30 January 2015

Traveling Epiphany

As I stare out the window at the Panama City skyline, at a bird soaring high close to the tall buildings, I realize that I have quiet. Time to think. It's a bit sad, because there are so many things to think about, often painful things to think about. There are unresolved thoughts and ideas. Everything is happening at once. When you realize how many things are happening in the world at one - hammering a nail, someone crying, entering data into a spreadsheet mindlessly, people having sex, a woman having a baby, someone dying, someone breaking a bone, dinner being scorched, a snowstorm, lightning striking a person, a car crash, a nap, a fight, crying - it makes you realize that this world is about way more much than you.

21 January 2015

Mindo: Lovely, Lush Jungle

Mindo was the end. 

I ended up my trip in Mindo, and it ended up being one of my favorite places. I felt like I got a good chance to say goodbye to Ecuador, to traveling, to freedom in Mindo.

A cab driver drove like a maniac between bus terminals (Quito has approximately a million bus terminals and they're all pretty far from each other - but it was only a $5.80 cab ride despite being over an hour! Go Ecuador!) and we only narrowly made the bus. Randomly, my seatmate ended up being another backpacker. We ended up chatting, and then spent all of our time in Mindo together. We stayed at Cecila's, which is right on the river and gorgeous, if a little rustic. My private room was $10 a night and totally fine; Jason's was $8 because half of the wall was missing. Though it was closer access to nature and very pretty, I worried about large numbers of bugs entering. We both did have mosquito nets, though.

Jason and I ended up spending all our time together. It was a quiet town, the hostel was nice, but definitely wasn't a party house when we were there. We went to a chocolate tour and tasting, which was pretty awesome. Crystalized ginger in chocolate, HEAVEN. We visited hummingbird gardens and couldn't stop taking photos. We went to butterfly gardens, and Jason told me about the amazing butterfly gardens he volunteered at in Peru. I took approximately 600,000 photos, but I'm resisting posting them all here. We went to orchid gardens, and I translated the Spanish tour to English for Jason. We took this tiny metal box 55 meters above the floor of the forest, and hiked to see waterfalls. We played Jenga, Scrabble, cards. We ate terrible pizza, terrible grilled cheese, terrible salad, but it was okay. We were in a hot tropical gorgeous jungle that wasn't over-touristy. 

I was getting my goodbye. We ate chocolate lava cake and complained about the bad service, but really, we weren't in a rush, so it was fine. We laughed and talked about what was next.

10 January 2015

Advice from Wanda

I don't want to lose this amazing advice Wanda gave me:

Take time for you. Do things you love. Let yourself feel your feelings. Have fun. Go dancing. Drink good beverages. Make/eat good food. Don't feel bad for being sad & especially not for being happy or doing happy things. Love your kitties. They're perfect (and purrfect). When you need to, sink your head into them and let their purrs erase your troubles. 

08 January 2015

Baños: Baths, Hiking, and Of Course, the Waterfall!

Getting to Baños involved another fun day of bus rides - the 8 a.m. bus to Ambato, then standing around while buses left without us because they were packed. I met some other backpackers, and we walked to the bus station (a bit confusing to find the exact part) and then got seats on the hour-long ride to Baños. Hurrah.

After I checked into my hostel, I headed out to get some good food. I went to Casa Hood, because I needed some veggies. I hadn't eaten anything other than plain biscuits all day. The server flirted with me, and even gave me a free cookie. Wooohooo.

After eating, I walked around town. I hung out with some guys at my hostel, and we walked around more, but honestly, I was too beat. I was asleep before 930pm. This trip is about the early nights.....Ha!

The next day, I got up and ran, with some pain. UGH. Then I ate breakfast, and Anders and I headed out to the baths. He kept making fun of the water, and hte color, and I told him it was because of the minerals. (Lonely Planet told me so!) He kept saying it was dirty. He had the last laugh when I realized my white and gold bikini turned orangey and cold. Booo!

In the baths, I befriended two English girls and an English guy (one of those pretentious travelers that likes to name drop places), and we chatted in the pool until we were beyond prunes. We rinsed off, headed back to town, got a late lunch, and then we all relaxed and showered. We met up for dinner, watched fireworks, and then went to Leprechaun, the bar to go to - they have a firepit, gave us awesome free shots, and they have a super sweet kitty. Awwwww.....

After drinks, we headed to bed.....and I was wakened five hours later by some drunken backpackers screaming in the courtyard. Thanks, kiddos!

I got up, ran a bit, more pain in my foot, and then after the usual, I met Ronny and Benny, two Germans (Conversations in Mindo talk about Travel Germans vs. Classic Germans....they were kind of a mix.) and I went for a hike. It was a great hike around the city - you hike up to the Virgin Mary, then you go around and up to the volcano (which we couldn't see due to clouds), then we headed down. Pretty tough but awesome.

After, I showered and got dinner with Ronny and Benny, and Ronny and I watched Amelie at Casa Hood. Awwwww.....

We went to the waterfall to take photos, and then I ran into a really bizarre street parade. After, I headed back to the hostel to get my express massage (20 min, $10), and full facial (65 min, $30). It was incredible. I felt so relaxed.

I stopped by to get a lentil burger, wrote a bit in my journal, and then headed back to the hostel to get sleep before an early rise to Mindo!

05 January 2015

Not Loving Traveling

Going to Ecuador has not been my favorite trip. There are a bunch of reasons, and I’ve struggled to identify why as I feel sick with this all-encompassing emptiness.
                I think I’m mainly burned out from traveling and being away from home so much the past two years. Yes, there have been a lot of races, visits to family members. But time away from home means time away from sleeping in the arms of Stedman, cuddling with my kitties, cooking and baking and eating my awesome food, drinking wonderful tea (I’m obsessed!), having access to all my clothes, taking baths when I want, and just the ease of home life. I never missed it like I do now.
                It does and it doesn’t have to do with being away from my partner; I miss him, though I enjoy the space at times. But right now, I just want to be with him. And with my home. He is mainly listening to me and supporting me.
                Traveling involves a lot of negative things – like crummy food and long days and risk of bedbugs and risk of robbery and risk of getting sick and getting lost and everything.
                The food here is not my fave. I really miss eating at home. I’ve lowered my standards, but it’s sad how little I enjoy food here. I also am getting sick from something – I’m not sure what, because even when I cut out fruit, I still get sick. I’m only drinking bottled water. Literally every morning, I have a battle with my stomach. At least it’s only in the morning, and I’m not throwing up, but I’ve never been quite so miserable. Ugh.
                I find the countryside just gorgeous, but unfortunately, those pretty mountains make for long and uncomfortable bus rides. The bus rides have high risk of robbery, so you need to keep your valuables on your lap (not above your head, not between your legs) in case your bags get slashed. I’m not exaggerating.
                Many people are nice one-on-one, but I have found people to be overall rude. For instance, if you are walking down the street and someone is walking with a group, they won’t move over to let you pass. They’ll let you walk into the gutter instead. Or they’ll walk into you and refuse to apologize. Wow. Even in New York City, if you walked into someone and didn’t apologize, you’d get a yell, “What’s your problem?” or some cursing.
                I haven’t been in love with this trip. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been having fun, I haven’t been enjoying my freedom, that I haven’t been doing really amazing things. It just means I think I need to rest for a while and not travel. Just way too much….

Cuenca: Prettier Than Quito, Indeed

                I was pretty excited to go to Cuenca because I heard it was really pretty. And it was. It was prettier than Quito, hands down.
                It’s a very walkable city, with lots of churches, plazas, markets, and two rivers. You can run or stroll or bike along the river, but do note – the main river that you see in town ends up splitting into two rivers, and you can end up horribly lost like me. (My first run which I was aiming to do in an hour ended up being nearly two. Ooops.)
                I arrived on New Years’ Day and almost nothing was opened. I walked around to get my bearings, and took a few photos. Then I ate an okay-for-Ecuador burrito (It wasn’t terrible, but if it was New York, I wouldn’t have made any great pains to go to the same restaurant again.), caught up on email at my hostel, and went to sleep.
                The next day was my wander-around-town day. I visited Museo Banco, some art, anthropology, even ruins in the backyard. Some signs are in English, but I managed reading the Spanish ones when they were lacking. Woohooo! I found a nice French café, The Black Olive, and ate a nice quiche and salad, some of the best food I had in Ecuador. I heard a lot of loud nasal American English in this café. I cringed at obnoxious comments and rudeness towards the servers, and wrote in my journal. Then I walked more about the city, stopping at a few markets to stock up on V’s birthday gifts (ha!), and ran into an American girl I had seen the night before. I ended up chatting with her and working around with her and her German friend who were both backpacking for nearly a year, but after a while, decided their mission of shopping in stinky (Seriously – one smelled like a gasoline leak!) clothing shops selling secondhand American brands (Ray always told me that people buy all the clothes from Goodwill by the Pound and sell it down at stores in South America – he’s right.), so I headed to a market, bought some plantain chips and fresh coconut, and headed back to my hostel. I ended up chatting with an English girl, Chloe, and a German guy, Ronny, and we headed up to a mirador to take photos. It was really pretty, and we got some lovely photos of Cuenca. Chloe and I made plans to go to these ruins the following day, and as our hostel was boring and we were tired, I just caught up on some email.
                After I ran the next day, I came into seeing Chloe miserable. She had been throwing up all night long. She suspected improperly washed fruit. It could be so many things down here. Literally my stomach has been a wreck EVERY SINGLE DAY. Every morning I am experiencing misery. I can’t wait to go home and make the awesome tofu from Thug Kitchen. I dreaded going alone and almost chickened out, but was glad I didn’t. It’s a two hour bus ride to Ingapirca, the ruins, but a really gorgeous one – hilly, green meadows and hills and mountains and clouds dipping in. Really pretty. I read a bit, wrote a bit, and stared at the window.

                The bus leaves 8:45/9, and gets there a bit before 11 a.m.; it returns to Cuenca, leaving at 1:10 p.m. – which is actually the perfect amount of time. I took a Spanish-language tour, and actually understood the vast majority of what was said. YAY! Then I wandered around the property, taking photos of stones that looked like the Inca, tortugas, etc. There were a few small shops, nothing that unique. So much of the tourist stuff is the same.
                I sat next to a Brazilian guy on the bus and we conversed in Spanish. That was really nice.
                I took a cab from the station to near my hostel to see an art fair. The cabbie started his meter but not his car for a while; then when we arrived at my destination, he tried to charge me a higher price than was on the meter. This led to an argument, and him calling me “gringa puta.” Lovely.
                The art fair was not there, so I walked around instead. I got some cheese at the market for my bus ride snack in the morning the following day, ate at the Black Olive for dinner since I hadn’t eaten much other than cookies all day. Then I went back to the hostel, and hung around with some of the backpackers, chatting, playing Uno. We headed out for a drink and I met these awesome Canadian backpackers.
                In the final morning, after a run, I got on the 8 a.m. bus to Ambato. Seven hours on a bus, and then I have to get a bus to Banos, which is another hour. Ugh. I hate all this traveling on crummy buses. Oh well, the price you pay to travel…..

03 January 2015


Fun beach town? Of course I would love it. But really, there's only so much of Montanita that I could take!

About 3 hours on a bus from Guyaquil, this surf town is for partying. When I got off the bus, lost with my giant backpack, pants, and a sweater (I flew into Guyaquil from Quito!), I was so out of place. Everyone was friendly, coming up to me and asking me if I needed help. Why, yes, I do!

I got to my hostal (Hostal Kundalini, recommendation is that it's overpriced but the wifi and hot water were great), dumped off my bags, went into to town to drop off laundry, and ate a fruit salad. Ahhhh....Then I walked around a little bit, lots of people selling stuff on the streets - but then I headed straight to the beach because THAT IS WHAT YOU DO IN MONTANITA!!!!

It was great. I chilled and read some magazines, went in the water (It was warmer than the Galapagos!) and then went back to my room. I checked in officially, then went for a run. I found out about yoga, and ended up hitting that up after my run. I was never so smelly during yoga.

The class was great, in Casa del Sol, with the sounds of the ocean. Really lovely. After class, the Ecuadorian guy next to me chatted with me about yoga, and then on the beach, I befriended a girl named Tracie who I ended up chilling with a lot the rest of my time in Montanita.

I went back to my room and had the first awesome shower of my trip. Then I Google Hangout-ed (Hungout???) with Wayne, and it was nice to catch up. Finally, I was starving. I messaged Tracie, and asked her where she would be after dinner.

Then at the entrance of my hostal, as I was heading out, I hear someone say, "Brooklyn." I yelled, "Who's from Brooklyn? I'm from Brooklyn."

I ended up meeting a pretty big group of Americans from NY/NJ (though mostly NJ, very Jersey). They were social and loud and I decided I would be very into making new friends...so I went out with them.

Group dynamics...waiting for everyone, everyone's personality - I experienced that a lot over the next few days as I hung out with them. I realized I was so happy to be traveling alone to NOT deal with that, and I will never travel with a big group.

After dinner, Tracie messaged me but I got up at 3:30. I just wanted to sleep. So I did that. I went back, went to sleep. I got up early and went for a nice run on the perfect packed sand. It was bliss. And then I went to yoga, also bliss. So good to do yoga after a break.

The rest of the time in Montanita - beach. Massage on the beach. Run on the beach. Drinks. Juices. Giant fruit salads. Sunburn. Talk with Wayne. Teach Mom how to Google Hangout.

New Year's Eve is HUGE. Rooms sell out in June. Seriously. Fireworks start at dark. Drinks everywhere. All the surfers rush into the water just before midnight so they can catch the first wave of the New Year. There are bonfires everywhere, and after midnight, people toss effigies stuffed with firecrackers into it. AWESOMENESS!!

We danced, hugged strangers, listened to music, looked a the sky. Then we went to a club, which wasn't necessary, but Tracie and I danced until 4am. Because why not - you want to start off your new year dancing!!!