A few random thoughts on my trip. First. I was surprised by the number of single women traveling either by themselves or with another woman. I saw more women with backpacks then I did single men. Most of them were European and most were in their 20’s or early 30’s. On my Galapagos cruise there were five single women: two in their 20’s, 2 in their late 30’s and one about 60. The older lady didn’t fit the mold of a backpacker. When she was off the boat, she stayed in more luxurious hotels according to what she said.
I visited with a number of others at various hostels I stayed in. All of them indicated they had not had any trouble but they used their common sense and didn’t venture out much at night.
That leads me to #2. Most of the travelers I encounter were from Europe. The owner of the hostel I stayed at in Otavalo was from Cleveland and had come to Ecuador in the early 80’s with the Peace Corps. He married an Ecuadorian woman and after his Peace Corps service was up they returned to Cleveland. In 1998, they moved back to Ecuador and bought the hostel. He told me that he sees many more Europeans than North Americans.
His feeling is that most American young people come out of college and are anxious to get a job and start a career. They are anxious to buy a house, get married and start a family and have different priorities than the Europeans. That may be part of it but Europeans that are working get more time off than Americans. Most twentysomethings in the US don’t get 4-6 weeks annual vacations as they do in Europe. Most employees at American companies aren’t allowed to take more than two weeks at a time even if they’ve been with a company long enough to get 4 or 5 weeks of vacation each year. There were two couples on my cruise that were in their 20’s and were in the process of taking a one year trip. Even traveling “on the cheap” you need money to do that.
Number 3. Most older Americans I met were traveling with a group. I never encountered them in hostels or on the local buses. They spent more on a more luxurious cruise, better hotels and chartered buses. Most of the other Americans I met that were close to my age or older, I met at the airport with their group leader getting their boarding passes and taking them through check-in. I met two ladies who had booked their cruise more than a year in advance. One of the ladies told me their trip cost each of them $8,000 but that included a night in Quito in a hotel. Whoopee! I spent just about half that and was gone for 4 and a half weeks. I saw the same wildlife and snorkeled in the same ocean. The food I ate and the bed I slept in probably wasn’t quite as nice but…
Number 4. I never felt threatened either on the local transportation or on the street. I was warned by numerous people, including the police in Quito, to wear my backpack on the front and not to show off my more expensive cameras. And I didn’t. I used a point-n-shoot in Quito but everywhere else I used my bigger Canons without fear. I didn’t go out much or very far at night. I stayed pretty close to the hostels.
Speaking of the buses, I’ve heard the local buses sometimes referred to as “chicken” buses because you could look back four rows and expect there’d be someone with a basket on her lap and a couple of chickens in it. I never saw that. I did see one lady get off the bus and when she got her parcel from the baggage compartment, it had two chickens in it that she had bought or traded for at the animal market.
The buses was also a source of captive market for local vendors. During a 2 hour bus ride you could expect at least three vendors to board the bus and offer chips, ice cream, powder for coca juice or, in one instance, a cure for colon discomfort. At least that’s what I thought the package said. My Spanish isn’t very good, though. The vendor would work the aisle for a mile or two and then exit, cross the road and ride the bus coming from the other direction back to his original starting point and do it all over again. I had some nuts and some ice cream but stayed away from the fritada…fried pork and hominy in a small plastic bag.
I visited with a lot of nice people. Most of the travelers I talked with were from Germany, the UK, a few from Sweden and the Netherlands and a couple of Swiss. Most of them spoke pretty good English. We had some Canadians, Swiss, Australians, Germans and two other North Americans from Michigan on the cruise. I met a group of 19 college students and their professor from Oklahoma State on an airplane and some high school students from California who were planting trees while I was in Mindo.
Basically, I think I planned well for this trip. I had debated whether to take a backpack or a wheeled suitcase. I took the wheeled suitcase and while I felt like I was cheating and not a true backpacker, which I wasn’t, I did like carrying just my 25 lb camera backpack and pulling my suitcase. A couple of times I had to carry the suitcase but generally not very far. Half of my suitcase had additional camera gear since I needed it for my tripod and my bigger lens. I was able to get my laundry done about once a week which was fine. Not once did I have to beat it on a rock by the side of a stream although I’m not sure one of my laundries may have done it that way.
I wouldn’t have been upset if I’d had a little more luxury but I prefer traveling more often and to more places and for me that means doing it the way I do.
I was fortunate to see some incredible wildlife and birds in the Galapagos and in the rainforest. I didn’t see everything and someone is going to say, “You didn’t go to such and such? You missed the most important place in Ecuador.” I saw what I wanted to see. I’m glad I went and I’m glad I’m back home.
I hope you’d enjoyed my journey and my photographs. Any suggestions you have that would make future editions better would be appreciated.