(*Scroll to bottom to just see the video*) It happened: my parents boarded a plane on Christmas morning and flew to Quito, Ecuador. For my dad, this was his first trip abroad. For my mom, her first to South America. I’d been waiting for this day for oh, 2+ years. When I first moved abroad to volunteer with WorldTeach in September of 2015, my parents told me that because I was gone less than a year, they would not visit. It was only fair, considering they had not been able to visit my sister during her year spent in Quito in 2011-2012. But as soon as I knew I was going to be living abroad for more than a year, I was eager for my parents to come to my neck of the woods.
We decided in June of last year that they would make their visit at Christmas. As teachers, they can only really travel during winter break or summer break, and I had been able to visit in both March and June. It only made sense. Additionally, Gonza is only free from both his studies and his job for 3 weeks out of the year: two weeks at the beginning of August, and one for Christmas and New Years’. While Dad originally had asked for a Lonely Planet Ecuador book to help select our destinations, he ended up delegating the task of planning our adventure to me.
Thus ensued the planning. I created a lovely itinerary highlighting a few of my favorite elements of Ecuador and sent it off for approval. Since they were only going to be in-country for about 10 days, and I didn’t want to overwhelm them, I selected three destinations: Tena, Banos, and Quito. Tena was the first place I visited outside of Quito as a volunteer and it remains to this day my favorite spot in Ecuador. It is a nature lover’s paradise, filled with green jungle and fast-flowing rivers, as well as an adrenaline-junkie’s dream, with class 4 rapids and supposedly the best rafting in South America. Banos was next, because it is also extremely beautiful and nature-y with the benefit of having more luxurious activities like massages and hot springs. And Quito, of course, was a natural choice, because it is where I have lived for the past two years. I scrambled to make sure everything was just right before my parents arrived: picking out nice hostels to ensure a safe and clean environment, buying probiotics and produce wash to help prevent the ubiquitous stomach illnesses, coordinating activities that would be fun but not too overwhelming, and selecting the best options for transit between the various locations. I bought some of the best bread in town with lots of butter to help them feel at home. I picked up the keys for their AirBnB in Quito. I figured out how to take a bus to the airport to save some cash. It seemed like their trip was far in the distance.
Until it wasn’t. Gonza and I met them at the only airport in Quito late on Christmas night with smiles and bottles of water and snacks. We took them to their AirBnB, just three blocks from our apartment, and got them settled in before heading home. We had an early morning the following day, because in order to visit both Tena and Banos, we couldn’t delay the travels if we wanted to spend time in Quito with my sister, who was arriving on the 31st. Let me tell you, Mom and Dad were less than thrilled with the 4 am wake-up in order to catch the private transit to the jungle.
But as we descended from the Andes into the jungle, instead of feeling tired and grumpy they felt awe. It is a truly spectacular trip, passing first through the high paramo of the mountains, then into mid-elevation waterfalls and cloud forests, and finally into strikingly green jungle. Dad started taking pictures for his students, posting them on his class dojo platform as we went. We started off the day by taking a jungle taxi (read: a truck) about an hour outside of Tena to a gorgeous and serene edge of a national park with natural swimming holes. Because it had just rained, the water was a bit rough for swimming, but we were able to get in one of the pools for a bit.
Afterwards, we headed back to Tena. Gonza and I arranged and paid for our rafting trip the following day (I’m becoming very Ecua and planning right before the event instead of far in advance…) and then hopped in another taxi to a neighboring town, Archidona, where I had heard there were some caves. Dad, Gonza, and I ventured into the darkness of the Cavernas Jumandy for the hour-long tour. In a word, it was awesome. The caves are run by the indigenous community and the tours are given by the local guides. We swam through a 12-meter stretch in darkness, jumped into a 4-meter hole deep within the cave, touched several stalagtites and stalagmites, blew kisses to the “penis” (stalagmite) of the indigenous leader Jumandy who blesses people with fertility, squeezed through tight spaces, bathed in a cave waterfall, and crawled uphill on a watery incline on our way out. Unfortunately there were no pictures allowed in the caves, but the experience was incredible.
Everyone was so exhausted by this point that we ate and went straight to bed afterwards. The following morning we had rafting on the Jatunyaku, which in local words means “Big River”. As we suited up with long sleeve shirts, helmets, life vests, and paddles, I worried about my mom. My mom is a great sport, but has never been…thrilled…about adventure sports. I assured her that rafting is great fun, though, and off we went. Hurling through the waters, crashing into the rapids, missing near-encounters with rocks, and all the while taking in the green jungle along the banks made for one heck of a day. By the end, no one wanted to get off the raft. We had a marvelous time. My mom even kept her good spirits when another playful rafting guide pulled her off the raft into the water with his paddle!
The following morning, we left for Banos. We took it easy upon arrival because a.) the journey had taken about 1.5 hours longer than I anticipated, b.) we were hungry and tired, and c.) we were waiting on my cousin Brian and his girlfriend Alanda to arrive. So, we drank coffee, had delicious pizza, explored a church, and made our own mojitos on the roof of our hostel before having a late dinner at the best restaurant in town.
The following day, we bussed and walked the Ruta de las Cascadas, checking out several waterfalls along the way. We really lucked out with the weather, as it was sunny and warm most of the morning and we only got rained on briefly in the afternoon. In Ecuador, that’s a win!
That afternoon, my dad took my mom to a luxury spa in the mountains of Banos. The rest of us hung out and grabbed some beers while they enjoyed the gorgeous hot springs and the spa.
Finally, we returned to Quito. Mom got sick, so we took a couple of days to rest and recover. I took Dad to the market where I sometimes shop, two grocery stores I frequent, the park where I take Gaby right by my apartment, and my favorite bakery Cyrano. We spent some time with my brother-in-law’s family in San Antonio, and some time with Gonza’s family in San Juan. We ate delicious food and enjoyed each other’s company. On one of the last days, we went up the Teleferico, the cable car in Quito from which you can hike Pichincha and also see several of the volcanos surrounding Quito. It was definitely a highlight. We finished the day visiting the Mercado Artesanal, where my dad bought an Alpaca poncho for $20 and Pacari chocolate bars for $10, and my mom got herself a beautiful turtle necklace in the same style that I bought my sister almost 8 years ago and my sister bought for me about 5 years ago.
All in all, it was a marvelous trip. It was incredibly special to get to spend time with my parents showing them around Quito and Ecuador, and also to get to see my cousin and his girlfriend and my sister and her husband and baby Julian. It was one for the books!
Check out the video of our trip here: