We were supposed to breeze straight through Ecuador, our coattails flapping in the wind behind us. Everyone rambles and raves about Colombia and Peru, but rarely does anyone mention the small country tucked in between, whose charm caught us by surprise.
It only took us 18 hours and 7 different vehicles to cross the border but we finally made it to the city of clouds, Quito. We wandered through plazas, churches and parks, climbing up a small hill (tailed by a policemen) to a beautiful cemetery enshrouded in mist. A bus ride away was the snowcapped Cotopaxi, and though it was closed due to volcanic activity while we were there, we were still able to hike its neighbours. Our local guide was a tiny powerhouse of a woman, who we would struggle to spot through the tall weeds as she sped through, crunching over the gravel path. The cooler climate and grassy marshlands pickled with wild rabbits made it feel like we were lost in the Scottish highlands –not necessarily the first landscape you would associate with a country plopped square on the equator.
Baños was a somersault of whitewater rafting, abseiling, bungee jumping, parasailing; a quick fix for adrenaline junkies straight to the veins. Our rafting instructor was certifiably insane, heckling other boats and forcing us to stand precariously on the cushioned edge of the inflatable raft holding hands and chanting, before throwing us into the whirlpools one by one. Where other boats would swerve to the side of the river, he would take us straight down the middle, at one point capsizing us over a particularly steep rapid where we lost two of our members (they were swiftly picked up by another boat ahead). We unknowingly jumped off the edge of a 45m waterfall, the steam rising off the bottom so thick we didn’t know how far the drop was.
We survived to make it to Montañita, a quaint beachside town with a good swell, it’s narrow streets lined with wooden stalls selling juices during the day and cocktails at night. Brimming with bars and restaurants, it’s easy to see how hopping and popping it’s nightlife can be. However we came soon after Ecuador’s terrible earthquake which hit a lot of its coast, and thus there was a tranquillity atypical to the town; its glaring orange sun going quietly into the night. We found refuge at the backpackers paradise, Kamala, stretching our legs and our time there one more day everyday, stuffing ourselves with cheese toasties and fudge brownies, as we lounged around in hammocks and daybeds for days on end, occasionally breaking out of our stupor for a round of pingpong or beerpong before retiring once more into the pool sipping on a White Russian.
Cuenca was all waterfront and willow trees and fedoras worth thousands of dollars apiece, intricately and hotly melded to the width of your head. It was a mishmash of falling asleep in felt-lined coffins, scoldings by park policemen for being over 12 years and swinging in perfect harmony, and squashing ourselves onto one sofa with steaming cups of milo in hand, binge watching rom-coms and dance movies in the communal tv room which we managed to monopolise every evening, perfectly unaware of the dash and the rush of the days that would follow on a string of buses in Northern Peru.