Category Archives: Ecuador

Amazon Rainforest in Photos

Our family recently spent about two weeks exploring the Amazon Rainforest of Ecuador. We had a spectacular time exploring the regions of the Rainforest in the Pastaza and Napo provinces.

We stayed with an indigenous family in a bamboo hut, at a lodge with monkeys on our private balcony, and at a bed n breakfast in one of the bigger cities of the Amazon outskirts. The experiences were diverse, complete, and spectacular! Continue reading Amazon Rainforest in Photos

The Shadows of the Amazon Rainforest

The Shadows of the Amazon Rainforest

We walk through the valleys of the shadows of….the Amazon Rainforest! Standing beneath the trees, ankles pressed together, and hands interlocked, we take our first steps into the Rainforest. We are exhilarated and terrified, curious and intimidated. We have been warned at least twenty times, not to touch anything!

Trek along carefully in the Rainforest, look all you like, but please don’t touch!

This is a tough enough feat for Carlos and Me, who are naturally curious about everything. Not to mention the littles, they are just 3 and 5 years old! And the dog, Dante, don’t even get me started. I still haven’t figured out if he listens to commands in English or Spanish, or neither, and he is seven years old.

The most beautiful plants, berries, and bugs are sometimes the most dangerous. Don’t Touch!

It is something like walking through a china shop. Stepping delicately, elbows tucked the sides, eyes darting to and fro for any quick movements. Only we are not afraid of breaking the stuff on the shelves, but rather of the delicacies breaking us.

In the first five minutes I can’t look more than 12 inches past my feet and shoulders. In that time, our guide has already pointed out poisonous delicious looking berries, a spectacular pink flower, and a suspiciously beautiful spider. All of them capable of devastating an adult, and likely lethal for a child.

After a good half hour into the woods, I relax a little, realizing there is no way in tarnation that our kids are touching anything. They jump ten feet into the air if a branch brushes against their skin. We have already successfully scared the living hockey sticks out of them.

Parts of the Amazon Rainforest hike were quite steep and difficult, a real challenge with the heat and humidity. It would a lie to say the kids hiked the whole trail without help!

The trail we are walking is narrow and thin, covered in leaves and natural debris. The forest is silent except for the trickle of sound as big, finished leaves make their way to the ground. The movements encourage me to look away from the safety zone and up towards the sky. I scan the treetops looking for the blue that is hiding somewhere up there. But, all I can see are fragments of light that sparkle as they pass through the web of canopy leaves.

The sun is waaayyy up there somewhere!

Then suddenly a silent commotion from beyond the trail and I dare to look beyond the maze of trees that are out of my reach. I squint to focus in on the wide, blue swirls drifting through the forest. More grace than a bird but greater breadth than a butterfly. Fairies grabbing onto the vines and leaping from tree to tree in an elegant dance. Teasing my eyes as they float in and out of the mid-morning shadows.

But, they are butterflies! Too quick to dream of catching on film, I quickly retract my camera and just enjoy the scene with my family. The Blue Morpho Butterfly is like the keeper of the trees, soothing our nerves and luring out our curiosity. We stand still in those moments and realize that we are safe in the forest.

Not the Blue Morpho Butterfly, but its cousin the equally famous Owl Eyes Moth.

And then we start searching and seeking, exploring and discovering. Birds, bugs, and plants in more abundance than is imaginable. Trees and vines, strange and mostly unnamable. I find myself trying to identify a single species. There is no knowledge of this, so instead I focus on trying to translate the Spanish and Kickwa identifications offered by our guide.

In a place so vast and full of un-nameable things, I find myself engulfed by a strange sense of familiarity. Here, in the Amazon Rainforest, a continent away, I feel the presence of my father walking next to me just as he did when I was my daughter’s age. I can’t wait to tell him about it. I realize that the Amazon is nothing more than a massive, overgrown forest. A super-sized version of the forests I have explored in Iowa. Maybe it was just a coping strategy, but little by little, nature wrapped her arms around me and coaxed me out of my fears and anxieties.

It loooks like an ordinary spruce bush, but in the indigenous community uses this plant to cure toddlers who haven’t take their first steps by the age of 2. The children are soaked in a bath with the herb and are miraculously cured of their mysterious ailment.

We came across an impressive tree with a straight, thick vine dangling straight from the clouds. Its tail-end curiously twisting and beckoning to us right smack in the middle of the trail. As a smile stretched across my face, I saw the same expression reflected in our children. There was no doubt about it what was coming next.

Oh, how they squealed as they soared through the air, little booted feet dangling high above my head. Mabelle with sheer delight and wonder, with her ponytail flipping through the leaves in the trees. And then, Nico. Knuckles white and eyebrows raised, a crooked smile from that nauseating mix of fear and fun. Pure pleasure with himself for not chickening out. Then my husband, as nimble as if he were my third child, hopped onto the vine and flew through the air like Tarzan.

I stood below them, our dog Dante panting at my feet, so engaged with their adventure I nearly forgot it was my turn. There is nothing more freeing of the spirit, than to allow yourself to let go. To live in the moment, forget anyone is watching, and to just claim these spectacular experiences as something of your own. And for a couple of memorable swings through the forest, I was just me and nothing else. Just me, exhilarated by a swinging rope in the Amazon Rainforest.

We continued our walk, chatting and pointing, not even trying to be silent as we ought to be. Just enjoying, absorbing, and living in the moment. Mostly lots of butterflies and bugs, interesting flowers and fascinating leaves, glowing mushrooms and vibrant everything. It was just a walk in the forest, an extra special forest of course.

Until we came to understand the majesty that is the Sable tree. From over two steep hills, and sloshy, slippery decents, we landed ourselves on top of the biggest tree I have ever seen. From the cliff above, we stood about one third of its height. Our son asked me if what we were looking at was real or if somebody had built it. Our daughter asked me if fairies and elves live within it.

We climbed down the embankment, clinging onto roots like railings, with trouble focusing on our feet. The tree was so alive that we could not peel our eyes away from it. It was as if we were waiting for her to raise a branch and wave hello, or for a face to appear in her trunk. But, even if that didn’t happen, it was still like she was whispering to us.

Carlos decided to climb, but not me, I was still worried about snakes and tarantulas. Yet, he didn’t climb the tree, he climbed the roots! He got about ten feet above his own head before he reached the top of them. From there, there was nowhere to go! How do you wrap your arms around a tree as big as a house?!

We spent a long time beneath this Queen of the forest. The kids climbed through the puzzling caves of her roots, pulling her vines like long, dangling braids, and standing gaping at the sky in awe. We listened to stories of her life and imagined that there is much more than we know. She is estimated to be 200 years old, and is a favorite place for the shamans to bring the disabled, crazy, and ill.  Oh, the secrets she must hold!

On the final stretch of our hike, I giggled at the red streaked faces of the kids. Apparently, the native markings they had painted on their face, had suffered a fate worse than hunting. Our guide had delighted them with a pre-hike activity that included these face paintings from achiote seeds. But, they were worn and smeared, destructed by little hands and forest fun.

Even though we were tired, we all stalled a little bit, taking one last look to find special bugs and butterflies. But, unlike other hikes, we finished our trek through the rainforest reserve with excitement and stamina. We had just taken a walk through the Amazon Rainforest!

In the final moments, we were lucky enough to catch a butterfly!

The Best of Ecuador

The Best of Ecuador

Waves of purple grass ripple across the mountain tops, raising their flowering strands in praise to the heavens above. In the breeze, the trees take a bow and shake free of their full, ripe fruits like ornaments dropping to the soil. Below the cliffs flow the music of nature’s harp, the steady release of fresh, cool water that stimulates the lands. This is the Valley of Longevity. This is Vilcabamba. Like a valiant soldier, filled with loyal honor, I raise my flag to proclaim this place as my favorite in all of Ecuador!

After six full months of travel in the country we can reflect on grand places and fabulous people. We have not been everywhere, but it feels like we have. And without further ado, we present all of our favorite places in Ecuador, South America.

Our Favorite Villages in Ecuador:

For our family, villages are where it’s at. Small, sprawled out towns with bustling, humble centers. Great food, sweet people, and plenty of nature in the borders. Void of the smothering modern existence, yet not so stripped of it that life is difficult and uncomfortable. If you’d like to know where to go in Ecuador, many of these might be places you’ve never considered!

#1. Vilcabamba

 

Tucked into the scenic countryside of the Loja province, this mountain village is cute and charming. The city center is reminiscent of the best town squares in the Midwest, USA. A brilliant, colorful church rises above green park benches and brick paved streets. Small, country stores and cafes framing the park are filled with everything you could ever need.

The community is big on ecotourism and agrotourism. The heart of the town is filled with healthy, hippie types from the world over. The outskirts are caked with the best Eco Farms in the country. The weekend farmers market is simply to die for!

Where to Stay: Eco Farm (Neverland Farm), Izhcayluma Hotel

#2. Mompiche

Way up North, the beaches are green and serene! Like a remote, tropical beach, Mompiche is the place to get away and soak up the sun. Quaint and quiet, this little cove in the Esmeraldes province is Ecuador’s secret gem. The sandy lanes are full of decadent street food, seaside cafes, and sandy floor pizzerias! Traveling artists are in abundance here and you can be sure to delight in hand crafted jewelry, soulful music, and any array of street entertainment.

Authentic bamboo huts hug black sand beaches with luminescent tides and cliff dwelling reefs. Lazy afternoons melts into rhythmic evenings, where life is slow and simple. This daily existence is all about laying in the hammock, roaming the beach in barefeet, and sipping pina coladas.

Where to Stay: Beachfront Bungalows & Camping

#3. Otavalo

Carefully balanced in the picturesque sierras, Otavalo is a scenic indigenous village nestled in the Imbabura Province. Famous for its local market, this is the place worth spending your hard-earned cash. Otavalo is rich in customs and crafts, festivals and carnivals. It is the perfect blend of modern and indigenous life.

More tiendas than one can imagine, this pedestrian paradise is ideal for window shopping and taste testing. Some of the best foods in Ecuador hail from this region! This is the opportune locale to try out cuy, hornado, fritada, espumillas, and helado de paila.

The surrounding area is full of serene volcanic beauty, and with a fabulous and cheap bus system, it is easy to visit an abundance of nearby lakes, volcanoes, and waterfalls.

Where to Stay: Nearby Hostel (El Tio), Otavalo Hotels

 

The Best Lesser Known Destinations in Ecuador:

Kicking the dirt along skinny, forgotten trails we have wound our way through storybook forests and fairytale landscapes. We have sunk our aching bones into unimaginable volcano-top thermal pools and soaked our toes into the looking glass of a babbling, mountain spring. We have tossed open our camp on desolate, shell scattered beaches beneath sparkling, cobalt skies. We have dared to go where other tourists do not and we have been rewarded with spectacular experiences in lesser known destinations.

These are our favorite off-the-beaten-track destinations:

#1. Illinizas Ecological Reserve

There are many, many famous volcanoes in Ecuador, but the Illinizas…or the twin volcanoes are probably not at the top of the list. Especially with its close proximity to the most famous peak in Ecuador, the Illinizas are often over shadowed by the Cotopaxi Volcano.

By pure luck, we came across a guide who has recently opened an amazing, rural, hacienda-style hostel near the base of these volcanoes. With his companionship, we had the once in a life time experience of hiking to a matching orange waterfall and volcano top thermal pool. It was hands-down the most beautiful and unique excursion of our entire trip around Ecuador.

Read all about the stunning day trip here.

Where to Stay: Sacharuna

#2. Las Penas Beach

The coast of Ecuador is blanketed in hundreds of tiny, fishing villages that many travelers would never know about unless they discovered them by chance. Many of these beaches are remote and completely void of any tourism. They offer a unique perspective on humble villages and the remarkable lifestyles of fisherman the country over.

Depending on where you explore, many of these beaches offer glimpses of stunning, unique sea life species that hail to the Pacific coast from the nearby Galapagos Islands.

Rumor has it that the far northern section of the Ecuadorian coastline is dangerous and should be avoided. We found nothing to be farther from the truth. In fact, we found the tiny, picturesque village of Las Penas in the Esmeraldes province to be quite the opposite. Not only was the beach one of the cleanest and quietest villages, it was also home to the friendliest people we have met in all of Ecuador.

We camped for FREE, right on the sand, in front of one of the beachfront restaurants. All we had to do was ask!

#3. Dos Mangas Forest

This stunning, remote forest is located up the road from Manglaralto, just south of Montanita. It was our very first stop on our ultimate road trip through Ecuador. While we would never recommend Montanita to anyone, and would in fact suggest skipping it altogether…Manglaralto and Dos Mangas are an appropriate reprieve.

Quiet and rural, the road that leads to the forest is full of EcoHostels that cater to the travelers exploring the vast forest. My only regret is that we did spend more time exploring the trails and waterfalls in the area. We stayed with a friend that lives within the forest, and truly enjoyed the spectacular bugs, birds, and critters that call the forest home.

View our favorite photos from this stop here .

Top Tourist Attractions in Ecaudor:

Standing high above an emerald green lake, crouching far below a freshly dusted volcano, and shielding our faces from the roaring mist of a massive waterfall…don’t be too surprised that we have seen some of Ecuador’s biggest tourist attractions. AND, we have loved them! It is easy to say that we don’t want to go where others go, or tread the trails that have been trodden a million times over. But, the truth is, it would be a shame to miss these spectacular locations based on those shallow reasons.

Tourists traps are clenchers for a reason, they have something beautiful to showcase that most people want to see! There are few tricks that we implement when we want to see these places but not the masses that go with them. First, we never go on a weekend. In fact, we usually go on a Tuesday or Wednesday when the crowds are still far from sight. Second, we arrive at dawn or as close to it as possible and try to be out by noon.

These rank as the tourist hubs most worth seeing:

#1 Cotopaxi National Park

If you want to see volcanoes and wild life, this is one stop you must make on your trip in Ecuador. Any type of traveler can enjoy this destination, by car, trekking, biking or even via bus route.

Depending on the status of the active volcano, you can even camp in designated areas. Many people love the challenge of hiking to the refuge area. Even expert mountain hikers come this area to get credit for this famous summit.

But, if roughing it is not for you, there are also hostels and high-end lodges in the area. Or you can visit the park just for the day or with multiple day trips.
With plenty of endemic plants and animals in the park, wild life spotters and birding enthusiasts could easily spend several days soaking up the incredible atmosphere. The massive rocks splayed all around and the dried of mud flows are just as interesting as the volcano itself.

Read more about our time in Cotopaxi here.

Where to Stay: Camp in the Park, Cabinas de Volcan

#2 Banos

This tourist hotspot is not a place that we expected to love. But, we couldn’t help but be drawn in by the abundance of outdoor recreation and adventure sports. There is something here for everyone, whether young or old, adventurous or relaxed, Banos is a great place to get “trapped” for a few days or more.

Take your pick from historic, volcanic, thermal baths that catch the healing waters as they flow from the mountain tops. Or enjoy a remarkable hike to the Pailon del Diablo, over hanging bridges and through forested walkways that end beneath the misty stone towers that hug the gushing falls.

This is the perfect town for meandering through quaint taffy shops, glorious old churches, and perfectly manicured parks. But, if adventure is what you are seeking, you can find that, too! Soar over the Andes on the ‘Swing at the End of the World’, go zip-lining, mountain climbing, or river rafting just to name a few!

Where to Stay: Outside of Town/Abby’s Hideaway, Hotel in Town

#3 Quilotoa

Dreaming of something awe-inspiring, thought-provoking, and travel-astounding? Quilotoa is the caldera lake that will leave you believing in the impossible! The incredible beauty and solitude of this remarkable green lake are enough to quiet the wanderlust in even the most proficient of traveler’s spirits.

Situated way up high and cradled in a crown of volcanic peaks, this place is just as beautiful as every picture you have ever seen! The trail begins from the top and winds its way down to the reflective lakeside coves. For novice and advanced hikers alike, the incline and altitude can prove this to be a difficult hike.

Luckily, the view can be relished from above with little or no exertion. A wide, wood deck dangling above the canyon offers the perfect picnic retreat. And the village is perfect for perusing local goods and sipping on hot cocoa or the famed coco tea!

Read more about our stay in Quilotoa!

Where to Stay: Overlanders can stay the night in the parking lot free of charge, Hostel

Interested in traveling to Ecuador? Read more about the country’s National Parks and Ecological Reserves in my Skyscanner article!

 

Only Kindness Matters

Only Kindness Matters: Hospitals and Hospitality in Ecuador.

Kindness. By definition: character marked by ethical characteristics, pleasant disposition, and a concern for others. Compassion, generosity, hospitality, tolerance, understanding, philanthropy, unselfishness.

Only Kindness Matters

There is a song that was a favorite of mine, many years ago when I was a much younger girl. A song that echoes through my mind today. And it is a song that I know was meant for me to remember on a day like this. “In the end only kindness matters. In the end only kindness matters”, “If I could tell the world just one thing, it would be that we are all okay”,”For light does the darkness most fear”. While the lyrics to this song by Jewel has resonated with me for a long time, it is now when I understand the profound implications of the words.
Kindness is not a matter of simply not being bad. To not be bad, does not make one good. And to be good, does not necessarily make one kind. Kindness is more than a smile, congeniality, or even friendliness. Kindness is something that I do not believe I have truly witnessed until the passing week. In a place of total unfamiliarity and in moments of shock and despair.

An Invader

It is a long story, of one that shouldn’t not have twisted into the chaos that it did. Of ocean breezes and sticky sand, frozen treats and seafood. Bare toes in the surf and wild hair tangling in the mist. And then, restless nights of intense discomfort and utter confusion. Our baby fell sick, the victim of a mindless intruder that invaded his tiny soles on a quick barefoot jaunt into the village center. It took the better part of a week for us to discover an alien creature crusading through the crevices beneath his skin.
It was utter horror to comprehend. A living parasite who had claimed a new home in our youngest one. Like an angry red vein, it tormented him all moments of the day and night. And then, finally the tolerance of his little body screamed outrage at the unimaginable. In the middle of the night, his foot puffed up like a little balloon and erupted into tiny bubbling blisters and seeping ulcers.

Mission Failure

We quickly understood that this situation had turned serious and needed more aggressive attention. Long after midnight on a Saturday night, we shuffled through the sand to load our sleeping children into the back of our caravan. Nowhere near modern treatment, we had no choice but to start a dark journey to the nearest city for emergency care. And then, just 10 minutes into what should have been a two- hour drive…the car stalled out and betrayed us in the middle of the night. This is why we never drive at after dark. Because things like this happen. Broken down trucks in unfamiliar rural areas with two small children are exactly what we hope to never encounter. Scary enough to have a sick child in a foreign country. Nerve racking to have a car failure in the night hours. Total derailment for them to happen together.

The Cycle Begins

This where the chain of kindness began. The one that set a fire of protection that would guide and cradle us through the next five days of disruption. With no one else to call, nowhere to turn, my husband called the only real contact we had in the area. The owners of our campground. It was immediate, no hesitation whatsoever. As if we were one of their own, they pulled themselves from their slumber at 2 am to rescue us from our roadside failure. There was nothing to, nowhere to go, no other solution to be had. We collected all our valuables from the vehicles, huddled our kids into another car and returned to our tent to wait for morning. We had to leave our car, our home, the vital organ of our adventures. We tried not to make a scene of it, not entirely sure that we would ever see it again. We imagined it would disappear somewhere into the Colombian jungle just a few hours beyond the border.

Plan B

We really didn’t sleep that night, but instead counted the minutes until sunrise. We scrapped up a few snacks, kissed our dogs goodbye, and loaded ourselves onto the first bus out of town. It was a two-hour drive at least, before we made it to the nearest suitable hospital. We passed by our car, still on the side of the road. Carlos hopped out to grab the registration papers and crossed his fingers that it would still be there later that afternoon.
Half way into the drive, a phone call came in. It was a favor to us, from an acquaintance of my mother in law. A little help from the fire department in Esmeraldas, the city we were headed to. I thought perhaps a quick entry at the emergency room. We were all grateful to not bear an extended stay in the waiting room. But, it was much more than that. There was an ambulance enroute, to pick us up off the bus and shuttle us to the hospital. It was quite the spectacle and our children found great amusement in the adventure. Our son was quiet and wide-eyed as he lain in the stretcher getting examined.

Bad News

Arrival at the hospital was a bit unnerving from the start. I couldn’t understand what was being said, decisions being made, conversations between medics about our son. It was all happening too fast for my husband to translate. And in a moment, I was swept off with our daughter, in the opposite direction. I was in absolute panic trying to cope with my son being rolled away without me next to him.
My daughter and I fidgeted in the waiting area for what seemed like eternity. I couldn’t understand anything anyone was saying to me. My brain couldn’t focus on language. I just wanted to know what was happening with my baby.

After about 30 minutes, my husband poked his head out from behind the restricted doorways. He quickly mumbled something about our son being admitted for 7-10 days. I could hear a child screaming in the background. I couldn’t distinguish if it was our baby or not. I thought Carlos was joking, trying to relieve the tension. But, then the doors slammed close again and it all sunk in.
7-10 days? What in the world was going on? I still didn’t have an information about what the diagnosis was or the treatment plan.

Admittance

Awhile later I was able to get into the ER where Nico was being held until his bed order was completed. It was then that I understood he was being kept for treatment of Cellutis, a bacterial skin infection. I was also told that our daughter would not be allowed to enter or stay in the Pediatric Unit. My head swirled, trying to figure out how our family was going to function through this mess. If Mabelle couldn’t be there, one of us parents couldn’t be either. Where would the half that wasn’t admitted go? What were we supposed to do without each other? I had never spent a night away from either of my children. EVER. What about our dogs, who were a 2-hour bus drive away? What was going to happen to our car? It was all very overwhelming and seemed like an impossible scenario. A total nightmare.
Eventually a nurse came through, who could help us get Mabelle at least upstairs while we completed the admission process. We got to the nurse’s station and were pretty devastated by the news. Carlos would need to stay overnight with Nico, as my Spanish was just not up to par for decent communication. Mabelle and I would need to find somewhere to stay the night. At this point, I thought I might have a panic attack. We don’t know this city, don’t speak the language well. Don’t have a car or a clue about safe a neighborhoods or bus routes. How in the world was I going to manage this without my husband?

A Safe Haven

A few moments of chatter ensued at the Nurses station. Several quick exchanges of eye contact. Sounds of sympathy. And then my husband told me what was happening. One of the Nurses was asking if we would accept an invitation to stay at her house, for the night until we could figure out the rest. My husband’s eyes teared up and I burst into sobs. Both for the sadness of separation and for the shock of such hospitality.

This was a woman we had only met just five minutes earlier. She didn’t offer to show us a good hotel, to give a ride to the bus station, or even to join her family for a casual meal. She provided us with the option of a safe, comfortable place to stay and sleep.
And so we did. Mabelle and I joined the woman, and her family, in their home. It was truly a saving grace, so much so that I can’t even allow myself to imagine what might have happened if she hadn’t. Carlos stayed that night in the hospital, and my son the first night in his life without his Mama.

Angels Times Two

The next day my husband had a meeting with the chief of the fire department, to discuss what to do about the broken-down car. They made arrangements for the car to be moved off the street where we left it, and to schedule a time for repairs with the Fire Department’s own mechanic. They talked a bit with my husband about our unique situation; the awkwardness of our family being separated.

By the end of the morning, the Chief had all but insisted that Carlos and Mabelle should stay the night at his house, until the predicament was over. Yes, another complete stranger, opening the doors to his own home to shelter our family in our time of need. Of course, we accepted. And for the next several nights, I stayed at the hospital with Nico and our other half safely slept at the house of the Chief.

Another Helping Hand

As if two angels weren’t enough, on the second day after admittance to the hospital, a woman brought us a sack full clothing for our entire family. We only had what we were wearing on the day of our arrival. And we were quite honestly freezing, walking around a frigid hospital in shorts, tank tops, and flip flops.

The woman was the grandmother of a boy who shared the room with Nico. She has no incentive to do so, but she had gone home and scoured her closets for clothing that would fit all of us. I still can’t figure out she managed to know our perfect sizes…I guess that was just the grandmother in her. But, to have warm and clean clothing was one of the greatest comforts we could have received for our extended stay.

Quick Healing

After just 5 days in the hospital, we were approved for discharge. Our son had recovered remarkably well and in faster time than expected. We were overjoyed to escape the hospital and move on with our normal daily life. We found it quite interesting that more than once doctors gave credit to his strong immune system, as a direct result of being unvaccinated.

We stopped vaccinating Nico after 18 months of age. We declined the recommended (but not required) vaccines for entering Ecuador. We don’t talk about it much, due to public controversy. We believe the choice is a personal one and tolerance for all views is important for a peaceful society. But, for us, it was fascinating tidbit, to hear doctors openly talk about the pros of being vaccine free. It was a total win that offers validation to our decision.

 

Returning to Camp

The day we were set to check out, the firemen kept true on their promise. They took Carlos (and Mabelle) on the long trek back to the car. They helped him get to their mechanic and completely repairs within the same day. Incredibly, they refused to accept any payment from him whatsoever. He was able to return, with the car in running order, just about an hour before Nico was released.

By the time we reached our campsite, it had been almost 6 days since we had left our doggies behind and our stuff all in a mess. We were stunned to discover that all of our belongings had been collected and placed with care inside of our tent. All of our valuables, like the fancy camera and our laptop, had been stored with a neighbor for safekeeping.

The campground hosts and campers, had all taken care of our distressed dogs together. Fed them, watered them, comforted them, even went for walks with them. Despite that, Dante was coughing from some sort of dog bronchitis. And Joey was dehydrated and exhausted from the trauma of our separation. We were agonized to learn that he had literally walked the town day and night, every day, in search for us.

Recovery

Our son has since completed treatment for the parasite and has fully recovered from the Cellutis. We are still learning how to live with and adapt to his post-recovery diagnosis of Ponfolix (a rare form of blistering eczema). We will soon be changing our coastal route, to help him heal. Dante was given antibiotics to recover from his cough. Joey had a few rough days that we wondered might be his last. But, after lots of love and water, he too has made a full recovery. He never lets us out of his sights.
After Thoughts

So many times, we have asked ourselves, how could we have still been so lucky when everything was going so wrong? Why were so many people so willing to offer such generous displays of kindness? How did it happen that we were swept up in this realm of positive energy and protection, when we needed it the most? How can it be, that this place in Ecuador, was the very place we were warned most about? The very place, where is seems we found the best people in the world.

I personally, have wondered to myself: would I have been so kind? Would I have helped others the way that helped me and my family? Am I willing to protect the innocent: even when they do not speak my language, share my skin color, or belong to my culture? Not being a bad person, does not necessarily make us a good one. And being a good person, does not automatically makes us kind. Kindness is something much bigger than my previous concept of it.

The truth is that I don’t know if I would have been as kind as others have been to us. I don’t know, if in this situation, where helping was probably both difficult and inconvenient…that I would have done the same. I cannot honestly state that I am as good as these people are. But, my eyes, my heart, and my perceptions of the world have been permanently altered. I have learned a valuable lesson about what it means to be human. To always treat others as you hope to be treated. To always love, to always hope, to always believe in good things. To always give a lot because it is impossible to have nothing to give.

In regards to this situation, my mother-in-law said something that has really stuck with me.
“Those that give, do so because they want not because they have.” These words of wisdom, I know must be the truth. These people were the epitome of what kindness means. They gave us everything they had, with zero expectations. They gave, not to impress, but for the pure desire to help. They rescued us because they wanted to.
I hope that from this day forward, we can find the courage to live our lives in the same way.

Historical Quito in Photos

The Historical District of Quito, Ecuador.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Quito Basilica

Old Town Quito

Interested in more about Quito? Read our travel story: Romanced by the Basilica.

Want to know more about how we travel full-time? Read more on our Travel Lifestyle.

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Romanced by the Basilica

Romanced by the BasilicaTip toe, hip hop, scramble to and fro over the willy, nilly hand paved stone roads. Over the hills and beneath the shadows of the Basilica, through the historical streets of Quito we roam. Peering through the peep holes through the castle-like walls and counting over a hundred as up the stairs we go. Standing near the tops of the steeples and hiding behind the pillars that support the bell towers, we feel as small as ever. Why is that in places grand and old, we can’t fight the compulsion to whisper? Even though the closest bystanders are farther away than the other side of a lake?

The kids pull on my fingers, begging me to let them experiment with echoes….just one time. Just one tiny scream into the wonderful, hollow abyss. I admit it, I too would love to yodel at the top of my lungs. To listen to the reverberation bounce from arch to arch, ceiling to floor, window to door, and from the pews to the pulpit. I wonder to myself just how high they would have to scream before the intricate stained glass would shatter and shower around us.

I hush them once more, but secretly cherish the sound of their tiny footsteps clack clacking through the isles and halls. I smile at the vibrant, pink balloon bopping above their heads in the dark, cool rooms. I guide their shoes behind mine, as I lean against a pillar to poke my lens at the priest. He isn’t saying anything but I feel his eyes pierce through the concrete and shame me for my disrespectfulness. I quickly shove the kids back, guiding them in the opposite direction.

They free themselves through a side door, flinging themselves in the courtyard where their grandmother is waiting there. I nod to their Daddy as I slip back inside to capture a few more shots in solitude. I take a seat on a nearby pew, letting my eyes swirl around me in search of the perfect angle. When I’m sure no one is looking, I slide myself onto the floor and lay my head against the cold, clammy marble floors. I understand from within that there is no way to capture this imagery in a photograph. I am just a novice, but like any artist would…I take a moment to imprint this scene in a place just for me, before raising my camera and creating a photograph for inspiration.

 

The rest of the afternoon is a colorful blur of historical buildings, charming parks, and colorful homes decorated in Spanish tiles and miniature balconies. It is easy to forget that this piece of old world imagery belongs to the dirty, bustling third world city of Quito. In my mind, I imagine a Sunday afternoon scene of men in suits sitting on park benches and women in fancy dresses twirling umbrellas above the stone palette streets. And then I think back even further, to the Incan civilization that claimed this place in what seems like a world of time before us.

As the day comes to a close the children are amused with chasing pigeons through the courtyard beneath the great San Francisco Cathedral. A street-clown flirts with our kids and beguiles my husband into accepting his end-of-the-day flowers. Two wilted sunflowers and a stunning, red Ecuadorian rose later, we head down the alley for ice cream and empanadas.

We say goodnight to the city before the streets start to twinkle, and we say thank you to Old Quito for romancing us with this part of her story. Once and for all, against all odds, we have fallen in love with the enemy. These country folks have finally surrendered to the sweeter side of the city.

Read Our Last Travel Story: Raindrops on Roses.

 

A Girl & A Goat

She runs through the meadows, tangles flying everywhere, pink rubber boots clomping along the animal trail; calling to her friend “Jaccckkkkk! Jackkkk! I’m here!!” She wraps her arms around his thick, white neck and tucks a tiny blue blossom into the fur atop his head. He promptly shakes it off and nuzzles his head under her arms, looking for the sweet sugary drink she carries in a large, metal pail. She giggles with the jangle, jangle of his bell as he trots a circle around her heels; tangling his rope between her ankles.

“Everyone says he stinks, but I think he smells like flowers and molasses,” she explains. “And he’s not soft like the babies, but his fur is still as white and clean as the clouds, even though he lives in the wilderness.” Then she returns her attention back to him, roaring with laughter as he rears up on his hind legs to reach his favorite leaves up in a nearby tree. “You silly goat! You think you are squirrel in the trees or a bucking horse in the rodeo. But, you are just a goat!”

These types of exchanges have been going on for several weeks now, during the extent of our farm stay at an agro-eco farm in Ecuador. We have learned about the loving ways to care for goats, through herding and corralling, petting, milking, and overall loving. The kids have relished in the opportunity to take some responsibilities for the animals. From this experience, they will know no other way, than to truly appreciate a goat.

The goats come in every size, shape, color, and temperament. Babies, yearlings, mamas, grandmas, and finally the billy. There are a few very cute, cuddly babies and a few real beauties in the females. Our children genuinely love taking them out to pasture in the morning, taking them sweet water in the afternoons, and then herding them back home again with the bell just before nightfall. Each of them have enjoyed milking the mothers and prepping the pens for the youngsters. They don’t particularly like the milk or the goat cheese either, acquired tastes I suppose. They have pet the goats like cats and carried the babies around like puppies. For the most part, the animals don’t seem to mind one bit. I would have guessed that their favorites would be the babies, and that is pretty much true for our three-year-old son. But, for our daughter, she is infatuated with the billy! She even seems to have traded in her life-long love of cows in exchange for one hundred percent affection for Jack.

She tells me she is in love with him, even though she doesn’t know what that means. She says she wants to frame a photo of them together to carry along on all our travels. She says that she will remember him forever. Maybe she will. We never know what our kids will take away from travel, from nature, or from a spectacular farm that infiltrated our lives for several weeks in 2017. We don’t know what she will do with the knowledge or love that she has gained. But, we know that she is happy and thriving. She is having experiences that we alone could not have provided. Learning and living, practicing and doing, touching, feeling, believing. Understanding.

  The confidence and compassion she has gained are astounding. She is a little girl growing up in the world. And we are so proud to be her parents, feeling confident that we have found the pillars of the right learning environment for her. So thankful for the present and so eager for the future.