“It’s great that you loved Ecuador.
“Lots of people I know found Ecuador to be the most disappointing country here.
“Well, not disappointing. But certainly not their favourite.”
Someone said that to me recently and I nearly choked on my coconut.
(Probably because coconut is so foul, I actually can’t stand the stuff, I have no idea why I continue to eat it)
Anyway, Ecuador. A disappointment? I don’t think so.
After Anna and I left Galapagos (Anna being a good friend of mine who joined me for a holiday) we went straight to the rainforest near Tena, on the mainland.
It was a culture shock for me after the islands, but it was fantastic – exactly the humidity you would expect and the heady smell of that dense, green, tropical vegetation.
We watched people panning for gold on the riverbanks as we sailed past in our canoe and walked into the jungle for several hours, learning about all of the different plants.
Call it geeky, but I love finding out about all the medicinal uses of the plants because it shows that there is always an alternative to the methods we know so well.
Our guide, Octavio, showed us plants that could be used as antiseptic and others ideal for bandages.
We learned that one cure for a parasite was to smother him and wait until the little blighter until he comes up for air, before yanking him out of your skin.
I’m not sure that beats an operation, but there you go.
We saw baby tarantulas nestled in banana leaves and went to an indigenous village to buy handicrafts.
Then I was bitten on the tongue by an ant.
The first time Octavio handed me the ant to ‘sample’ he promised it would taste like lemons.
I swallowed it so fast it tasted like nothing at all.
The second time I held the ant on my tongue in a valiant attempt to savour the ‘lemon’ taste.
It bit me.
Now, considering I have written previously about how much I have come to trust Ecuadorians…
I didn’t realise that would literally come back to bite me.
A few days later we climbed the volcano, Cotopaxi.
It was like death for me.
Despite being more than six feet tall, it turns out I cannot cope with altitude. At all.
I struggled to the edge of the glacier – 4,000m+ I believe – and the view was reasonable enough.
But when your calves are burning, your lungs are trying to cease functioning and your heart is beating at a hundred miles per hour, nothing looks too pretty.
I was glad to spend a few days in Quito recovering afterwards, shopping with friends and having a manicure (yes, I am a girl) before heading to the coast with Pippa.
Montanita was fun – just your typical laid back surfer town, all palm leaves and friendship bracelets and cocktail ‘happy hours’ that last all day.
But it’s all about who you meet.
The first night we bumped into some Colombian actors, who we had met on the bus into town.
They took us to a party on the beach and tried in vain to teach me some classic Colombian dance moves.
The next night we ended up in a party in the mountains with an entirely different crowd, where I managed to bump into a couple from my home town. It’s a small world.
After Montanita, we decided to sample the full diversity of Ecuador (please remember that for some people, this country could be considered a disappointment)
Pippa and I hopped on a bus to Quilatoa, mostly famous for the beauty of its enormous volcanic lake.
We only meant to go for the day so when we stepped off the bus, at 2pm, we asked when the next bus was leaving.
“Now or at 4am,” was the reply.
Fortunately, we knew anything could happen – buses there are infrequent to say the least – so we had stuffed a few extra clothes in our rucksacs.
Minutes later a local woman was leading us to a little lodge where we paid the equivalent of five pounds for a three course meal, a night’s stay and breakfast.
The afternoon was spent climbing down to the lagoon, a stunning sight with its blue and green waters, ringed by hulking grey volcanoes and the blue sky beyond.
But of course, I had to die from altitude sickness. Again.
While I enjoyed the brisk climb down to the water’s edge, the way back to the top was accompanied by the usual shortness of breath, rapid heart rate and muscle pain.
I’ve decided I will climb Machu Picchu in Peru (how could anyone miss that?) and then I will remain as close to sea level as possible for the rest of my life.
I knew Galapagos suited me for a reason.
But that is enough complaining.
We spent a hilarious night at the lodge with some other British travellers – enjoying a huge meal followed by card games and insane amounts of laughter I can either blame on the altitude or our shared sense of the ridiculous.
Probably the latter.
Pippa and I were up at 4am for the bus, which never came.
We got up again at 7am. For a bus. It never came.
Eventually we realised it was Saturday and no buses were going to come to the village.
Instead, we jumped on the back of a farm truck going to the nearest market town.
There we managed to catch a bus to another town, Latacanga and from there, another bus back to Quito which was fortunate considering I had a flight to Colombia the next morning.
And people dare to say Ecuador is a disappointment!