’re in the jungle. If you’re going to be all over like we were, I suggest packing a little of everything.
  2. Haggle over everything. I think they actually appreciate it more.
  3. Save room in your luggage — you will want to buy everything. Leather hand sown hip flask? yes. Llama blanket? Yes. Ponchos? All of them please.
  4. Be prepared to get ALL your change back in gold dollars. I don’t know why they really seem to love these down there.
  5. Tip — but don’t over tip. I mean, you can buuuut… jobs like waiting tables and bartending there are not like here– dependent on tips. They make a salary.
  6. Don’t be afraid to explore — but also be cautious, you’re still in South America
  7. Don’t be too flashy — might as well paint a target on your back saying “rob me”
  8. Most of the country is extremely high altitude. Although I personally wasn’t affected, I recommend taking it easy and drinking lots of beer water.
  9. Quito is ugly — I’m sorry. I hated it. Graffitti everywhere… it needs a huge facelift. But the historic district was beautiful as was the modern area. So, don’t except as much from it as I did.
  10. BEAUTIFUL. NATURE. IS. EVERYWHERE. Remember to put the camera down and really enjoy it. Having my phone mysteriously break was a bit of a blessing.
  11. Speaking of phone — Sprint had free low speed data. YAY. Also BOOOO to low speed.
  12. Don’t be too shy to ask for the wifi code.
  13. You can get Pilsner Beer or Club Beer literally, anywhere. Gas station? Yep. Random lady selling llama toys on the side of the road? Yep. Street light vendors? probably. The mini ones at the gas station were 50 cents. The most we paid for beer at a nice place was $5.
  14. Hard liquor is expensive. It’s imported and the taxes are stupid high. If you’re going to NEED it, buy it duty free at the airport. Also, locals love Jack Daniels. If you need to buy a gift — make it that.
  15. Gas station food is delicious. I know right, weird? But usually the food is made by some local lady who uses the location to sell it. OMG. I had some REALLY amazing meals for $1.
  16. There are crazy swings all over the country. But you won’t catch the locals doing it — they save it for the crazy Americans who are having the adventure of a lifetime in a country they call home.
  17. Do all the swings, zip lines, and cable cars. If you’re too scared to do them, then why are you there?
  18. I don’t recommend driving yourself around the country. I was a little ticked off we didn’t rent a car right off the bat (but if you do there are limited amounts of automatic big size cars so book in advance!) but holy shit after seeing the amount dramatically curved roads — I’m glad we had an experienced driver with us the whole time.
  19. If your itinerary looks like ours — then don’t squeeze a trip to The Galapagos in. That in itself is an entirely different trip.
  20. Make time to eat at some of the “fancy” restaurants. This was my one regret. We didn’t get to experience Quito’s fine dining or nightlife much. Although, admittedly, I’m not sure how fine the dining is — but don’t tell any locals that. Some really seem to be kind of grouchy over the fact that Peru is known for food and they are not.
  21. ECUADOR HAS A SERIOUS STRAY DOG PROBLEM. It’s not just the cities. Stray dogs are all over the country. Some seem perfectly happy in their little stray lives (like one in Montañita that played in the waves for hours, and another one in the jungle that dove right on into the waterfalls with us) but most are dirty, matted, and emaciated. It’s hard to desensitize yourself to it. But you can’t stop and save them because there is AT LEAST one on every block of the city. Anyone want to give me the funds to open up a cafe called “The Strays” where I can spend my days making coffee and cleaning up and feeding the abandoned pups. I swear I saw every breed too. If  you’re a breeder looking for pure breds, I’m 100% you’ll find it in the streets of Quito.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. R. J. Nello says:

    I don’t even know where to begin. I’ll say this: That is an astounding travel post. Fantastic! Great detail and further explanation for what we all saw on Instagram.😊👏👏👏

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sunday Shay says:

      Thank you! 🙂 I was afraid it dragged on… but it was a long trip!

      Liked by 1 person

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