Darwin and Awkward Dates (Galapagos Islands, Ecuador)

I arrived in Quito in the early afternoon prepared to be a solo traveler for a week, and decided to stay in the Old Town this time. Old Town was much more beautiful than New Town with its sixteenth-century colonial architecture. I only had the night in Quito as I had to catch a 9:30 am flight to Santa Cruz Island, but was lucky enough to have amazing views overlooking the city from the hostel for the night.

Fortunately, I arrived to the airport fairly early that morning as I ran into a bit of a confusion once there. The Galapagos Islands has their own screening procedures to make sure nothing exotic gets imported onto the islands. I accidently bypassed the Galapagos security checkpoint and just checked into my flight as I normally would. While waiting at the gate, I noticed all other passengers had a piece of paper, similar to an immigration form when crossing a border that I seemed to have bypassed. With my broken Spanish I made my way back to security, had to pay the $10 transit card fee, forego the Galapagos security as my bag had already been checked in (thankfully they didn’t ask many questions), ran back through security and made my flight with 10 minutes to spare.

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I arrived in Puerto Ayora around 11 am, where I stepped aboard Yacht Darwin, my home for the next 5 days. There were 16 of us in total, 2 people to each room. Everyone seemed to be a couple except for myself, my new roomie, Noemie, and two other girls onboard. Apparently, the Galapagos is a wildly acceptable couples spot, as well as honeymoon destination seeing as how two of the couples on our boat were on their honeymoon! After all of us were settled into our rooms, we had lunch on the boat and were headed to our first destination, Las Bachas. Las Bachas was a white sand beach, home to marine iguanas and flamingos in the lagoon. We stayed on land for about an hour, went swimming in the water, then back on board for crew introductions. Our crew consisted of 6 people: the captain, the cook, the bartender, 1st mate, and two deck mates, as well as our guide, Joselyn. The captain was hilarious and always called us his amigos!

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After introductions and our welcome cocktail, we had dinner and set sail for our next island, South Plazas. South Plazas is home to a large sea-lion colony, although sea lions can be found on pretty much every Galapagos Island. We walked the 1km trail on the island, observing the birdlife around the cliffs. Then it was back on board to sail to our next destination, Santa Fe Island. Santa Fe Island is home to numerous land iguanas that lay covering the trail. The Island is also known for its 10M-high Opuntia Cacti. After walking around Santa Fe for about an hour in the hot sun, I was ready to get in the water! Back on board, I rushed to put my bathing suit on and snorkel. Noemie and I stuck together as we snorkeled around Santa Fe Island. It was incredible, we saw eagle rays, sting rays, sea turtles, golden rays, tons of brightly colored fish, and much more. Of course I was the last person back on board as I didn’t want snorkel time to come to an end. After a much needed shower, we all met in the common area for our briefing. Every night around 6 pm we would have a briefing with our guide who would explain what we should expect for the next day’s activities. Espanola Island was up next and we sailed there during the night, but man was it a tough ride. Most people weren’t able to sleep and some even got sea sick. Planning ahead, I had bought a few sea sickness pills at the pharmacy before the cruise so I was more fortunate than others.

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The next day at Espanola, we got to snorkel first before going on the island. Our snorkel spot was at Gardner Islet. At first I was a bit disappointed as the visibility wasn’t too clear and there wasn’t much sea life, but near the end, numerous sea lions joined us and nearly 10 or so were swimming all around us. It was pure entertainment as I would dive down and spin and a sea lion would follow my each step. It was incredible and so much fun to witness the sea lions having zero hesitation getting up close and personal with us swimmers. Once again, I did not want to leave (the sea lions didn’t want us to leave either) and was the last person to get on the boat. I think the one thing I could change about the Galapagos cruises if I could, would be allowing more snorkel time!

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Espanola Island is one of the most beautiful islands in the archipelago and is the sole place in the Galapagos with a colony of waved albatrosses. As the albatrosses start migrating back to the island in April, I was lucky enough to see many of them as they were returning home. They are the largest birds living on the Galapagos Islands, but the smallest of the albatross family. Albatrosses are one of the birds that mate for life and usually do so by a funny little dance. I thoroughly enjoyed relaxing on this island watching the albatross fly high above us. Once back on board, we all lounged on the deck and watched the sunset before we heading back inside for our briefing and dinner. I must admit, the food on the boat was probably the best I had experienced in all of South America as all meals turned out to be delicious and I even got myself to try (and enjoyed!) the fish dishes they prepared.

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Floreana was the last island we would visit before returning back to Santa Cruz. It was the first island to be populated due to its freshwater supply and is home to Post Office Bay. There is a tradition at Post Office Bay and it basically consists of a traveler leaving a postcard at the Post Office and having another fellow traveler that visits the same place pick up that postcard and hand deliver it upon returning home. I picked up two: one postcard in Laguna Niguel and the other in Tustin, both of which I plan to deliver when returning home in August. Sidenote: Mom and Dad, don’t be surprised if a stranger knocks on your door with a postcard from me!

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After leaving and taking postcards, we sailed on to Devil’s Crown, a half-submerged volcanic cone where we would snorkel. On our way into Devil’s Crown, we saw two hammerhead sharks below us. I wanted to dive down to get a closer look, but they were really deep and I wouldn’t have been able to get a close look at their faces. Once inside Devil’s Crown we saw all sorts of fish, starfish, balloon fish, octopus, and much more and then on the outside of Devil’s Crown we saw white-tip reef sharks. We were back on board for lunch and to sail to the other side of the island, Cormorant Point. At Cormorant Point I was able to see blue-footed boobies really up close. On the white sand beach in Cormorant Point there are tons of sting rays. We all went into the water as our guide told us that you can feel the bottom of the sting rays on your feet if you stand really still. As the water went out, we all stood on the sand and waited for the water to come back up, but this time with the sting rays. Unfortunately or maybe not so unfortunate, no sting ray got close enough to me.

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Afterwards, we got back on board for our last night on the boat. I was really going to miss my yacht family. We sailed back to Santa Cruz Island where we would depart the cruise. I enjoyed the cruise and it was a really good way to see as much island life as possible, but was ready to get off the boat after our 5 day journey. Personally, I would have preferred more time in the water and probably would have more so enjoyed staying on the islands and just doing day trips since I’m more of a water animal person than a land one. Overall, I really am glad to have gotten the cruise experience, met and spent time with the people on the boat as well as enjoyed the company of my roommate who was awesome and sincere!

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After docking in Puerto Ayora and for our final tour, we headed to the Charles Darwin Research Station where many giant tortoises live including Super Diego. Super Diego is a turtle originally from San Diego, who was sent to the Galapagos for breeding purposes. Super Diego was so popular amongst the ladies that after he starting mating with the females other fellow male turtles followed in his footsteps. He’s named Super Diego because he is the father of over 2,000 turtles. Sounds like they really put him to work!

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As our cruise was coming to an end, we said our good-byes and parted ways. I decided to stay on Santa Cruz Island for a couple of days to go diving. Noemie was also staying on Santa Cruz so it was nice to still have a buddy. We dropped our stuff off at the hostel and headed to Tortuga Bay, a 45 minute walk from town. Tortuga Bay is a beautiful beach, where marine turtles come to lay their eggs. We rented snorkel gear to snorkel near the estuaries, but unfortunately didn’t see much. There were, however, baby reef sharks swimming in the water near the estuaries. Noemie and I had a lot of fun swimming with them and they approached us really close as we snorkeled. The beach closed at 5pm, so we headed back to town around then. We made plans to meet up for dinner as I needed to walk around and try to find a dive company to go diving with the next day. We found a cheap place for dinner ($4.50), which seemed pretty good for the Galapagos. I had to call it an early night since I was going diving the next day and needed my energy. I said good-bye to my roomie of 5 days who I had become close to as we shared close quarters on the cruise and am looking forward to seeing her again in the not so distant future.

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The next morning, I woke up around 7 am to head North Seymour, where I would dive at two different spots. For some reason, I always get a bit nervous right before I am about to submerge under water and this time was no different. Sadly, I had to make the dive master wait for me as I calmed myself down. Once under water I was totally relaxed and ready to see what life under the Galapagos waters had to offer. I saw white-tip reef sharks, Galapagos sharks, tons of schools of fish, and sea turtles. By the far the coolest animal I saw diving on this trip was a manta ray. I had never seen one before and it was so close to me it was surreal. They are such beautiful moving creatures. We saw one hammerhead shark as well though I unfortunately did not get a great look as it was too far away. We headed back from diving around 1 pm, lunch was included but I was trying to catch the 2 pm ferry over to San Cristobal so I had to skip out on it. I made the ferry, but realized after that I had ended up paying more for the ticket than required – one disadvantage to being a tourist.

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I arrived in San Cristobal around 4 p.m. and immediately after getting off the boat, a man originally from New York offered me a room with my own kitchen and a view of the bay. It was a pretty good price so I took it, although it made it harder to meet people than it would have been in a hostel. I dropped off my bags and then headed to a coffee shop to relax and sit by the water. I met a guy there who was stopping in San Cristobal on a cruise trip. I ended up having dinner with him, his friends, and his guide from the cruise. The next morning I booked a dive trip for the following day to Leon Dormido and Kicker Rock, where hammerhead sharks are supposed to be abundant. For the rest of the day I would explore the island. I walked to Cerro Tijeretas (Frigatebird Hill) to observe the Frigatebirds in action. Then I decided I wanted to snorkel a bit, so I walked back to town to rent some snorkel gear. On the way there, I met an Ecuadorian pilot who had the day off and he decided he wanted to accompany me snorkeling. He rented some gear as well, and although I wasn’t sure about his company, he ended up joining me anyway. He was actually very nice, but didn’t speak English so needless to say, our conversation was limited. We went snorkeling at two different spots, Playa Cabo de Horno and a bay by Frigatebird Hill. The snorkeling was pretty good, I saw sea turtles, swam with the sea lions again, and even saw a white-tip reef shark. I parted ways with my new friend and headed back to shower and head to dinner.

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The next morning was diving time! Since I had already dove twice, I was much more relaxed this time around. My original dive master was sick, so I ended up tagging along with another group. There were a group of 3 couples from the states on the boat and two guys from Mexico. All were really fun and I enjoyed hanging out with them. The two guys from Mexico had more diving experience so they went separate from us. Two of the couples were just snorkeling, and the other couple went diving with me. Their names were Mike and Joy — how random it was to meet another Joy on a dive boat! We both laughed about the fact that we don’t normally meet other Joys and throughout the day, kept getting confused when someone called our name. The diving was once again amazing as there is just so much sea life constantly around you in the Galapagos. We headed back to San Cristobal and I made plans to meet Ivan, my dive master who was my age, at the local bar later.

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A fellow traveler once told me to include my awkward moments in my blog as they show true honesty and character. So with an included pre-warning, here is an awkward moment/story (and a much more awkward night for me!) for you: As I was walking back to my home for the time being on my last night on the islands, Carlos – one of the guys from Mexico who I had met earlier on the dive boat – asked if I wanted to meet up later in time for sunset. I agreed without hesitation, assuming the sunset watching crew would be me, Carlos and his friend. Little did I know, Carlos was asking me out on a more or less one-on-one date.

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I ended meeting Carlos who was accompanied by his friend at the moment at the dock during sunset, but to my surprise his friend left to go and take care of some errands shortly after. Carlos and I walked around the dock for a bit and when dinner time rolled around, I suggested we scope out a cheap meal. We ended up at a place with a good and affordable menu of the day (which includes soup, fish, chicken, or beef, and juice) for $3.50. The restaurant was filled with locals so it had good atmosphere and I assumed good food. As we sat down to eat, Carlos’ dive master happened to be at the restaurant with his 5 year old son – who was so adorable and cute! The little boy was flirting with me throughout the whole dinner and even gave me a kiss! At which point, the dive master whispered to Carlos “Sorry man” (I am assuming due to my attention being diverted to the little boy instead of Carlos).

After we finished our meal, we went to pay and Carlos paid for me even though I insisted on the opposite and did not want to give him the idea that we had been on a date. Afterwards, we headed to the bar where I had previously made plans with Ivan to grab a drink earlier that day. There was a pool competition at the bar. I decided to join and ended up being the only girl playing. I came so close to winning but didn’t take home the win. Both Carlos and Ivan were still hanging around throughout the pool competition and it was definitely starting to get more awkward by the moment as I was not sure who to talk to between the two of them in order to make it less awkward for them.

I ended up playing a game of pool with Ivan (since the conversation part I still couldn’t figure out..) and Carlos ended up watching. That night was a bit strange and ironic as it is hard to get a real date in Los Angeles and here I am in the Galapagos, with not one but two dates (sort of). After a few drinks at the pool bar, everyone decided to head to the club on the island. I wasn’t too keen on the idea since the triangle date situation did not seem to be getting any better, however, I decided to go with the flow and joined everyone else. When we got to the club, Ivan went to use the bathroom and at the same moment Carlos seized the opportunity and asked me to dance. There I was, tables turned, dancing with Carlos and this time Ivan was the audience. As I could no longer bare the awkwardness that was apparent throughout the night, I decided to head home. Carlos insisted on walking me back even though my place was a short 1 min walk from the club. As we were walking out, I caught Ivan leaving as well and decided to say goodbye to him. He let me know that if I ever wanted to come back, I had the option of working at the dive shop anytime. After the two second walk home, I said goodbye to Carlos and headed inside. The night I would imagine, did not turn out as any of us had expected. Nonetheless and as awkward as it was, it was definitely a memorable way to say goodbye to the Galapagos on my last night on the islands.

The next morning, I grabbed breakfast and mentally and physically prepared for my 36 hour day of travel.

Edited by: Farima M.

“El Pasto Siempre es Mas Verde del Otro Lado de La Cerca” – Banos, Ecuador

Banos is a small town near the active Volcano Tungurahua, surrounded by lush green mountains. We arrived in Banos quite late Thursday night and checked into our hostel, which was near the famous thermal baths in town. Our friend Gareth who was traveling with us, only had a couple of days there so we decided to get up early the next morning and go white water rafting. The tour company we signed up with, Geotours, had a few spots left for the following morning so we joined an already existing group. Farima and I were inspired by all the different activities offered and so decided to book two more with the same company: rock climbing and canyoning (we ended up with a good package deal for all three!).

The next morning during rafting, the group split up into 4’s per raft, each with their own personal guide. Giovanni was ours and first impressions did not serve him as a fun person – until he warmed up on the waters and started joking around. At one point, he joked that we were rowing slower than his grandmother and shortly after that our entire boat flipped over (thanks to Giovanni!). The rapids were level III and IV and it was a beautiful sunny day out. When the rapids were mild, we got to jump off the boat and free swim while the current took us down the river. At another mild rafting part, Giovanni kicked me off the boat into the water and Farima thought I had fallen out randomly not knowing what had actually happened… but it was all in good and fun. The entire trip down the river lasted about 3 hours but we were having so much fun it seemed to be over before we knew it. We had lunch with everyone on the trip and decided to all meet each other again at a bar called GB (Good Bar) for happy hour later that afternoon.

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After getting dropped off back into town, Gareth, Farima, and I headed back to our hostel and got ready for dinner. We had dinner at a famous vegetarian spot and though we missed out on their famous quinoa burgers (sold out!) our dinner was still pretty tasty. After dinner, we met up with the our rafting crew at GB bar that included some of the rafting guides, Andres and the tour company GM, Oscar who were both really cool and Oscar especially funny. After happy hour at the first bar, the crew headed to another spot Leprechaun, which is mainly a tourist bar but has a cool outside fire pit. We danced the night away perfecting our salsa skills. As we had promised our friend Gareth (who was leaving early the next morning for Peru) to head to the thermal baths at 5:00 a.m. the next morning to beat the crowd, we decided to leave our dancing shoes behind and head home.

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The next morning at 5:30 a.m. when we arrived to the thermal baths (Piscinas de la Virgen), they were not exactly what we had expected. We had expected a more natural hot springs but what it ended up being was an actual built in structure that made the hot springs more like regular swimming pools. There were three of them in total: freezing cold, warm, and hot. Farima didn’t end up coming in, but I figured since I was already up I might as well enjoy the warm waters. It was quite impressive to see the number of people who were up so early with the same thought in mind (to beat the weekend morning crowds!). We stayed for a short while, said good-bye to Gareth as he headed off to catch his bus, then headed back to bed to wake up a bit later.

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We had scheduled rock climbing on an Ecuadorian volcano (volcanic rock) the same afternoon. I have been rock climbing before in Colorado and Thailand, but this was the most difficult I have experienced thus far. There were 13 different routes, but we could only make it up two… and by that I mean more like 1 and a half. What made it the most difficult was once your hands slipped from the volcanic rock, all balance was lost and it was downhill from there. It started to rain just as we were finishing up our rock climbing session so we headed back to the agency. We decided to grab a bite at a local restaurant (which I came to later regret… stayed tuned), went back to the hostel to get ready and went out for another night on the town. We headed to the same spots as the night before and met up with the same group of people. Banos is such a small town, you seem to always be running into the same people which in a way was part of its beauty. As we had nothing planned for the next day, we continued our salsa lessons into the night.

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The next morning, I woke up with severe stomach pains, regretting the meal I had the night before. I didn’t end up getting out of bed until 2 pm and we didn’t leave the hostel until 4 pm. Since I didn’t want to make Farima stay in all day and wanted to avoid being cooped up inside, we decided on an adventure a little less extreme. We took a cab to Casa del Arbol (tree house), to check out the famous swing at the end of the world. We both took turns on the swing, which was a make-shift one that hung from a tree house and swung over the mountain tops (not as scary as it sounds!), and took a few pictures. Pictures and videos make the swing look a lot scarier than it actually is, which was a bit of a relief since we were afraid it wouldn’t be so secure. The top of the mountain and the swing were a complete tourist spot and crowded with locals and foreign tourists alike so we had to be considerate with the amount of time we spent on it (mainly the number of cool looking pictures we were able to take). The scenery around the tree house was beautiful and I was glad to get out in the fresh air for a while. We headed back into town and decided to end the Sunday with a nice relaxing movie night. I finally watched the movie, Gravity, but like everyone told me I probably should have seen it in 3D.

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The next day, we were in for some more adrenaline packed fun. We were going canoying! Canoying is basically repelling and sliding down waterfalls. We had to get used to the feeling of repelling down a waterfall, but once we got the hang of it, Farima and I were running down them and jumping off the side which made it even more fun. There was another couple in our group, however the girlfriend did not seem to be enjoying herself as much as the rest of us. The water was a bit cold and the weather a bit stormy, but that didn’t stop us from having a good time. We returned back to the city center around one and got ready to go and explore the rest of the city, but first we treated ourselves to a massage. The place where we had our massages looked big on the outside, but once inside was only a tiny little room. We basically had a couples massage as there was no separator between the two tables. On our way to dinner that night, we were fortunate to catch the Volcano Tungurahua (a present day active volcano near the small town of Banos) erupting. Although we didn’t actually witness the lava flow, it was still a cool experience to see the plume of smoke.

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For one reason or another, Farima and I were enjoying Banos so much and the feeling of being in a city for more than a few days, it was hard to leave. On our last day before we parted ways, we rented mountain bikes and rode down one of the main roads in town, Waterfall Avenue, which is the main road in Banos that is lined with waterfalls on either side. As we stopped to admire one of the many waterfalls, we ran into our friends, Fleur and Michelle whom we had met earlier in Salento, Colombia (another cool thing about meeting people who are on a similar plan!). They happened to be doing the same waterfall tour in a car which was cool because we continued to run into them at different ones. During one of the stops, I was persuaded to do a canopy swing down into the valley across the river. Though it was a bit nerve wrecking, I am really glad I got to experience it as it was breathtakingly beautiful and not as scary as I had imagined. We finally arrived at the last and final waterfall, which was called Pailon del Diablo or in English, Devil’s Cauldron. We locked up our bikes and walked down to the waterfall view point which was about a 20 minute hike down. The waterfall was massive and extremely powerful, so powerful that we were soaked after standing on the viewing platform for only a few minutes. After seeing the Devil’s Cauldron I now understand why Oscar had told us it would be our last swim in a waterfall when we asked him if people could swim there. Afterwards, we parted ways with Fleur and Michelle, but made plans to meet up with them later the same night. As the rest of the bikers had done and as it was starting to get dark out, Farima and I put our bikes in the back of a truck and headed back into town. We grabbed a bite to eat and met up with Fleur and Michelle as planned, and headed out for our last night in town.

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The next morning, Farima had to catch an early bus to Mancora with Fleur while I was headed back to Quito to catch my flight to the Galapagos; we would meet again in Cusco in a week’s time. It is funny to think what started as a rough plan to spend a couple days in a small little Ecuadorian village turned into us staying for almost a week. It is refreshing when you fall in love with a place you visit and the things you experience there that make it difficult to leave. It is also liberating having the freedom to change and alter your plans as things unfold and as you continue day into day. We have definitely come to consider that as one of the many beauties of long term travel!

Edited By: Farima M.

Volcanoes on Volcanoes (Quito, Cotopaxi, Quilotoa), Ecuador

On a plane!… We were finally able to take a flight instead of a bus ride thanks to Farima’s Insomnia. She was able to find a good deal from Cali to Quito one night when she couldn’t sleep. We stayed in the New Town part of Quito, which was basically packed with tourists and tour agencies alike. Farima and I spent almost the entire next day going from one tour agency to the next trying to find the best last minute deal with the most desirable itinerary for the Galapagos. I finally decided on a 5 day/4 night cruise starting in Santa Cruz Island, and going to Santa Fe, Espanola, Floreana, and then back to Santa Cruz. As the cruise didn’t leave until April 10th, I had 9 days to explore other parts of Ecuador beforehand.

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The tour agency I booked the cruise with, offered a free day trip of my choice to Otavalo or Cotopaxi, which was included in the package deal. Although we would have liked to check out Otavalo – a village north of Quito and known for its huge (biggest in Ecuador!) outside markets and typical South American vendors, we decided to climb a volcano instead (good prep for Machu Picchu!). Ecuador is home to 62 volcanoes, 8 of which are still active. The volcano we climbed, Cotopaxi, is the 3rd largest active volcano in Ecuador. Our trek up started early in the morning as we prepared to ascend the famous Volcano. Surprisingly, as it was one of the first highest altitudes we have experienced so far, we were unaffected by the height as we reached an elevation of 5,000 meters (the start of the glaciers and ice caps), but man was it cold! We weren’t able to climb all the way to the peak as you need technical equipment and ice picks, but I hope to one day return and summit to the top! Even at 5,000 meters, we were surrounded by spectacular views of Ecuador’s other major peaks and volcanoes.

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After climbing back down to the base where our bus was stopped, we hopped on bicycles and rode down quite a bumpy road back to the entrance of Parque Nacional Cotopaxi. Since it was mostly downhill, we were in for a thrilling ride. Back at the entrance, we boarded the bus to be taken to a quiet little cottage called PapaGayo, where we stayed the night. It was the perfect place to relax, unwind, and take a dip in the Jacuzzi after a full day of physical activity and early morning wake up calls.

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The next day, we were headed to explore another volcano, this time famous for the lake that was formed in its crater, Laguna Quilotoa. On our way there, we stopped to explore one of the indigenous markets of Ecuador. We found there were three different types of markets. The first was the poultry market where you don’t just buy meat, but the animal itself. In this market, you are able to bid on all types of animals including cows, llamas, pigs, chickens, etc. and carry them home with you. Second, there is the fruits/vegetables market where you can purchase fresh fruit and vegetables mainly grown by the people selling it. Last but not least, there is an artisanal market where you can buy all sorts of hand-made goods including jewelry and clothing. I ended up buying a pair of tights here in preparation for the colder nights during our future hikes.

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After the market and in the same direction of our way to the Lake, we stopped to visit an indigenous family who all lived together in a hut style house in the middle of the mountains. The first thing we noticed walking up to the house was a flag with all the colors of the rainbow. Before you jump to any conclusions… we learned that this flag was representative of the indigenous tribes still living according to their customs and lifestyles pretty much all over South America. The family we visited was a family of 6, who produced and made everything they needed and lived off their land. I am typically not a fan of visiting local families as part of a tour as I feel I am being intrusive and invading their privacy and as I feel it would be a bit strange if things were turned around. However, our tour guide assured us that the family agrees to such visits beforehand as the tips and payments we as visitors give the family at the end of the tour, provide them with extra cash and income they can put towards their living expenses. After the visit, we continued our journey to Lake Quilotoa.

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Lake Quilotoa was formed 800 years ago by a massive eruption and subsequent collapse of the volcano. It took us about 45 minutes to descend down to the crater where we reached the water. Farima, Gareth, and I rented Kayaks for $2 and spent our 20 minutes of free time kayaking inside a volcanic crater, which was a pretty awesome experience. The views from inside the crater looking up gives you a completely different perspective than what we had experienced climbing down, however both gorgeous and breathtaking, I’m glad to have experienced both!

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Unfortunately, the hike back up wasn’t as enjoyable… not because of the views but because it was a steep incline that took about an hour to reach the top with the sun beating down on us. Once at the top, the pain was merely a memory as we were once again surrounded by spectacular views of the incredible crater filled with turquoise blue water… really an awe-inspiring sight! We had lunch at a local restaurant in the town of Quilotoa and then returned to the bus to head back. Most people were headed back to Quito, but the three of us wanted to continue on to a town called Banos. We were dropped off at what looked like a toll stop (much like the toll roads in California) and were told to catch the bus to Banos there. Our tour guide had told us it was a blue bus with the sign Banos on the front window. As we waited on the side of the road in the dark and tried to wave down this bus, it passed right by us! Finally, we got lucky and had a security guard come to our side of the road telling us we needed to wait on the dividers in the middle of the road in order to catch the right bus to our next destination. So we waited on the middle dividers that separate the lanes of the toll and when the Banos bus pulled through we jumped on! This experience continues to remain the weirdest way I have had to catch a bus… ever… so far.