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!

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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, 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!

Wanderlust: Ireland (Killarney & Ring of Kerry)

The next stop on my tour of Ireland back in March 2017 was the town of Killarney. This was somewhere between a small town and a big city, so, suburb. Strolling through the square at night with my new friends felt like I’d been doing that my whole life.

In the morning, our tour director arranged for horse carriage rides through a nearby park. We bumped along the gravel road right next to the cars driving on the street, locals on their way to their daily lives.

By now, our group was accustomed to the cool grey skies with flurries of drizzles. The cold no longer digs into our bones, at least, for us Floridians. Instead, the sting of the cold air refreshes and wakes us up.

Even out in the suburbs, Ireland proves to never lack any green. The carriage ride took us through a park forest covered in moss and mud, following the gravel path created by modern-day citizens.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Ireland without a visit to another crumbling castle. Fortress remains are scattered throughout the country, making it a land perfect for those who love the fairytale aesthetic.

Even the lake nearby with swans feels like a picture straight out of a Disney movie. There are tourists walking all along the grounds, but I imagine at night it would be emptier, making it prime real estate for a story about a haunting.

The next stop in Killarney is the Red Fox Inn, famous for its Irish coffee. This was probably one of my favorite moments of the entire trip. At 7 a.m., I was served black coffee poured over whiskey, and topped with frothy cream. From the first sip I found myself thinking, “Now this is how you should wake up every morning.” There’s something to be said about sharing an early morning coffee and liquor with a group of strangers who are for the time being your best friends.

As we continued our trek around the Ring of Kerry, we encountered the brightest, bluest, and sunniest day in Ireland, stopping by the beach. It’s not what this Florida girl expected when I was told the beach, but it was beautiful nonetheless. I also took a rock and snuck it through airport security on the trip back (shhh!).

The bus ride around the Ring of Kerry took us through rolling hills of green, well, mountains really. The Macgillycuddy’s Reeks mixed with the brisk Irish weather and gray skies was a sight to behold. The country has so much beautiful scenery to offer, each day in the Emerald Isles made it harder to look forward to my trip back home.

One of the last stops before leaving County Kerry was the Killarney National Park. We only got to spend a couple of hours in the magical forest, but it is a hiker’s dream. Just a few minutes viewing the spectacular Torc Waterfall was enough to inspire a spirit of adventure that leaves me longing for more.

You can get lost along the many roads and countrysides that Ireland has to offer, and never feel aimless. It’s the kind of place that gives new life to the cliche, “It’s about the journey, not the destination.”

For more posts about my trip to Ireland, see the following links: 1, 2, and 3.

If any of you have ever traveled Ireland, let me know in the comments. What were your favorite highlights? If you haven’t gone, which of these sights do you want to see?

Best Friend Strangers

Read my poem about the joys of travel friendships

The thing about traveling is that
you make temporary best friends
wherever you go. You meet a complete
stranger who overheard you say
you’re from Florida, next thing
you know you’re bonding over
how fucking cold it is in Ireland
for you two. You and your roommate
for the week salivate over parsnips
that seem to come with every meal
and by the time the farewell
dinner rolls around you’re shouting
simultaneously, “Where are the parsnips?”
and laughing at the inside joke.
You all leave and never see each
other again, never speak, but click
like on Facebook. Somehow
still bonded for life. Strangers
yet best friends by this shared experience.

Originally posted here.

Wanderlust: Ireland (Blarney Castle)

The next stop from my trip to Ireland over a year ago was the famous Blarney Castle. No one warned me that kissing the Blarney Stone required some gymnastics. I wasn’t expecting to be held as I bent backwards into a space between walls with no net to catch me if I slipped through. So here’s a fair warning for fellow travelers who might have a bit of a fear of falling from high places.

 

195I’m also bad at climbing steep, narrow stairs of old, which are prevalent in Europe I’m finding. It takes a bit of leg muscle to make the trek up the stairs, but it’s well worth it, if nothing else than just to say you climbed up to the top of a castle. But I thought the views were pretty stellar from so high up.

I felt a great deal of fear, especially since the steps were so slippery with rain and moss. All that kept passing through my mind were images of falling to my death, thinking, This is where they’ll find my body. In an old castle, in Ireland. There were moments I thought of giving up and turning around, but I hadn’t made it that far just to give up before kissing the damn stone.

Besides that, there’s something about fighting against your own pounding heart and gasping breaths in damp, cold stone walls that makes you feel like a heroine out of a novel.

It wasn’t just the castle though that was beautiful. The surrounding grounds with gardens filled with deadly plants made for quite the sight as well. It felt like walking through magic. 225

With nothing but green and brown as far as the eye could see any which way I turned, I half expected fairies to come greet me at any moment, and wisk me away to a revel I’d never return from.

Or perhaps I just felt the call of the Emerald Isles inviting me to stay a bit longer. I admit, the thought had crossed my mind several times throughout this journey.

See more of my Ireland 2017 travels here:

Part 1. Part 2

Stay tuned for the remaining segments from this trip. Let me know in the comments if you’ve visited Blarney Castle or other Irish stops. What did you think?

Wanderlust: Ireland (Dublin)

Dublin
Day 1 in Dublin

Over a year and a half ago I finally got to visit Ireland, a country I’d been dying to see for as long as I can remember. There’s always been something about the Emerald Isles that called out to me. Maybe it was the myths and folklore. Maybe it was the haunting Celtic music. Maybe it was just the origins of my name. Whatever it may be, I wanted to see it, and so I did.

I went on a 5-day trip through EF College Break (technically 7, but 2 days were travel). We hit the ground running, as we immediately set off to explore Dublin soon after getting off the plane and leaving our luggage at the hotel (we couldn’t check in yet). Our tour guide Fab, who was amazing, helped us get our bearings so that we could wander off solo but still find our way back to our accommodations.

That first day we stuck together, a group of strangers who had just met but needed one another to make sure we didn’t get lost and left behind. Walking the brick alleys and making our way into Temple Bar to warm up with a pint, I soon felt clicking submit on that online trip application was the best decision I’d ever made.

By the next day, we all felt pretty confident in our abilities to navigate this foreign city, and all went our separate ways or in smaller groups. I started out the day with a roommate to explore Dublin Castle, and from there wandered the Irish city on my own, looking for the Writer’s Museum. I got lost along the way a few times, but I felt so sure of myself that I had no problem consulting the map and asking complete strangers which way to go. I definitely wandered into a suspect neighborhood and was quickly told to get out immediately, but no harm came to me.

I finally found the museum and spent a couple of hours there before making my way back to see a popular library as well. Yes, I’m that nerd who goes abroad to look at other countries book spaces. Truthfully though, none of it was about the destinations. Though I had a great time seeing castles, museums, and libraries, I felt more excited by the walking. It was just a city after all, not much different from New York in fact. Dublin also had construction sites blocking the walkways and smelly alleyways.

That’s really my favorite thing about traveling. It’s just walking among the locals, observing the natives of the land, listening to their voices and stories as they walk around me, ignoring my existence. I bask in the normalcy of life when I’m in a completely different country.

During one of my many bouts of getting lost, I realized it was time for lunch and stopped in at the first cafe I found. I didn’t try to act like a local, because I knew how obvious it was that I was American (the accent kind of gives it away). Instead I asked, “What do you recommend?” The woman behind the register named the soup of the day (leek and potato, which I’d never had and thought only existed in Neopets) with brown bread (again, something new to me). It sounded good though, and it was cold outside, so soup wasn’t a bad choice. She served me and I sat down to charge my phone and get Wi-Fi while I ate.

For the record, leek and potato soup is delicious. And with a side of brown bread with Irish butter, absolutely divine. Such simple fare, but so damn good. I took my time with my lunch and happily ate while looking around the restaurant and out the window. Everyone was so normal, and I was enthralled.

I finally started making my way back at the time I figured the sun would be going down. I couldn’t really tell, as it’s always grey in Ireland. But as confident as I was in my newfound ability to travel a foreign country on my own, and as friendly as the people had been thus far, I didn’t want to get stuck on my own at night in the city. When I finally arrived back at the hotel, my feet aching and sore, and my body on the verge of collapse, I consulted my phone to see how much I’d walked that day. Five miles to and five miles from (not including the rerouting that took place from getting lost). So approximately 10 miles total. I’d never walked so much in my life. I was exhausted but it was well worth it.

I’ve decided to break this post up into multiple parts, as I feel I can talk for days about the trip I had over a year ago. Stay tuned for more! In the meantime, have you been to Dublin, Ireland? If so, what was your favorite thing? Let me know in the comments!

For more wanderlust posts, click here.