Quito, Cotopaxi, Puerto Lopez, Montañita

Some stories are easier to tell than others. This one has proven particularly difficult. Not because of the subject matter or due to practical limitations, but simply because I've been feeling somewhat uninspired to write lately. This is in no way related to the places I have been traveling through, which have been consistently awe-inspiring. Nor can I blame my disposition on major misfortunes, financial or physiological, apart from a severe viral infection that took me out for almost a week just a little while ago. Duality is a fact of life, ups and downs alternating ceaselessly, but a certain jadedness seems to have arisen in my travel mind in recent weeks. Paradoxically, Maria and I have been having a very meaningful and eventful time visiting poetic (and aptly named) Equador for the past three weeks. Highlights included: hiking around Cotopaxi - the tallest active volcano in the world, seeing blue-footed boobies (yes that's their name) and their chicks, surfing the foam-topped waves of the Pacific ocean, and hammocks. No matter the place or time, a hammock is always a highlight. Therefore, and especially for this entry, I'll talk about these experiences from dualistic points of view. The positive, rosy view as well as the thorny, sometimes more honest and mostly less positive one. After all, what better place to contemplate two sides of the same story than at the equator (heavy wink).

Hiking around Cotopaxi

Rosy The view of this magnificent, active (!) volcano seems taken straight out of a scene from Lord of the Rings. Stoically and enigmatically towering over vast, grassy plains populated by horses and lamas, Cotopaxi is one of a kind. We were lucky enough to get tipped about a remote cabin-style hostel in the valley opposite the mountains, a two-hour ride from Quito. We stayed for three days, enjoying nature by day and cozying up by the fireplace with the other guests in the evenings. I went on a challenging 6-hour, high-altitude (3500m to 4300m) hike, that was truly exhilarating in its difficulty as well as surrounding scenery along the way. There was even a hot tub at the hostel - with volcano view - that we made extensive use of during the lazy moments. I could've stuck around a lot longer in this peaceful and utterly beautiful environment, but I'm grateful to have had the chance to see it, even briefly.
Thorny Still recovering from the viral infection I got served in Quito, the high-altitude environment of Cotopaxi gave rise to frequent head- and toothaches. The latter were especially enjoyable on the bumpy minivan ride, often on unpaved roads, on the way to and from the hostel. As we arrived, rain started pouring down for most of the afternoon, the magnificent volcano view not returning, safe for brief 20-minute windows over the course of the following days. With Maria's knee still in a fairly bad state, she couldn't participate in any of the hikes or walks. The hike I went on, exciting as it was, was also an absolute mudfest, requiring gummy boots that provided zero stability and frequently got sucked into the sludge, making the descent more of a slip-and-slide experience. The hot tub, however, was sweet.

Seeing blue-footed boobies

Rosy Before arriving to the quaint seaside fisherman's village of Puerto Lopez, I had never heard of Boobies. A species of sea birds that can only be found on the Galápagos islands and Isla de la Plata, a small island right off the Ecuadorian coast. We got the opportunity to boat over and hike around this unique little speck of land, inundated with hundreds of different birds, including the blue-footed Booby. As the name suggests, this exotic animal has bright, turquoise flipper-shaped feet that it uses to dive up to 10m into the ocean when hunting fish. Not surprisingly, the feet also feature in the quaint mating ritual where Boobies will pair up and just kind of hang out on random patches of beach, seemingly naive to the presence of human onlookers. The little chicks, covered in fuzzy fur, and definitely naive, were especially cute.
Thorny The "quaintness" of Puerto Lopez was mostly a euphemistic attempt to describe a town that only justifies its existence as a tourist destination by its proximity to the blue-footed Booby habitat. Nevertheless, we spent five days there and got thoroughly acquainted with its continually grey skies, muddled boat-filled beaches and lack of social vibe. The hike on Isla de la Plata, or Silver Island - aptly named after the ubiquitous presence of bird shit all over the island (as well as falling from the skies) - was definitely impressive. Yet it would be dishonest of me to not mention the effort it took me to suppress the dozens of childish, Booby-related puns that popped up in my head the minute I laid eyes on these (un)fortunately named creatures. I did let slip a few choice ones to Maria, since her knee prevented her from escaping my vocal range.

Surfing foam-topped waves

Rosy It had been two years since I last surfed, on the lush waves of the Australian coast, and I was quite eager to recommence my learning, since I am by all measures still very much a beginner. We stayed in Montañita for a week, a lazy, party-infuzed town with great waves for gentle surfing, and I went surfing a bunch of times. Not nearly enough to become significantly better, but a sufficient amount for boosting my confidence that one day, I might. I also rediscovered my joy for this sport, and for the process of becoming more comfortable with myself in an environment that rightfully commands a lot of respect. I'm fortunate that I'll be spending plenty of time by surf-worthy beaches over the next few months, and that is really strengthening my commitment to keep at it and, hopefully, be worth my salt by the time I return home.
Thorny Surfing is HARD. And learning to surf is really not such a pleasant experience. I ingested liters of salt water (silver lining: helped with the viral infection) and was swept off my feet more times than I can count. When I did manage to stand up on the board, poor timing or balance took me down almost immediately. My frustration at my continued failure was only matched by my stubborn resilience to keep trying. Twenty years of violin practice do seem to build some character. On average, I managed about 2-3 successful rides per hour of surfing. And this statistic will likely not change for the forseeable future, that is to say, strong commitment will be crucial if I ever hope to improve. Luckily, surfing is mostly a solitary activity, so at least I don't need to fail in front of others, another activity I'm terrible at.


Rosy I mean, where to even begin. These spectacular reclining vessels. Certainly designed by divine intervention, probably my favorite relaxation surface, and sadly massively underused in Western society. Could it be a sinister plot to deprive people of purposeless yet meaningful quiet time? The simplicity of the hammock's construction, combined with the near-infinite ways to occupy it surely merit greater recognition. Time spent in a hammock is never wasted. I've certainly taken this understanding to heart in Ecuador, and on this trip in general. One of the first things I'll do when returning home is installing our very own hammock. Perhaps even two, who knows, the sky is the limit!
Thorny Nothing. There is simply not a bad thing to say about hammocks.

Every story has two sides, and often only the rosy one is told on these types of public platforms, my own included. Apart from the eternal good-news show that all of us are expected to partake in, complaining from my position of privilege simply seems unbecoming. Many of the past month's days have been great, and quite a few have been not-so-great, and this extends to my trip in general. Luckily, we also tend to mostly distill the happy times from our past experience into our memories of it. Bad experiences should not be dwelled upon, but should be acknowledged and receive recognition when shared. Perhaps I'll find the courage to implement this principle in the future stories I intend to tell.

June 11th, 2022

Photo: Ammit Jack

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