Road Tripping Ecuador
Updated: Mar 2, 2019
This past January, when my hometown of Montreal was suffering through the unbelievably spine shattering cold of a polar vortex, my wife and I booked two weeks off to go and explore Ecuador. Because we're sadists, we rented a vehicle so we could road-trip it. Here is what I learned on this trip.
Rent An Appropriate Vehicle (A Fucking 4x4): I was given a complete shit-box two-wheel drive Hyundai hatchback as the vehicle for our excursion. For the most part, it was a sufficient vehicle for travel over the more built-up roads of Ecuador (of which there are many). There are, however, quite a few anus clenching roads that take you through some rough patches of mountains within the interior of Ecuador. We happened upon a few such roads due to our GPS being sadistic as all get out. Tiny, one lane switchbacks that required all four independently functioning tires were extremely difficult to navigate. The middle of the road was too high up for our car to make the drive in the wheel ruts, so, we had to keep one tire on the median while the other wheel had to either be scraping the side of the mountain or turning up dirt a few inches from the cliff side and sudden death. Our average speed was 3.1 mph and the only reason our car didn't get stuck was because we were going downhill and the momentum did the majority of the work for us.
Learn To Drive: You ain't in your home country anymore. You're now faced with the burden of white-knuckling it through sporadic oncoming traffic, roads with tire killing potholes appearing outta nowhere, and essentially people thinking that God put only them on the road to get from point a to point b, your cause be damned. All this to say, you need to learn to drive in the local climate; essentially, become a local. I come from Canada. We have strict rules and an even stricter police force that loves to enforce them. Ecuador does have cop stops and an abundance of traffic wardens (they've made a concentrated effort to drastically reduce the number of road deaths per year), but they're going to let traffic go if you're not being too crazy. My golden rule for dealing with other drivers is to follow through on the action you want to take (as long as it is relatively safe). Don't wait for the perfect opportunity to nudge out into traffic, just go. The other drivers will respect your wishes and let you in. But remember, that respect is a two-way street. You don't get to act like a person possessed then yell “asshole” at everyone who breaks one of your country’s road rules. Be polite, but be aggressive.
You Cease To Exist: People in Ecuador are friendly, but they’re not ‘go out of their way to talk to you’ friendly. This country does not revolve around tourism (outside of the Galapagos Islands). They're fine without your money and conversation. You cannot come to this place and expect to be pampered. You should, instead, come to this place and expect them to speak rapid-fire Spanish at you despite your complete failing of the language in the second grade. It's an excellent country to lose yourself in.
Your Boots Are Made For Walking: Get yourself a fantastic pair of hiking boots. They'll save your life. The Northern tip of the Andes runs through the interior of the country, and it is here, more so than any place, where you'll experience the somber, sober beauty of Ecuador. We stayed two nights in a tiny village near Sigchos, a hundred or more kilometers south of Quito. Peppered by mountain tops, we went hiking up tiny goat trails, past indigenous houses and gardens to get a view from the top of the world. These trails are not made for tourists. Instead, they're made for goats and they twist up and around the mountains with nary a space for wrong footing, lest you’re inviting death for a quick yet eternal visit. You’re never more than a few foot widths away from a sharp plummet down the side with each step. Still, the views are more than worth it if you can brave the vertigo and thin air.
The Amazon Delivers: The Amazon Jungle is host to all sorts of incredible critters and malicious mosquitoes. The first thing you should do upon learning you’re going to travel in Ecuador is to get your shots and pills. Malaria is no joke, so ensure you take your pills properly and get your shots for Yellow Fever (the top two infectious dangers in the Amazon). If given the opportunity to take a hike through the rain forest, I highly recommend it, but ensure you have a guide. We stayed with the Sinchi Warmi tribe on the edges of the Amazon, and a very knowledgeable gentleman took us on a three-hour hike through the heart of the forest that surrounds them. There, we got to eat ants and grubs and listen to all manner of birds and insects announcing our arrival and departure through their living spaces. I strongly urge, if you make your way to Ecuador, to get to the Amazon as it may be on its way out due to deforestation. If my wife can brave the spiders that will kill you with one bite, the giant cockroaches that roam your cabin walls after sundown, or the pounding humidity then so can you.
Money Don't Grow On Trees: Before leaving the airport, I took out $270 American and figured that would get me through the bulk of my trip if I wanted to buy some sweet reminders or with hitting up a bar or two. I thought my credit card would carry the heavy lifting, especially in the cities, when it came to hotels/hostels/gas/food. Oh, dear heart, how wrong I was. Cash is king. Cash! Is! King! Stock up on American dollars and use them wisely because there are not a lot of ATMs outside of the major cities, and even then they're few and far between. The biggest shocker was the hotels not taking cards, or their machines just plain fucking up and rejecting our card. Maybe more research could have alleviated this problem, but fuck that. Sometimes you gotta fly by the seat of your pants. As for prices, everything is pretty reasonable. A giant bottle of beer (600ml) will run you between two and five bucks, and you can get a decent scoff for less than ten if you know where to look. Speaking of which…
Appetite For Destruction: The food in Ecuador, while not necessarily the fanciest that'll fill your palate, is hearty, fulfilling and cheap. That being said, while the wife and I didn't venture out to the most luxurious nor decadent places, we did eat like kings. We spent the majority of our food budget (when meals weren’t provided by our hostels/hotels) at local hole-in-the-wall places either in the towns we were close to, or tiny shacks along the roads we traversed. Those were some of the best meals I've ever eaten in my life. All the produce was fresh, coming from the surrounding farms. The meat had a flavour that you'd be hard pressed to find in any major city. It tasted natural and delightful. A lot of these places had built-in brick and charcoal grills, sending smoke billowing out into the feeding area; the grills are in the eating area and no matter the size of the fume hood will keep those delicious, delectable vapors from invading and tantalizing your senses.
There Galapa-gos your wallet: For the final couple of days of our trip, we went to The Galapagos Islands. Man, what a beautiful, colorful, extravagant place. That being said, I hope you have a metric shit ton of cash on hand because, my lord, this place is expensive. First off, you need to get a permit/visa to even get on the island (we got ours at the airport once we arrived because we were unaware, and thank god it's a painless process). The permit/visa costs you $20 a person. Once you have your arrival/exit permit/visa, then you have to bust out another $100 per person as park fees. That's your permit to enter the protected islands. Once that's done, you gotta shell out another $5 per person to grab the bus from the airport to the ferry so you can reach the largest island. The ferry costs one stone-cold buck. Once off the boat, I hope you saved a scrumptious $25 to grab a taxi into Puerto Ayora (the main town). I'll say this though, it is worth it every dollar. Sure the islands themselves are expensive to be on (food and drink costs much more than the mainland), but it's worth it, if only to see the flora and fauna that populates the islands.
Well folks, that's it. I hope any potential travelers to Ecuador can learn a little from my experiences and have themselves a ball. This is a place you should get your ass to before it picks up too much with the tourism.