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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A Taste of the Pura Vida Life

YOU GUYS….I’d had Costa Rica on my bucket list for a while, but wanted to wait until I was able to take more vacation days so that I could spend longer there.  I knew there was so much to see and explore, and I wanted to take advantage of all of it! Finally though, after obsessively checking flight prices, I decided to just take the leap and go with the short time I had. Jungle, coastlines, extreme sports/adventures, biodiversity- you name it, I knew there was so much to discover about the #puravida way.

Now that I have returned, I can say Costa Rica was not only worth the hype it gets, but also one of my FAVORITE trips to date, especially because of the incredible people I met. (Oh, and the whole run-in with the police is an entertaining story, too.) Let’s back up, though–

I flew into San José and stayed one night in the city. I met an amazing older woman, Lynn, at my hostel. She was in her sixties, divorced, with two grown daughters, in better shape than me, and had been traveling C.R. for over a month. It isn’t often that you meet an older woman traveling solo (let alone staying in hostels) and I instantly was inspired by her story. She was #goals for multiple reasons.

Our hostel was located right near the National Museum of Costa Rica (shown below). A huge fan of street art, I spent the first afternoon wandering around, admiring the murals:

And the early evening relaxing in a hammock at the hostel with a beer after dinner:

The next day, I met up with Cassandra (from Haiti, living in N.Y.), who was also staying at my hostel, and we caught a city bus to Irazú Volcano. Look at this crater! The color is just unbelievable.

This is also where we met Alex and Kayo- two friends/coworkers from Nashville who were traveling together, and Jerdy, another solo traveler from the Netherlands. We were a fast group of friends. On the bus back to San José, we decided to take a detour and get off at Cartago.

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Posing in front of the Templo Inconcluso de Santiago Apóstol.

This is where it became evident that sometimes it’s more about who you are with than where you are. The five of us shared dinner together, so many laughs, and too many stories. Check out some of the sights we saw wandering the town below: La Negrita, the Black Madonna shrine at Our Lady of the Angels Basilica, Santiago Apostól Parish Ruins, etc.

Alex and Kayo, who had rented a car, decided to switch up their travel plans and drive to La Fortuna the next morning with me, so I got to spend more time with them. Jerdy came for the ride as well.

This is where shit gets fun- somewhere near Sarapiqui, along highway 4, we’re cut off by a police SUV, apparently for crossing a yellow line. We were shocked, and a little scared. And then, a little suspicious…

They tried to fine us $500, but with Jerdy’s Spanish and expert persuading, we ended up being able to give them a $20 bill and driving away. Alex’s grip was more focused on the wheel after that, for sure.

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Always an adventure! HA

But, we made it there! First on our list was to visit La Fortuna waterfall. I thought about ditching the boys once I found this friend:

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Kidding. I could never. We became a family so quickly! These intentional, unbreakable bonds that form when you’re on the road, away from home, soaking in moments. And to be able to stumble out of the wooded path into this clearing, where the water rushed down, was a sight I loved sharing with them.

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La Fortuna waterfall was gorgeous, no doubt. And Alex is a fantastic photographer.

We all dove in- well, maybe not dove, because the water was absolutely frigid, but you couldn’t not experience it!

We spent the rest of the day at a water hole where tons of locals hung out and did the rope swing. I was impressed by their talent! I, for one, knew my nonathletic self and also got my fill of the cool water. Later that evening, we connected after the hike with a guide, Daniel, who took us to a local hot springs. It was honestly amazing, being able to slide down the rocks like a gigantic waterslide, traverse underwater caves, drink whiskey from the bottle, and talk about life under only the moonlight and the soft glow of a lamp, hung on shore.

The next day I had booked a tour to Arenal National Park, where we hiked Arenal Volcano and walked across the hanging bridges. It was otherworldly. We may or may not have been slightly hungover from our late night. But we powered through, admiring the beauty of rainbow trees and watching for monkeys swinging through the branches. Just scrolling through the collage below, you can tell, it was easy to disconnect, and feel connected here…

I’ve been traveling for almost a decade now, and I have met a lot of people as a solo traveler. And as anyone who travels frequently or long term can attest to, there are friends you make that do become like your family. These guys carved out their own…the way we instantly felt as ease with one another, made each other laugh, let stories flow as swift as that water rushing into the natural pool below- some things are natural.

And some natural things, like the lushness of the jungle, rugged beaches, towering volcanoes, or the biodiversity in Costa Rica, are just unreal. I loved this country, and I can’t wait to return someday. I want to soak a little longer in the simple life, the pure life. There is meaning here. Until then-

 Pura vida!

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Land of Fire & Ice (And Everything Nice)

Bright rainbows breaking through clouds, the rush of a waterfall around every corner, rolling green fields, and the nicest people you’ve ever met?

Sounds like heaven, but the name is Iceland.

I was lucky enough to visit this incredible country this past week- this time with my boyfriend for our three year anniversary. It was our first international trip together, and his first time outside of North America- something I’ve been wanting to experience with him since we started dating!

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We got a sneak peek of the mesmerizing Northern Lights as we flew over Greenland. Our captain woke us up to instruct us to look out the left side of the plane for the show!

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Due to the weather, this would unfortunately be the only sighting we’d have the rest of our trip, but the views alone of this country and the adventures we went on more than made up for it! We spent the first full day exploring Reykjavik. The country’s capital and largest city, and it charmed us from the very start. Take a look at some of the city’s gems:

We saw the Sun Voyager, a striking steel sculpture along the water.

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Harpa, a concert hall near the harbor where we saw an awesome exhibit.

Hallgrímskirkja, an immense church that boasts outstanding panoramic views of the entire city.

Perlan, a glass dome rotating restaurant where we enjoyed a delicious dessert after a long day of hiking.

 

Lake Tjörnin, Ráðhús Reykjavíkur (City Hall), Monument to the Unknown Bureaucrat,  etc.

 

As much as we adored the city, we loved the countryside even more. We couldn’t pass up one of the most famous routes out of Reykjavik- the Golden Circle- featuring Þingvellir National Park, Haukadalur geothermal area (Geysir, Strokkur), and Gullfoss waterfall.

Gullfoss waterfall– This double-tiered waterfall reminded me at first of Niagra Falls, but I loved how close we could get to it!  Not to mention the way the sun reflected off the water- the rainbow was a gorgeous payoff for the long climb and the downpour of rain we got caught in!

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Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park the site of two tectonic plates (American and Eurasian) that drift apart at a speed of 2 cm/year, and also the site of Althingi, the oldest functioning parliament in the world. We couldn’t get enough of the history and autumn colors here.

 

Haukadalur geothermal area (Geysir, Strokkur, etc.)

Bright blue bubbling pools, hot springs, and mud pots, this place was a delight to see! Although the sulfur smelled like rotten eggs, you forget all about it with the excitement of seeing Strokkur explode every 5-10 minutes.

 

We made a stop at Fákasel Horse farm to see the famous Icelandic horses. They are all pure bred- once an Icelandic horse leaves the country it cannot ever return, and no horses can be imported. They also have five gaits instead of four, making them very unique.

 

We didn’t think we could top the Golden Circle, but we were proven wrong during our exploration of Iceland’s South Coast shores:  Skógafoss waterfall, Reynisfjara’s black sand beaches, Sólheimajökull glacier, Eyjafjallajökull volcano, and Seljalandsfoss waterfall, among others.

Skógafoss We were able to climb to the very top of this powerful waterfall. (Look to the top right of the photo- that’s where we were!) The slippery steps led us to an unbelievable view looking down below.

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Black sand beaches of ReynisfjaraThis world famous beach was like nothing we had ever seen before! Gray pebbles, dark sand, basalt sea stacks, rocky pyramids towering over us. The impressively strong, high waves crashing into the shore and gusts of wind were scary and wonderful all wrapped into one spectacular visit.

 

Sólheimajökull glacier- This glacier emerged right as we rounded the bend after a 10-15 minute hike. It completely took our breath away- it was the first time either of us had ever seen a glacier in real life! We learned it covers Katla, a dangerous volcano that is threatening to erupt in the near future. (Which we were glad we missed.)

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Eyjafjallajökull – You can’t see the glacier here in this photo below, but the left photo is the volcano that erupted in 2010 and stopped air traffic throughout all of Europe. The photo on the right is a massive rock in which houses have been built into. It’s been called the “elf house.” Many Icelandic people believe in elves. JJ and I weren’t convinced, but it is ironic that after we took this photo, our camera stopped working…

 

Seljalandsfoss– By far one of our most favorite destinations. This magnificent waterfall has a path that leads you BEHIND it, so you can actually walk to the other side for an even more stunning view. But beware: you absolutely will get soaked to the core. Definitely worth it!

So okay, you get it. We saw some extraordinary things in nature and played under a lot of waterfalls. But what did we eat?

Pylsa– Iceland is known for their hot dogs, and I certainly had my fair share of them. Not joking, I could really go for another one as we speak! The picture on the right is at Bæjarins Bestu, which proudly displays a picture of Bill Clinton enjoying his meal. If you order one with everything on it (which I recommend), it includes raw onions, crispy fried onions, ketchup, special Icelandic mustard, and remoulade.

Don’t believe me about how AMAZING and renowned they are? Check it here.

Flatbrauð- rye bread with smoked lamb & Malt drink (non-alcoholic, typically mixed with orange soda for holidays)

 

Skyr– A thick yogurt that was very filling.

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Several different soups to help warm up on colder nights:

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Traditional Icelandic Meat Soup.

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Turnip soup- never had a turnip in my LIFE but this was delicious!

And, of course, who could forget FISH?

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The best fish either of us had ever tried at the Drunk Rabbit.

Chuck Norris Grill– we couldn’t stop laughing at all of these sayings!

 

Dillon Whiskey Bar– Sampled some Balvenie (aged 12 years) here that I loved!

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Drinks- Icelandic Pale Ale & White Ale, Viking, Thule,  Egils Gull beer, Somersby cider. etc. We tried it all but the Black Death, Brennivín, which we plan on trying in the States.

 

Blue Lagoon– How could we come to Iceland and not visit one of the 25 wonders of the world? On our last day, we spent a full day here relaxing and literally soaking it all in. With blue water the temperature of 100° F, a swim up bar, and silica mud masks that left your skin feeling 10 years younger, there was no better way for us to wrap up our romantic, fascinating, and completely breathtaking vacation.

 

We could not have asked for a more beautiful adventure together, and already can’t wait to go back. Iceland captured our hearts from the beginning, but if you’ve read this post, it’s not hard to see why.

 

 

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