Any Way the Wind Blows…Kind of Matters To Me

 Read about my first lessons learning how to kite surf!

Controlling the kite and the wind is a real challenge, and one that I am more that up for.image

“Do you think the wind will be good today?” We here at Donkey Den Bed and Breakfast on the remote Santa Marianita Beach outside of Manta, Ecuador live in anticipation of a constant gust of wind. Every morning, the guests, visitors, and gringo locals around the rectangular, tapestry-clad dining room table ask each other the same question. Sometimes we whistle to make the wind blow (an old sailor trick), sometimes we look out on the horizon for white caps on the water, sometimes we hope the shining sun will cause thermic winds. You can hear it before you see it, your eyes usually on a book or your phone to distract you from the disappointment of still air. The seashell wind chimes start to clang together and the palm fronds hiss as they sway. You look up and scan the horizon, and with the blessing of the wind god, you spot a kite in the air. Soon the sky is littered with kites twisting and turning and pulling their surfers along the warm Pacific waters. The other volunteers at Donkey Den and I look imploringly at our boss, Cheryl, as she sips her third cup of black coffee and says, “Go ahead, girls. The wind’s picking up.”

Sunscreen. Sports bra. Harness. Pump. Kite. And we’re off. My Dutch girls Annette and Juliet are far more experienced than I am. Their blue eyes shine vibrantly on their impossibly tanned skin, a couple of sun kissed Amazons sharing a board and an F1 kite that they bought in Peru. They learned in Brazil have been more or less making their way around Central and South America, alternating between simply traveling and staying in kite surfing meccas like Corn Islands, Nicaragua or Mancora, Peru to up their kiting game before heading back to the Netherlands. They have had about three solid weeks of experience all together, but to me and my three hours of lessons, they look like pros.

Juliet on the left, Annette on the right
Juliet on the left, Annette on the right

Each day, I nearly sprint the length of the beach to the kite school called Ocean Freaks for a lesson, a combination of excitement and hot sand on my bare feet adding a pep to my step. However, the past few days have gone as follows: I see my instructor outside, his afro tied into a bun. Frainin Santana is a 24 year old, Star Kite sponsored, Dominican who came to Santa Marianita to compete in Fly Fest, a kiting competition that took place here a few weeks ago, and who is sticking around for a bit to practice kiting and teach.

taken from his fb page
taken from his fb page

He sees me walking up and shakes his head at me. Instantly my spirits fall. “No wind today,” he says. Or, “Waves too big today. You could get hurt.” I look around at the few kites I see in the air and start to protest. He insists that it’s no good for learning, that the kiters on the water are pros, that he doesn’t have a big enough kite for me to practice on for me to catch the wind, or I won’t be able to make it out past the crash of the waves with a kite in my hand. Yada, yada, yada. So instead I grab a boogie board from the school and set to work riding the warm pacific waves and skimming on my stomach on the shallow surf. Or sometimes I just sulk back to Donkey Den.



Back at home base, I watch the hammock chairs sway in the wind, eager to get to my next lesson before my help exchange ends (It is now Saturday, I leave Monday) so I can finally learn to stand on the board. Frainin has promised me that I will be kiting on my own before I leave, but he doesn’t control the wind, so I don’t know what his word is worth. My first two hours weren’t as thrilling as I had hoped. I paid $108 for all three, a discounted price provided I bartend for the surf school this weekend. After harnessing up and putting on an embarrasing helmet to let others know that I’m a beginner, I set to learning the language of the wind. Frainin taught me how to feel which way the wind was blowing, which way was upwind and downwind, like a stream. He then instructed me how to blow up the kite, a 9 meter Slingshot, how to untangle the lines, and how to attach them to the kite. All the while, he barely lifted a finger. He told me that I needed to do it on my own because when I have my own kite, no one will be helping me. I like this philosophy. After we set up the kite, he held onto the bar and told me to launch it for him. I flipped the kite to an upright position, holding it tight to my body so it wouldn’t hit me in the face, and when he gave me the thumbs up, I let go and watched it soar. I had gathered from watching other kiters that the universal symbol for launch is a thumbs up, and the universal symbol for catch my kite is a few pats on your head. Frainin expertly held the kite at its zenith with one hand, then leaned in the sand and drew a half of a clock with his finger, explaining that when the kite was directly overhead, it was at 12 o’clock, and so forth. He attached the kite to my harness, and I instantly felt the pull in my core as he explained things about the line that I didn’t fully understand and wasn’t fully paying attention to at the time. I just wanted to get my hands on that bar. After he attached the safety line to me, he continued to hold onto the bar and then, to my dismay, lowered it to the ground. He made me practice pulling the quick release and safety leash about ten times until he was satisfied that I could unhinge myself from the line in case of emergency, then relaunched the kite.

Steering a kite in the wind is about subtlety. Grasp the bar too tight, and you put too much pressure on the lines, which tightens the fabric of the kite against the wind and makes it harder to control (for me). Pull too hard on either side, and the kite will move quickly and could crash. The closer the bar is to your body, the more power you give it. It is a dance of power and de-power, light pressure on the left to bring the kite to 11 and 10 o’clock, and light pressure on the right to bring it to 1 and 2 o’clock. Keep your eyes on the kite. Bring it back to 12. De-power, tug the left a little, and power to hold it at 12. All easier said than done. Frainin was constantly telling me to relax my grip and shoulders, holding onto the bar above my hands and moving it how I was meant to move it. When I felt it through his movements, the wind making the kite do a figure 8 from 2 to 12, I thought Oh, I get it. He let go, and I nearly dropped it. Two hours of looking straight up, and my neck was killing me. I tried to look down for a second’s respite and crashed the kite at 3 o’clock. My instructor talked me through launching it myself, lightly pulling on the left until the wind inflates the fabric, then yelled at me to depower so I don’t pull too hard and send it crashing at 9 o’clock, then urged me to power so the kite stays at 12. I was starting to get the hang of it. I practiced steering the kite to left and right, holding it in different positions and walking with it, and learning how to turn my body and feet with the pull of the harness, changing my stance every time the kite threatened to lift me into the air. Just when I started to get cocky and allow my neck a rest, the kite went wild. In an attempt to center it, I powered hard, despite Frainin’s shouts to let go of the bar. This action sent me flying into the air and crashing onto the wet sand a few feet away. I giggled at the rush of taking off into flight. My instructor lifted me up by the back of my harness and admonished me to learn to let go. I lost control of the kite a few more times during my lesson, and it dragged me by my heels around the sand before I realized, reluctantly, that I’m new and can’t always control the kite and need to let go and let it crash.

After two hours, the sky was overcast and the wind was dying. Frainin promised me that I would get in the water the next day. It was noon when I went back for my third hour. After setting up and launching the kite, I squinted up at it, the sun bright above my location so near the equator. A night’s rest made controlling the kite easier. After warming up a bit with the kite, Frainin had me hold the it with one hand at 2 o’clock and walk upwind for quite a while. I tried to alternate between looking at the kite and not steeping on rocks as he zigzagged me into and out of the water in an attempt to teach me how I’ll be moving in the water. A kite won’t simply take you in a straight line from Point A to Point B; you’ve got to move diagonally. When we had made it all the way back to Donkey Den, he hooked the kite to himself and we started to go into the water. I didn’t really understand what we were doing, and he didn’t really explain. I was instructed to hold onto the back of his harness with my right hand. He held the kite at 2 o’clock with his right hand. With our right hands otherwise engaged and our left arms pointed straight towards the sea, it fell to the kicking of our legs extended towards the beach to get us out past the crashing waves to calmer waters. I nearly choked to death on the water and was struggling to stay afloat without the use of both of my hands, so I let go of his harness. He instantly whipped his head around as I started to drift away from him and sternly told me that I needed to stay attached to him. Reluctantly I held back on, but I only had to struggle with the waves for a moment longer because soon Frainin was angling the kite in the ways he taught me to angle on the sand and propelling us in zigzags through the water. The kite lifted our upper bodies out of the water as we soared downwind to the right then the left. After a few joyous minutes of being a passenger, Frainin held the kite at 12, then, waiting for the right wave to take us home, quickly angled the kite to 2:30, pulling us to the shore, the waves crashing behind me. I expected nothing like this. My surprise at how nice it felt to glide through the water and at how fast we were going made me laugh hysterically as we walked the kite back down the length of the beach.

Now it was my turn to control the kite. I didn’t see how I would create the same effect. After nearly drowning on my way back in, this time with myself holding the kite with one hand while Frainin held onto my harness, and after trying to get used to the salty sting in my eyes, I finally made it out to softer waters. I put two hands on the bar and powered, holding the kite at 12. I took a deep breath and tried to remember my lessons. Once you realize how to hold your body, with your feet either to your sides or behind you, never in front of you, it’s not so different from doing it on land. With a squeal of delight I realized that powering hard at 12 will lift me out of the water. Soon, it was back to square one, proving to Frainin that I could bring the kite down to whatever time he told me. I started bringing it down to 2 and back up to 12 faster and more fluidly, making figure 8’s in the wind. Like so many other things your body learns to do, you can feel when you’re doing it right. Oddly, my mind went to the time I learned how to throw a football, and how good it felt to feel the old pigskin spiral off my fingertips. Soon Frainin was giving less instructions and only offering a few words of praise as I felt myself being uplifted and dragged happily through the turquoise water. I created figure 8’s with the kite on the either side, zigzagging through the water, looking nowhere but up at my kite, until my instructor told me to bring it down to 3 and take us to the shore. Again, I giggled the whole way, sand pouring into my shorts as the water became more shallow. We completed this exercise one more time, and then my hour was up.

Now it’s Saturday. The conditions have been abhorrent for learning the past three days. Everyone tells me to be patient, to which I animatedly reply that I can’t because I’m leaving in two days and I need to get on a board TODAY.

Unfortunately, as I sit and write down my recollections, I am in charge of watching the bed and breakfast for the next few hours. Cheryl is playing bridge, and the other two volunteers, along with any of my potential instructors, are on the water. I can only hope that the conditions remain ideal in the next few hours so I can get a lesson and some practice in.


by Rebecca Bellan

Packing Update Thus Far

Here is an update to my previous packing guide for South America.

There are the things I brought, and the things I wish I brought…


Almost two weeks into my trip, and I’m already wishing I could make edits to my backpack contents, something I wrote about in a previous post. Below you’ll find my fantasy packing list.


  • 4-5 tank tops
  • 4 t-shirts (some printed/fashion to wear socially)
  • 3 long sleeved shirts
  • 2 sweatshirts, 1 cardigan
  • 1 thin rain jacket
  • 3 pairs leggings (why did I pack so many?? Did I think I would be doing yoga the whole time?)
  • AT LEAST ONE PAIR OF JEANS (one backpacker blog insisted that jeans were useless cargo to have in South America, and I took him at his word. But I wished I had a pair when going out at night in cities like Quito, where the temperature drops when the sun does.)
  • 1 pair comfy cotton pants (instead of flannel pajamas)- wishing I brought my fashionable cotton harem pants to lounge around in.
  • 1 pair transformer cargo pants
  • 3-4 pairs shorts (2 comfy and able to get wet, 2 jeans)
  • 2 swimsuits
  • 1 skirt, 1 sundress (happy with these)
  • 3 sports bras, 1 good VS sports bra
  • 10 pairs underwear (moisture wicking, fast dry, etc)
  • 2 pairs flip flops; perhaps even 1 flip flop and 1 comfy gladiator sandals
  • 1 pair hiking boots (wore these everyday in Quito- not fashionable, but other backpackers know you mean business)

I’m pretty pleased with my essentials. I haven’t gotten around to using everything in the list, such as the sink plug (because most hostels offer laundry services) and my first aid kit (because I haven’t gotten too cut up yet), but I have faith that I will get around to all of my supplies. So far, I am most thankful for my hand sanitzer, my water filtration system, and my ibuprofen.

I briefly wished that I had brought some antibiotics after catching a case of strep throat that is running rampant at the hostel I am working at now, but if you’re good at self diagnosing, it is fairly easy to acquire antibiotics at the pharmacy without a prescription.

Hope this helps any potential travelers! As my trip expands, I’ll make sure to update this list some more.


by Rebecca Bellan

Cotopaxi: Neck of the Moon

Cotopaxi Volcano, Neck of the Moon, Ecuador

 The challenging ascent and descent of Cotopaxi Volcano in Ecuador.

The struggling 5,000 meter climb and subsequent bike ride to a lagoon was an incredibly rewarding physical experience.

Latin Adventure Tours bus to Cotopaxi Volcano, Ecuador
Latin Adventure Tours bus to Cotopaxi Volcano, Ecuador

Screenshot 2014-10-13 10.46.29

I stood outside the bus at the base of Cotopaxi Volcano shivering as I watched the guide put on a winter coat, a vest, a ski mask, goggles, gloves, and ski poles. I did not bring proper attire for high altitude climbing. I told myself to suck it up. I spent the last five years dealing with Boston winters. Ecuador doesn’t scare me. Even so, I donned my new Alpaca gloves and an extra shirt that a French guy in my tour offered me. In total I had on cargo pants, a tank top, two long sleeved shirts, a sweatshirt, a rain coat and my hiking boots. The wind went right through me, depriving me of the possibility of warmth from the strong sun and whipping my hair into a rat’s nest. I braided the knots and hid them in my hood.

Looking up, the mountain before me took my breath away, a slanted wall of red soot with a blinding white peak. I understood why the Incans called it “Neck of the Moon.” We started the incline, instantly far more strenuous than I thought it would be just looking at it. After about twenty paces, the others in my group and I gave up on small talk, each of us breathing the thin air far too heavily to be able to keep up conversation. My heart was soon pounding through my five layers. Wisps of hair were escaping from my hood and finding a home in the corners of my mouth, and I tried in vain to use my gloved hands to push my hair out of my eyes and the snot from trailing uncontrollably out of my nose.

Screenshot 2014-10-13 10.47.22

About half way up I wished I had listened to my pep talk about Boston winters; I was sweating hard from the exertion. There were about 15 people in my original group, but I could only see a few Germans around my own age. One graciously extended a hand to me just as I was slipping on some loose rocks. We stopped probably every fifty meters or so to catch our breath and to blink away the spots in our eyes. Our consolation for the struggle? The view. When I wasn’t looking at my feet, trying to time my breaths with my steps like Nigel Thornberry from The Wild Thornberrys taught me in that episode they went to Machu Picchu, I was looking ahead at the slowly growing glacier, and behind me at how far I had come. The higher up I went, the more I was able to see of the road we drove on winding like a snake before me, the lagoon we would visit later, Cotopaxi’s mountain siblings standing proudly in her marvelous shadow, and even the city of Quito beyond. I had to resist the urge to take a photo every time I stopped to breathe because the clouds shifted constantly, always revealing a new part of the mountain. With each step I took on the zigzagging trail, I was more and more proud of myself, a feeling that was quickly diminished as mountain children sprinted easily up the steep inclines past me.

During one of my breaks, I sat perched on a jagged rock and watched as a sweet father made the trek with his young daughter on his shoulders. He smiled at me knowingly, and seemed to respect that a gringo had come to pay homage to his queen. He reassured me that I was close to the rest lodge and continued on his way, making his child giggle and pointing out sights to her. I sat there, waiting for the wind to die and for the footsteps to stop so I could meditate in the utter silence. I closed my eyes and was at peace. But soon I heard the huffing and puffing of other hikers. I opened my eyes to see a few kids pushing a cart up the mountain, their dad pulling it in the front. All I could think was, Damn, what badass kids. You couldn’t pay an American kid to work that hard.


At last, I made it to the rest lodge. I call it a rest lodge because after about an hour and a half of inclination, we were still not at the top. My clothes were soaked with sweat, I was swallowing my snot and hair, and my head was pounding from lack of oxygen. We hadn’t yet reached that pristine white that I had been staring at like a beacon, but part of me hoped this was the end anyway. Apparently my guide had every intention of continuing upward, but the sissies were allowed to go back down and wait on the bus. A few of the older Spanish tourists and some of the Germans took the bait, but I didn’t come this far just to wuss out when I was only another twenty to thirty minute hike from the holy land. I bought some reviving $2 hot chocolate and bread from an Ecuadorean angel, and that was all the comfort I needed (it was also all that was available…Banos? No. Servilletas? No. Agua? No.) Another American and I noted how much money that woman could make if she sold water, napkins and other refreshments there as well, and how that same cup of cocoa would have been $8 in the States. But alas, that is American way, not the Ecuadorean.



We continued up into the clouds. After my half hour rest, I was shivering again and eager to keep moving. The incline got steeper and I often found myself climbing with my hands as well as my feet. The dusty red dirt was coloring my new gloves and lining the inside of my mouth. I was making my way over some solid rocks when I realized how close I was to the ice. My stomach lurched, and it was too much for me. I plopped onto the ground to catch my breath for the last time before I reached my destination. A German offered to take my picture. Then it was just a hop and a skip over a creek of melting ice and I was waiting in line to have my picture taken in the middle of the glacier. It was bright, despite the shade from the cloud we were in. (The UV rays were strong up there and my face got very sunburnt.) At some points, all I could see was the ice in front of me, the red soil beneath me, and the white of the cloud.

dirty palms
Where I fell before the glacier.

image image  image


When I had had my fill of pristine views, and when our guide declared it was time to go and started calling park security on people who were far on the ice without proper ice gear, I reluctantly made my way down. Going down the mountain is a whole other challenge. I slipped and stumbled and slid and busted my ass on some rocks before I got the hang of it, thanks to a native who taught me the swagger of descent, pointing both feet forward, leaning back on your heels and sort of slide-bouncing while swinging your arms for balance. On my way down, I passed other hikers with the same exhausted looks on their faces that I probably had on my way up. I nodded at them reassuringly. Vale la pena? Is it worth it? they’d ask. Si, I’d say with a smile. Vale la pena. Es increible. I made it down before the rest of my group, plenty of time to lighten my shoes and socks of the dirt that accompanied me through my journey.

With a cheesey smile on my face, I sank gratefully into the comfortable reclining bus chair to the applause and questions of those whose physical stamina couldn’t handle the second part of the mountain. I was hungry and exhausted, but felt accomplished. I was proud of myself. But it wasn’t over yet. The second part of our adventure tour was soon underway. After a short bus ride that I slept through, we stopped on the side of the road, amid some smaller mountains and plateaus. Those who felt up to the challenge of mountain biking were asked to step off the bus and put on helmets. Our guide sternly reminded us of the waivers we had signed stating that we were physically fit and trained in the exercises of hiking and biking. I’m a competent city biker, so naturally I wanted to join the mountain bike trip down to the lagoon.

The second I parked my ass on the small, hard bike seat and felt the back wheel skid on the gravel without my permission, I knew I was in trouble. But I don’t give up. The procession began with a tall blonde German boy in a bright orange vest. I was second, but not for long, because I soon ate it and tumbled off my bike. I took the rest of the way down easy, and thankfully it was all down hill. The road was unbearably rigged and bumpy and covered in small and large rocks. I dodged these obstacles, gritting my teeth and screeching most of the way down, not daring to look at the beautiful scenery around me for fear of missing a curve in the dirt or a bump in the road that would send me flying. The image of a girl from my hostel who had cut up her face falling off one of these mountain bikes seared in my head. My hands were killing me from holding onto the handle bars for dear life. 60% pressure on the right for the front wheel and 40% on the left for the back wheel. That’s what my instructor told me to do, and pretty soon I understood why and was flying down, able to glance up every now and again to take it all in and realize that I was alone and could see none of the other bikers ahead of me. For some reason I wasn’t worried. I had control of my bike, and though it was physically challenging, I had my bike and a general idea of where I was headed. After all, I had seen this very road ending with the lagoon when I was climbing the mountain.



I was the last one to make it but at least I made it. One girl had to stop and get on the bus before she reached the finish line. The lagoon was cool, the day was cloudy, and I looked up at the mountain that I had climbed, happy that I came to Ecuador and ready for more adventures.


Check out Latin Adventure Tours based out of Quito on TripAdvisor!


by Rebecca Bellan

Shrunken Heads: How To

Learn how to make a shrunken head with these step by step directions!

The Shuar Tribe of Ecuador are pros at creating trophies from the skins of their enemies.


Do you want to collect trophies of your conquests? Perhaps gain the soul of your victim, which will enable you to control the labor of the women in your lives? Then this crash course from the Shuar tribe is for you!

Shrunken Head Selfie
Shrunken Head Selfie

Step 1: Kill your enemy…but watch the face!

Step 2: Cut off your enemy’s head.



Step 3:  Remove the skull from the skin. Take care not to tear the skin when you pull it from the skull.

Step 4: Carefully boil the head skin in a mix of secret Shuar herbs and spices for about 1.5-2 hours. This will shrink the skin and hair to about 1/3 of its size.

Step 5: Sew the enemy’s mouth shut to keep the soul (muisak) from escaping. Remember, a shrunken head without a trapped soul is merely a toy.

Step 6: Place hot stones through the neck opening to sear the inside and complete the shrinking process.

Step 7: Cut a hole in the top of the head in order to tie a string through it. Wear around your neck and enjoy the looks of pride and envy!


-Before you begin the process of shrinking the head, make sure you are safely out of enemy territory so that you can work in peace.

-It would be considerate of you to throw the unneeded skull in the river as a gift to the pani, or anaconda.

– Don’t leave the head in the pot for too long, or else you may simmer off the hair.

– When placing the hot rocks inside the skin bag, make sure to rotate them regularly so as to not burn through the skin. For best results, add hot sand to crevices like nose holes and ear holes to ensure total sealing and shrinking.

-Be patient! Don’t rush through the process. You want the head to maintain as much of a semblance to the living victim as possible.




by Rebecca Bellan

Three Quito Tourist Spots That Are Not Overrated

El Panecillo, La Basilica del Voto Internacional and El Mitad del Mundo are three tourist destinations in Quito, Ecuador that are worth your time.


There comes a time in your travels when you know there are things that you should be seeing, but you are just sick of looking at touristy shit and all you want to do is chill and try to act like a local. I call it being “culturally pooped.” However, I must say that el Panecillo, la Basilica, and la Mitad del Mundo were worth their respective treks.

El Panecillo

view of el panecillo from the basilica
view of el panecillo from the basilica

Much of the center and south of Quito offers a view of what roughly translates into “Bread Loaf Hill,” 200 meters high and, like much of Ecuador, of volcanic origin. I first spotted it walking on a main road called Avenida de la Pichincha, a small stone angel perched atop a round hill. I wondered how long it would take to walk up it in Quito’s high altitude. Legend has it that there used to be an Incan temple at the top worshipping the sun until the Spanish conquistadores tore it down and put up an angel, inspired by the Virgen de Quito statue in the Church and Convent of San Fransisco. Classic conquistadores!

Anyways, a few new friends from the walking tour and I decided to see the Madonna in all her glory. We were instructed NOT to try to walk up the hill. Apparently, the South side of town can get pretty rough. The hill is in the location of the old black market, and now theives follow in the footsteps of their forebearers and rob foreigners stupid enough to attempt the incline by foot.

So I, along with two Australians, two Americans and a Chinese girl, set off in two cabs to the top, paying $2 for the trip. The others had the good sense to ask their cabbie to wait for them while they went sightseeing so they’d have a ride down, something I highly recommend because my group had a hard time finding a ride down. We probably overlooked this bit of common sense because we were in awe of the, to my surprise and delight, giant 135 foot aluminum statue that towered over us. The plaque at the base read that the dancing angel with flowing wings represents the ‘Woman of the Apocalypse from the Book of Revelations’, described in the Bible as “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” (Revelations, 12:1) She was just that, a testament to the talent and artistry of her Spanish maker, Agustin de la Herran Matorras, who somehow turned seven thousand pieces of aluminum into a fluid dancer.


statue of the woman of the apocalypse, by Agustin de la Herran Matorras
statue of the woman of the apocalypse, by Agustin de la Herran Matorras

While the statue itself was breathtaking, the real show stopper was the panoramic view of Quito and her surrounding mountains. Building spread out before me like so many tiny Lego blocks underneath those gorgeous tumbling mountains. You’ve got to see it for yourself.



The Basilica del Voto Nacional (of National Vow)

la basilica
la basilica

Perhaps some of you are thinking, like I was when the group declared their interest in actually going inside the cathedral, that once you’ve seen one giant neo-Gothic church, you’ve seen them all. I feel the same about amphitheaters. However, an Australian from the group merely had to point to one of the high towers and say that we could climb it for me to agree willingly to pay the entrance fee of $1 and another $2 to get to the towers.

The inside of the church was unsurprisingly breathtaking. I did what the builders intended for me to; I looked up. The symmetry of the high arches, vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows were most definitely designed to put the awe of a perfect symmetrical God into the hearts and minds of churchgoers.

such beautiful symmetry
such beautiful symmetry

But church is boring, and I felt sort of sacrilege taking my birth control pills while sitting on a pew, so we finally made the steep climb to the towers.

We had to go outside and around on the way to the tower entrance. Looking at the outer decorations of the basilica, I realized that the gargoyles weren’t actually gargoyles, but rather “grotesques” that looked like tropical animals. One of my more informed travel mates told me that they represented Galapagos animals in a testament to Ecuador.

tower of the basilica
tower of the basilica

We climbed both towers, each providing a different challenge and a different fantastic view of the city. The first tower we climbed was a little terrifying, one ladder after another.

 scary tower climbing
scary tower climbing
inside the church somewhere



The higher up we got the less we found support nets underneath the steps. Go figure. The second one wasn’t as bad, but only made me dizzy due to the constant upswirl of the spiral staircase. But it was all worth it, as it so often is, when you get to look at that horizon. I’m a sucker for a good view.



La Mitad del Mundo




The middle of the world, or as I like to call it “Middle Earth,” is not actually in Quito, but it’s not hard to get a bus for the hour to hour and a half ride into San Antonio. I went with a fraction of my last sightseeing group, and we discussed our travels and made jokes along the way, making the trip seem shorter.

An hour on a bus changes the scenery drastically. Suddenly instead of feeling swallowed by buildings, I felt like I could breathe fully among the green mountains that were rising beside me like gods against a gray sky. We paid the entrance fee to the equator monument and took some pictures, which was cool, but not what we came for. We wanted to do those experiments that everyone was talking about. Apparently, the equator has some sort of mysterious power that makes eggs balance on nails and your weight change. When we asked about it, we were told to leave the park and walk down a rocky highway to the real GPS location of the equator. So the memorial is a fake. After about five minutes of walking, we found a tacky little tourist town with a modest sign reading “Museo Solar Inti-Nan.” The site is filled bamboo huts and suns carved of wood and totem poles, oozing “kitsch” according to my new Ozzie friend. The place was laughable with its gaudy attempts at seeming authentic, but apparently, this was the place to do the experiments. We paid $4 for a tour, which none of us wanted but went through with anyway. Hey, the place had wifi, and for five glorious minutes, we were all plugged in.


mischievous llama
mischievous llama

A nice tour guide with basic levels of English took us on an informative tour of the site. I actually enjoyed learning about the Shuar tribe that was around before the Incas and is apparently still kicking and worshipping the sun today. We went in and out of authentic huts that four Shuar families would share, learned about which spears are used for hunting and which for fighting, learned how to shrink heads (more on that in my next post), saw some giant spiders and an even more giant snake, and finally made it to the actual equator line, running red on the pavement.




Along the line were a few examples of the equator’s power. First we looked at some sun dials, which was cool despite how ancient they were. I marveled how ingenious ancient humans were and at how far we’ve come. For the first experiment, the tour guide asked half of our group to stand on the northern side of a globe (and actually on the northern hemisphere) that has been tilted to line up with the actual equator. He spun the globe, demonstrating that it spins clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and counter clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere, due to the Coriolis effect. Maybe you’ve heard of it? Wiki says that “The Coriolis effect is caused by the rotation of the Earth and the inertia of the mass experiencing the effect.” So the rotation of the Earth causes moving objects, like water and wind, to be deflected in a clockwise sense in the Northern Hemisphere, giving us hurricanes, and counter-clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere, causing typhoons and monsoons. I think. The tour guide demonstrated the effect of the equator on water by first positioning a bucket of water and a few floating leaves over the equator line. He pulled the plug from the bottom of the basin and we watched like kids in a science class as the water drained straight out. He then moved it to the Northern Hemisphere, did the experiment again, and we watched as the water swirled clockwise. I’m sure you could guess what happened when we moved the experiment to the Southern Hemisphere.

Next he demonstrated how if you have one foot on each side of the line, you can balance an egg on a nail that sits on the equator. I couldn’t do it, but everyone else in my group easily became an “Egg Master.”


After the egg he asked us to try to walk toe to toe in a straight line with our eyes closed on the equator line. None of us could hold our balance, probably because of that darn coriolis effect. When I finally lost my balance, I landed on the Northern Hemisphere side. “You belong to the North,” said my new friend Rachel from China. Funnily enough, she and the other American fell to the North while the Australian fell to the South. Coincidence? Probably.


For the final experiment, the guide asked for a volunteer, and I promptly raised my hand. He asked me to stand on one side of the line, I don’t remember which, and hold my arms above my head, hands clasped together. He then told me to resist as he used both of his hands to pull my arms down. I was pretty successful. Then I stood on the line and we repeated the exercise, except this time, he used two fingers. I was unable to resist, my arms sinking slowly despite putting all of my strength into keeping them up. Unable to believe it, I asked a strong-looking American to arm wrestle me with his arm over the equator and mine on one side of the line. He should have defeated me instantly, and did once we tried again on one side of the line. But on the equator, I threatened his manhood slightly as we tied, his strength diminished by the equator and mine not strong enough to fully beat him.

Some skeptics like to say that it’s all in your head, but I went into it thinking it was probably bullshit, so how could I be fooled? I’m going to choose to believe it was real so as to not disturb my sense of awe of our planet.


by Rebecca Bellan

My Intro to Quito

First day on my South America trip.

Quito, Ecuador had me thoroughly impressed and excited for the start of my journey.

The sun was making a mockery of my SPF 50 as I walked from my hostel, Minka Hostel, to a nearby hostel, Community Hostel, for a free walking tour. I squinted up at the buildings and mountains, alternating between taking photos on my digital camera (whose beautiful pictures you won’t see for some time because for some reason my ipad isn’t supporting my camera connection kit) and awkwardly studying my map, looking like the utter tourist that I am. I was wearing my hiking boots, some leggings and a black cami, wishing I had packed more appropriate city attire.The natives seemed not to notice or care, for which I was grateful.

When I reached Community Hostel’s reception, I instantly wished I had booked there. The hostel has two beautiful kitchens, two welcoming, if slightly unimaginative in decor, common rooms, and a calendar on the wall boasting community activities such as Oktoberfest, a food tour and “Twerking 101.” Most of the people in the walking tour group stayed at Community Hostel, and the guests and staff alike made me feel more than welcome.

First stop on the walking tour was the Mercado Central between Esmeraldas and Manabi. The two floor open market is home to traditional and inexpensive Ecuadorean cuisine, produce and flowers. Small ladies in hairnets waved at us tourists, inviting us to spend our money on their juice or tortillas or whatever they were selling. At our tour guide, Ovi’s, behest, we spent $1 on some of the tastiest fresh juice smoothie I have ever had. My favorites were jugo de mora (blackberry), naranjilla (no real English translation), and coconut. Ovi also described to us a delicious breakfast meal that I went back for that consists of a fried plantain tortilla mixture with scallions, two eggs and a cup of too-sweet coffee all for the unbelievable price of $1. I was falling in love with Quito already. The way to my heart is most definitely through my adventurous stomach.

After the market, which half of us promised to return to for lunch, we walked around the historical sites and churches. What stuck out most to me was the colorful colonial architecture. As I stood in the Plaza de la Independencia, or the Plaza Grande, listening to Ovi talk proudly about the heroes of the First Cry of Indepedence from Spanish monarchy on August 10, 1809, I marveled at the buildings whose very existence must represent Spanish oppression but which blend seamlessly with the culture in Quito regardless. Among the buildings in the square were the municipality building, the Archbishop’s Palace and the Hotel Plaza Grande, the presidential palace and the cathedral of Quito. During the day, the square is filled with old men sitting and enjoying the day, kids in school uniforms acting rowdy, and vendors sellings hats and coca tea leaves (I bought a hat for $2). At night, it is empty but for the strategic lights that illuminate the buildings, turning them from imposing to soft.

Other sites of the tour included the Sucre Theater and the surrounding square of vendors and street performers. We also went to the Church of the Society of Jesus, which stands out on the small side street, the outside decorated in the baroque style with an amazing attention to detail and an inside whose pillars and alters are covered with so much gold that it is said if they melted it down it would solve the country’s debt problem. We stopped at a “candy” shop, smelling of sugar coated and roasted nuts, fried plantains and other sweets. I bought plantains and a warm corn nut, pork rind, scallion mix. The final stop was a small shop where a man tediously hammers out beautifully sculpted metal items in the beautiful historic neighborhood of La Ronda.

La Ronda is said to be one of the oldest streets/barrios in Quito. Identical to many streets in Spain, La Ronda is long and narrow, flanked on both sides by colonial buildings, each brightly colored with flowers on almost every balcony. The area is home to bohemian and artsy culture, as it has been for centuries. Ovi said that poets and musicians used the balconies for serenades and people would come to watch, turning it into an even more happening spot. It was rather empty when we were there as a group, but Ovi promised us that it transforms on weekends, and I could see the potential. He then left us to our own devices, after thanking us graciously for tipping him. I left with a group of about seven others to head back to the market and eat a traditional meal called Corvina.

Whether you are in the mood for more jugo or want Ecuadorean tortillas (potatoes mashed and flattened slightly as they cook on the griddle) or feel like trying corvina, the market offers more than one stand of each type of cuisine to choose from. The natives spotted us instantly from behind their respective stoves, excitedly inviting us to dine with them. I went to a corvina stand that Ovi had said is famous, ordered and paid $4.50 for my meal in a confused state, not even sure what I’d be eating but excited by the prospect of something new, and was instructed to sit down and someone would bring me a tray. The second I sat down, I was almost accosted by women trying to sell me juice. I had gathered by that time that it is more common to drink juice with meals than water because the tap water is not safe in Ecuador (thank god I bought that filtration system). I sipped on jugo de coco as I watched someone (I didn’t have time to look up and see who) put a full tray in front of me, far too much for one person. Nevertheless I tucked in to what I realized was fried white fish, potatoes, yellow rice, salad and a side of soupy shrimp and mussel ceviche. It was my first real meal in Ecuador. Nothing could have made me happier in that moment.

**Check out the tripadvisor for the free walking tour


by Rebecca Bellan

Flying into Quito, Ecuador

The excitement of watching the city of Quito spread out underneath my plane.

My plane seemed to bounce on the many mountaintops that shocked my vision from my window seat during its not so smooth landing. It was around 5:15 pm, so the sun was still bright in the sky, but rapidly sinking behind the lush mountains, turning them from green to brown to auburn, the clouds pink and gold. When we finally came to a hard stop, I realized that the airport was in the middle of a valley, encircled by this breathtaking scene of rugged mountains, with only one snow capped top peeking out.

After going through customs, I paid two US dollars (the currency in Ecuador) for a bus ride into what I thought would be central Quito, where I would take a cab to my hostel. The bus ride was long, but full of sights of farms and ranch style houses along the highway, with the (more than) occasional shanty town alternating with construction sites. The smell of roasting corn and nuts and grilled meats from roadside vendors made my mouth water as the city before me started to light up the mountainside with a night skyline like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It looks like thousands of gold stars scattered across a black shadow.

As we reached the bus terminal, I noticed beautiful murals of graffiti on the walls, full of Incan faces and rich colors and Galapagos birds. I also noticed that, unlike in Europe, no one was speaking English. That may sound arrogant, but usually, I see at least one other tourist. Today I was the only tall white face among the sculpted brown cheekbones and intense black eyes.

I hopped in a long cab ride full of traffic at the city center, where I paid  $20, which I later found out was about $15 too much. As we will discover, this city is blessedly cheap. But for that night, I was exhausted. I bought a bottle of beer from my hostel and sat down to chat with a Swedish girl and a German girl before I fell asleep.

More on my hostel and my first day in Quito in my next post. Thanks for reading!


by Rebecca Bellan

Some things to think about before you travel

A few tips for new travelers or backpackers.

Keep these things in mind before you set off on your journey.


So you’ve figured out the obvious things before your trip. You packed your bag, you bought your tickets, you have a place to stay. Here are a few things to think about before you go that may not be as obvious or convenient:

  • Get travel insurance. World Nomads offers a comprehensive way to buy the travel insurance that’s right for you, in addition to other useful information.
  • Buy travel medical insurance. For this trip, I only purchased the World Nomads travel insurance, which covers emergency room visits. If I feel the need to buy a specific medical insurance, I’ll look here for suggestions of private companies.
  • Get your vaccinations! If you’re going to Europe, don’t worry about it. But much of Asia, Africa and South America require vaccinations, so keep your vaccination information book with your passport. For a more specific list of what vaccinations you might need, check the CDC’s website.
  • Check the travel advisories for the country you want to visit. Nothing cute about trying to be a tourist in a warring country. The US Department of State’s website gives somewhat up-to-date info, but don’t let that scare you off too much.
  •  However, a fellow traveling friend of mine says that he reads the local papers online before he goes to see what’s up.
  • While we’re doing research, it wouldn’t hurt to read up a little on the weather, history, government and economic situation of the country you are going to. Usually wiki has the answers, but guidebooks from and are also cheap and can be downloaded directly to your *insert technological device here.*
  • Figure out how the public transportation works, or if you’ll be renting a car, and what currency the country uses.
  • As a server/bartender during my less glamorous months of the year, I have to say that it is important to understand the tipping procedures in every country you travel to.
  • Make copies of your passport, driver’s license, and credit cards.
  • Let your bank know of your travel plans so they don’t shut your cards down.
  • Find out which ATMs coincide with your bank and may not charge you an arm and a leg for withdrawals.
  • Decide whether or not you want to pay for an international phone plan. I intend to use my iPhone as more of a computer, accessing it only when I have wifi or need to take a picture.
  • If you have an iPad or iPhone, make sure you sync it with someone’s Find My iPhone so your mom or whoever knows where you are.
  • A Tip: If you’re traveling alone (like I am) and if you’re a woman (like I am), maybe don’t embark on your travels with a party mindset. What I mean to say is, don’t be one of those stories. Keep your guard up and a clear head, especially at night. We all know that foreigners stick out. If you’re traveling with friends, try not to be so obnoxiously foreign so you don’t attract unwanted attention.


by Rebecca Bellan

Stuff It In

A guide to stuffing your backpack for an extended trip to South America.

From insect repellant to moisture wicking underwear, I believe I thought of everything I’ll need.

I figure the most important thing to think about before you go backpacking is if you’re really going backpacking. In Europe, I feel like you can call it backpacking but actually bring a small rolling suitcase because the roads are generally paved. I hear that this is not the case in South America, so I headed over to Eastern Mountain Sports during their end-of-the-summer sales and went HAM on some outdoorsy gear, everything from nearly toxic insect repellant to a portable water filtration system to SO MANY wool socks. But first I needed the backpack. After trying on a few adult sized ones ranging from $200-$300, the kind sales associate suggested that I try on the youth backpack, due to my short torso, whatever that means. It fit perfectly and was $100 cheaper. I stuck a pin on it, a gift that was given to me by my Australian friend who volunteered with me in Sicily, and proceeded to buy more things to stuff in it. Here’s my list:

Clothes: (the key terms we are looking for here are moisture-wicking and quick dry. Gotta keep all your junk fresh.) I hear layers are very important in South America, especially in countries like Peru where the weather does what it wants and you either have to remove to keep cool or put on to keep warm.

  • 6-7 tank tops in slimming black and gray
  • 2-3 t shirts
  • 2 long sleeved shirts
  • 1-2 sweatshirts (one stuffed in my bag, another around my waist)
  • 1 cardigan (in case I need to cover my shoulders in a church, or something)
  • 1 thin rain jacket (that my mom bought me from Costco)
  • 4 pairs of quick-dry (there it is again) leggings
  • 1 pair of SICK, SEXY cargo pants/shorts with scandalous removable legs
  • 1 swimsuit
  • 8 or so pairs of undies (if you can’t afford to buy 8 pairs of $20 underwear like the super-hot pair shown below, cotton is also a breathable fabric)
  • 3 sports bras, 1 normal VS bra
  • 8 pairs of socks (preferably wool)
  • 1 pair of sandals (I packed my $2 pair of Old Navy flip flops. Hope I don’t lose them in a swamp)
  • 2 pairs of shorts- 1 jean, 1 workout style (3 if you count my transformers)
  • 1 pair of pajamas (mine consist of a pair of boxers, flannel pants, and a large Irish Yoga tshirt)
  • 1 black skirt, 1 cute sundress
  • 1 pair of ridiculously comfy hiking boots that I will probably wear errday


  • fast-drying towel
  • a first aid kit/personal pharmacy
    • lip balm with spf, sunscreen 30spf or higher, cough drops, neosporin, PEPTO BISMAL, hand sanitizer, rehydration salts, PAINKILLERS, flu meds, bandaids, Emergenc-E, etc.
  • tampons and pads…amrightladies??? Also birth control packs…ain’t nobody got time for cramps
  • insect repellant with deet
  • some makeup- I’m mostly going au natural, bringing along a tinted moisturizer with SPF for smooth skin, mascara for my utter lack of eyelashes, concealer for my other bags, and some lipstick
  • Sunglasses and a hat (imma buy the hat down there so I look like a local)
  • eye mask and ear plugs (so I don’t hear myself or other travelers snoring and rustling with their plastic bags)
  • Shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, deodorant, razors…
    • I also bought some special pH soap that I can use as anything from bodywash to laundry detergent
  • flashlight, lock, money necklace (I still have mine from famous Long Island water park SPLISH SPLASH)
  • small messenger purse for my passport and other things
  • a sink plug so you can do your own laundry
  • universal power adapter
  • headphones, chargers, a good digital camera (mine is an Olympus E 420), iPad, and an iPad camera connection kit so ya’ll can see my pretty pics
  • notebook and pens (for the sentimental stuff I don’t want you all reading)

I’ll let you guys know how this worked out for me! Wish me luck.

my limited attire
my limited attire, rolled up to preserve space
bundle of bras (and socks and undies)
bundle of bras (and socks and undies)
ooh la la
these ExOfficio undies boast being able to last for “17 countries. 6 weeks. One pair of underwear (ok, maybe two).” I’ll let you know how that works out for me.
fancy pants
fancy pants
a gift from a friend
a gift from a friend
a youth backpack
a youth backpack
“I open at the close.”


some other things
some essentials, including (whore) wipes, a waterproof bag, quick-dry towel, notebook, hand sanitizer, lock, mini water purification system, sink plug, first aid, and some games.
a great gift from family
the cash and journal were much needed gifts from family. the red thing is my money necklace from Splish Splash water park


by Rebecca Bellan

The One Way Ticket

If you’re as restless as I am, buying a one way ticket is the best way to start your journey.

Nothing inspires and ignites me like getting ready to travel.

A wise man at a sticky dueling piano bar in Boston once told me that there are two types of people in this world: those who know their culture and try to push the limits of it, and those who don’t know their culture, and explore unfamiliar worlds in the hopes of finding somewhere they belong. I suppose am the latter, absorbing the parts of different cultures that I like and rejecting those that I don’t. I consider myself to have a chronic and recurring case of wanderlust, otherwise known as “the travel bug”, which makes me hunger for new experiences. It all started when I studied abroad in Madrid, Spain junior year of college. I got my first taste of what it feels like to be an individual in a new society, and I became addicted, booking as many weekend trips around Europe as I could.

Last year, I felt it was time for another spontaneous adventure. I booked my first one way ticket to Sicily, Italy and decided to the figure the rest out once I got there. Of course, I wasn’t completely irresponsible; I frequented the site to find someone to host me in exchange for free labor. I find sites like this one, and (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) to be great outlets to find people who encourage travelers to stay for a while and get to know their culture through mutually beneficial relationships. In Sicily, I worked for two months at CCly Hostel in Catania, where I slept in an 8 bed dorm with other travelers and volunteers and basically ran the hostel, doing everything from making breakfast to checking in guests to cleaning toilets. While I was there, I met so many awesome and inspirational fellow travelers, and I was able to really get to know the island of Sicily, while also taking a long weekend trip to Istanbul, a few weeks teaching English in Poland, terminating in a few more weeks touring the south of Spain (more on last year’s trip in another post).

Now, my restlessness has gotten to me again, and I feel the need to visit the uncharted (by me) lands of Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina. My bank account will probably only allow me to stay for three months or so, despite rarely having to pay room and board because I will be volunteering my way through the four countries. But experiences are worth more to me than almost anything else. As skeptical philosopher David Hume said, the self is “nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions…”  I intend to experience this trip hard and fast (thank god for adderall), absorbing as much as I can as quickly as I can.

Check out my next post to see what and how I packed my one backpack. I don’t want to call it a “packing tips” post just yet, because, as I’ve never been south of the northern hemisphere before, I have no idea if I’m doing this right. Trial and error, folks!

**UPDATE- Instead of Argentina, I went to Colombia, and couldn’t be more pleased by my decision. I felt that Argentina was too large of a country to try to fit into a few weeks, and I also wasn’t pleased with the idea of paying for an expensive visa to enter the country, an oversight in my prior research.

September, 2014

by Rebecca Bellan