The Morning Glory
“So what was it like?” My father finally asked over crackers and fish spread. I had to stop and think about this a moment, as I had just completed 12 hours of getting on and off planes and was pretty tired to be pondering such a question. Suddenly all the things that people had said to me before I left started to come to mind. Things like “Isn’t it dangerous there?” or “I hear their revolting.” or “What about malaria?” and my personal favorite, “Be careful of the guerrillas.” I knew very little about Ecuador and the advice I got from family and non-traveling friends told me they knew even less, though everyone would have you think their an expert.
I remember my grandmother telling me, bless her heart, “When your Pappy and I were in Guatemala back in 76…” I was thinking to myself – wrong country, wrong time, different situation, but hey let her go on, and feel like she is making me aware of something very important. After reliving these moments I brought my attention back to the question at hand and tried to think of the best metaphor to describe it then replied, “It’s like a morning glory.” My dad looked rightfully puzzled but I decided to wait till the morning to explain.
I used to work at a café where I had to report to work by 6 a.m. My favorite aspect of being there that early, if there is one, was that I would get to see the morning glories open up after their night of sleep. When closed, they are not much to peer at, but once the sun hits them they are a sight to behold, kind of like Ecuador.
I arrived in Guyaquill in the coastal lowlands, as opposed to Quito where most of the travelers enter. I wanted to be able to access the beach more quickly and get on with my surf lessons. Well, it seems I choose the wrong time for sun and surf as the waves were blown out and every day was overcast often accompanied by mist. I still honored my commitment to lessons though and read on the beach regardless of mist and gray. I had waited too long for this trip to spend it behind hostel doors. I took several busses up and down the coast and was a bit disappointed in the views. Trash is abundant everywhere and obstructs much potential beauty. I started to wonder if it was their national flower. I already mentioned the gray skies and well, I guess things were just not like I had pictured. I suppose that is what we get for letting our minds run wild.
Don’t get me wrong. I had a marvelous time and met some pretty interesting characters. However, after two weeks I decided to try another part of the country. I traveled overnight by bus to a town called Villacabamba. Otherwise know as the “Land of Longevity”, because of the locals’ ability to live well into their 100’s .It is also supposedly the location of the world’s most number of U.F.O. sightings and home to the famous yet elusive elixir otherwise know as “San Pedro” which might explain all the spacecraft observations!
My eyes were sealed shut when a nudge intruded into my dream. My eyes fluttered open and bared witness to a morning glory in the form of Ecuador. Dramatic landscapes, green mountains unlike anything my sights had ever beheld. Beautiful flowing rivers that I know lead to some equally gorgeous waterfalls, wild land interwoven with patches of tilled plots. I could not wait to go explore this feral place (which as it turns out is not really that wild). I was also soon to discover that this was only one petal of a very glorious flower.
Enter The Highlands
The Andes, what can one say? I was dizzy and it was not from the altitude. Scientifically speaking there is not much in the way of life in the paramos, which are high mountain plains. I guess that depends on how you define life. I saw indigenous women in their beautiful beads and shawls being followed by cows, chickens, donkeys, llamas and so forth. The Andeans are, for the most part, self- sustaining.
Mt. Chimborazo is the highest peak in Ecuador. It’s located outside of the town of Riobamba and has a height of over 20,000 feet. It is an extinct volcano and wears a permanent blanket of snow. It was one of my more satisfying moments to have the clouds finally break long enough for me to gaze upon its massiveness. I felt suddenly very small and as I sailed down on my bike from the base camp I seemed to grow even smaller. Another petal.
Oppressively humid, insect infestation including spiders the likes and size of which I have never seen and rivers that also serve as a waste refuse. Yet on certain days from my balcony I could see Volcan Sumaco in the far off distance and somehow I felt liberated from other annoyances. Suddenly I am swimming in the river with the local kids (what bacteria?), setting off into the jungle and forgoing the Quinine and leaving behind my devote beliefs in western medicine and allowing myself to be treated by a shaman when I fell sick. Yeah, some people said it was both stupid and irresponsible behavior on my part while others congratulated me on letting up on my paranoid grip. In either case I’m still here to write about it and I feel better than fine.
I remember going to sleep in the jungle to the most spectacular thunder and lightning storms and waking up in the morning to these exotic beautiful birdcalls I have never heard before nor since. Monkeys, snakes, exquisite birds and plants and a bona fide shaman, I was as immersed as your average adventurer could get. The flower opens further.
I got lucky. I met some guys who run a place on San Cristobal. All I had to worry about was getting myself out to Galapagos, these guys would take care of the rest. This place is an archipelago of both small and large splendors. Everywhere I went I could feel Darwin taking in the view with me, educating me and sharing with me. This place is a paradise for those who love to be aquatically entertained. Warning: to enjoy the Galapagos experience is expensive for most, rough at times in terms of bouts with seasickness, and can be confining when you have to stay aboard you’re boat. However, swimming with seals and diving with hammerheads more then makes up for it, rest assured. My V.I.P. treatment was a single stroke of luck but let that be a ray of hope to all you other budget backpackers out there who hope to make it to G-land but fear the expense. Let’s face it – what you would spend for one week there, you could live off of for a month on the mainland of Ecuador.
Galapagos is like no place else on earth and you can expect the three B’s when you get there. Big tortoises, big iguanas that swim and dive and of course, blue footed boobies by the droves! I sat on a cliff around sunset time with a lukewarm Pilsner in hand and looked down about 30 feet at my friend Cael’s boat and thought about some of the magnificent treasures that the Pacific holds just below his craft and I realized this Morning Glory has fully splayed itself out to me!
If you find yourself in Sur America and are looking for history, go to Columbia or Peru. If you want a great meal particularly wine with beef, go to Chile or Argentina, looking for a fun party or festival, then Brazil is your place. However, if you are looking for serenity, see Ecuador!
Honorable mentions: San Raphael Falls, Ecuador highest; Pailon Del Diablo, between Banos and Puyo; Quito a.k.a. Gringolandia; Papallacta hot springs; the market at Saquisili; the river Quijos and the monkeys of Misahualli.