I’m writing to you again from Onda, at the end of a one-month tour of Ecuador in very good company. I get to settle down a little again, which helps to gather my thoughts and sort out my photos.
I don’t feel like I was gone very long, and yet, I had the opportunity to see many beautiful things during this improvised trip. Even if I still have a lot left to discover about this country, I’m glad to have been able to explore it in more depth, after spending so much time here.
My Ecuadorian explorations beyond the province of Manabí, where I stayed for almost four months between Puerto Lopez and Las Tunas, began with a stay of just over a week in Cuenca. There, I worked a few hours a day in a hostel, which served as a good base for me to take long walks in this little jewel of a city.
However, having shared such great moments with all my friends from Onda, I soon felt a bit lonely there, which led me to come back shortly after I left. After a nice hike in El Cajas National Park, at more than 4000 meters of altitude, I came back just in time for the official opening, with the pride of bringing back with me the very first guest of the hostel we had all spent weeks preparing.
A few weeks later, I went to Manta for a short trip which allowed me to see Shaun, who was also a volunteer in Onda, and to extend my visa for another three months. With all these beautiful encounters and so many things to see, I wasn’t ready to leave this country anytime soon.
Indeed, Ecuador may be a small country compared to the rest of the region, but there are so many beautiful and fascinating places to discover here. During a tour of the city of Guayaquil, when I arrived a few months earlier, my guide told me that I was in the state with the most biodiversity per square kilometer in the world. For example, although it represents only 0.2% of the land mass, it is home to 16% of all the different bird species in the world. Just that.
I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy one of its coastal regions for a considerable amount of time, but it’s not just the ocean that’s worth the detour here. The country is crossed from north to south by the Andes, which are home to many volcanoes. And to the east, one can discover the richness of its Amazonian jungles. Needless to say that I was quite excited to join Shaun again a few weeks later, to travel together for a month before coming back to Onda for our final stay.
With no precise plan other than to improvise as we went along, we decided to meet in Otavalo, a medium-sized town nestled between several volcanoes in the north of the country (a convenient meeting place, since Shaun was returning from Colombia). This little treasure of the Andes is known for its traditional open-air market, the largest in South America. We stayed in a small hostel own by a lovely indigenous family, which is located a little above the city, offering spectacular views on a daily basis.
This new departure, which came just at the right time after having suffered again from health problems that had immobilised me during my last days in Las Tunas, inspired me to bring out my faithful little travel notebook to write down those new sensations…
‘It is February 5th, and I have the impression to feel the presence of winter for the first time this year. Of course, there was my little stopover in Cuenca at the end of last year. There, the colder air and the holiday season often reminded me of Beirut. Another time, another life. This time, I left Onda for longer, even though I wasn’t ready to say goodbye for good yet. The change in temperature is more brutal in Otavalo, and the ten degrees lost seem to penetrate under my skin in a surprisingly stimulating way. It feels good to get a change of air, I think it was about time. It’s important to regularly leave your comfort zone. And because of my inability to work there this past week, I was also starting to go around in circles. The view here is splendid. It reminds me of the vast and beautiful world beyond the walls of what I consider to be my home, my home of a time, but a home that I now know I can return to and find the warmth of a family. Still, I am excited to be able to look out over new landscapes, to talk to people who live in a different reality and to discover the local specificities of the indigenous culture that permeates the mountains, lakes, volcanoes and waterfalls of this region. Finally, I am on my way to discover South America and the many treasures it holds. I am also accompanied this time. By a combination of unlikely circumstances, the Universe has put this luminous being on my path. Once again, I am at the dawn of a new chapter in my story. Ready to write it…‘
I loved discovering Lake Cuicocha. We went around it in five hours, enough to stretch my legs after several weeks of relative immobility.
Being both long-time travellers, it seemed natural to us to take our time to absorb the landscapes and culture of the places we were visiting. We were not in a hurry and prefered not to exhaust ourselves by trying to see everything in a few days, especially since we each had regular work to do; I am still a distance student, and Shaun is working on a diploma to teach English. For this reason, we left Otavalo after a very pleasant week, meeting people, chatting with locals, discovering culinary specialties (including Polish pierogis!) and even listening to a native rock concert. Shaun is Australian, but we both speak Spanish, which makes our travels in this part of the world much easier, although here the first language of many is Kichwa.
At the end of our stay in Otavalo, we had to spend some time in the capital of the country. So we went to Quito, staying in a hostel in the beautiful historical center of the city.
There, we had the opportunity to meet new friends, but also to see old ones, including Vero, one of the volunteers present at the very beginning of the Onda experience, as well as André and Ilaria, who were going to Colombia. We all shared magical moments in Las Tunas, and it was great to see each other again in such a different environment.
From Quito, with one of our new friends, we went to the ‘middle of the world’ (‘La Mitad del Mundo’), a city built right on the equator. Well… almost. In the 18th century, a team of French scientists came here to determine the Ecuadorian line. At the time, they didn’t have a GPS, so they were off by 200 meters. Not bad for the means of the time, though. It was also a bit too late to change, they built a nice monument and filled the place with various museums and shops. As for us, we didn’t know about it yet, so we took pictures of us walking between hemispheres like any self-respecting tourist. It was a nice day.
We liked Quito, but Quito is a big city and the area where we lived was not always very reassuring (especially at night), and after so much time spent near the ocean in the most peaceful setting, we were looking forward to being able to get closer to nature again. Thus, the next stage of our journey awaited us in Tena, a small town on the edge of the Amazon jungle. And it wasn’t going to be just any stage… It will have taken some preparation. Indeed, to do what we were going to do in Tena, we had to follow a rather restricted diet, notably without alcohol, chocolate, or meat. Good thing I had a few months of training behind me at that level. The reason for these restrictions was that we had to prepare our bodies for a special experience with a plant considered a very powerful medicine in the indigenous culture of this part of the world.
As the initiates will have understood, we chose to do an Ayahuasca retreat, guided by a shaman, in the jungle. I did it with the idea (and the hope!) of healing the many physical ailments that have been poisoning my body for some time now, after being frustrated so many times by modern medicine. These five days separated from the world will have been a whole journey, itself part of a long quest of several months. There is much to say, and for this reason I will tell you all about it in a future article.
It was thus with well-rested minds and bodies that we emerged from the jungle, gently transitioning into the ‘civilisation’ we felt we had left behind in Tena. We stayed another day to give our bodies time to recover from this deep and enriching experience.
The next stage was not the least important, as we ended up in Baños, one of the most famous tourist destinations in the country. That was indeed the first impression I had when we arrived, actually, while walking the distance from the bus stop to our hostel. The place was crowded, noisy, full of tourist establishments as well as international cafés and restaurants. It is true we arrived during Carnival, a very popular festival that attracted a lot of people (especially Ecuadorians!). Here, the tradition is to have a big open-air water and foaming spray battle.
However, I quickly understood the enthusiasm that this place inspires in the majority of travellers who have visited it: the nature that surrounds it is magnificent. A whole host of stimulating and amusing activities are offered. So, for a few days, we went hiking, biking, rafting and even ziplining, all in an idyllic setting. One evening, we also joined Angela, with whom we shared some very special moments in the jungle, to enjoy the thermal baths that give the place its name. What a hard life!
It is now time for us to go back to where it all began, to regain our strength and prepare what’s coming for the next few weeks. This is an opportunity for me to reflect on the past month…
A month that would never have been so magical if I hadn’t been in such good company. Life has offered me a very beautiful gift by putting this little angel in my path, and I couldn’t be happier. Every day brings me its lot of laughter, discoveries, moments of sharing and vulnerability… and more recently, some important decisions for the future (but I’ve learned my lesson this time, and I’ll wait a little while before telling you about them!). We’ve been so spoilt with all our activities, all our meals, all our encounters.
Thank you Shaun, Thank you Ecuador ❤
For now, I’m going to enjoy these last moments of happiness alongside the people I love, before facing the next great wave of my life, the one that will bring me back to my continent of origin and towards new horizons. I don’t yet know exactly where it will take me, but so far, I’m taking great pleasure in surfing it.
I’m so happy!
What a blessing, I am really grateful that all these adventures have brought me to where I am today. Once again, with some hindsight, life is showing me where it wanted to go with all the trials put on my way.
That’s it for today, much love my friends! See you soon for another article, one about my interior travels this time…