I lived in Ecuador for six months back in 2008…and I still think about it all the time. I absolutely love that country for so many reasons, and working for International Living has revived that adoration. Ecuador is an extremely popular retirement destination, so it understandably often takes center stage in International Living’s coverage. Reading their many articles brings me back there, so I can’t help but take a walk down memory lane.
I lived in both Quito and Otavalo while in Ecuador. The first being the capital city and an enormous hub of activity, while the second offered a tranquil escape into the forest. Both provided amazing experiences, and there are times I think I’m back in one or the other when a faint scent of eucalyptus catches my attention, or the musical notes from pan pipes grace my ears. Ecuador is a magical place with so much to offer.
Quito is loud, boisterous, and alive. This city was the one to convince me that urban living has an abundance of positive aspects. Prior to living in Quito, I made wild declarations of my hatred for crowded housing and noisy congestion. Quito may have simply inundated my senses to the point that I now consider all other cities to be quiet and tame in comparison. But the spirit of that city is so enticing.
Head downtown and you’ll find yourself surrounded by gorgeous colonial architecture and history in this UNESCO World Heritage site.
Take the Teleferico cable car up the side of the mountain to view the entirety of the city of Quito below; a city so long and narrow you could run an entire marathon simply heading the same direction, with room to spare.
The gardens and parks dotting the cityscape offer a reprieve from the otherwise chaotic hubbub of traffic and tourists, businesses and bars. You can find anything in this city, including yourself.
I distinctly remember my first bus ride to Otavalo: I sat on the right-hand side and dozed as we left Quito. It wasn’t long before I opened my eyes to realize there was nothing but the dirty window between me and a drop of thousands of feet down to the bottom of the Andes.
While that first trip may have caused more than a few heart palpitations, I quickly grew accustomed to the absurdly close driving encounters of bus travel. And every time I felt myself cursing the journey and wishing I’d never ventured out of the city, I would look around and realize that the entire country was spectacular and well worth the harrowing bus rides. Otavalo is no exception.
I lived in a hotel in both Quito and Otavalo, called La Casa Sol. The owners, Marcos and Chinita, are simply the most wonderful people.
In Otavalo, they built their hacienda into the hillside overlooking the town below, just next to the Peguche waterfall. Every eucalyptus tree that was cut to make room for the hotel was in turn used to build each room with love and care.
The views were stunning, the scent of the surrounding eucalyptus forest was intoxicating, and the people…the people of this area are some of the most amazing individuals I have ever met.
I worked with the hotel staff in Otavalo to teach them English, and in turn they taught me about life. I tried cuy (guinea pig) during a festival celebration, I attended a family member’s wedding on a whim, and I learned Quichua words and phrases. “Kayakama, mashi,” I would tell the night watchmen, Javier and Alberto, every night as I headed to bed. “See you tomorrow, friend.”
The market in Otavalo is overflowing with wares and handicrafts. While a general flea market takes over part of the area on weekends, the handicraft and food stalls are the true draws as you peruse paintings and hand-stitched shirts; hammocks and hats and jewelry galore; fresh snacks and juices and meals to fill your belly and your soul.
I spent endless hours in that market, wandering each aisle and greeting every vendor along the way. The senses are overwhelmed in a place like Otavalo, but in a gentle way that simply makes you feel more alive.
Of course, at the time while I was living in Ecuador, there were days when I felt annoyed or frustrated by local systems or culture. Such is the life of an expat. Not every day is perfect and not every experience is ideal.
There were days I hated the country (probably the day I realized I’d messed up my visa and had to pay a fine…or the day I burned myself so badly after only being on the beach for 30 minutes).
But the vast majority of the days I spent in Ecuador were wonderfully lovely. I enjoyed my time so much there and writing this has brought on a whole new wave of memories.
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