One of the things on my bucket list is to visit all seven continents. Another is to tour the Amazon River. So when one of my friends found a deal to visit Ecuador and spend a few days on the Amazon, I jumped right in. There were four of us going and we were coming from different places – California, Minnesota, and Ohio. We all met in Miami for our flight to Quito. There’s a special excitement that comes with waiting for a flight that has a loved one on it. I arrived in Miami first and patiently waited for Julie, Matt, and Mike to arrive. The excitement of going to Ecuador and seeing each other for the first time in months was consuming. We all met by a restaurant near our departing gate for a quick bite and then we boarded our direct flight to Quito, Ecuador.
It was a relatively short flight from Miami, about three hours. But we had all been traveling for so long that we were pretty exhausted by the time we cleared customs, found our touring company, and took the hour-long bus ride to our hotel in Quito. We agreed that we would take a quick nap then explore the town a bit before turning in for the night.
When we woke up about an hour after getting to the hotel, Julie was still exhausted and decided to stay in. Matt, Mike, and I were excited to see the city and went out to get a quick supper and see what was nearby. We walked for a few blocks and finally settled on a local restaurant nearby that had a nice patio. We ordered our food and a few margaritas. The sun was setting on the city and it was a beautiful place to just sit and catch up. Again, we hadn’t seen each other in a few months, so we were just enjoying the company and conversation.
We were getting ready to leave when a middle-aged man came up to us and asked where we were from. We explained that we were from all over the United States and we started a very interesting conversation with him. He talked about his business as an attorney in Ecuador, his education in Berkeley, CA, and the lifestyle living in Ecuador. He was obviously very educated, wealthy, and had a ton of stories. Before we knew it, he had bought us several rounds of drinks and the conversations were getting more and more interesting.
One of the things we wanted to try in Ecuador was ayahuasca, a drink common in the northern parts of South America. The drink is brewed from a plant and is known to cause hallucinations and spiritual revelations. I have struggled with my own spiritual health since I was young girl, always questioning everything in life, so I knew I just had to try this. We asked Gabo about the drink. He told us, “You will get very sick, maybe for days. You will throw up for hours. Even just a little drop will make you very, very sick. You will have no revelation because you will want to die. Do not try it!” We took his advice. It wasn’t worth ruining our trip, so we took this off the list of things to do, me of course still wondering what sort of wisdom I could have gained.
It was late and the bar was getting ready to close. Gabo bought us one more round and was getting ready to leave when a black Ford pickup truck squealed up to the restaurant in a hurry. We later found out that Fords are a very rare vehicle in Ecuador as they are imported from the USA and are extremely expensive, usually around $40k or more for a small car. In the passenger seat was a young, very attractive woman, probably 20 years younger than Gabo. Gabo made a quick call on his cell phone, speaking sternly and aggressively in Spanish. He ended the call abruptly; we thanked him for the conversation and exchanged contact information. The driver of the truck, who appeared to also be a personal bodyguard, stood by the truck and waited patiently for Gabo to pay his bill. Moments later they screeched off in a hurry and we were left alone on the patio of a closing restaurant, no one else on the streets. We had such a good time that we hadn’t realized it was nearly 2 am.
Unsure about the safety in Quito, and given that Gabo had a security guard escort him and his “lady” home, we hurried back to our hotel, the whole time just laughing and having a great time. We learned so much from Gabo and were excited about the next ten days in Ecuador. Our bus was departing at 8 am the next morning, so we went straight to bed.
The alarm went off piercingly strong a few short hours later. “Wow, I had a few too many drinks last night,” was all my head could scream at me. I drank some water and took a hot shower. I would have to suck this hangover up. And it wasn’t a problem at all! I was in Ecuador, and getting ready to see the Andes Mountains!
We boarded the bus, which was soon filled with about 20 people, some traveling together, some traveling alone, but all looking for adventure. Our tour guide, Antonio, introduced himself and our bus driver, Carlos. We would become good friends with both of them. Antonio talked about our day and what we would see in the Andres Mountains and the Mindo Cloud Forest.
We drove for about two hours when we stopped alongside the road at a small building that only had restrooms in it. The group all used the facilities and proceeded to gather around Antonio. We were getting ready for a hike through an Ecuadorian Rain Forest. Now the tour that we booked had warned us that much of it was not handicapped accessible and they highly advised against me going. But I know my limitations and I was not about to miss anything on this trip…and my friends weren’t either!
We approached the path and thought right away that this wasn’t going to be a problem. It was a dirt path with just a few rocks every now and then. No problem! As we walked deeper into the trees, we came upon a building that had information on the rain forest, similar to a visitor’s center that The States would have. There were a few wooden and stone steps going up which were wet from the moist air and rain – after all it is called a rain forest! Matt carefully pulled me up while a few others stood in front of me to make sure he didn’t slip. It went graceful and we thought the worst was over.
We had no idea! About ten more minutes into the walk and the path started to narrow, become steeper, and have more obstacles such as big rocks and tree roots sticking up. I hopped on Matt’s back thinking it would just be for a few minutes until the path cleared up. We continued to climb as the terrain got rougher and rougher. Antonio informed us that it was not going to get better and it might be a good idea for me to just stop where I was and wait for the group to come back. I was okay with this. Matt was not. He didn’t put me down and told me it would be fine. We were determined to get to the end.
Mike walked next to Matt, with me on his back, helping to balance us and make sure Matt didn’t fall on the wet and slippery path. Julie followed behind carrying the collapsed wheelchair. Twenty minutes later, after two narrow wooden and rope bridges, several stone and dirt steps, lots of panting, a few hunched over moments to get underneath hanging limbs and branches, and lots of gasping thinking I was about to fall off the side of a steep cliff into a river covered with bugs and moss, we reached a beautiful waterfall. Julie unfolded my wheelchair and Matt squatted down so I could sit in my chair. He rubbed his hip bones which had the majority of my weight resting on them and stretched his knees which had taken quite the toll bending up and down for 30 minutes. He quickly asked for some water, took a big swig, and then looked at me while pulling his shirt away from his back. We were both soaking wet, covered in sweat, my front side and his back side. And that’s the day we shared each other’s sweat.
We stayed at the waterfall and enjoyed the serenity for about 30 minutes. Partially because it was beautiful and serene, but mostly because we knew we had to make the same hike back to the bus. What goes up must go down…