All You Need Is Ecuador

I'm currently writing this blog post from Chescos Hostel in Salinas on the coast of Ecuador. It's located along the main road with a panoramic view of the beach. Not too shabby for only $10 per night! I'm staying here for another 2-3 nights before continuing further north up the coast to Montanitas, widely considered to be one the best surfing spots in Ecuador! I bumped into my friend Lucy at the hostel who I originally met in Boquete, Panama. We shared a taxi ride to La Chocolateria. Huge waves crashed into the cliffs as we sat and enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate. She decided to hike up to a lighthouse (she's a free spirit) and I caught a train on wheels back to Salinas. I'm excited to eat a large serving of mixed ceviche, read on the beach, and jump into the refreshing salt water! Right after I finish this blog post...

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A few days ago... I took a bus for about 6 hours from Banos to a beautiful lake formed inside an extinct volcano crater in the Andes mountains called Quilotoa. A taxi driver took me from the nearest town of Latacunga to a small village in the mountains. I had every intention of catching a bus until he offered to give me a quicker ride for only $3. This seemed too good to be true but I decided to hop in anyway. Sure enough, that figure later went up to $60, which I flatly refused to pay, and we parted ways for $25. At this point, I was forced to begin my walk with my heavy hiking bag over 12 km to Quilotoa! It's a common practice for backpackers to hike the entire loop over the span of 5 days. This didn't appeal to me at all. Luckily, it was only a few minutes before a bus picked me up. I checked into my room at Chukirawa Hostel and immediately walked a few hundred feet to take in a beautiful view of Quilotoa Lake during sunset and fly the drone to capture panoramic photos and record video for my documentary! We ate dinner and I passed out in a cozy bed for a good night of sleep before the intense 4-hour hike around Quilotoa Lake in the morning.

I ate a light breakfast in the morning, packed my camera equipment, snacks, water bottle into a smaller bag and began hiking with great gusto. However, it turns out I was unintentionally going downward to the base of the crater. No big deal. I rented a kayak at the bottom and paddled around for about 20 minutes, meditating, and taking photos. The current of this volcanic lake was very erratic and it was difficult to go straight ahead without significant effort. I already had a long upward hike ahead of me. I was very tempted to ride a horse for $10 back to the top, but I decided to embrace the struggle and make the strenuous hike on foot. I reached the top after about 45 minutes of heavy breathing and regular pit stops for water. This was just the beginning...

The journey around Quilotoa Lake was truly one of the most beautiful hiking experiences of my life so far, and Ecuador is definitely my favorite country I've visited during my South America tour. Narrow foot paths and steep grades along sandy stone meant that a single misstep could possibly be the end of your life, but that didn't prevent me from enjoying every moment of the journey. Steadily and carefully. I was hiking alone with the occasional passersby coming from the opposite direction. I took a break at various iconic spots for photo ops, meditation, and snacking. You could climb up to a precarious lookout point on a little mountain of rock to survey the entire lake in all its glorious beauty.

 Quilotoa Lake in Ecuador

Quilotoa Lake in Ecuador

It wasn't more than 2 hours before I reached the halfway point. I didn't even stop and continued my hike towards the highest peak. Heavy clouds were rolling in from the expansive valley below. There comes a point during an intense hike when sheer determination and power of will takes over. Your breathing is automatic, your legs are strong after building up a tolerance, and there's a feeling that nothing will prevent you from reaching your destination! Hunger and the desire to relax is usually a strong motivation. At this point I was craving a large plate of fish, spaghetti, beer, and french fries. You know, just the essentials.

Upon reaching the highest mountain, I crossed paths with a few Ecuadorian kids. They wanted to take a few photos with the American gringo and I happily obliged. It's always a pleasure to inspire people during my travels; especially little kids when I'm flying the drone. Even though my Spanish still needs A LOT of practice, it's frequently unnecessary to speak the language. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Sometimes a smile and nod, or thumbs up, goes a long way at communicating your message. Perhaps these are just lame excuses to rationalize my lack of motivation to learn Spanish. I don't know... My priorities are focused on adventure, photography, meeting new friends, and surviving on my limited budget. Towards the end, all I can think about is when, where, and what I'm going to eat. One foot in front of the other... Persistence is the key to success. After about 4 hours I arrive back in town feeling a heroic sense of accomplishment. The endorphins are still flowing freely. Those animal crackers were barely enough to sustain my energy. I immediately order a plate of beef lasagna in addition of a large plate of typical food consisting of chicken, cob corn, beans, rice, and a Pilsner beer for good measure. I'm getting even hungrier just reminiscing about it. But I must finish this blog post first... Starving artist, or something like that.

I'm honestly glad to be in Salinas right now. Not just because I'm enjoying myself on the beach in Ecuador as the tide continues to rise before sunset... There were moments when I wasn't sure I was going to make it alive! I hopped on a bus in the pouring rain from Quilota to Latacunga. This was a tedious process of frequent stops. There was not a direct bus to Guayaquil from Latacunga, so I had to ask around and catch another bus south to Ambato. I then bought a ticket on a bus to the largest city in Ecuador. However, I got distracted by marketing book on my Kindle and when I looked up the bus was already leaving. I chased after it and gave up in defeat. They couldn't exchange the ticket, so after some deliberation, I hopped on another bus by a different company. It wasn't long before the attendant asked for my ticket which I couldn't materialize, so he kicked me off in the middle of nowhere. That's what I get for trying to beat the system. I sat on the curb collecting my thoughts for a few minutes. I started to walk down the dark streets and eventually hailed a cab back to the bus station to try again. I bought another ticket for $8 and was in Guayaquil after 6 hours. This gave me some time to catch up on my sleep. I walked out of the station and got a taxi to a hostel called Casa Michael. It seemed appropriate. My driver was driving around in circles looking for the place. I had to navigate with my GPS until my phone died. I paid him $5 in change even though he didn't get me to my destination. Once again, I walked along the empty streets, lost in darkness. I wanted to get out of this dead end city right away! I caught a city bus to an unknown destination. This didn't feel like a safe place to be. Homeless people littered the streets. It wasn't long before I caught a makeshift taxi back to the bus terminal. The fare was $5. I gave him a $10 bill. He frantically began asking other taxi drivers for exact change. After a few minutes of this good faith effort, I told him to keep the money, eternally thankful to be at the bus station and leaving this awful city. It took less than 2 hours to reach my current destination in Salinas on the peninsula of Ecuador. Needless to say, after all the bullshit I had to go through to get here, I appreciate my life all that much more! Can't knock the hustle!

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