I was recently sorting through some of my old belongings after moving house. I came across my travel journal from my first solo trip back in 2007. Reading through the pages brought back such good, clear memories, I thought I would share them with you. (Please excuse the quality of the pictures – they were taken a long time ago!).
I was a young, 18 year old venturing out into the world by myself for the first time. I had been lucky enough to travel to some amazing places with my family growing up, but this was my first solo adventure.
I had just finished my A Levels, and before heading off to university, I decided to take the opportunity to get out and explore the world.
My parents dropped me at the airport. I was all bright eyed and bushy tailed and not even a tiny bit nervous. I clutched my purple wallet of documents and waved them goodbye as I headed off through security.
Numerous flights and countless hours later, I finally arrived in Quito, Ecuador. I was staying at a home stay with a local family. On arrival, I discovered a couple of other travellers were staying there. This made things a lot easier because my Spanish was pretty much non-existent at this stage. I was in Quito to take part in a two week intensive Spanish course so I could at least get by during my time in South America.
Reading through my travel journal, my first impressions of Quito were, and I quote, “it’s sunny and I really like it”. My 18 year old self really captured Quito in those few words!
One of the first things I did in Quito (after sleeping) was to take the Teleferiqo up Pichincha Volcano. The views from here across Quito are stunning. I remember being somewhat overwhelmed by the vastness of the city. It seemed to spread for miles and miles, only being stopped abruptly by the surrounding peaks of the Andes.
My time at the top was cut short as the altitude began to take it’s toll. I was rather sick, and had to come back down and rest for a while. Once recovered from the altitude, I took the Trolley (quite the experience) into the Old Town. I can remember this quite clearly, as I was struck by the grandeur and beauty of the buildings juxtaposed with the poverty on the streets.
The next day in Quito was 4th July, and as I lived with some American travellers, I tagged along with their celebrations. My favourite hang out in Quito was Papaya Net. It comes up in every journal entry! It had good food, cheap alcohol and internet access. No wonder I spent so much time there. Apparently my favourite drink here was called the Blue Cowboy. I found a picture of me drinking this but I have no idea what was in it – If any of you have been and know what this is made up of, I would be very grateful!
Luckily, that night in Quito turned out to be Ladies Night at Bungalow 6, which meant free entry and free drinks until 11 pm for all women. Awesome. We enjoyed a few ‘fourth of July cocktails’ made from vodka jelly and danced the night away with some capoeira dancers. From what I can remember, and what I have read in my journal, this seemed to be the best night I had in Quito.
My weeks were spent in the Spanish language school but I had free time on the weekends, to venture further afield, and explore more Ecuador. For my first weekend, a few of us decided to head out to Banos. The town had been shut off for a few weeks previously due to a series of landslides, but the route had finally been cleared, so we were able to head over there. The journey to Banos was somewhat eventful. The roads had not really been cleared and the devastation from the landslides was mental. Complete sections of roads had just disappeared.
We arrived in Banos and got a room at Casa Blanca for only $8 including breakfast! I made many comments throughout my journal about how cheap Ecuador was. Granted rooms were basic and hot water a luxury we rarely paid extra for, but it was all part of the experience.
Our first day in Banos, we headed to it’s famous thermal baths, Las Piscinas de la Virgen. We then walked up to Bellavista, from where you are supposed to be able to have an incredible view of Tungurahua volcano. However, due to the large amount of dense cloud cover, it was nowhere to be seen. The view back across Banos though made the walk worth while on it’s own (although I was kinda sad I didnt see the volcano – I have a huge love of Volcanoes!!)
Whilst in Banos I also enjoyed my first Almuerzo. It is a three course set lunch which usually consists of soup, rice and meat and then a sweet cake for dessert and some juice. All for just $1.50!
We then caught a bus to our next destination, Riobamba. The plan was to book tickets for the famous train (you ride on top of it) but it was fully booked for the next day by the time we got there. As we were leaving the station, we came across a guy who was selling bus tickets to Alausi, from where we would be able to catch the train. We found a hotel in Riobamba for the night (Hotel Tren Dorado) and filled up at a nearby Pizzeria on pizza and sangria.
We were up at 5:30am to catch the bus to Alausi. When we arrived we were met by a huge queue of people who had clearly had the same idea. It did not look promising as we joined the back of the queue.
As we were waiting in the queue, a nearby bloke shouted that there were 3 spaces on the train that was due to depart. We looked at each other for a moment, and then in unison sprinted towards him before anyone else had chance. We took the tickets and boarded the train, just as it began to depart from the station.
It turned out you could no longer sit on the roof due to a series of decapitations that had taken place recently (apparently people were not ducking when told). The train journey was uncomfortable. We were thrown around everywhere as it hurtled around sharp corners and past knife-edge cliffs. It certainly was an experience, even if we weren’t sitting on the roof!
After the rather eventful train ride, we caught a bus back to Quito ready for Spanish classes the next day, full of new experiences and ready for more.