Yo amo Cuenca

I didn’t like, let alone love, Quito. It reminded me of a South American version of Los Angeles — gigantic, ugly, and smoggy, filled with fast food and inefficient public transportation. The city is also incredibly unsafe, and the school I was studying at was completely unorganized, so although I really loved my host family, I was ready to move on.

tourist pic!

Cuenca, on the other hand, is gorgeous, and I’ve completely fallen in love with this city. After less than 48 hours here, I understand why so many gringas decide to settle down in the city, and why the locals never leave. Surrounded by beautiful mountains, Cuenca is full of gorgeous churches, plazas filled with indigenous senoras selling flowers and fresh fruit, and incredibly old buildings that are falling apart in that beautiful, third world type of way, if that makes any sense at all. At first glance, not everything looks so charming, but there really is beauty everywhere here — in the balcony railings, the wild flowers growing in the cracks of the sidewalk, and the colorful graffiti.

The weather in Cuenca is relatively predictable this time of year: it’s perfectly sunny every morning, and without fail it rains every afternoon. If you’re lucky, like we were today, the sky clears up by 3 or 4 PM and the day ends with a gorgeous, cloud scattered sky to gawk at.

I had an amazing moment on my walk home today. I was walking down Avenida Loja and was incredibly distracted, staring at a beautiful church facade contrasted with a picture perfect sky on my right hand side. I crossed the street to pull out my camera and snap a picture, standing in the same place for a few moments trying to line up the right shot. When I turned around to re-cross the street, there was a picture perfect rainbow streaked across the clouds.
Had I not crossed the street, I’m not sure I would have seen it. A beautiful reminder to keep my eyes open to everything around me.
Here are a smattering of my favorite pictures from the last two days: Mercado 9 de Agusto with it’s fresh Ecuadorian cuisine and amazing selection of fresh fruit, Ecuadorian “shaman” senoras blessing small children, the Mirador de Turi outlook, and a random smattering of beautiful old buildings from our city tour yesterday.

The five things I want to remember

To start, I have stumbled upon two blogs that I’ve found mind-altering and inspiring. Both LegalNomad and The Lost Girls are blogs run by women who picked up their lives to see the world, writing and blogging their way through, making enough money to keep traveling. This is how I want to live my life, as a travel writer, and I haven’t had such career clarity in a long time. It’s time to start working toward that goal. And with that, my five goals.

Taking trips right after one another (or city-hopping all summer, as I did) helps you learn lessons and think about things when you’re traveling that would never occur to you when you’re living in the comforts of home. No matter how much you read on blogs or travel forums, learning those lessons yourself is what truly engrains them in your head.

When I was in South America, I learned more about practicality in travel more quickly than I had imagined I would. No, scratch that, I didn’t imagine it. I didn’t even think twice about the travel lessons I would take home. So now that I’m back in the U.S. and settled but about to jet off again, I’m thinking back to all those things I made mental notes of as I load up my brand new backpacking pack.

With those thoughts swirling in my insomniac brain (between restlessness and anxiety I can’t sleep to save my life – very frustrating!), I’ve decided to make a list of five goals I want to keep over the next 3 months.

Don’t hesitate to talk to strangers. I’m not a shy person. I talk to strangers, I have been known to butt into other peoples conversations, and I’m constantly eavesdropping. But when I was in South America, I think mainly because of the language barrier, I found that I hesitated to approach people or push myself into conversations when I wish I would have. I wish I had jumping pictures of myself in spectacular places — that could have happened if I’d simply asked someone. I day dreamt of joining with other travelers and heading in the same direction that they were — I didn’t have the flexibility to do that on my last trip, but I’m promising myself that I’ll do it on this one. I wish I had more conversations with the people I observed from the outside — I wish I talked to people on my flights and asked too many questions of random strangers. I can’t wait to leave my comfort zone and do that. Furthermore, I want to keep in touch with those people. A family friend told me that getting peoples email addresses, to create a world network of connections, was the most valuable thing he did. I can’t wait to take that advice.

Don’t dress down too much. Simplicity in packing is key, and not standing out too much is also essential, but when you’re constantly dressed in the same grubby t-shirt and jeans, you can just feel downright dirty, even if you just did laundry. In my 6 weeks abroad, I wished I had one piece of jewelry and one nice top to wear with my jeans for the night I went to grab a beer with travelers I met or took myself to dinner at a nicer-than-average joint. So even though I’m committed to sticking to packing less than 10 tops, one of those tops won’t be a plain v-neck.

Don’t blog about every step you take. Simply put, it’s too exhausting to keep up writing like that every night, and no one wants to read 1000 words about every single day. I want to learn to write better catchy headlines, to summarize the less important things more concisely, and to soak in all the details — especially in funny, unique circumstances — as they make for the best narrative.

Stop being a neurotic stress-case. I blame this trait fully on genetics — after a 10 day trip in Montreal with my extended family, I fully understand why I over-worry constantly about every detail. I am a perfect combination of my mother’s OCD and my father’s neurotic pessimism (as my Mom says, between genetics and heredity, you’re screwed). It’s time to let the neurosis go. Your bus is late by 3 hours? Your hostel roommate comes home wasted at 3 am and attempts to have sex on your bed? You discover the hostel you were going to stay at has bed bugs? Getting upset solves nothing. That, of course, is easier said than done, but I’m going to repeat that mantra to myself as often as I can when I find myself in ridiculous situations. I can say without being a pompous ass that I am a capable, intelligent young woman who has apt problem solving skills. I will find a new hostel, take advantage of the downtime to blog or read, and laugh at the lack of sleep knowing it will be a great story. Curve balls are one of travel’s best assets.

Do what you want, when you want, and embrace the seemingly terrible. Why? Because those experiences make the best stories. In all the travel writing I’ve been devouring in the last few weeks, I realize the stories I’m drawn to aren’t the perfect, flawless vacation narratives. They’re the ones with character.