We’re a bit behind on these life updates, so we’re just going to start with a recap of November. December 1st marked two months traveling around South America. In the whole month of November, we never spent more than five days in one place. It was a little exhausting compared to our usual pace of travel, but it is pretty awesome to look back and see how much can happen in a month when you’re out and doing things. Here are some November highlights, linking to posts you might have missed + some stories that we didn’t share the first time around.
Halloween is Extra Creepy in the Amazon
We spent Halloween in the Amazon this year! Key differences from last year were that we didn’t even drink one beer, our costumes were sweaty t-shirts, and the tarantulas were real. The Cuyabeno National Park is accessible only by canoe, so we were really out in the thick of it. We saw everything from anacondas, to sloths, to river dolphins. You know, we grow up up believing that spiders and pirañas are some of the most vicious things in life. It’s kind of funny to come to terms with the fact that wild things are more afraid of us than we are of them.
While the trip was well above our usual daily budget, we figured we couldn’t get all the way down to South America and skip the Amazon. It was pretty damn cool, and you can read more about our time in the Amazon Jungle here.
Why Every Hike Should End in a Crater Lake: The Quilotoa Loop
The Quilotoa Loop was the experience I most looked forward to in Ecuador. If you’ve seen the photos, you know it ended up being appropriately epic.
It was our first experience with multi-day, unguided trekking, and a good confidence boost for some of the scarier adventures still ahead. We spent our nights in lovely bed and breakfasts in tiny towns, and saw all kinds of places we never would have visited if we weren’t passing through them on foot. At the end of the loop, we took an unconventional route back. Rather than finishing up with a 12 hour return trek, we decided to travel 77km in the back of a milk truck and 89km on a rather bumpy bus. This is definitely proof that we’re at a point in life where our money is worth more than time. It’s kind of alright.
Sleeping amongst the Volcanoes
Ecuador has really done a great job coexisting with some of nature’s harsher circumstances. Active volcano and inhospitable soil? No problem. Let’s build a hacienda!
We ventured to Cotopaxi for a stay at Hacienda el Porvenir. The 100+ year old family estate at the foot of Cotopaxi Volcano proved to be a comfy home base for all kinds of hiking, biking, and horseback riding (in full Andean cowboy gear). It was easily one of the prettiest places we’ve ever slept.
We’ve grown to love how the answer in Ecuador is never really “no”. Our bus had run out of seats by the time we got picked up on the highway to Baños. Rather than leaving us by the roadside, we got thrown into the cockpit with the driver for the next 4 hours.
The town of Baños is pretty incredible, with mountains, rivers, and waterfalls in every direction. It’s something of an adventure travel destination, best known for white water rafting, jumping off bridges (if you’re into that kind of thing), and thermal baths.
When we heard “thermal baths” we didn’t necessarily expect “hot water park”, but hey! Even kids gotta bathe. It was kind of amazing and kind of gross at the same time. I’m tired of getting assigned ugly girl colors every time we rent things, so Daniel got to rock the yellow swim cap.
Popping Bottles (then trying to sell them back) in Baños
Baños is also where we decided to imitate the bottle scavengers at Dolores Park. At home cashing in bottles will earn you a mere $.10, but in Ecuador, we learned you can get a full $.25 back.
The cheapskates inside of us came to life. Our hotel room floor became a bowling alley of empty bottles, just waiting to be traded in. All it takes is five bottles for a free beer, ya know? After several days of collecting, we quested around Baños, asking if anyone accepted bottle trade-ins like they do in other parts of Ecuador.
Everyone said no.
One shop owner took pity on us and offered us $.10 for the four bottles we bought there. We took our $.40 proceeds, bought two new beers, and dumped the rest of our haul in the [clown-shaped] recycle bin. I guess we need to look into a new income stream for Peru.
Border to Death
We finally decided it was time to venture into Peru at La Balsa, and it turned into three of the longest travel days ever via 12 different modes of transport. We’re talking busses, collectivos, rickshaws, and all. We subsisted entirely on too-little water and whatever food vendors happened to bring on the bus. We narrowly avoided having our bags yanked by a couple of shady looking dudes. We took overnight busses and taxis to speed up our journey, only to realize that the border agents were still asleep on the Ecuador side, and the power was out on the Peruvian side.
It was quite hellacious overall, but also a great adventure. It was the kind of experience that you can only have while backpacking because an older, richer you might splurge on the $100 flight to spare you some torture.
You won’t go, and now you’ll go
On our way South, we stopped in two of the most unexpectedly delightful cities we’ve ever been to.
Loja, Ecuador is a vibrant little town that happened to be celebrating a 15-day-long international performing arts festival when we passed through. We’ve heard it’s a stellar place to retire, in case you’re looking!
On the other side of the border, we ended up in Chachapoyas, Peru. While it’s the capital of the Peruvian Amazon and the jumping off point to Kuelap, we’d heard almost nothing of it. Turns out it’s the perfect place to get a taste of Peru. Ceviche will run you $1, and the pisco sours won’t blow your budget, either. This is the town where Daniel and I got into an argument over which Incan ruins were featured on the wall art, because that’s what you fight about when you only have each other to talk to. It turned out the poster was actually a hologram, featuring both Machu Picchu AND Kuelap.
If you’re not familiar, Kuelap is “The Other Machu Picchu” just outside of Chachapoyas. It’s a series of ruins created either by indigenous people, the Spanish, and just for fun, the Vikings. It was pretty neat, but by no means a full on Machu Picchu alternative. We explored the park with hardly anyone else, but our guide told us they’re almost finished with a gondola between a nearby town and the ruins of Kuelap. If ever there was a good time to go, it’s now!
The best trek of our lives
We spent the final days of November high up in the Cordillera Blanca hiking The Santa Cruz Trek. We’d heard pretty much nothing about the trek before going, but it ended up being one of our best ever travel experiences. We’re talking giant glaciers, snow-capped peaks, azure lakes, and all.After a pretty rough group travel experience in the Amazon, we gritted our teeth at the idea of a multi-day hike with people we didn’t totally care for. Instead we ended up with an amazing bunch of people from all over the world. Among us, there was a fisherman, a second mate, an accountant, a social worker, and a musician. I’m not sure why we maintain such a narrow idea of what “work” can be, but this group really reminded me that if you can create a life around something you’re into, you’ll probably create a more fulfilling lifestyle overall.