Backpacks & Bread: A Trip Through Ecuador & Peru
11 days. 10 flights. 20 new places. 1 trip of a lifetime. I’ll save all the nitty gritty details but here’s a little summary of how my best friend, Eliza, and I’s trip went down.
May 24th/25th - Ecuador
It begins. After about a month of planning all on our own, the time was finally here. This was one of the longest days of our trip, from LAX to Mexico City to Quito to Olon. Finally we got to Terrace Inn, a place owned by our friend Mycah's grandfather. He helped us put our things down and immediately bought the first round of beer across the street (for only $1 each!!). We grabbed a few more and decided to hit the beach for a couple hours before catching up on our past few days' worth of sleep. The sand was warm, the water warmer, and life couldn't get better.
The first of many adventures. We woke up early today, ate bananas and bread for breakfast, and then were off to catch a sketchy looking green bus on the side of the road for 45 minutes up to Porto López. The bus was surrounded by green, lush jungles on either sides of the road as it zig zagged up the coast. We got off the bus and guides immediately attacked us trying to sell their tours. Luckily, that's what we came for. We signed up for a tour and happened to fill the last few spots - it's so interesting because down here they don't care about sharp time constraints like we do. The bus comes when it comes, the tour starts when the boat is full, etc. Much different than life back home. The boat tour took us out to Isla de La Plata aka the "mini Galapagos," where we hiked around the island, learned about the native blue-footed birds, and then snorkeled around the waters. We saw a turtle, dolphins, and tons of fish!
That night when we returned, we decided to go down to Montañita, the beach & party town a few minutes away. We hung out there for a couple hours, made some Swiss friends, and then headed home for the night.
The first of many goodbyes. It's our last day in Olón! We decided to hit the beach down in Montañita because we planned on meeting back up with our new friends, Patrick, Milena, and Matthias. After a day of roasting in the equator's sun, we went back to our hostel to wash up and grab some dinner. We've been eating lots of fresh fish, chicken, rice, and beans, which are prepared right outside locals houses to share! All is just $3 for so much food. It was a bittersweet goodbye to our time on the coast.
Inland we go! Today's the day we head back to Quito. Our place was an AirBnB in La Gasga District. Julia, the cute little Ukraine lady owning the place, was so adorable and gave us so much information. She led us up to the rooftop before bed where we wrote in our journals, read, and enjoyed this incredible view:
We only had one full day in Quito, so we decided to make the most of it. We woke up super early and headed to Old Town to check out the churches. First, we went to La Iglesia de la Basilica, which had beautiful stained glass. We also climbed to the top of the tower to get an expansive view of the entire city, as seen below:
Then, we walked down the street to see La Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesus. It was one of the most beautiful things I've ever laid my eyes upon - completely covered in 24k gold and adorned with the most amazing and intricate details. We weren't supposed to take pictures but I snuck a few of course.
After that, we headed to La Mariscal District (aka Gringoland) where we checked out an artisinal market and ate before heading off to La Mitad del Mundo (The Middle of the World). It's a very special place because it's 0 degrees (0'0") so it's the highest point on the latitude line and for that, it's considered the middle of the world. On the actual middle of the world, you loose your strength, balance, and sense of gravity. It was so interesting! That night, we got back pretty late from the monument and ended up just eating some giant empanadas and getting a good night's sleep before another early flight the next morning.
May 30th - Peru
Onto the next country. Today, we took a flight to Lima and then a connecting flight to Cuzco, Peru. Pariwana hostel was one of my favorite places to stay because when you walk inside, it's a huge courtyard where fellow backpackers were hanging out, drinking coca tea, and playing volleyball. There was also a restaurant, bar, computer room, lounge, and more. Everyone was super laid back and there to have a great time! We put our stuff down and called for a taxi to see our first ruins, and luckily another Brazilian guy named Yuri was going as well! We ended up becoming great friends with him while checking out Sacsaywaman, Q'enqo, Tambomachay, and Pikapikara. These sites were all in the upper mountains surrounding Cuzco and relatively close. They were all kind of similar to me, but Sacsaywaman was the most beautiful. Each had intricate stones that were carved to fit one another and you could tell the detail that the indigenous people put into them. Tambomachay was also really cool because through the stones was a freshwater fountain that still runs to this day! Such amazing and detailed work from such an old civilization.
Rise and shine! Today, we woke up and were ready for our Sacred Valley of the Incas tour by 7:30. They were supposed to come pick us up by 8, so we waited... and waited... and waited... we called and after a few tries finally reached the company. Some sketchy woman ended up walking over to us and calling her driver to take us 30 minutes into Poroy to catch up with the bus. They totally forgot us!! At least we made it without missing too much. Our first stop was Pisac. From the top of the agricultural flats, we could see the whole Sacred Valley and the river that runs through it all the way to Brazil. In the side of the mountains we could see little caves where the Incas hid their food and holes which were tombs before being exploded by the Spanish. We got to explore on our own, found the site's running fountain like i mentioned was at each ruin, and then hopped back on the bus to our next stop.
After another short bus ride, we arrived in Qora which was a tiny little village and market. We got to see a real silver shop where the workers mine their own silver from the mountains and make incredible jewelry out of it. They were so talented! We walked around the market for a bit where Eliza and I bought alpaca sweaters for our moms and gifts for our families until it started pouring! We ran back to the bus so that our driver could try and beat the storm before it got to the other sites. We decided to stop and eat, but by force we only had one option - an expensive, touristy buffet where I basically went broke by having to spend the rest of my Peruvian Soles (their currency). It was standard food - soup, plantains, rice, meat; Eliza and I even got to try some alpaca which was strong and salty. We still had a ways to go, so on we ventured to Ollantaytambo. Our cute little tour guide, who was a Quechua native to these sacred sites, kept referring to everything as "my kingdom" and "my people" and "my country." It was quite funny. He explained how Ollantaytambo was built in the shape of a llama, Cuzco is shaped like a puma, and Machu Picchu is shaped like a condor: all sacred animals on the Incas. The elevation at Ollantaytambo was near 13,000 feet up so climbing to the top was the biggest struggle. Every few steps you have to stop and take deep breaths to prevent passing out! The view from the top was incredible though. The Andes rose up around us and the light was shining down on the little town below. These are all things that words can't even really express!
It was beginning to get dark so we decided to head home, but on our way we stopped at Chinchera. We saw snow-capped mountains, watched the sunset behind them, and learned all about another gold-encrusted church. It was a long, long day but we wrapped it all up by talking to our roommates and drinking coca tea to prevent altitude sickness. One of them is named Brian who actually happened to be from San Diego too! The other was a navy seal from Jersey. They were both really nice and had a lot of interesting perspectives about things. Everyone so far is way older than us and traveling for much longer. It makes me appreciate that Eliza and I were able to do something like this at such a young age and really expand our minds and hearts before the stresses of the adult world kick in.
Today's the big day. Machu Picchu!! I was looking forward to this for the entire trip and couldn't be more stoked. By now, we had gotten used to the elevation so that wasn't really a problem. We caught the 6am train, took a scenic route through the Andes and the Inca Jungle, and finally arrived at the base of the mountain. We ran into a small hiccup when our bus tickets basically robbed our pockets of every last Sole we had but it was well worth it. We finally entered the site and after walking up a little path, we could see the whole thing before us. There's a reason they call places like these a "Wonder of the World." It's something I won't even be able to put into words, and that even pictures can't help depict or describe.
Although we wanted to stand there and bask in it's glory, we were on a mission. Eliza and I had bought tickets to climb Machu Picchu Mountain. We got to the base of the trek when suddenly the ticket collector told us the mountain closed in 1 1/2 hours so we had to reach the top by then! It was supposed to take at least 2 hours to climb to the top, so we started running. Little did we know that this hike was made up of a steep set of stairs made out of bumpy rocks. One wrong step and you're off the side into the jungle. While trying to be careful but also beat the clock, Eliza and I turned on some tunes and powered our way to the top. With only 30 minutes left, a passing couple told us how we still had much longer to go! Despite our shaking calves and sweaty foreheads, we managed to make it to the top in 1 hour and 6 minutes, with just enough time to snap a couple pics. It was one of the most fulfilling feelings to be able to look down at teeny tiny Machu Picchu and the know that few people get to experience this incredible view:
We didn't get long though, because soon enough the guard kicked everyone off and we had to head back downBut down at the base was still just as incredible. We went to different view points of the great Incan city, explored around the gigantic ruins for hours on end, and then unfortunately had to leave to take our train back home. I can't explain how amazing this place was, and it was definitely the highlight of my trip! I'd highly suggest it for anyone and everyone to make the journey someday.
June 2nd - Ecuador
The dreaded last day. We had a super early flight back to Quito this morning. We were beginning to get short on money so in our last stretch we had to eat Papa John's Pizza at 10am and were soon quickly chasing its' greasiness down with some local Cusqueña beer by 11. We ended up getting into our Discovery Hostel around 3pm and then were off to the market we visited before to grab some last minute goods. I got this beautiful bag I've been eyeing everytime I passed it. It's suede with a handmade turquoise embroidered strap and I love it (UPDATE - 3 years later and its still my favorite purse! If you love something while traveling, snatch it because you may never get the chance to again!). Then, we decided to eat dinner at the gringo tourist square by our hostel. It's a little plaza surrounded with cute lights, fancy restaurants, and fun-looking bars. After we ate, we decided to hang out for a bit and then went back out for some drinks. We ended up going back to our hostel and hanging out with a bunch of Columbian soccer moms who were drinking out on the patio. It was a great last night to wrap up our trip.
June 3rd - USA
The bittersweet goodbye. After checking into our flight, we sat at the airport waiting. I didn't mind waiting at this point. I could've waited forever if that meant I could stay! While we waited, we ran into like 3 or 4 famous Mexican celebrities - one of which whom we watched in a movie a couple days before in Ecuador! Regardless, we finally arrived back in the states. Reflecting on everything that happened, from the bumps in the road (they were all rocky cobblestone) to the bumps in the night (from our 6 person rooms or the creepy crawlies), this trip was truly something amazing. I gained so much perspective on people and the world, and how I want to embrace life and this beautiful planet while I get the short chance to. Meeting so many interesting and insightful people who were all traveling to escape the adult world or to avoid responsibilities or to just get away showed me how we all have the same problems and stresses whether you're from Australia or Austria or Argentina. Life doesn't have to be so complicated - the world offers us so much opportunity or escape. Whatever you seek, you can find if you just open your eyes and explore a little. Remain limitless.
To Stay: Discovery Hostel (Quito), Terrace Inn (Olon)
To Eat: Street Food!
To Do: La Iglesia de la Basilica, La Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesus, La Mariscal District, La Mitad Del Mundo, Montanita
To Stay: Pariwana Hostel (Cusco)
To Eat: Street Food!
To Do: Machu Picchu, Sacsaywaman, Q'enqo, Tambomachay, and Pikapikara Ruins, Sacred Valley of the Incas Tour