We arrived in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, on 8/31/2018. The city of 2.5 million sits at 9350 feet above sea level so you need to give yourself a little time to get used to the elevation. Some visitors experience altitude sickness so it’s best to take it easy and notice what’s going on with your body after you arrive. I had no symptoms, felt fine and started jogging again on our 3rd day there.
We’re staying next to Parque La Carolina. It’s a huge park with tons of trees with all kinds of activities going on. There’s a really nice skateboard park, BMX dirt track, botanical garden, running and walking paths, outdoor fitness areas, and dozens of other things to do and see. We filmed some Yoga classes in the park too.
As we wrap up our year-long adventure we decided to spend the final 2 months here in Ecuador. The more we travel the more we realize that we prefer to hang out in an area and get to know the city and it’s people. The plan was to spend a week or so in Quito then head south to Loja for 3 weeks or so, then back to Quito for a few weeks before returning home. Yes, after almost a year on the road it’s getting to be that time where we head back to “reality?”
There is so much to do in Ecuador that you could visit many, many times and see a different part of the country and do completely different things. Ecuador has a lot of active and inactive volcanoes, a huge coastline, the Galapagos islands, an Amazonian jungle, mountains, lakes, rivers, and more. This trip we would focus on hiking and volcanoes and of course relaxing.
Ecuador is an easy place to be. They drive on the correct side of the road like we do in the US. They have the same electrical system as the US – no adapters needed! They use the same currency as the US – the US dollar. It’s not crowded. The weather is great and consistent since they’re on the Equator (Ecuador) there is very little variation in the seasons and sunrise and sunsets. You can hop on a bus for just a dollar or 2 and travel a few cities in any direction pretty easily.
But it’s not perfect – no place is. In my opinion the air quality in Quito is slowly moving in the wrong direction as is the water quality in the rivers in Loja. Sanitation and clean drinking water has always been a problem in Latin America – read more here. Since we felt more comfortable in Ecuador with all the familiarities, we of course let our guard down and paid the price, spending a few days under the weather and close to the bathroom. A short walk to the pharmacy where we got a short course of antibiotics and probiotic pills, and we up and running again.
When we arrived in Loja we settled in to a small 1 BR apartment hosted by a wonderful, friendly family. There was a path along the river about 1 block away, where we could walk into town in a bout 15 minutes. It was nice but there was that faint smell of sewage in the small river. It was no means as bag as some of the things we experienced in Asia but if it’s not nipped in the bud now it will not get any better.
Loja is currently what I would call an undiscovered destination in Ecuador. It’s not really a tourist destination like lots of places here, nor is it on the radar of retirees from the US – well not until now. Our next door neighbors in Loja have just arrived from Oregon and are retiring and settling here. They did their homework online and picked Loja – instead of the usual places like Cuenca or Vilcabamba. They spent the past few weeks searching for apartment. Example – a really nice 3 bedroom 3 bath apartment in Loja, including gas and electric, is $500 a month with a proper supermarket in walking distance. Ecuador has a retirement visa for US citizens that can be a challenge to obtain, but once you get it you can also qualify for health insurance here. I’m not sure what the quality of healthcare is but I’m on it. Did I mention it’s a 6.5 hour non-stop flight from NYC and only a 1 hour time zone difference?
There is some great hiking near Loja. We took the bus to Vilcabamba twice and did some hikes along the river and also up into the mountains near Rumi Wilco Eco Park. The landscape is fascinating. Mountains as far as the eye can see in all directions. All kinds of weird and wonderful plants, birds and animals. Another time we hiked up to 11500 feet in Podocarpus National Park. It was a 5KM loop that took us 4-5 hours through fog, rain, and clouds, along a ridge line. It was one of the most memorable hikes ever.
Every Thursday night from 8-10 there is a live music cultural event in downtown Loja. We attended a few weeks and saw singers, dancers, rock bands, and traditional Ecuadorian performances. Every Thursday and it’s free. Side note – the sound system was massive and super high quality.
Back in Quito we ventured out on a day trip to Cotopaxi National Park. Here lies a volcano at 19,347 feet. We hiked to the first Refugio (think AMC hut) at 16,000 feet. The elevation had its effects but not enough to spoil the trip. We hung out in the hut and had hot chocolate and spilt a snickers bar between three of us. From the hut you can attempt a summit trip which leaves at midnight and takes 6 hours up and 4 hours back. Maybe another time 🙂
We plan to wrap up our adventure over the next few weeks and head back to NH. I’m still processing everything I’ve experienced over the past year, what I’ve learned and how it has affected me. I’m also trying to remain present and see what the transition back to NH will be like. Stay tuned.