WES PALLA is back with another GUEST POST! (You can read his other contributions here!)
I fell in love with this Ecuador piece the moment I read it and am so excited to share it with you.
There is so much beauty out there, you need only find it!
The sun was shining brightly, but the breeze was still cold. I was on a rocky path most of the way up a mountain that can get you closer to outer space than any other mountain in the world, yes, even Mt. Everest (google it).
To be honest, I was a bit aggravated at having to stop so often to catch my breath, but that’s what happens when you are hiking at more than 18,500 ft above sea level. In brown dress shoes. And a borrowed windbreaker. Missionary style wins again.
So what mountain is closer to space than Everest, and it also covers the greatest distance from the center of the earth? That would be Chimborazo near Riobamba, Ecuador.
The follow-up question, of course, is how did I get there? And maybe even more importantly (not really), why was I in brown dress shoes? ?
It all came about by the title of this post: living in the moment. There is something to be said for making a plan and executing it, but oh the memories you can make and the adventures you can have if you will just be spontaneous and live in the moment.
Some of my greatest experiences have come about unexpectedly, and by just being willing to let the river take me in its current, I have been able to see some amazing things and meet some wonderful people.
So don’t be afraid to ditch the itinerary and simply go exploring. What’s around that bend? What is that town known for? What crazy food can you try? Trust me, sometimes it is infinitely better to just live in the moment. Allow me to share some of my awesome time in Ecuador.
Ecuador is one of the best-kept secrets of travel, if you ask me. Why? It’s very very affordable, the people are kind and simple, there is some awesome food (a key element of any travel, no?), and the country has great natural variety.
It’s like a giant tub of neapolitan ice cream, you get three distinct flavors all in the same place: coast/beach, Andes mountains, and lush jungle. And for any American traveler, there is the added convenience of the nation’s currency, the U.S. dollar. Yeah, I was surprised by that too. I felt pretty silly after I asked the gas station attendant what kind of money they used in Ecuador. He just looked at me with a really odd look as he slowly said, “Dollars.”
But anyway, back to living in the moment. I was there for a work-related trip, but as we would head out each day we never knew what kind of experience the day would bring. Each day as we would head out we would pass these amazing vistas and incredible waterfalls. I mean, it was a constant visual overload.
The country was just teeming with verdant, beautiful topographical wonders! Let’s be honest, if I showed you that lake picture and asked you to guess its location, “Ecuador!” would not be your response. You might say Scandinavia or some Alpine pass, but nope. 100% South American beauty, people.
And the whole of the central highlands was that way. Just by being there and having our eyes (and cameras) open, we got to behold some breathtaking natural landscapes.
Each day there was something new: a pristine alpine lake, a roaring waterfall across the gorge, a peaceful sunset overlooking a river valley viewed from a butte out in the jungle. Chimborazo playing peek-a-boo behind the clouds.
Just being there was a great experience. I had no clue about the volcano before I had been to Ecuador, and it really wasn’t until I got back from that trip that I did some further digging.
Our trek up the side of the mountain really boiled down to waking up one morning, and one of the guys saying, “Oh, look, it’s actually clear today, we should try to get a closer look at that mountain.” So we did.
We drove about a half hour outside of town just trying to keep the nose pointed towards the snowy cap. Lo and behold, as we got closer the road began to climb, and we came to a park entrance (free!). We simply had to register our vehicle and leave one person’s ID info, and we were allowed to start driving up a gravel road towards the summit.
Now comes the great reveal about my being at nearly 19,000 ft in dress slacks and shoes. That road climbs to over 18,000 ft elevation. There you can get out, visit the lodge, or head up the rocky path towards the summit. So you technically only needed to hike about 40 minutes to get to the trail’s end. From there you either enjoy the view, or you break out the Everest gear.
As you can see, we were not dressed for a bona fide mountain expedition, so we didn’t try the Brooks Brothers shoes on the ice cap. Oh well, maybe next time.
Who knew that going up to space would be so easy? Who knew we could drive most of it? Who knew that once we got up there the sky would do that whole dark, dark blue of the upper atmosphere thing that true hikers and expeditioners could tell you all about?
How were we able to experience that? You guessed it, by living in the moment.
Before that trip, I hadn’t planned to get up close and personal with Chimborazo. I hadn’t planned to traverse rickety jungle bridges across raging rapids. I hadn’t planned to be flying over the village where Jim Elliot and his co-laborers lost their lives. Nor had I planned to meet some of the people who were there the day it all happened.
But I did all of those things (and much more) because of a willingness to go off script. I didn’t have to have an itinerary to check all those boxes. You never know what cool things you can see and do just by wanting to know what else is out there.
That is not to denigrate the opposite method of experiencing a place. There is also great value in planning for the moment. In fact, I’d love to share another destination with you sometime where it was worth it to have planned for the excursion.
No matter the approach, just get out there. Go find something amazing.
*Photo credits go to Wes Palla