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: 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, 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!

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 (Glendalough)

This is part 2 of a mini series I’m writing for my trip to Ireland in March 2017. See the first post here.

Day trip to Glendalough

One of the three days spent in Dublin consisted of a day trip to Glendalough, famous for being featured in P.S., I Love You (which yes, we did watch on the bus ride over; delighful movie). It was just such a beautiful, scenic drive through Ireland’s countryside. The views were postcard picture perfect, with drying greens and soft browns surrounding us and calm, black waters in the distance. The cool grey sky added to the cozy atmosphere of a day of 40 degrees Fahrenheit. As we drove into the area, we saw sheep scattered all over the land, their wool (is it wool when it’s still on the sheep and not spun into fabric?) dyed so that farmers knew which were which.

 

108The walk along the path was peaceful and quiet save for our group’s chatter. Nothing spectacular or extraordinary happened that day, except for walking through Ireland’s natural wonders with a bunch of strangers, and I found something beautiful in that simplicity.

We walked for what felt like miles to finish at the lake’s restaurant, where we encountered a pretty bridge over the water. Like I said, postcard picture perfect. 93

A day is not enough to take in the wonderful feeling of walking the trails of another land. I wish I’d been able to stay just a little longer, to sit at the lake’s edge for an hour or two, breathing in the crisp air with pen and paper in hand as I valiantly struggled to put into words what was right before my eyes. It’s just a lake after all. The land of two lakes in fact. So why is it that I just felt so struck by the calm waters and quiet surrounding trees and brush? Why did I bask in this experience with strangers I’d just met the day before but already felt like we were sharing a moment of creation? I think this is really what I love about traveling. It’s sharing in the mundane with new people and the ordinary becoming incredible.

Stay tuned for part 3/? of the Wanderlust Ireland series. In the meantime, check out more travel posts here. And if you’ve ever been to Ireland, let me know in the comments what you thought. What was your impression of the country?