I was in Ecuador for the month of February, backpacking with my uncle. He went to learn Spanish, and since I am fluent I decided to tag along. We love hiking and outdoor adventure so climbing mountains was one of our top priorities. We started out in Quito, Ecuador’s capital, for a few days before heading to Quilotoa to trek the Quilotoa Loop trails, which include a beautiful lagoon within a crater. The entire loop takes about 4 days, with lengthy bus rides on each end of the trek to get to the trails. After the loop, we headed south and explored cities like Baños with its mountains, Rio Bamba with its volcano Chimborazo, and then we spent a week in Cuenca. While my uncle took Spanish classes and I explored art galleries, coffee shops, book stores, and yoga studios. My uncle is a yoga instructor and I am a practicing yogi myself, so throughout our entire trip we tried out a bunch of yoga studios and the different classes/types of yoga/styles they offered. Cuenca, we decided, had the best yoga. Then we headed west to Las Cajas National Park for more hiking and thermal baths/hot springs before making our way to the coast. Here we stayed in Puerto Lopez, and lounged on the beaches of Montañita before taking an hour boat ride to Isla de la Plata, a small island sometimes referred to as “mini Galapagos.” We went snorkeling (a first for me) and befriended blue-footed ducks that inhabit the island. We headed back inland towards Quito, making a final stop in Mindo to explore its famous waterfalls.
Quilotoa: The crater rim was one of the hardest climbs I’ve ever done. At 4,200 meters in altitude I had my first-ever struggle with altitude sickness: intense pressure headaches and constant nausea. I was ill for about three days from it, making me climb at my slowest pace yet. But fortunately I was able to take my time, but I really struggled with accepting that I just could not go as fast as I am accustomed to climbing. Generally I feel very in tune with my body; I’m often sure I know what my body is trying to tell me, what needs haven’t been met and what I need to do to always treat my body with care. My body is my armor. I am so grateful to be in general good health, that allows me to travel and attempt these climbs. So I had to keep reminding myself of this gratitude while facing the challenge of feeling insufficient because I couldn’t keep up. Before leaving for Ecuador, I was trying to participate in at least one class a day at CycleYou to help prepare my body as much as possible. I did several cycling classes a week to help me with cardio training, and to develop a positive dialogue with myself that kept my determination strong even as I was ready to quit. I took yoga classes to work on my breathing and continue that dialogue with myself in a different setting. I took barre and TRX classes that worked my micro-muscles and deep tissue to get my body accustomed to all types of activity and improve my balance. And I dabbled with boxing classes to give my arms and core extra attention. All of this was in an attempt to get myself as strong and prepared as I could for my trip, where I knew I would be working muscles of all sizes and challenging all parts of my body. But altitude sickness is not a result of lack of fitness or preparation. It affects everyone differently and at different altitudes, regardless of other health factors. Needless to say, the thinner air and lower oxygen levels did not care how strong I was or how many exercise classes I’d taken beforehand. It decided to kick my ass anyway. But there was no use in getting frustrated with myself or being grumpy about not feeling my best. I was in a beautiful place, on an amazing adventure, and I wasn’t going to let anything stop me from enjoying every ounce of it. So I took breaks from climbing as I needed them, and I meditated. I visualized my pain and imagined it leaving my body in various ways like melting from my skin, peeling from my face, or evaporating from my stomach. Though I hadn’t had much experience with meditation before this trip, I am a firm believer in mind-over-matter. So I focused all of my mental energy and power on visualizing that pain and letting it go. It was extremely difficult for me to focus, and it took a lot of patience for me to keep it up. But each moment that I paid attention, even though it only lasted a moment, I felt no pain. So one moment at a time, I focused on this exercise until finally I started feeling better. After that, a whole new sense of accomplishment carried me through the remainder of the climbs. I wasn’t miraculously recovered, but the self-love that I had given myself, being gentle with my body and careful with my emotions, was such a gift. Probably the most challenging trek I’ve ever hiked. Definitely the most peaceful I’ve ever felt. Everything I gained on a personal level was extremely rewarding.
After the climbs we took a break from the elevation and hiked down to the lagoon and kayaked across the water.
Then we climbed some more.
In Baños we went canyoning, which is basically just rappelling down waterfalls backwards. And then I jumped off a bridge, tied to a bungee chord, free-falling a few hundred feet to the water below.
Las Cajas Parque Nacional: