Our adventure to the coast was a long one, but I’d do it over again in order to see this side of the country. For the majority of the trip, I would wake up without any idea of what our activities for the next day would be. We switched pace a little bit at the coast to relax more, and then had quite the adventure when leaving the country.
Our first full day at the coast, May 14, we went to the Machalilla National Park. The park is known for its white sand beach, rightfully so. There was a short hiking trail that led to an overlook of the beach and land. I was taken aback by the beautiful view, and very excited to hop in the water after the hike. The water was warm, waves were manageable, and there was ice cream at the end. We finished the evening off with a trip to Puerto Lopez, where we took in the touristy attractions and helped ourselves to many queso empanadas.
May 15 – Our last full day (so we thought) consisted of another trip to a National Park and more hiking. In order to get to Isla de Plata, we had an hour boat ride from Puerto Lopez. The boat barely fit 15 people, making the trip an interesting one. The island’s name means island of silver. There are many claims as to the purpose of the name, but the one that makes the most sense to me is that the ground has splotches of white stone/soil. Under the moonlight, it looks like the island had been painted silver in spots.
Isla de Plata is also known as a mini Galapagos, giving visitors an idea of what the real Galapagos is like. It definitely lived up to that name. About 10 minutes before we arrived, a pod of dolphins swam with the boat. There was so many of them, grown ones and young, that were just an arms reach away from where I was sitting. Then, when were were docking, a few sea turtles greeted us as well. To top it off, once we got to the island, they were releasing a baby sea turtle to the ocean. It was surreal.
The purpose of our hike was to see the famous blue footed booby birds. It happened to be their breeding season so we saw them in pairs, and even the males dancing in order to woo a mate. I couldn’t believe how many we saw- they lined the whole trail. Additionally, we saw frigatebirds. The males blow up big red balloons on their chest, and fly in swarms for days. Again, there was an insane amount of these birds. It was cool to be able to get so close to these animals without them fleeing. Before we left Isla de Plata, we snorkeled for about an hour. It was my first time, so it to take some time to get the hang of it. Once I did, I saw many colorful fish including a blue puffer fish. It was a great way to cool off before the hour ride back. Some of my favorite memories with my new friends have been going to and from destinations, especially when we all just experienced something life-changing. Sure, I was exhausted, but as I looked around the boat, there were smiles and a sense of accomplishment in the air.
May 16th was the beginning of the end. On our way to the Guayaquil airport, we had our last site visit to Hacienda Victoria. Victoria is an international giant in growing cacao naccional. The farm is only 12 years old, but has built itself up to 500 hectares. They graft each of their trees from the original cacao naccional strand, developing consistency in every bean. It was so insightful to learn about how Stephanie, their business coordinator, markets their processing operations as a way to insure quality and personalization for each client. In the picking, fermenting, and drying process, there are hundreds of specifications that can be made that will alter the taste of the bean in a finished bar. Not to mention, the hacienda was absolutely breathtaking. The facility was well-kept, and very professional. At the end of our tour, we tried three cacao liquors which were 100% cacao and arguably the best way to experience the raw taste of a bean.
With our last sight visit concluded, reality hit that in 24 hours I would be back in the US. The experiences I have had and the people I met and grew closely with made Ecuador feel sacred. I didn’t feel right to leave when I hadn’t stopped smiling for the two weeks I was there. Through the challenges, the flexibility, the learning, and communicating, I have found a new version of myself.
Just when we were on the plane to Quito, we learned that our flight from Quito to Atlanta was delayed 7 hours. I guess Ecuador didn’t want us to leave quite so soon- giving us one last challenge, one last adventure. Though the delay made things messy at first, everyone got their flight home straightened out and Delta set us up with a hotel close to the airport. Though we’d only be there for about 5 hours, it was an opportunity to put our luggage down and close our eyes. Because nothing is easy, we still had an adventure getting to the shuttle, and to the hotel, adding one last story to the great Ecuadorian adventure.
All good things must come to an end, and after delays, setbacks, and feeling that I would never leave, I am now home. Plus3 Ecuador is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It has pushed me, inspired me, and gave me perspective on how I life my personal and professional life. Va a Ecuador!
Current Location: Ocala, Florida, USA