La bandera

Postcard of Ecuador from the 1980s

The yellow, blue, and red
stand Stark against white
mountain caps. Colors bleed
stronger than that absence
of shade. It will always
wave, louder and brighter
than the snow surrounding.
It calls us home.

Originally shared here.

Wanderlust: Otavalo, Ecuador

Simón Bolivar Park in Otavalo, Ecuador, July 2018

After visiting the village of Cahuasqui, my family and I stayed the night in Otavalo, the major city closest to the village. I’d visted Otavalo the last time I went to Ecuador as well, but this was my first time spending the night in a hotel in the area.

We enjoyed the cool summer evening, watching the locals hang around Simón Bolivar Park. Teenagers sat near the statue with their skateboards and a speaker playing music loudly. Mothers pushed strollers along the walking paths. Toddlers ran around the grass, dancing to the music playing from all sides of the park.

My uncle had a toddler of his own that we towed around town, walking down the streets and peeking into the shops. Rows upon rows of clothing and shoe stores abounded the city’s streets. Of course, food was also interspered among the shops. One group of friends stood on the corner eating fully-loaded hot dogs from a vendor as one would do in New York City.

The next day we stuck around long enough to do some shopping at the Plaza de los Ponchos. This colorful display is filled with handmade wears from the locals who sell their trinkets, clothing, and food to visiting city dwellers and tourists. You can test your haggling skills to the max at this flea market that Otavaleños put out every weekend.

It’s always the colors that fascinate me at these markets. I’m in love with the bright and vibrant blends and patterns they use in this community. It’s a beautiful tradition that pays homage to their indigenous roots. I picked up a jacket with a mesmerizing purple and gray pattern made from alpaca wool. It’s my new favorite winter wear. And it was perfect for my trip to the mountains the next day, but that’s a story for the next installment.

The Plaza de Ponchos offers fresh fruit, produce, and snacks to munch on throughout the day. The shortbread cookies from a local baker were my favorite that day.

We also saw performers singing and dancing for tips at a few different stalls. It’s an experience that reminded me how alive the people of my father’s country are. There is joy and celebration in the smallest of moments and in the everyday.

Have any of you visited Otavalo? Do you want to see it after reading this post? Let me know in the comments.

See the rest of my Wanderlust series here.

Wanderlust: La ruta escondida, Ecuador

Outside of Quito my dad and I took the rental car on a trek through the mountains on what’s known as la ruta escondida, “the hidden route.” It’s a mountain road that passes through five villages: Atahualpa, Perucho, Chavezpamba, San José de Minas and San Antonio de Pichincha.

My dad and I stopped at Atahualpa, Ecuador on la ruta escondida, July 2018

It’s a daunting task driving on dirt and pebble roads through the mountains. The constant curves and up and down is enough to make anyone car sick, so if you take this trip and you’re prone to motion sickness, I highly recommend Dramamine and ginger chews.

What’s truly thrilling though is winding through these narrow roads, knowing at any moment another car coming from the other direction can be around the corner. There are no guard rails on these roads, so it’s a test of skill and courage to drive through those mountains.

Stopped at a stream along la ruta escondida, Ecuador, July 2018

The sights along the way are a marvel. There’s green as far as the eye can see, old bridges long forgotten by city dwellers and clean streams of water for passing cows and llamas to drink from.

We saw the locals walking on the same roads our car drove on. These are rural people who make a living off the land and think nothing of a 20-mile journey on foot.

It’s a long way between towns, so make sure you have a fully charged phone, or at least a portable charger with you. The last thing you want is to be stranded out in the mountains without a phone to call for help.

On our road trip through la ruta escondida, we stopped for lunch in Perucho at a little local restaurant. It looked more like someone’s house, but that’s how businesses are out there. The food was delicious, made with fresh ingredients. Everything tastes different in Ecuador. It all tastes the way food should, without the added preservatives and chemicals. Make sure you work up an appetite, because each meal after the morning includes a bowl of soup and a plate of rice, protein and greens.

Our meal in Perucho, Ecuador, la ruta escondida: vegetable soup, rice, chicken, potatoes, and salad, July 2018
Restaurant Cahuasqui in the village in Ecuador, la ruta escondida, July 2018

Our journey through the mountains led to the destination I’d most anticipated: the village of Cahuasqui, my family’s surname. For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by people who knew how to pronounce my last name. Even better, my last name was on everything, from restaurants to grocery stores to ice cream shops.

It’s common to see European surnames on buildings in the U.S. Depending on where you travel in America, Spanish surnames are also plenty. But indigenous names like Cahuasqui? Never.

It was quiet the day we visited the town, but it felt like home. We stopped for dinner here, once more in what felt like a resident’s private kitchen. We picked at salted popcorn as we awaited our meals. Popcorn was the appetizer of choice here, like how Mexican restaurants set out chips and salsa or Cuban restaurants set out garlic bread.

Before daylight ran out, we headed back on the road, through the winding mountain roads, back to the closest city, Otavalo. Stay tuned for my time in Otavalo in the next installment.

For the previous installment of my summer 2018 trip to Ecuador, click here. You can see more about my time in Ecuador from my first trip in 2011.

Has anyone else done a road trip like this one? Does anyone want to take the road less traveled after reading this? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Wanderlust: Quito, Ecuador

I returned to Ecuador last year to see more than I did on my first visit. My dad and I still stayed in Quito with family, but this time we rented a car to take adventure into our own hands. Here’s where our tour led us this time.

Quito, Ecuador from the backseat of a car (2018).

Once more, we drove through my dad’s childhood neighborhood, but this time, he took me to his high school campus, Montufa. I saw the school that educated the man who became my father, who then educated me into the woman I am today.

We couldn’t get beyond the gates of the school, as we clearly were not students or faculty, but I could see its expansive size from where I stood. The white columns and buildings looked more like a university campus than a high school. But the hundreds of students milling about in matching dark uniforms let us know that this was, indeed, el colegio (high school).

My father wanted to take me onto the campus, to walk the halls and pathways he once did. Much the same way I wanted to take him through my own school’s tracks when I was in attendance at McArthur, to show him my world on the day parents came to speak with teachers and see their kids’ progress.

Though we didn’t get that chance, to see Montufa as it stood before me that day, and as I watched those kids running from one end of the campus to another, urgent in their need to get away from classes at the end of the day, reminded me that my father once lived a life not so different from mine as a teenager.

Centro de Arte Contemporáneo

Centro de Arte Contemporáneo, Barrio de San Juan, Quito, Ecuador (2018)

In the Barrio de San Juan stands an art museum that once functioned as a military hospital outpost and sanatorium. I know this not because we walked inside and read a sign, but because when we came upon it, my father stood in awe before the building and said, “Remember the stories I told you about standing guard at night when I was in the army? Well, this is where it was.”

I’ve heard the story countless times. How at night the soldiers stood guard at the hospital, knowing that only feet away lay the dead bodies in the mortuary, waiting to be taken for burial or autopsies.

One night my father, the eternal prankster, took things a bit far. He left his shift as a fellow soldier took over, but instead of leaving for the night, he stayed behind to play a trick. See, the soldiers always felt creeped out by the place, but my dad was never bothered by the dead.

That night, my father set up a prank that made it sound like the dead had come back to life. The soldier on guard that night got so spooked, he began firing into the sanatorium, where my father still lingered for his prank. The other soldier was so scared, he shot more rounds than necessary, and my father had to run the other way, climb out a window, and shimmy down a wall to escape getting shot by his scared comrade. To this day, my dad still thinks it was a good, worthwhile prank.

That day in the summer of 2018, I stood in the very spot where that story took place. Now, where once the dead awaited their next destination, stands a museum for contemporary art. Where once military soldiers like my father stood guard, now is a civilian guard for the art’s protection and tourist’s convenience.

Ciudad Mitad del Mundo

Located in the San Antonio parish of Pichincha, Quito, Ecuador, stands a monument to the halfway point of the world; an homage to the land’s namesake, the equator.

The steps behind the monument for Mitad del Mundo, 2018

I don’t remember there being a whole city built around this tourist attraction the last time I visited in 2011. At least, not to the extent I saw that day. There was a whole map of sights other than the monument and its museum interior. We didn’t have time to see everything as we arrived late in the day, but it was still amazing to see how far the attraction had grown. I felt proud to see that so many people wanted to know of my family’s culture and history.

If you’re able to climb stairs, the museum inside the monument showcases pieces from the country’s indigenous cultures and a timeline of its history. Nearby is another building with a virtual reality presentation of the stars, like an observatory come to life before your eyes, that gives visitors a look into the geography’s development.

Today we know that where the line of demarcation sits isn’t an accurate reading of where the equator runs. But hey, what’s 240 meters between friends? When you visit, make sure to take a turn around the village to see authentic homes, churches, and shops that contain keepsakes of the rich Ecuadorian culture.

See my first impressions of Ecuador from my first visit in 2011 (link in first paragraph). Let me know if any of you have been to Ecuador and drop a comment! Stay tuned for the rest of my adventures in Ecuador, summer of 2018.

Wanderlust: Ireland, Galway

Finally, I come to the end of my travel log from Ireland, 2017. The trip itself only lasted one week, but the experience will stay with me for a lifetime. Our last stop on the tour was Galway, a harbour city on the west coast of the country.

By the time our group arrived in Galway, I was exhausted. My new friends and I took the time to simply stroll along the harbour and enjoy the scenery. At night, there is a lively bar scene for the young and young at heart.

It’s a colorful, but relaxed environment as we walked through Shop Street checking out the local wares and restaurants. We even managed to squeeze our way through a bar packed with football fans screaming over a soccer match on the television that night.

We stayed in Eyre Square at Kinlay Hostel. It was my first ever experience with a hostel, and it wasn’t terrible, but after the great hotels we’d stayed in throughout the rest of the trip, it was certainly different.

I didn’t so much mind the sleeping accommodations. We were six in a room with three sets of bunk beds. The top bunks were a bit high and close to the ceiling, so I had to duck my head to climb up and couldn’t sit up, but we were really only there to sleep, so no big deal.

I think the worst part of this hostel experience for me was the bathroom. It was only the six of us sharing our bathroom, but its construction was nothing I’d ever seen before, and having traveled a little in Europe, I’ve seen some strange bathrooms. This one had one level floor, with no barrier or separation between the toilet and the shower, which meant when you bathed, water got all over the floor. So if someone needed to use the toilet after you got out of the shower, they had to get their feet wet. It was a little gross. But I guess that’s part of the travel experience, is to be a bit uncomfortable sometimes.

After the whirlwind Grand Tour of Ireland that EF Ultimate Break offered, I was glad to have a low-key night, enjoying the sights of beautiful Galway with my new friends.

Though I didn’t get to experience them myself, the Salthill Promenade is a walk I’d like to take next time I’m in Ireland. Yes, I definitely want to go back and catch all that I missed the first time around.

Have any of you been to Galway? What were your impressions? Let me know in the comments! And check out the rest of my travel adventures here.

Wanderlust: Ireland, Aran Islands and Dún Aonghasa

We’re coming close to the end of my adventures in Ireland from 2017. The next to last place we visited on this trip were the Aran Islands and Dun Aonghasa (pronounced Don Angus, if my guide is to be believed).

First came the early morning ferry ride across a glorious blue and cold sea and sky.

But the true stunner was the sight at the top of the old fort Dun Aonghasa. Yes, another set of cliffs, which Ireland is rife with. But there’s a reason tourists like myself go for the view. Nothing humbles you more than staring straight down into the sea and rocks, knowing these structures have been around thousands of years before you, and that they’ll continue existing thousands of years long past your passing.

It’s an invigorating little hike up a rocky path to make it to the windy top of the fort. I recommend bringing those sturdy hiking boots you used for the Cliffs of Moher for this site as well.

During this part of the trip, we were given a bus tour of the island, allowing us to take in the natural sights, as well as the people. The tour guide provided a comprehensive and fascinating history that made this an absolute must when visiting Ireland.

For those who live in or visit many cold places, the Aran Islands offers its famous Irish wool sweaters. These handmade pieces were a bit pricey for my taste (running up to $125 for a top), but if you’re from the New England region or other places with freezing winters, then it might be a worthwhile investment. For a Floridian like me, I just couldn’t justify such a purchase. But be sure, the scarves, sweaters, and other wool goods are beautiful.

Have any of my readers been to the Aran Islands or Dun Aonghasa? What were your impressions? Does anyone want to go visit it now after reading this? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

For more of my traveling adventures, look for the tag “wanderlust” on my blog, or visit my Travel page.

Wanderlust: Ireland, Cliffs of Moher

The next stop on my tour of Ireland from 2017 was my favorite part of the whole trip: The Cliffs of Moher. So much so, I even wrote a poem about it.

This was an absolutely breathtaking sight. Though it was cold and rainy as it had been the entire trip, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. The muddy trek uphill made it all the more satisfying when I made to the top of cliff number one.

Unfortunately, we only had a couple of hours to spend at the Cliffs, including lunch, so I could only make it up one cliff. The battle to find your footing as you take in the open expanse of ocean next to rock is enough to fill the heart of any wanderer.

There is a line of stones most of the way up that separates you from the edge of the cliffs, so if you’re afraid of heights (or rather of falling), don’t worry. As long as you remain behind that line, you’re safe.

There are open pockets between the stones where you can step out and get a closer look at the edges, but even still there is plenty of space before you reach a dangerous point. Just make sure it’s not too windy the day you go! Some have been known to get blown over when the winds are high enough…

Fun fact: The Cliffs of Moher is where the Cliffs of Insanity scene for the The Princess Bride was filmed. For fans of the classic movie, it’s a real treat to imagine Wesley hanging on for dear life right before your eyes.

Make sure to take a quick detour to O’Brien’s Tower when you’re at the Cliffs. The remains of this observation tower give the final authentic feel of being transported to another time and place altogether.

For more about my trip to Ireland, and other travels, see my previous posts here.

Have any of you traveled to Ireland and seen the Cliffs of Moher? What were your impressions? Let me know in the comments!