Finding My Balance in Ecuador

Something I constantly struggle with is finding balance in my life. When I visited Ecuador in January, I had an itinerary drafted. I knew, as a weekend warrior trip, that I couldn’t make it to the world-famous Galapagos Islands. But I knew that I wanted to visit the equator (of course!) and chase thrills in Baños, Ecuador’s adventure capital.

Still, you’re never really prepared for what could happen on a trip. What could potentially go wrong, and all the things that could go right: the people you never expected to meet, adventures you hadn’t accounted for in your plans, connections made that now will forever cement you to that moment or place or person.

One thing I’ve always struggled with in my life is balance. This trip was filled with small discoveries in just that: early mornings alone before a late night out accompanied by new friends; the rush of a fast swing over a town far below to quiet moments writing on an overnight bus; indulging at a cafe after hiking underneath waterfalls & standing breathless at the tops of mountains. The blending of two languages, feet between two hemispheres. Always learning. Always challenged. Always grateful.

I flew in and out of Guayaquil just because it was cheaper, but I’m so glad I did because it allowed me the opportunity to see a city I otherwise wouldn’t have.

Highlights in Guayaquil:

Malecón 2000- expansive boardwalk overlooking the Guayas River

Parque Seminario- THERE ARE SO MANY IGUANAS IN THIS PARK. If you want to see one, go here. It’s bizarre.

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Torre del Reloj- (Torre Morisca) iconic clock tower

La Perla- giant Ferris wheel right on the shore of the Malecón

Las Penas- sprawling colorful houses built into a hillside. I loved this view:

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Then to Baños!

Highlights in Baños:

La Casa del Arbol- Swing at the end of the world. No doubt the most famous tourist attraction.

 

There are actually a couple swings here at this location, so make sure to keep walking for the one you want!

Columpio Fantasias de Volar- a mechanical swing, like a roller coaster. A great thrill and unique view of the city all at once. There’s a video of me screaming like a little girl, which I will spare all of you.

Parque Palomino Flores- The main park at the city centre

El Pailon Del Diablo- also known as “Devil’s Cauldron,” an impressive waterfall. Here’s me hiking the path down:

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Cascada Cabellera de la Virgen & Termas de la Virgen- a waterfall & hot springs to bathe in? Sign me up.

Cascada Manto de la Novia- this was an experience like no other- a cable car ride over this waterfall is not for the faint of heart!

I tried canelazo, a hot alcoholic cinnamon beverage, and it was delightful.

Lastly, was Quito. I took the a bus to get there (Ecuador Hop, similar to what I’d used in Peru- highly recommend!) to get there, and we stopped to view Cotopaxi (volcano) and Quilotoa, a water-filled caldera on the way.

Quito highlights include:

Ciudad Mitad del Mundo- “Middle of the World” This is the monument & plaza marking the equator.

Mitad del Mundo- It’s a bit confusing, but this is where the actual latitude and longitude lines are. If you go to Museo de Sitio Intiñan, you’ll find tons of science experiments you can do & learn neat facts about the equator.

TelefériQo- gondola lift with amazing views at the top! I loved being able to see the city down below. Plus, they have swings at the top that make for really neat photoshoots 🙂

Plaza de la Independencia- a cute plaza lined with cafes and shops, the central square.

El Panecillo- hilltop statue. It was gorgeous lit up at night- don’t just take my word for it:

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I was here the shortest amount of time, but obviously there’s no shortage of museums, cathedrals, basilicas, plazas, and wonderful cafes to experience.

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Some new friends in Baños!

Thank you, Ecuador 🇪🇨

Also, I took home an unknown souvenir. I got SO SICK you guys. Day later, I passed out after getting off the bus on my way to work. I couldn’t eat anything. I turned down free dessert at our staff meeting– that’s how you know it’s real.

I have no idea how I got it. I was always very cautious of drinking bottled water, only eating thoroughly cooked food, and fruit that you could peel to open, etc.

Anyway, as someone who has been to over 40 countries and can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve gotten food poisoning or sick, I consider myself #BLESSED.

Hope you’re all finding balance in the world, wherever you are,

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COLORado

Hi friends!

Another adventure for ya. The moment I spotted round trip tickets to Denver for $150, I was sold. Combine that with reuniting with a college friend, gorgeous mountain hikes, and an incredible concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater and the opportunity for a weekend getaway to Colorado was a no-brainer.

First up, my friend Lindsay and I went hiking in Roosevelt National Forest.

Lake Isabelle was quite a sight for sore eyes.

Here are some awesome spots around the city: delicious dinner at Tacos Tequila Whiskey, the Botanical Gardens, Capitol Building, Union Station, Linger (mortuary turned into a restaurant) and the sun setting near Highland/Lodo district.

On Saturday night, The Avett Brothers put on one hell of a show at the Red Rocks Amphitheater. We did the bus to show route, let loose, and had a night we’ll never forget. Good jams, good friends, good times.

As per usual, my short getaway was all kinds of perfect, though it wasn’t even scratching the surface of this amazing city and state.

To sum it all up, I absolutely loved it and I’m moving here.

 

                                                                                   Stay wild,

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Land of the Midnight Sun

John Green, I finally found her. (Anyone who gets that reference, I love you.)

The idea that I was flying to Alaska was still baffling me. It didn’t seem real until I flew over the mountains.

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On Tuesday, my first full day, I woke early to catch the bus to Denali National Park. As you might imagine, the drive was nothing short of overwhelming beauty mile after mile. Our bus stopped at Talkeetna Lodge for break and snack. There was a loose moose sign which was my first big “Welcome to Alaska” moment. Though I didn’t see it on the property, I did see a moose on the side of the road shortly after!

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Welcome to Denali!

Once we pulled in to the lodging areas outside the park, I immediately threw my pack in my cabin and headed out. I wanted to take advantage of every second I had, since I was only here a short time. First, I set off on foot to the Wilderness Access Center and the Visitor Center. From there, I took the Savage River shuttle deeper into the park and saw two more moose.  Just as I was about to start hiking, it began to rain. I tried to wait it out, and debated whether or not to move forward, but finally I just went for it. And it was awesome. So awesome. The beginning was an immediate straight shot up loose rocks, and I had to take multiple breaks to catch my breath so I wouldn’t get dizzy. I’ve discovered since getting my pacemaker a year ago that I struggle a lot with elevation, which is frustrating.  Once I reached the summit, the rain stopped and all the clouds cleared, breaking way for the most beautiful double rainbow. It was almost surreal.

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I saw lots of squirrels, sheep, bunnies, and birds. No bear, though! (I wanted to see one, but from afar, of course!) I made a mental note of what to do if I encountered a wolf, bear, or moose.  I talked to myself around corners, making noise to alert them of my presence. Luckily (or unluckily) I didn’t encounter any. Once I emerged from the woods to find the road, I crossed it and continued on to another trail. On the drive back, I was the only passenger. We saw caribou grazing and then a moose crossed right in front of us, framing the perfect shot!

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The perfect shot.

Though it was already 8 p.m., I wasn’t ready to be done.  I continued on Horseshoe Lake trail, passing a sign that warned of bears frequenting that area. I pressed on, and the first sight of the lake was well worth it all. This was God’s country, and I knew it. At the lake, I found a beaver dam and watched in awe at the many playful otters swimming. I followed the trail further to the Nenana River. I could’ve hiked for hours more, but it was already 10 p.m. and I hadn’t had dinner! I was starving, and if I continued to hike alone in the dark, I might end up being someone else’s dinner.

Once out of the park, I indulged in salmon, seafood chowder and a salad at the Salmon Bake, took a warm shower, and collapsed in bed. 17 miles done!

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Delicious meal at the Denali Salmon Bake!

The next day, I didn’t have long to hike. I had to take the bus back to Anchorage at 2 p.m. For lunch, I got a reindeer hot dog at the Denali Doghouse, then an espresso Funky Monkey shake and cinnamon chocolate chip scone at Black Bear Coffee. Not the healthiest, but I treated myself. Best coffee shop in Denali! I urge you to check it out for yourself.

When we arrived back in Anchorage, I had a special treat waiting for me. My good friend, Stephanie, was also in Anchorage! When I first found out she was going to Alaska, I had tried to plan my trip so that we could meet up, but it just wasn’t working out. That is, until we realized she was flying out from Anchorage the morning after I’d be arriving back there, so on her last night there, we could! She was there for work, and they were having a meeting so I sat in on that.  It was pretty neat to hear how much their experiences in Alaska had impacted their lives. After, we all piled into a van and drove to Earthquake Park by the airport and watched the sunset as planes flew overhead.

Having gone to bed after 1 a.m., I had the hardest time waking up on Thursday. But luckily, I  was already packed up, so there wasn’t much else to do to get ready for my trip to Seward.

 

On the road there, we talked about the areas we were driving through. We saw the mud flats, talked about the dangers of them with the high tide, etc. We drove deeper into Chugach National Forest. As we were entering a small town, Moose Pass, the driver asked us to see if we could find what was “missing” from this town. Someone mentioned a gas station. “Bingo! There’s not a gas station because then it would be called ‘Moose Pass gas,'” he joked. We laughed.

Seward was the cutest port town, lots of brightly colored buildings near the water’s edge, boats bobbing in the harbor, otters popping their heads up, ever curious what we were doing.

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One of the most popular things to do is take a wildlife cruise into Resurrection Bay to Kenai Fjords National Park, and I had the time to do it. It was beautiful being on the water. We saw more otters, humpback whales (look for the spout of water!) as we made made our way to Holgate glacier. On board, they had an all-you-can-eat salmon and prime rib buffet which was mouthwatering.  They pulled a chunk of the glacier out of the water and made margaritas with the ice which was so cool.

The captain had received word from a small fishing boat that there were orcas ahead and sped up to reach them. It was so amazing to see their sleek black and white bodies glide through the water. I never thought I’d see that in the wild. They were swimming in a pod of about five, and were so peaceful and sleek through the water’s surface.

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No words.

Once we pulled back into Seward, I boarded the bus back to Anchorage. The Turnagain Arm views and entire stretch of Seward Highway were just as magical driving through again. When I got back to Anchorage, I stopped at Humpy’s for some halibut dinner. Not wanting my trip to end, I decided I’d walk to see the midnight sun one final time. I walked to Elderberry Park and took the coastal trail near the water to Resolution Park and the Captain Cook monument, but couldn’t find it. Suddenly, I saw a cop car that was hidden to my left.  I asked him for directions, and he offered to drive me there! You should’ve heard my mother’s reaction when I told her I was in the back of a cop car on my final night in Anchorage. The sunset was magnificent. Worth every second of sleep I was missing.

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Looking over the land of the midnight sun.

Even in this moment, I can still see it. I knew before it sank below the horizon that I already missed it, and would never forget it. On my walk back to my hostel, the pink sky reflected off the mountains in the distance, a final burst of beautiful light etched into my memory. I could have spent a lifetime here, but those four wonderful, awestruck, and wildly beautiful days were all I could ever ask for.

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Pacific Northwonderland

I needed no excuse to go to Seattle- Alex (my oldest high school friend) lived there, it was surrounded by water and soaring mountains, and I had no plans for Memorial Day weekend.

I arrived late on Friday night.  On Saturday, Alex and I went downtown to fit the most of Seattle sights in during one day. We strolled the iconic Pike Place market and wandered down the alley to the famous gum wall. Tourist attraction, but I couldn’t miss it. It was equal parts fascinating and gross.

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Alex wanted me to get a better view of the city, so we (just barely!) caught the ferry across to Bainbridge Island. Once the ferry pulled back, I could see the whole city and encircling mountains. It was a sunny 75 degrees and the clearest day, so the view was unreal. Alex pointed out landmarks: the Space Needle, Mt. Rainier, etc.

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Once the ferry docked safely back at Seattle, we decided to explore downtown more. Grabbing a donut and coffee (no, not Starbucks!), we walked to the neighborhood of Capital Hill. This is where Alex is moving soon. He showed me his favorite bookstore, Elliot Bay, and we popped into a couple shops. Next, we drove to Discovery Park where I saw the West Point Lighthouse and stuck my feet in the cold, refreshing water. The bright colored sails of sailboats contrasting with the blue of the water and jutting mountain ranges left me speechless.

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Since we only had limited time, and there was still so much more he wanted me to see, we didn’t stay long. We drove to Green Lake and laid out in the sun, people watching. It was the most perfect day. Came back to his apartment, got ready for dinner, and walked around his neighborhood of Ballard. I could see why he loved it. We chose Ballard Annex Oyster House for dinner. Since it was happy hour, we filled up on fish and chips, clam chowder, and calamari for almost half the price. Dessert is not optional for me, so a stop to Hot Cakes dessert shop was in order.  Just when I thought the day couldn’t get better, we ended it with a trip to Golden Gardens park to watch the sunset.  The beach was packed, so we stayed further down on the rocks, but the skies couldn’t have been more clear. It honestly was so breathtaking, I wanted to cry. The sunset was this indescribable golden orange and calming blue. I wanted to bottle it forever.

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On Sunday, we got up early to pack Alex’s car for our camping trip to Steamboat Rock State Park. We met up with another friend, Michael, and set off, stopping about halfway in Ellensburg for food and gas. It was a beautiful drive, the first part through Snoqualmie Pass was all evergreen forests,  rich blues and dark greens, and then later, all desert. We wasted no time, setting out to hike the rock as soon we pulled in to our site.  The beginning was steep uphill on loose rocks. Once at the top we did a long loop, admiring the views from the cliffs.

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Top of the rock.

We weren’t the only ones out & about: we passed a deer, two groundhogs that ran away, and only one other couple on top of the rock. When we cut through higher grass to circle back to the trail head, Alex heard a rattlesnake. And suddenly it was HIGH KNEES like I was in boot camp. (I’m terrified of snakes, not to mention a rattlesnake!) Once back, and sweating hard, we changed into our bathing suits and waded in the water. As the sun cooled off, we set up camp, made hot dogs and chili for dinner, and climbed a little sand dune to look at the stars at night.

The next morning, I woke up to sunlight spilling across my pillow- sure that it must be at least 7 a.m., but it was just barely 5 a.m. So bright out already! We enjoyed breakfast, then got back on the road, stopping at Dry Falls overlook, and Ellensburg again for gas and food. Due to the holiday, traffic was really bad coming through Snoqualmie Pass.  When we finally returned to Seattle, I was lucky enough to meet up with another great high school friend, Frank, who I hadn’t seen in years!

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Over coffee, we caught up on each other’s lives and talked Washington and traveling. He was nice enough to drop me off at the airport, where my next big adventure awaited: ALASKA.

(To check out my trip to Alaska, read about it here.)

When I returned from The Last Frontier, I was lucky enough to spend the weekend in Tacoma, just south of Seattle, where my boyfriend was spending two weeks training at Lewis-McChord AFB. He had the weekend off, and spending it with him was much better than just coming home to Pittsburgh early!

When I landed on Friday (June 2nd) afternoon, he met me at the airport and we checked into our hotel. Soon after, we set out to Wapato Park, then walked along the waterfront: Jack Hyde Park, Hamilton Park, Dickman Mill Park, etc. and ended with a delicious dinner on the water. Drove through Point Defiance Park after, which was gorgeous as the sun was setting.  On the way back to the hotel we stopped to get some food for our hike we were planning on doing the next day. And also a huge bag of Skittles. Totally healthy and good for sustaining energy.

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The next morning, Saturday, we got up early for breakfast, repacked our bags and programmed the GPS to Mt. Rainier.  We stopped in Longmire for coffee, but it was so necessary. It helped wake us both up and instantly rejuvenated. Paradise was still covered in snow, but it was another beautiful, sun-shining day and we still hiked through it. What a workout! We also covered the Silver Falls trail which was in completely different conditions. And had to see the famous Grove of the Patriarchs before driving through to the other side of the mountain to exit the park and head back to Tacoma for dinner and much needed rest, at that point.

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No words.

Two very different conditions: Snow-covered Reflection Lakes, and Silver Falls.

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Grove of the Patriarchs

Sunday, our last day together, we caught the ferry to Anderson Island. We weren’t really sure what all was there, but walking around looking at the incredible homes and enjoying the sunshine and the company of one another made it a wonderful outing. Once we took the ferry back over, we drove to Seattle to spend some (very short) time before my flight. Got Dicks drive-in which was so good, it would have been worth the drive just for that. Delicious burgers & shakes! I showed him Pike Place Market, the view on the deck of the Seattle Great Wheel and waterfront, and we marked our spot on the gum wall with Bubble Yum.

 

I was lucky enough to visit during the most perfect weather, and could easily see why so many people loved living here. Seattle and the PNW surely left its mark on me!

Until next time,

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