When I began this journey, I had a very rough itinerary in mind. In fact, my preferred way to travel is to leave things a bit open ended, to slow down and to allow myself to test the waters in a place before I commit to more than a few days there. There is so much world to see that I try not to waste time by hanging around in a place if I’m not enjoying it.
An example of this from my last trip in 2008 was Vang Vieng in Laos. Although I was traveling with Jess at that time, I had set off to explore Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam solo before meeting up with her again. Everyone says Vang Vieng is beautiful and it was, with beautiful karst peaks jutting out of the still river water. I was genuinely excited for the beauty of the place as well as some time to relax.
When I got to town, it was a different story. I found a place to stay for the night and set off in search of something to eat. At restaurant after restaurant, the menu included “happy” pizzas (made with “special” mushrooms) or shakes, and backpackers lounged about, tripping out, watching loud reruns of Friends on the ubiquitous televisions overhead. I had planned on staying a few days, but checked out as early as I could the next morning. Not my scene.
So far here in Ecuador, the opposite has been true. While Kim and I kept our itinerary a bit flexible in Colombia, now that I’m truly on my own I’ve had the luxury of being able to embrace serendipity and to linger here in Quito, which I’ve come to love. I had planned to stay for a few weeks, studying Spanish, but that changed when I decided to try learning on my own instead. I’m by no means fluent (or even conversational, really) but it’s worked out just fine.
The people that I’ve met here have also been a big part of why I stayed. My very first weekend, I was able to tag along with a new friend of a friend of a friend – Andres and his friend Carter to the jungle in Tena and on food adventures to Misuahualli to try chontocuro and nearby Sangolqui for hornado. They even invited me to spend Thanksgiving with the family, which was lovely.
I’ve also had a chance to get to know my guide from my Avenue of the Volcanoes tour a bit better. Alfonso grew up in Quito and has been helping me to check off just about everything on my list of “what to eat in Ecuador” as well as giving me practice in Spanish. He also showed me how to get to Banos where I got to try ziplining for the first time and to beautiful Lake Quilotoa. Moments like these have made my time in Quito so enjoyable that it’s been tough to want to leave.
As a result, I’ve gotten quite comfortable here. I found an inexpensive hotel with a great location in Centro Historico, where I’m literally steps from some of the most historic buildings in the old city center. There’s always something going on in the public plazas nearby, so I’ve never felt unsafe, even alone. I have enjoyed spending days getting to know the shopkeepers, restaurants and cafes in the vicinity and I’ve found a couple of coffee shops to work at where the staff greet me by name and know my regular order.
But all good things must eventually come to an end, right?
It’s quite possible that if I don’t drag myself away now, I may never leave. So this week I’ll be heading south towards Peru, stopping en route in Cuenca and Loja. Staying on longer here in Quito means I have a bit less time than I’d planned before my next flight, which is from Cusco to La Paz, Bolivia at the beginning of January. Beyond that, I’ve got nothing solid planned until we leave for South Africa in early March, so who knows where serendipity may bring me by then?
I guess that’s the beauty of being flexible and part of why I love solo travel so much. Also, I know Quito will still be here should I ever decide to come back. Part of the reason I’d wanted to travel in the first place was that I’ve always aspired to live abroad, someday. So coming to South America was my way of checking out a corner of this big, wide world in hopes I might someday find a place to park this restless soul of mine for a bit.
To be continued…