Following a 9 hour journey, and a brief stop at the Delta lounge in the Atlanta airport, eighteen Boothies finally arrived at Quito airport. We were greeted by our guide Effie, who entertained us over the next 6 days with his many pearls of wisdom, including a schooling on the best beer to drink.
The itinerary kicked us off with a capitalistic endeavor – a trip to the Otavalo market in the Highlands around Quito to bargain our way to amazingly soft alpaca blankets. Here we had our first immersion into the vibrant and diverse culture of the Ecuadorean people. Our guide took us to a traditional home of the Otavalo people, where an entire family entertained us with an impromptu concert. We also stopped by the “fake” equator – the location it was initially measured to be before GPS came along and found the real one (which we also visited on our way back).
Next stop: the Amazon! After a drive through some jaw-dropping scenery in the highlands, we descended to the banks of the Napo river, a tributary of the Amazon. We took a short boat trip up to Casa Del Suizo – a jungle lodge that was our home for the next few days. This is where the trip really earned its “nature” tag. Highlights included:
Tours through the jungle, where we saw not one, but two poisonous frogs that could kill up to 100 people with the venom from their sweat
Swinging on a vine hanging from a 500-year-old balsa tree (where many of the valiant in our group sustained a few bruises)
A trip to a wildlife reserve, AmaZOOnica, where we (possibly) saw an anaconda, several monkeys, an ocelot, a full family of turtles and a butterfly garden
Tubing down the Napo river, and having a Tarzan moment swinging from a rope into the river (braving the threat of the fish that could reportedly swim up urethras)
The hospitable Quichua people, who painted our faces, demonstrated their pottery, wood-carving and cooking, and gave us some blow-dart lessons
Our penultimate stop was a rest-day in the peaceful thermal springs of Papallacta before making our way back to Quito. A city nestled in a river basin and surrounded by volcanoes, Quito also has a remarkable historic center, one of the first to be certified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Our last day ended with a hike to an active volcano worshipped by the local people, and lunch in an ancient (and apparently haunted) Spanish villa, or Hacienda.
The itinerary was a great mix of nature, urban exploration and cultural immersion. However, the best activities were the unplanned ones – the karaoke night after a day in the hot springs, the after-hours games of Mafia, the spontaneous sunset beers by the pool overlooking the jungle, the adventurous lemon ant and barbecued larva snacks (yes…larva). Above all, we came back with a great group of friends and a sense of community. Random Walk Ecuador was easily best start I could have imagined to the two years ahead!