Cuenca, Ecuador and I am zooming past it in the back seat of a dusty ’53 pick up. With a cold jugo de mora wedged between overheated legs, I begin to think of home for the first time in 800 miles. As I blow past arbitrary shacks, fields complete with cows, pigs, and the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen, I begin to realize this is what I want. I was free. I didn’t speak the language. I didn’t have any dependable means of communication with anyone I knew. However, right then, I was free and alive, in a truer sense than I ever have been before or since. For the first time in my life, there were no limits. It was the most burningly intense elation I’ve ever felt.
I woke up to the tune of trills, caws, and tweets rising in volume with the sun. I looked out the window and saw a swarm of red, turquoise and yellow loading every tree branch to breaking point. As the birds began to stare back at me, I swung open the window making a loud thud; birds flew past me like emerald bullets. Speaking as the person who was experiencing it, it was transcendentally beautiful.
I have gone so many incredible places in Ecuador. I’ve crammed into a bus for seven hours without air-conditioning all the way to the coast of Esmeraldas. Upon arriving, we held our bags on our laps, while the motorcycle taxi transported us to Playa Almendro. We spent the week watching the sun rise and fall along the horizon, with a “coco batido” in our hands. The last night we dipped our feet into the ocean at dark, listening to the humungous waves and thunder in the distance, the stars resembled the swath of the Milky Way; making me realize how truly small I am. Sufficiently expressed? Hardly- but it’s a remarkable feeling.
I flew over the Pacific Ocean, with Las Islas Encantadas de GalÃ¡pagos as my destination, and the anticipation made my brain tingle. I got nose to nose with tortoises, snorkeled with a shark, sea lions, ancient sea turtles and a school of fish has carried on regular routine right below me. My jaw dropped countless times, leaving my snorkel to be filled with salt water- then choking. As I was swimming in the vast blue, a 150 year old sea turtle drifted by three feet below me, showing off the missing paw that was taken by a shark twenty years ago. That moment took my breathe away. We snorkeled in caves and through shark passageways. Time to leave Santa Cruz; I stood in the shade taking mental photos of the sight, how else could I capture the water that ranged in pallets from melted emeralds to brilliant turquoise? Or palm trees that surrounded me, pure white sand that stretched on for so long it wouldn’t fit in my camera? I knew that it couldn’t do what I saw justice.
Eleven incredible months later, I have grown and evolved more than I have at any other time in my life that I can pin point. As much as you think you might, you can’t truly understand a culture until you’re living and being affected by it. The decision to move to Ecuador was one I made on my own. I decided to pick one place and go there completely. I’ve stayed here long enough to get under Ecuador’s skin, and let it get under mine. Most of all, I’ve realized all the trips it takes to make my life worth living is one.
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