A lot can happen in a week. A new country, new people, being introduced to alpaca clothing..
As expressed in my last blog, I was nervous about crossing the border into Ecuador from Colombia. Mainly because I’m an idiot and I googled ‘will I be safe crossing into Ecuador from Colombia?’ Honestly, don’t google stuff. It’s stupid. Fake news. The great news is that we survived, and the border was totally uneventful except for me almost walking into a man when trying to capture a video for my 1 second every day.
After we’d had our passports stamped, we jumped in a ‘collectivo’ taxi, a taxi that basically waits until it’s completely full before leaving, and headed to the nearest Ecuadorean border town Tulcan to catch the bus to our first stop in Ecuador. Collectivo taxis made me nervous to start, because I’m socially awkward mainly, but also because you generally have no idea how long you’ll be waiting to leave, or how long it’ll take to get to your destination, but they cost about 50p per person so it’s kinda a no brainier. And as alex pointed out, ‘it’s all experience, this is how the locals do it’…
From Tulcan we jumped on a bus to Otavalo, a town known mainly for its huge market selling local crafts and alpaca clothing. The bus took a couple of hours and was relatively uneventful except for the devastation of realising we’d left the emergency Doritos in the last hotel room and the fact that the bus literally dropped us on the side of a dual carriageway and drove off. We managed to hail a taxi and arrived mid afternoon to gorgeous sunshine and after dropping our bags we went in search of food. We found a nice little Mexican place and managed to have half a conversation in Spanish with the owner. I also squealed with delight as we discovered this place had Diet Coke! Ecuador immediately became my new favourite place. Diet Coke – I miss you when you’re not in my life, I’m happy to pay $1.75 for you even if that is extortionate in Ecuadorean prices.
After we’d satisfied our bellies and been strong and stable enough to not have dessert, we went for a little mooch around the infamous market. I absolutely love stuff like this. I could spend hours walking through markets. I love the colours, the atmosphere and the amount of crap you can buy. I got an alpaca jumper for $18 and I love it more than anything else right now. It’s so soft and so warm and brings me great comfort and joy in these turbulent times. The place where the market takes place is called, plaza de las ponchos, and I so desperately wanted to buy a poncho. I decided against it as mainly I realised I’d never look as good as a local in one and also, I’d look like a bit of an idiot wearing one at home. I still haven’t made peace with my decision though.
The following day we got up bright and early and headed out for a bagel breakfast with coffee. Alex had suggested going for ‘a little walk around a lake’ as the activity for the day, and after he showed me some pictures I was sold on the idea. Plus I thought it would be nice to do some proper exercise as I’m beginning to get quite nervous about our upcoming trek to Machu Picchu in Peru. Turned out a ‘little walk around a lake’ is actually a 9 mile trek, 3400 metres high that takes five hours. We had to stop many times because we genuinely thought the altitude was going to make us sick, and we realised early on that we were complete idiots and hadn’t put suncream on or brought any with us! The climbs were steep and took our breath quickly and easily but the scenery was absolutely stunning and definitely worth it!
I reduced my basal insulin to 50% for the duration of the walk after learning my lesson from our hikes in New Zealand and it worked a treat. Alex also reduced his background but unfortunately had a hypo right at the end of the track. Not bad going though! We used our LifeStraw bottle too, after finding a water source half way round. The LifeStraw bottle is an amazing filtered bottle that basically means you can fill up practically from any water source and the filter makes it safe to drink. It’s been a real help for this trip, meaning we’ve been able to drink tap water confidently and on walks we know we’ll be able to just fill up without the worry of getting sick.
My knees started hurting towards middle of the day, but I was expecting it so took regular breaks to stretch out and paced myself. I took steps and steep declines like a crab or backwards to take the load off my knees and by the end of the track I still hadn’t cried. Success! A tough but worthwhile hike I think. A well trodden track but with practically no one else around, so you can enjoy the beauty at your own pace. After we returned to otavalo we were massively ripped off for two pieces of pie ($8!) and then had some empanadas whilst walking back to our hotel. We chilled in our hotel room and had an early night.
We got the afternoon bus to Baños the next day, there’s no official bus terminal in Otavalo. Meaning we had to just hope for the best when asking our taxi driver to take us to where the bus to Baños stops. I was nervous. There’s only one bus per day and missing it would have been such a nightmare, but it all worked out! The bus stopped for us. The bus was going to the right place and there were seats for us. Winner. We knew that there was no chance for us to arrive in day light in Baños, and thanks to Alex’s sense of direction and Spanish skills we managed to get the bus to stop just off the road to our hotel. We arrived in the dark, and were shown to a huge room on the top floor. We crashed pretty soon after.
In the morning, we had breakfast with a freshly made smoothie (loads of natural sugars but worth it) and decided to head up the volcano to ‘the swing at the end of the world’ – also known as Casa Del Arbol. I had pretty high expectations of this place after looking at Instagram and Pinterest photos. I wanted to recreate the perfect photo, but I’d read a lot of travel blogs and it seemed like the reality we were gonna be faced with was a cloudy/drizzly day. Unbelievably though, the sun was shining and the skies were blue! It was beautiful! We caught a local bus for $1 and headed up the volcano!
The views were spectacular, and the swing didn’t disappoint. There’s something so satisfying about sitting on a swing and just going. With all the stress of the election at home, I took a few minutes swinging into the vast beauty of Ecuador to just gather my thoughts. We are so lucky. We are so determined to do what makes us happy and to live life to the full and I am so grateful for that. In the quiet of the mountainside I came to realise that Alex and I aren’t doing too bad as humans. I’m so proud of us.
Anyway, you know how in my last post I talked about being a little bit baffled because my diabetes was being relatively well behaved? Yeah, well, I obviously tempted fate and it’s all gone horribly wrong. The morning we left Baños, my blood sugars were a little bit raised for no obvious reason. I corrected and we continued on to our next destination – Mindo. My blood sugars continued to rise, again, with no real reason. I changed my insulin pump set and continued to correct my blood sugars. I put my basal up to 150% to try and tackle the rise.
At the same time, I’d developed a big white blister on my lip that was incredibly sensitive. Over the following days, the blister split and was so painful. This correlated with my unyielding blood sugars. Alex thinks that the sunburn we’d gotten from our hike around the lake, had blistered my lip, which then split and became infected. Infections heal better when blood sugars are controlled, but trying to control blood sugars with an infection is so tricky. My lip began to heal slowly over the next few days, but I was still incredibly insulin resistant. Sometimes it feels impossible. I was taking doses that should technically have made me hideously hypo, but I was still sitting at 10-13mmols. So frustrating! The lesson learned here is, always wear suncream! Including lip balm! Absolute idiots.
The following day (back in Baños here) we had a slow start, we were both up late glued to our phones watching the election results come in. I’m not going to go into it too much here, but I am gonna say I’m so proud of my generation for standing up and making some noise.
We got a bus to Quito the following morning after the extremely lovely hotel owner gave us a lift to the bus station. The bus was pulling away as we arrived, and after a rushed and incomprehensible exchange between the hotel owner and the bus driver in Spanish, we were practically dragged onto the bus as it was driving off, hopefully towards Quito. After arriving in Quito we had to wait an hour before getting another bus to Mindo. It was long winded, and often felt like the bus stopped every thirty seconds to pick anyone up/just to idle on the side of the road for a laugh. We were dropped off on the side of the road, again, and luckily managed to grab a taxi to take us into the centre of Mindo and to our hotel. It would’ve been a long walk otherwise. After settling into our room, we went into the centre and ate the most incredible steak, cooked and served on a hot stone. The steak came with carrots, and I scooped the carrots into a napkin to feed some of the street dogs that wander around looking sad. I found a little dog that I wanted to make friends with, and gave him a couple of carrots. He spat them out immediately, sat down and looked at me like, what the hell is THAT, lady?! Before trotting off, leaving the carrots on the pavement. I felt a bit silly.
Our only full day in Mindo was crammed full. We went zip lining in the cloud forest, which was absolutely amazing when we finally got round to doing it (Alex realised as we were about to gear up that he’d left his wallet in the hotel – so we had to get a taxi there and back before trying again!). The ziplines were varied in height, length and speed and there was a good little hike to get up to some of them. The humidity was intense and the mosquitos were aggressive. Luckily we both wore long sleeves and trousers, so although sweaty, we came out relatively unscathed. Definitely would recommend it though! Such an adrenaline rush, which is worth it despite the fact it pushed blood sugars up.
Our afternoon was spent having a chocolate tour. Completed by lots of tastings. The chocolate is made on site and is milk free so darker than I’d usually go for, but I’m not one to turn away chocolate. We ended up having a private tour because everyone else spoke Spanish, so our guide spoke English and it was great. We tried a stevia plant – sweetener – which was really weird, to eat a leaf and it be incredibly sweet was bizarre. We told our guide about us both being diabetic and he asked lots of questions and was genuinely amazed by our pumps. It’s easy to take for granted the technology we’ve become accustomed to in the UK, it’s always refreshing to be able to appreciate our equipment a bit more. We walked the 15mins back to our hotel in the hope that it would burn some of those free samples off. On a side note, this place served the best brownies ever, made using pure chocolate freshly made on-site. Yummy Ecuador.
We left the following day, chocolate stashed, and caught the bus back to Quito. I’d heard mixed things about Quito, some people had expressed nothing but praise, others had had bad experiences, so I was a bit cautious. Alex had booked a fancy hotel for our two nights (his reason being that we were gonna be ‘slumming’ it for the rest of our trip!), and when we arrived they upgraded our room to a mini suite! Woo! We wandered around the area and found a curry house that made Alex really excited, we dropped some washing off and did other boring adult things that aren’t worth writing about (like napping and going to the gym). The next day we headed out to the old historic part of town. It’s undeniably beautiful but I was so grumpy because my blood sugars were being absolutely ridiculously uncooperative. I’d had some granola and yogurt for breakfast and taken way more insulin than I should have needed, but somehow when we’d sat down for lunch I was at 17. High blood sugars, especially after a run of really good blood sugars make me so grumpy. You get dehydrated, tired and snappy. I recognise that I am being horrible but I can’t snap out of my mood. I hate it. I hate that blood sugars can often appear to have a mind of their own and I hate that it sometimes feels impossible. The key to high blood sugars is patience. You have to be patient enough to allow insulin to its job when you’re high, which is often very difficult. I persevered and my sugars settled within the next couple of hours. Our lunch was in a beautiful, old, traditional restaurant and ‘heladeria’ (ice-cream shop) which had been going since 1858, and despite them serving me raw chicken (disculpe – mi pollo es crudo!) it was a lovely little place (I didn’t eat the raw chicken, despite how desperate I might be to lose weight).
That evening, we sat and tried to plan the next few weeks of our trip. We booked some internal flights after much frustration with Skyscanner, and drew up a rough budget/worked out how much money we have left (not much!). We also ordered dominos pizza to our hotel room – absolute highlight. The ultimate indulgence and a little taste of home.
Our last day in Ecuador we decided to do a tour run from the hotel. We visited the equator monument, a museum with the actual equator line (about 200m north of where they thought it was) and a village within a volcanic crater. The equator monument was pretty impressive and we even got a stamp in our passports! There was lots of information and little touristy shops within the park, as well as very beautiful surroundings. There’s so much beauty in this country, and although it’s been a short stay, I feel like we’ve done well to get as much in as possible. Ecuador has been lovely and totally varied. Another amazing country that we’ve been lucky enough to experience.
Next stop. Peru. I am really quite scared about the trek we’ve booked in Peru. I hope it’s kind to us.
Until next time.