It is official – we have no keys, no cell phone and no permanent address. We’ve been out of the States now for two and a half weeks and so far are loving every minute. Departing the country went off without a hitch and we were successful in loading our world into two carry-on size backpacks. The benefit of having only carry-on luggage was emphasized early on after we met a couple whose bags were delayed 48 hours beyond their arrival and when recovered were soaked in urine. While I’m sure their experience was uncommon, Kenny and I shared a mental high-five for avoiding baggage claim hassles.
Since arriving in Ecuador, we have spent a bit of time in Quito, trekked in the Amazon and we currently are sitting in a beachside hostel on Isabela island in the Galapagos. We have treated the first few weeks more like a vacation than true budget style travel as we opted for a cruise through the Galapagos Islands as opposed to a more do-it-yourself approach. That said, our lodging otherwise has cost no more than $10-20/pp per night; the higher end being our Galapagos hostel accommodations. Having traveled to Ecuador in the off-season, we have definitely benefited from the lower prices and ability to take advantage of last minute opportunities that otherwise would have been far outside our budget. Having the freedom to change plans at a moment’s notice allowed us to obtain last minute travel deals to both the Amazon and the Galapagos.
After only three nights in Quito, we found ourselves on our first overnight bus traveling to the Amazon via a town by the name of Coca. After our arrival in town, we caught a motorized canoe downriver for approximately 2 hours and then a traditional canoe for another 45 minutes to our lodge. Basic and beautiful is the best description I have for this place with an incredible location just off a black water lake in the jungle. Every day was filled with hikes through the jungle or canoe rides down river to search for wildlife. There even was a bird tower built like a treehouse in a Kapok tree more than 150 feet in the air.
Of course, no visit to a rainforest is complete without a hike in a midday storm. Covered in ponchos, which hid our ear to ear smiles, we trekked through the jungle to a covered hut for a lunch break and to wait out the worst of the storm. In our hikes, we came across numerous species of birds, 4 different species of primate, cayman and insects that seemed perfect candidates as stars in a Tim Burton film.
I enjoyed very much viewing the insects during the day but found that running into a spider the size of a tea plate during a night hike was more than I was comfortable with. What stood out most in my mind though was learning the sound that a troop of monkeys make moving through the jungle; like a wave or strong wind crashing through the trees. Having that small bit of first hand knowledge still makes me smile.
After the Amazon, we returned to Quito for a few additional nights before leaving for the Galapagos. In that time, we were able to explore the Centro Historico (Old Town) and see beautiful churches, colorful public squares and sample food from local markets. In particular, the Basilica del Voto Nacional was an impressive building to tour because you are able to climb very steep, exposed ladders up into the towers which overlook the city for a beautiful view.
From Quito, we flew to the Galapagos Islands to begin our 8 day, 7 night cruise. There is too much to write in this short summary about these islands and another, more in depth post will follow.
Without a doubt, I can say choosing to visit the islands by boat was the best decision we could have made and was worth every penny. There is no way to see many of the islands except by cruise because they are too far to travel by day-trip from the main islands. The array of wildlife we saw was unimaginable before our arrival and exceeded every expectation that I had.
Following our stay in the Galapagos, we will be returning to Quito for an additional week to explore more of the city and to take one-on-one Spanish language lessons. English speakers are few and far between in South America thus far and the bit of Spanish I have remembered from school long ago has been indispensable. I am surprised how much I’ve remembered but I’m still a long way from conversing comfortably with locals. During our travels, we have decided to take advantage of as many language classes as we can and maybe, by then end of our 5-6 months in South America, we will possibly be bilingual.
Having already seen so much in the past few weeks, it is exciting to imagine all the experiences that lie ahead. While each one will be amazing, I find myself hoping that time somehow will slow to a crawl to give me (us) an opportunity to fully absorb all the places we visit.