Gallivanting on the Equator

From April 26th to May 28th I was not in Canada. I decided to plan a rather lengthy adventure to Ecuador. I left early in the morning on April 26th, less than 24 hours after writing my last exam (ever!) of my undergraduate degree. I actually had to ask permission to write my exam a day ahead of time because I was supposed to be on a plane from Toronto to Panama City during that period of time, and from there I would be flying to to Quito, Ecuador. On the way home, I spent the day of May 27th in Panama City because I had a ridiculously long layover. This was actually a good thing because I was able to sleep in a bed and I was able to see the Panama Canal. This might be the one of the only circumstances where a 22-hour layover was actually a welcomed opportunity. It was much like the 13-hour layover I had in Los Angeles when I returned from Fiji 4 years ago. Do I think I have “been to” LA or really even been to Panama City? Yes, because I actually left the airport, but no, not really, because half a day or a day hardly counts. That said, I have been to Venice Beach and the Panama Canal, I wouldn’t have seen either without these lengthy layovers. As for LA, I really want to go back because I want to see Hollywood!

Ok, so what’s the thing with people travelling to far away countries for extended periods of time? I must admit, for the longest time this concept baffled me because I just wasn’t sure how there was any appeal to living out of a single bag for a month or more. Honestly, I discovered that it is pretty awesome. It is fun to be able to travel around and turns out that it’s very easy to live with a minimal amount of possessions with you. I got to Ecuador and realized I could have packed fewer clothes, even though before leaving I was very reluctantly trying to find ways to make more space in my 70 litre backpack. If you are packing for a long trip like this, that’s the biggest thing to learn, I can even make it go like this; + underwear and – shirts/ shorts/ dresses/ bras + a tablet with all of your books = all you need. Of course, you can leave the tablet behind, I just happen to read a lot and am thus madly in love with my tablet and it’s many reading applications.

When I was in Ecuador I was one of the few people who bothered to bring a tablet. I had purchased an iPad mini only about a month prior to my trip when my 5 and a half year old Kobo bit the dust. May my kobo rest in peace, it did it’s job well. I stuck iPad, along with my iPhone, into a large Ziploc bag because I was particularly concerned about water damage while I was travelling in the jungle for 2 weeks of my trip. I didn’t bring my iPad because I was overly attached to Facebook or anything like that; it truly was all about my desire to read a lot. I left my iPod and Mac at home because I didn’t need them, I just downloaded some music onto my iPhone and iPad. And yes, I evidently have a thing for Apple products. Like I said, I enjoy reading. I read the Globe and Mail, lots of magazines and lots of books. During a 2-week trip, it isn’t unusual for me to easily read 2 books during downtime around events and other social engagements, and that does not include the addition of 2-3 magazines I would acquire in the airport. I find it easier to carry a tablet because they are smaller than the physical books I read. A tablet can fit into virtually any purse or day-backpack (AKA a normal backpack, not the camping styled one) and it fits more efficiently than multiple bulky books. If I bring my tablet, I can read multiple books and magazines and never run out of space, unless you are talking about the data space on my tablet, in which case I may run out of memory. A tablet also happens to be a perk in that it made it easier to keep in touch with people. Needless to say, I always tell people about how great tablets are because of how convenient they are when you are travelling. Even at home, I am rarely without my tablet; I regularly pull it out and read if I am standing in line, have some time to kill between classes, and I use it to read at night because I can shut the lights off and get into bed and still be able to see the page. Unlike my lamps, my tablet will just go to sleep/shut off on it’s own after a while if I fall sleep while reading. So, to my fellow readers and travellers; buy a tablet, reap the benefits!

When planning for this sort of long trip, another major thing is laundry. I knew I would have access to laundry here and there so I wasn’t worried about it. However, laundry wasn’t really a perfect solution because I had to plan it around everything we were doing and it cost money and so on. I ended up washing a bunch of stuff in a sink with shampoo to compensate. I had to try not to think very hard on whether or not shampoo was a hygienic option, but I figured if it was good enough to clean my hair, then it would have to be a good enough to wash my clothes. I have a remedy for this sort of issue that I will personally test out in future circumstances where I will be staying in hotels/hostels without a fast laundry service. I would highly recommend getting some sort of travel sized laundry detergent that would be conducive to wash clothing in a sink and then hanging things around the room, just don’t leave it in the way of other peoples space. Hanging stuff up is totally ok, or it seemed ok with the girls who I shared my room with in the hostels, but they were also washing their clothes by hand as well, so maybe that makes a difference.

When I went to Ecuador I had a purpose. I wasn’t just there for kicks.

During the first week I stayed in the capital, Quito, and also stayed in 2 other communities where I met the 2 girls I sponsor through World Vision. One community was on the coast and called Manta. Manta is the 3rd largest city in Ecuador if I am not mistaken with around 200000 to 500000 residents. The second community was called Gauranda. I went to Gauranda first and met Paola, my 16-year-old sponsor child. I met the translator and 2 other Ecuadorian employees of World Vision in Quito and we drove 5 hours through the Andes Mountains to Gauranda, where we stayed overnight. Jonnathan, my translator, was the son of the woman who worked for World Vision, and he spoke English because he spent a year to learn English and his university education, all done in England. The next day we drove to Gauranda and I met Paola and her grandmother. I discovered that I am unusual as a sponsor because, at 22, I was one of the youngest sponsors they have ever had visiting their community. Paola was a very quiet and nice girl. She wanted to give me one of her rabbits to remember her by. It was the sweetest offer! I was touched that someone who had so little wanted to give me a gift like that. But alas, I had to decline this offer because even if I could have found a way to take care of Thumper while running all over the country for the next 3.5 weeks, I highly doubted that the Panamanian officials would allow a rabbit into the country. I knew the Canadian officials definitely wouldn’t be having any of that. So she kept her rabbit and gave me a few eggs that their chickens laid instead. I went to Manta for 2.5 days and met Andrea, my 13 year old namesake. Like Paola, Andrea lived about 45 minutes away from the main city centre on a farm and closer to a different town. Andrea has braces, which made me happy because it really proved to me how much World Vision was helping these families if things like braces could be arranged for! She is a very sweet girl who smiles a lot. Her family made us a delicious meal. I returned to Manta and stayed there for a day before returning to Quito.

I had about a day and a half in Quito before the volunteering portion of my travels began. Late at night one of the girls who was going to be on this volunteering trip with me arrived and a second girl arrived part way through the day. We trekked around the Old City of Quito. I would like to backtrack a little bit here. I had a day in Quito before leaving to meet my sponsor children. I decided I wanted to see the Cathedrals in the Old City. In the massive Basilica near to my hotel I heard 2 guys speaking in English, so I promptly introduced myself and we hung out for the day. We walked up this big hill to the statue of Mary and what appeared to be a giant snake. I found out later that people get mugged and assaulted on this trail all the time, like it is a really big problem, and that we should have gotten a taxi up. Oops! So when the other 2 girls came, I pointed out the statue, which you can see from really far away, but said I wasn’t going up there again because we all wanted to conserve our money and I didn’t want to get us all killed.

There is a part 2 to my Ecuadorian adventures coming up! Have a good day everyone and stay fabulous!

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