Ecuador: We spent 53 days in this spectacular little country. It is the first country since Mexico we feel like we did right. While the surf report (a high of its own) drove our schedule, we did get to spend three weeks exploring the towns and mountains inland Ecuador has to offer too. Cotopaxi, Banos, and our adventure in the Amazon were a few highlights.
Cotopaxi: Even with the bitterly cold temperatures (25 degrees is no joke in a tent), we loved spending four days camped and huddled under this volcano. It is Ecuador’s second highest volcano, marking our highest elevation of the trip so far: 16k feet! The 1 mile hike from the parking lot to the Refugio felt like 15 at that elevation and took us a little under an hour to complete, but we huffed and puffed our way to the top and were rewarded with absolutely stunning views. Our favorite experience was a four hour mountain bike excursion Nick scouted out on the volcano’s backside. She is a beauty from every angle and wheels allowed us to see so much more of her and get a little lost in the shire-like land around the base. This place is special, really special and the hundreds of wild horses roaming freely prove it.
Banos: Surrounded by mountain ridges and filled with waterfalls and hot springs, this quaint little town has an almost mystical property to it. We did not even begin to scratch the surface on what it has to offer: river rafting, canyoning, bike riding, hiking, horseback riding etc, nor did we really try. Instead, we dedicated our two days to warming back up in the thermal bath houses and treating our sore bodies to much deserved massages (see Biking bad). One of the thermal houses, El Refugio, is an experience I’ll never forget. Nick and I were sitting next to each other in a row of wood steam boxes. Each of our bodies is fully enclosed in a box and we are trying not to giggle as we turn and look at the others bobbing head and silly grin. There is a handle in each box that gives your right hand full control of the steam pressure and you sit there for fifteen minutes warming up, staring out at the river view, and occasionally bending your head to steal a sip of water from the cup and straw that has been strategically placed beside you. Then, a woman with tall white rubber boots appears and opens the box. “Ähh” you think, “this feels good.” It is in this brief moment of cool air bliss that she takes a bucket of freezing cold water and throws it on you. Insert scream. Without saying a word or acknowledging your shock, she closes the box back up and the fifteen minutes start all over. This happens 3 more times and the freezing water torture varies in approach while escalating in intensity each time. At the end, you are guided out of your box and directed towards a wall with a shower head on it. But, the shower head never turns on. Instead, the woman in the white boots stands 10 feet away from you and turns on a high pressure, still freezing cold water hose and sprays you down like the wet dog you have become. She nods to signal the treatment is over and you walk away feeling a little bewildered, a little violated, and really refreshed.
Amazon: We ditched our rig for 48 hours and hired a guide to take us into the amazon. We hiked for three hours to reach our village, Santa Barbara, and were greeted by the women of the community with a traditional meal of steamed fish, yucca, and Grubbs. Yes, Grubbs. I wasn’t going to eat them because I couldn’t stop picturing them squirming around in the bowl, but Nick convinced me that the bbq version on my plate would surprise me and it did, they were freakishly delicious. Seriously, weirdly good. This experience was different than anything else we have done. At times it was uncomfortable, there are zero luxuries in the jungle and I had to go to a special place in my head to not let my fear of snakes kick in, but overall we just felt really lucky to experience something few people see. The sense of community this group of 40-50 people had together was beautiful to witness. There is a submission to complete interdependence that is foreign to this individualistic American. I cannot imagine the word “I” gets used very much because it is not about the individual, it is about the "we" and the group needs one another to survive. They wake when the sun rises, they go to bed when it sets, and fun fact: they are EXTREMELY intense about a nightly game of volleyball.
Surfing: The next time I am deep inside the muck of a low, surfing in Ecuador will hopefully help remind me that there is always a high waiting just around the corner (or in this case, across the Darien Gap). I left Central America frustrated. After El Salvador, my surfing abilities stalled, err went backwards. We did not hit great surf in Nicaragua or Costa Rica, making for a tough transition to rough and powerful beach breaks from perfectly peeling points. The 6 week break between Thanksgiving and January acted as a nice reset. We arrived in Mompiche, Ecuador late in the afternoon and immediately jumped in the water. It was sunset and you could feel the happiness in the water (the two rainbows stretched across the sky made us feel like the ocean was welcoming us home). This was day 1 of a 10 day swell and the first time the locals had been in the water in awhile too. I always take it as a good omen when I get the first wave I go for and I did. It was a long left and I am pretty sure I laughed the entire time out of shear happiness. Just like that, the love was back. I made friends with a local guy in the water and he tipped us off to a great, unknown camping spot right off the water. We spent 11 days camped on the beach, surfing three times a day, and slowing way back down. This is the longest we have stayed at any one place since Mexico and made us realize that we are better at cruising on the coast than we are inland. Surfing grounds us. We are able to slow down because it physically exhausts us but gives us something to do too. After Mompiche, waves took us to Canoa, Montanita, and Engabao. In the last spot, Nick had his two best days of surfing on the trip and I got to see him get barreled. Our bodies were sore after the 4 week sprint, but we felt pushed back into shape after the holiday indulgences.
Community: It’s hard to explain the road community we have found, but it is a vibrant one. There are a few Facebook groups (PanAmerican Highway and Women Overlanding the World) people use to connect and converse and Instagram is where we all follow each other’s journeys. We both have two very distinct feeds right now: @megan_bristol is where I see pictures of interior design, architecture, friends from home, and fashion ads. @thelongcruise is filled with pictures of vans, outfitted trucks, amazing destinations, and ads for workout apps. We all know each other by our Instagram account names. Have you met vagabundos yet? Did you see that picture from Tuck’s Trucks? Where did followthehound say we should go? The friendship arc is accelerated on the road. You start as digital strangers with a common interest. If you’re lucky enough to cross paths in real life, you spend an evening swapping stories and destinations with each other. If you meet up a second time, it’s like family has arrived. In the past three weeks, we have gotten to spend a lot of time with our dear friends Taylor & KP (@runfrommonday) and Liz & Tim (@south_by_synchro). We all got an Airbnb together in Cuenca, Ecuador to give ourselves time and a space to fix and update parts on the cars before we crossed the border to Peru. This week together kinda felt like summer camp. We all took turns making the nightly meal, we bowled, completed an escape room challenge, learned how to crochet (Taylor knows how to do just about everything), ate WAY too many of Liz’s homemade cookies (none of us have ovens in our rigs and spent the week making all of the things we longed for), and Nick benefited from the guys mechanical and electrical knowledge. I think we each needed some quality girl and guy time too. The afternoons often consisted of the girls sitting on the couch practicing our single or double crochet stitch with a bottle of rose open and therapeutic conversation flowing while the guys popped beers outside pontificating over car parts or future CAD projects for custom solutions. It was stereotypically amazing.
Axels: I am really ready for our trailer luck to change. I am also incredibly thankful Nick is a mechanical engineer and can successfully navigate these situations. If you read Vol 6, you know about the Christmas Eve tire disaster in Colombia. We blew a bearing and hacked together a solution on Christmas Day to get us moving again. Unfortunately, the downstream effect of that experience was that it weakened the trailers hub and we almost lost the tire again. We caught it in time (thank you, frantically honking cab driver), but it deterred our plans for 5 days since it required a very specific part to fix. We found a similar one in Guayaquil, 3 hours away, and then had to take it back to get the part specially welded to fit our bolt pattern. Problem solved, woo! Nope. The trailer still wasn’t riding correctly and our tires were massively off camber (full disclosure: Nick is responsible for the technical terms in this section). Nick figured out that the torsion springs, ie. suspension, was broken and spent a painful amount of time trying to locate the parts to fix it. They do not exist in this hemisphere. Instead of paying thousands of dollars in Fedex and import fees, we found a local machinist to make the parts for us and design a completely new suspension system. The trailer now rides like a dream! I do want to give a shout out to the guys at Turtleback trailer. They have been in close contact with us throughout these experiences and a lot of the work has been covered by warranty.
Bikes: No, the bikes aren’t broken again, just my biking spirit. We arrived in Quilatoa and should have taken the overly touristy feel as a warning. The crater is beautiful, but after the remote camping experience of Cotopaxi, we weren’t mentally prepared to share one of mother natures creations with all of the backpackers. We weren’t technically allowed to bike around the rim so Nick scouted another ride. We knew it was going to be a challenge given the 18 mile distance and elevation, but were both ready for a push. The first 14 miles of this ride were really fun. It was a lot of manageable ups and really fun downs with stunning scenery in between. But we knew the climb was coming. Nick’s app calculated the route and the last 4 miles were a vertical line straight up, 4k feet. I tried to mentally prepare and go into it optimistically. That got me through the first mile. I started and stopped and started and stopped, a lot. I walked the bike up, but even that got exhausting. We stopped to rest and refuel with a Cliff bar. Nothing was working, this was just the grind of all grinds. I thought we were almost done when we both realized we still had another mile to go. My heart sank, I was already exhausted. The last mile of this trek pushed me to the brink. At one point, with Nick long out of my sight, I just stopped and sat down on the road and had visions of him going and getting the car and coming back for me. Then I realized the car key was in my backpack and these tears were not going to get me anywhere. I had to get up this thing. My legs were screaming, my stomach was growling, and the sun was beating down on me. I finally got to the top where Nick was sitting and waiting to give me a high five. I glared at him and said “Do not talk to me right now, I am not a nice person at the moment.” I am proud to say I made it.
Electronics: What’s worse than having your 7-month old iPhone get fried from a rainy hike? Having your 8-month old MacBook Air get fried from a spilled bottle of sparkling water 6 weeks later. Yep. I spent 7 years with amazing tech benefits and never hurt my computer (despite years of shuffling it across the states in planes) and only broke one phone. I buy my own for the first time in my adult life and immediately kill both of them. The computer disaster was particularly rough because I am currently going through an 8 week writing course via Gotham Writers and my first major writing piece was due in 4 days. I had spent weeks on the assignment and of course, it wasn’t backed up. It took more than a few tears, a bottle of wine, and a pep talk from Nick to get over the pitty party I threw myself. The silver lining to both stories: Nick brought an extra iPhone I am using and the laptop catastrophe happened in the one town with a certified Mac support center. I lost my hard drive and all of its contents, but I didn’t have to fully replace the computer. Maybe the cloud isn’t such a bad thing?
What we are reading:
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
"The old man pointed to a baker standing in his shop window at one corner of the plaza. "When he was a child, that man wanted travel, too. But he decided first to buy his bakery and put his money aside. When he's an old man, he's going to spend a month in Africa. He never realized that people are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of."
"When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it"
"Making a decision was only the beginning of things. When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision."
Ïf good things are coming, they will be a pleasant surprise,"said the seer. "If bad things are, and you know in advance, you will suffer greatly before they even occur"
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
It may be surprising to some that drug crime was declining, not rising, when a drug war was declared.
This book argues that mass incarceration is, metaphorically, the New Jim Crow and that all those who care about social justice should fully commit themselves to dismantling this new racial caste system. Mass incarceration - not attacked of affirmative action or lax civil rights enforcement - is the most damaging manifestation of the backlash against the Civil Rights Movement.
This feat has been achieved largely by appealing to the racism and vulnerability of lower class whites, a group of people who are understandably eager to ensure that they never find themselves trapped at the bottom of the American totem pole.
This system depends on the prison label, not prison time. Once a person is labeled a felon, he or she is ushered into a parallel universe in which discrimination, stigma, and exclusion are perfectly legal, and privileges of citizenship such as voting and jury service are off limits.
People of all races use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates.
The Giver by Lois Lowry - Just started :)
Red Rising Trilogy by Pierce Brown - Book 3
DaVinci by Walter Isaacson
What we are listening to:
More Perfect | One Nation, Under Money | The Commerce Clause might be one of the most powerful parts of our constitution. You should know about it.
Con Law | Presidential Immunity | There have already been a few high profile lawsuits against President Trump and the first defense against such a lawsuit is to claim that the president cannot be sued in civil court. But it turns out, the Supreme Court has ruled different ways on whether or not the president is immune from lawsuits. We look a three cases from history and hear how they’re being used to argue for and against the current cases filed against Trump.