Recapping 2016

I can’t believe I let 2016 slip by without making one blog post. My intention was to create a blog once I arrived to Ecuador so I could document and share my experiences living abroad with family and friends. Unfortunately, that never materialized in 2016, but hey, 2017 is a new year. Let me begin my first blog post with recapping what happened in 2016. I’ll be sure to condense it as much as possible so it doesn’t read too long and to hopefully keep your interest.

Quit my Job (September 2015)

Late 2015 I quit my job from ARUP Laboratories in Salt Lake City, Utah and moved back home with my parents in St. George, Utah. Yes you heard me correctly…with my parents. After living independently for seven years I was back living down the hall from my mom and pop’s room. However, the circumstance wasn’t because I was down on my luck but rather the opposite. Let me explain. My dad, Todd, had been talking about moving to Ecuador for some time, and when he finally decided on a date he was very generous to extend the invitation to me. How could I say no? Back when I was 18 years old I took a one-way ticket to Hawaii and lived in a hostel until I was able to figure out new arrangements. When I was 20 I booked a ticket to Thailand on a whim with a friend. I probably need to give thanks to alcohol for making that trip happen but that's another story. Basically, I enjoy the thrill when it comes to traveling, and so when the opportunity to live abroad in Ecuador arose it was a no brainer for me. I guess being a 24 year old, single male, with no major responsibilities didn’t impede the decision either. I wrapped up my ties in Salt Lake City and moved back home in September 2015 to help my family get all their affairs in order for our departure.

Arrived in Ecuador (January 11, 2016)

I’ve never been to Ecuador before so I didn’t know what to expect. I knew the people would be speaking Spanish and that’s about it. My dad, mom, our dog (Keeper) and I landed in Guayaquil, Ecuador on January 11, 2016. It quickly became evident once we left the airport that we were no longer in the States. The three of us, our dog and the 11 plus suitcases we brought with us were standing on the curb figuring out how the hell we were going to arrange transportation to our hotel. We were not going to fit in a cab, and the extent of our Spanish at the time was “hola” and “gracias.” The feeling of adventure definitely crept in at that moment. I wasn’t sure how or when we were going to make it to our hotel, but at least in that moment I could say we made it to Ecuador. Eventually, we were able to coordinate two vans to get us to the hotel. One van carried us and a couple pieces of luggage and the other was jam-packed with all of our other luggage. It amazes me what you can still accomplish with a language barrier. We were only staying one night in Guayaquil, and the next morning we would be picked up by a driver to take us to Bahia de Caraquez. My dad decided back in the States that we would use Bahia de Caraquez as a base while we explore the coast to figure out where we want to land long term. I’ve created a video that follows our transition from the States to our first month in Ecuador. You can check it out below.

Bahia de Caraquez (January 2016 – April 2016)

Bahia de Caraquez will always hold a special place in my heart because it was the start of my Ecuador Adventure, and where so many good friends were made. Bahia is located on a peninsula in the Manabi Province, and our rental was located in a high rise on the fifth floor with a balcony that overlooked the hillside and bay. I sure do miss those dinners on our balcony while watching the sunsets dip behind the Pacific Ocean. My family and I quickly met and became friends with other expats throughout the community, and soon we were establishing our own routines. During my time in Bahia de Caraquez you could find me either working up a sweat at H Fit, sipping on a cup of joe at Fikas, enjoying a cold beer at H bar, sitting in Spanish class, swimming in the ocean, reading in our condo or surrounded with good company at game night. Remember earlier I said we were just going to use Bahia as a base? It turns out that was a lie. Bahia was becoming home, and I’m sure we would still be there if the earthquake didn’t shake things up.

Earthquake (April 16, 2016)

A day I wish I could erase from my memory, and I’m certain many others feel the same way. I don’t believe there is anything that can prepare someone for an earthquake that carries enough force to implode buildings. As someone who has only experienced minor tremors before to suddenly being in the midst of an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.8, I quickly realized how powerless one can be. I and everyone else in the thick of the quake were at the mercy of Mother Nature, and sadly it became a game of chance on who would survive and who would not. I’m extremely blessed to not have lost a loved one, but many others cannot say the same. I won’t pretend to understand what it’s like to lose someone in such a calamity, but I will say my heart goes out to all the families who lost loved ones and homes that day. It’s incredibly heartbreaking to witness firsthand. I do have to give a major shout out to Don and Donna Woodbury for providing their farm as a place of refuge for my family and me. I’m almost certain the outcome of our decision to stay or leave Ecuador would have been different if we had not been surrounded by the love and support of all the friends we had made the prior months. Being at the farm, and outside of Bahia, really allowed us to catch our bearings to figure out our next move, and this is how Cuenca becomes the next part of the Ecuador Adventure. If you are interested, my dad and our friend, Roy Sherrid, have written blog posts that go in depth on their experiences from that day. You can find it here and here.

Cuenca (April 2016 – February 2017)

Just make your way up to 8,400 feet from the coast and you’re in Cuenca (well, almost). Welcome to the Andes. Living in Cuenca kicked off with a real rocky start but I won’t go into those details because I want to stay focused on the positives. In my opinion, between all the major cities Ecuador has to offer, Cuenca is by far the best. The city is big enough to offer an array of restaurants, events, and activities but small enough to easily navigate and get around. The Spanish and French influenced architecture within the city, the rivers flowing throughout and the views of the surrounding hillsides covered in greenery are some of my favorite characteristics of Cuenca. Plus, the famous Cajas National Park is located in Cuenca’s backyard. My family and I have met some wonderful people while living in Cuenca too. Dinners, games, day trips and peaceful meditations have all been enjoyed with friends at our side. My overall experience of living in Cuenca has been a very pleasant one, and is a destination I recommend if one does choose to visit Ecuador. I do want to quickly mention that Cuenca is currently where my family and I reside, but a move in location is in the works. I’ll cover this in another blog update once the move has taken place.

Keeper (May 17, 2016)

How I miss this furbaby. If you remember at the beginning of this blog post I mentioned that our dog, Keeper, made the journey with us to Ecuador. My mom wasn’t going to let her miss out on the Ecuador Adventure! After the earthquake, I will admit it felt like the world was working against my family and me. Part of the rocky start in Cuenca was due to Keeper becoming very ill. It quickly became apparent that something seriously wrong was going on with her. She became noticeably weak, had terrible nights trying to catch her breath and was unable to get comfortable. My dad took her to a vet, and that’s when we found out she had congestive heart failure. She had shown no clear signs while on the coast or back in the States. We think the elevation of Cuenca may have exacerbated the symptoms. In an attempt to mitigate her symptoms we decided to make a trip back to sea level in hopes she would recover. Sadly, she did not. However, I will not remember her by this part of the story. I choose to remember her as the furry chewbacca who had spunk. The girl who loved carrots and anything else you were willing to feed her. The best dish cleaner in the family. The sister who would push my bedroom door open to say good morning. This is the Keeper I will remember. I cherish the last solid eight months I got to spend with her.

Brazil (August 2016)

Definitely one of my highlights of 2016. My brother, Chase, finished his Peace Corps service in Guyana the beginning of July, and he and other PC volunteers were going be in Rio de Janeiro for the Summer Olympics. Originally, I wasn’t planning on meeting them there because of money and the visa requirement. However, after Brazil waived the visa requirement my mother recommended I should go, and offered to help with the expense to get me there. I wonder what was running through my dad’s mind when he heard this…haha. I truly do have the best parents. They are always wanting Chase and I to have memorable experiences. Next thing I know I’m on a plane heading to Rio de Janeiro at the end of July. I was thrilled to meet up with my brother, and to spend a month in Rio de Janeiro while the Summer Olympics were in play. Rio blew my expectations away, and it didn’t hurt being with a great group of friends (new and old). Christ the Redeemer, Two Brothers and Sugarloaf were all fantastic hikes with breathtaking views at the summit. The nightlife in Rio is its own animal, and Lapa is host to one of the wildest street parties I’ve ever witnessed. Let’s just say I was glad to have had a beautiful beach in walking distance the next day to recuperate. The two Olympic events I attended while in Rio were beach volleyball and rugby. Both were a great experience, but the atmosphere at beach volleyball really made it a memorable one. It was proving hard to have a bad day in Rio. It felt like each day brought something new and exciting. One day, while walking on the Olympic Boulevard, it was discovered bungee jumping was being offered for free, and so I did what any logical person would do and signed up. There’s something about diving off a platform from the top of a crane that gets your heart pounding and blood flowing. Thank you Nissan for the experience! Throughout my trip I met some amazing people, including locals. And to have locals willing to show you around and share their thoughts about their country is a greatly appreciated perk. The food in Rio proved to be mouthwatering, and kept my belly satisfied the entire trip. If one is visiting Brazil they must dine at least once at a churrascaria, and be sure to go with an empty stomach. The vibe felt and experience had in Rio will be one I always remember and cherish. 

Then There Was Four (August 2016)

After Brazil, my broski (Chase), flew back with me to Ecuador to join the adventure. From seeing him on a weekly basis in Salt Lake City to only seeing him twice in a 27 month period while he was volunteering with the Peace Corps, I was definitely stoked to have him in Ecuador with us. I know my parents felt the same. I’m sure I’ll look back at this time years down the road with a big grin while reminiscing over all the adventures the four of us had in Ecuador.

Friends Visit Ecuador (November 2016-December 2016)

Two of my friends back from the States, Paul and Cameron, made it to Ecuador in late 2016 for a visit. The first part of our trip was spent on the coast, catching sunsets and waves. After the coast we made our way to Cuenca. Here we replenished our bodies in a hot spring, and I was able to show them around the city I live in. Cameron and Shauna (Cameron’s friend) left Cuenca and continued touring Ecuador without Paul and I due to timing issues. Paul and I eventually left Cuenca and toured through Banos and Quito. Banos is a mountainous town where you can enjoy a variety of outdoor activities in a small proximity. We decided to sign up for river rafting and paragliding while there. This was my first experience river rafting and now I’m hooked. Paul was able to get a nice bird’s eye view of the Tungurahua volcano while paragliding, but by the time it was my turn I was unable to go due to weather conditions. I’m definitely glad Paul went first so he was able to have that experience. It’s certainly a lot easier for me to return to do this than it would be for him. In Quito, I took him to the Middle of the World so he could step on both sides of the equator and try to balance an egg on a nail. He’ll have to come back to accomplish the latter of the two. Thank you Paul and Cameron for making the trip to Ecuador, and I encourage other friends to come visit if possible. You’ll have a place to crash and a guide to show you around.

End of 2016

Christmas and the New Year was spent on the coast with family and friends, and was a great way to wrap up 2016. I even got to take part in an effigy burning for the New Year. Nights were filled with laughter, games and the sound of waves crashing on the beach. It was a completely different Christmas and New Year experience than I’ve been accustomed to in the past, but I welcomed it with a smile and open arms knowing the most important part was still intact…having family and friends by my side.

Reflecting back, 2016 was certainly a rollercoaster type of a year for me. I’m certainly glad I made the decision to come to Ecuador, but, of course, living here isn’t always roses and butterflies. The same is true for anywhere else in the world. Two lessons I want to share that I’ve really taken to heart from 2016 are as follows.

  1. No matter where you go it’s important to know that “yourself” always follows. If you think a new place is going to resolve your innermost problems it certainly will not. The bad habits, depression, addictions and your general view of the world will be sure to follow. To change these qualities about yourself it will take a hard look inward not outward.
  2. I don’t need much. I’m coming to this realization more each passing day. By living with less I’ve actually gained more. Not more in terms of material things but more in the general sense of a happy and fulfilled life. What’s important to me these days are relationships, health, education and hobbies. If I continue to evolve in these areas of my life I’ll be happy.

Lastly, I’ve included a map and have highlighted the places I’ve visited in Ecuador so far. Thanks for reading, and I hope between my writing and pictures you were able to get a good sense of what I was up to in 2016. Until next time!