Ecuador was never high on my list of countries to travel in South America. I hadn’t heard much to inspire me until I started working my way up through Perú. Here people could more easily compare the experience to something. Ecuador’s Government was throwing a lot of money at infrastructure and social projects to bring in more tourism. Already this was making for safe, inexpensive, and hassle-free travel and so Ecuador turned out to be a real pleasant surprise from this backpacker’s perspective.

While waiting for my US J-1 visa appointment, I ducked out from Guayaquil to Cuenca for a long weekend. That bus was four and a half hours, less than $10. I could have gone to the coast for the same price but opted for some hiking in El Cajas national park, because I suck at planning and didn’t realise the beach was so close. Back to Guayaquil and once I’d done my business there, to Baños. I had to go via Ambato but all up the trip was less than six hours, again under $10. That was probably the most difficult and expensive journey throughout the whole country.

The thing is, Ecuador is not very big. Build some smooth roads and chuck the tourists on a comfy bus for between $1-2 per hour, and they will come. Ecuador has basically the same appeals as Perú – beach on the west, good hiking through the middle, jungle in the east – in less than a quarter of the space. On top of that they have a deal with Venezuela to receive cheap gasoline, making bus travel refreshingly affordable.

After an expensive and exhausting sprint through northern Perú I was ready to nest down for a few days in Baños, cooking my own food and chilling out. A recommendation led me to Princesa Maria hostel, where I met a bunch of cool Brits (yeah, they exist) and was able to do lots of nothing between a bunch of other things. One day I rappelled down some rushing falls with Rosie and Olly, all of us rocking great wetsuits and freaking out as our guide failed to explain the last 45-metre free fall.

Another day I threw myself headfirst from a bridge after watching Richard’s poor form and stepping up to pretend it wasn’t scary when Olly tried to back out. The river rushing up at you in freefall, before the harness catches and swings you under the bridge, is definitely scary.

I went hiking in the rain and mud with Will and Hannah, and another day we ventured in to the almost-Amazon to find the “Swing of Death” – probably the greatest swing I’ll ever have. Better than the swing at the end of two and a half hours uphill to Casa del Arbol with Jane, Elissa, Yvonne, and Tina. At least this time there was no rain and mud, and oddly no Brits either.

One night Rich, Ruby and I felt awkward and warm with large Ecuadorian men staring at us in the hot baths, and on another night our little posse went out on the town to collect our free gringo shots. We were joined by two Canadians, Sydney and Stew, who I’ll randomly meet again on the caribbean coast. In between there were lots of coffees and home cooked meals and briefly three more Brits Liam, Amy, and Lizzie.

At the end of all these adventures I had somehow passed 10 days in Baños and it was still hard to leave. The bus to Latacunga was only two and a half hours and as many dollars, but I was loathe to abandon the gang. One of the suckiest things about solo travel is constantly saying goodbye to people you know you could be good friends with in a different life. They always seem to live halfway across the world so I’ve probably made a promise to visit more countries than I could name. But that’s part of the fun I guess, and I have managed to catch up and travel with a small few, where our paths crossed, so I can be thankful for those new friends.

Ecuador was already shaping up to be a lot of fun. But I was in a dilemma; do I stay where I feel comfortable, or stick to the plan (what plan?) and haul ass up to Colombia? I was enjoying using US dollars and not taking overnight bus trips that cost a fortune (looking at you Perú) so I decided not to decide anything and just see how I liked it, place by place. So from Baños to Latacunga and back to high altitude, cold, rain, and breathtaking scenery. A few decisions were made for me not far from there, which I’ll talk about in the next post. All I knew was, I was glad to be in Ecuador and taking a break from the FOMO and this-or-that decisions which always ended up in an expensive overnight bus ride and saying goodbye to friends.


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