I have to admit, I was huffing and puffing on our third day in the world's second highest capital city as we climbed (entirely too many) stairs to have lunch at the restaurant we had picked out. Despite being in pretty good shape, a long morning of walking up and down Quito's hills had done a number on me. Hey, lungs, welcome to Ecuador. My 30th country.
The view from the top was well worth every breath, as it usually is. Guinea pig was on the menu, but we opted for a big salad and a pork chop--the other pig meat. (About 25 countries ago--and face-to-face with a plate of fried cockroaches--I decided that a wonderful, fulfilling life does not have to include a taste of everything.) We topped it off with cocktails and our total came to nearly $30, by far the most expensive meal we'd enjoyed in that city of two million people. By comparison, our lunch the day before was $3.50 and included more food than either of us could finish.
Rested and refreshed (and not at all concerned about the trip down the stairs), we set out to enjoy our afternoon. We happened upon a small parade of young musicians and teenagers dressed in costumes, mostly Christmas-related, plus a Batman or two. It must have been fairly impromptu, because there were no spectators aside from the people, like us, who were on their way elsewhere and paused to watch. The cars zipped around the marchers, mercifully not honking their horns for a change.
We browsed a market that was set up in the park, full of knit caps and finger puppets, alpaca shawls, and wooden dishes. It was a miniature version of the one we had visited the day before in nearby Otavalo, where I had honed my negotiating skills over belated Christmas gifts for my family.
As we made our way home (a room in the fourth-floor walk-up apartment of a wonderful Ecuadorian family who made us breakfast, including fresh-squeezed naranjilla juice), my boyfriend was disappointed to discover that the vendor we had passed five or six times over the last couple of days didn't have his assorted grilled meats for sale. "You'd think the weekend would be prime for business!" he said. But that's the beauty of working for yourself: you take the day off if you want to. Good for that guy.
City buses, $1 taxi rides, and the "Trole" system make it easy to get it around, but even with all those hills and stairs we opted for walking most of the time. From the beginning of my travel life, I've always found it to be the best way to explore a new area: you see and experience everything along the route, from grilled street meat to stray dogs, sunburns to coconut ice cream.
I went to bed tired and grateful. As often happens during my trips, I found myself reflecting on a fleeting moment that happened years ago, where I made a little choice that paved the way for my travel to Ecuador and every place that came before.
It's actually so ridiculous, it's hard to explain. I was 23. I was terrified. I had just landed in London for my first ever international trip alone. My mind was filled with the excuses and warnings of my would-not-be travel partners:
"So dangerous! I can't believe you're brave enough to do that. Be careful."
"I can't go, so you shouldn't either. It'll be so boring to travel alone."
"I don't have the time/money/whatever."
"Stay home and get a job, weirdo."
Were they right? Was I the weird one?
Their voices in my head grew louder as I approached the airport exit, and this is the honest-to-goodness and super embarrassing thought that went through my head:
"Stop! Just...stay in the airport all week."
It made me laugh out loud that such a notion had presented itself to me as logical. Going all that way to just hunker down and stay comfortable was anything but right. Much like those voices. So out I went, scared and all.
If I had played chicken and stayed in the airport for an entire week, I would have gained 10 pounds on ice cream (what else do you do in an airport for a week?), and I don't think I ever would have made it to Ecuador, because I might never have learned these things:
1. I'm at least 100 times braver than I ever imagined. You are, too. And the world is actually a very loving, inviting place, despite what we hear about it. From London to Lebanon, India to Ecuador and everything in between, the world has welcomed and embraced me, and I've done my best to love it back.
2. I love traveling alone: my time, my choices, which means I can see six London stage productions in four days if I want to (and oh, I do) and no one complains about it. Traveling with my boyfriend is pretty spectacular, too, but we do not, under any circumstances, attend musicals. It's a trade-off.
3. People might say they'd love to travel, but what they spend their time and money on reveals their true priorities.
4. Some people look at travel as something to fit between their jobs and families. I see the reverse, and it's a grand opportunity for richer relationships, deeper creativity, and a quirky satisfaction that not everybody understands.
Now we're in Colombia, looking forward to Peru, Bolivia, and, most likely, Ecuador again. Actually, the list is much longer than that; if you want to see my complete agenda, take a look at the globe.
The world is as accessible as we make it. We just have to go.
What amazing experiences have you had as a direct result of stepping out of your comfort zone?
Amanda is a traveler, yoga teacher, fitness instructor, almost Spanish speaker, and retired au pair. She's believes in defining success from the inside out, changing that definition as needed, and taking time every day to nurture body and spirit.