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!

Advertisements

Wanderlust: Georgia

I went to Georgia during my birthday weekend back in college, junior year if I remember correctly. I was attending an open-call audition and Caitlin, Char’Lee, Lida and I packed into the Volkswagen for a chilly adventure. (Side note: traveling during my birthday always brings a weather surprise for me, as January in Florida is still hot as hell).

As with all proper road trips, we stocked up on snacks and tunes, ready to roll down the highway with classic rock and Pringles. Of course, keeping up the hype for over four hours is difficult, so after a while it became a napping party with Char’Lee behind the wheel, a true team player staying awake.

As we cruised the interstate though, nearing Atlanta but still on the outskirts, Columbus (the Volkswagen) started running low on gas, and every exit we took led to ghost towns with tumbleweeds rolling in the wind. No seriously, the first exit we took, the gas station looked like it’d been abandoned for years and there was brush and dirt just blowing in the breeze. The next stop was the same thing. It wasn’t until exit number three that we made human contact at a mom-and-pop garage.

Thankfully, they did not kill us as we suspected they might, and instead laughed and said, “Yeah, you’re not gonna find a working gas station for a while. Keep driving.” How was that possible near a mechanic’s garage? Columbus would just have to keep livin’ on a prayer until we reached the city.

We made it. Just barely, but we made it. Filled up and headed to the hotel where surprise, there’s a parking fee for the garage they hadn’t told us about when I’d first booked the hotel. Shout out to my mom for taking the extra charge. Other than that, I gotta admit, I don’t really remember the hotel. I just remember walking around Atlanta.

I don’t remember when we arrived, but while the city itself felt alive, there were hardly any passersby on the streets. It was like my friends and I were the only living souls left amid the breathing concrete and edifices. I’d never pictured Atlanta, GA being so devoid of people at any given time. It was a major city, wasn’t it? Shouldn’t it have been like NYC or Miami, with citizens bustling around at every goddamn hour of the day?

Eventually, my friends and I parted ways, leaving me behind to wait with the cattle call for auditions while they ventured into the city to explore. I got a text message saying, “We found Atlanta. Everyone’s at the aquarium lol.” Who knew the Atlanta Aquarium required reservations beforehand?

Fast forward through the auditions, because I spent the whole day there, mostly sitting and practicing and panicking, until it was all over and I was free to join my friends again. I believe the name of the restaurant we went to was called Pitty Pat’s Porch. The pecan pie is highly recommended. That damn dessert still haunts my dreams. Also, I had collared greens for the first time that night, and they were delicious.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

More food adventures were had the next day as we lunched at Fat Matt’s Rib Shack, and oh, damn, were those ribs social media worthy. Atlanta was good for food. And for laughs, as we arrived in the Five Points neighborhood and Char’Lee had to get out of the driver’s seat to let me parallel park. Apparently I was the only one there who had some experience with that maneuver (Hialeah training, thank you!).

For the hipster and bohemian at heart, I say visiting Five Points is the way to go. Not so much my cup of tea, but the others enjoyed it a lot. Crazy jewelry purchases were made. Thrift shops were perused (because who goes to a place like Five Points and doesn’t go thrift shopping?). Record stores ogled. Yep, the perfect place for a writer to set up shop and start working on her observation skills.

Our final day in Georgia saw us through a tour of the Martin Luther King, Jr. community. It’s still surreal to me to walk down paths as an every day citizen in neighborhoods where such historical figures once walked themselves, and I wonder if they thought they were ordinary as well.