// MY NAME IS DANIELAnd after years of dreaming I've sold everything I own and set off on the open road. I've made this site as a sort of photo journal of my travels. The map shows where I've been (red), where I've stayed a month or more (yellow), and where I plan to go (white). And so, armed with little more than a backpack, a camera, and a dream, I now take the road less traveled by. So it goes.
LA BALZA I crossed into Ecuador at La Balza, a tiny and remote border crossing between Peru and Ecuador hidden high in the mountains. The first photo below is the Quebrada Balsas River which separates the two countries. The crossing gets very little traffic. In fact, on the Peruvian side the immigration officer was asleep and on the Ecuadorian side he wasn't there at all. Asking around, it turned out he was at the river playing volleyball. The only bus out of the mountains came once a day. It was some sort of flat bed truck with benches, which you can see below. It snaked through the mountains for hours, around harrowing bends, over rivers, and more than once threatening to bounce us right out of our seats and over a cliff. Which is to say, I loved it.
VILCABAMBA The first town I visited was Vilcabamba, high in the Andes Mountains. Small, charming, and surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery on Earth, Vilcabamba has attracted a great number of retirees from North America and Europe. Hiking trails extend in nearly every direction from the center of town. When I'm old and gray, I will definitely keep this place in mind.
QUITO The truth is I have many more (and better photos) of Ecuador but I lost nearly all of them when my laptop fell in the Amazon River. I lost months worth of photos that I hadn't been able to back up online as wifi access is not always that stable in remote parts of South America. Worse hit were my photos of Ecuador and Colombia. Gone were my photos of Montanita, the tiny beach paradise town. Gone were my photos of Cuenca, the ancient colonial gem and one of the most beautiful cities in South America. My photos from Quito, Banos, Otavalo and Guayaquil, all suffered. All I had left were a scattering of photos that I had taken on my little backup camera which I rarely use. Anyway, Ecuador translates to Equator, and in the first photo you can see my friend standing with one foot in the Northern Hemisphere and one foot in the Southern Hemisphere!
GUAYAQUIL If Cuenca and Quito are colonial storybook cities then Guayaquil is the ugly industrial step-sister. It's also the largest city in the country and a major port. But it did have some interesting little districts. And iguanas. So many iguanas.
AMBATO Ambato was really just a transfer point, though there was an interesting market there.
OTAVALO Otavalo is a highland city near the Colombian border and home to the Otavalo people, an indigenous group renowned for their craft making, markets, and distinctive dress. I stayed with a local family in a farm house in a small village nearby. You can see the village church, the farm house, and some potatoes and quinoa crops from the farm below. Below the farm house you can see the market. The Otavalo people have a lot of traditions and a traditional religion, which my host family told me was under threat from Christian missionaries. Conversion was causing great rifts among families and peer pressure at schools was causing children to feel embarrassed wearing their traditional clothes (one should read 'Things Fall Apart' by Chinua Achebe for a portrayal of just how insidious and narcissistic mission work really is).
BANOS Banos is a nature lovers dream town. I took quite a few photos here which were all sadly lost. A short trek in any direction offers river rafting, bungie jumping, jungle touring, mountain zip-lining, and so much more.
COCA Ecuador is predominately a highland mountain nation but to one side of the mountains are a sliver of beautiful beaches and on the other side are the jungles of the Amazon. In fact it is the mountains of Ecuador that help feed the Amazon River. Coca sits at the edge of the Amazon, and is the gateway into the rain forests there, to villages and towns there reachable only by days-long journeys on boats, which is exactly the reason I was here. To see those journeys, check out the PERU page.