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Explorer’s Journal: A journey through mainland Ecuador with SA Explorer Katherine

In this edition of our Explorer’s Journal, SA Expeditions’ Marketing Specialist, Katherine Lalangan ventures through the diverse regions of Ecuador. Tag along as she traverses among the vast highlands of Cotopaxi National Park and into the dense forests of Mindo and the Amazon.

Hola! SA Marketing Specialist, Katherine here coming at you from Ecuador.

Recently, I went on an expedition with Adventure Travel Trade Association and other fellow representatives of the travel industry. Join me as I take you on an exciting journey through Ecuador’s fascinating mainland.

Trotting through the Andes

An early morning wake-up brought us to Cotopaxi National Park. Standing at 19,350 ft., Cotopaxi is the tallest active volcano in the world! On the way to the national park, we saw not a cloud looming around the peak, but volcanic smoke – an incredible sight.

For our first activity, we had the choice to do mountain biking or horseback riding. Since we were going up to 12,400 ft., horseback riding was a calm and easy activity for a first day in altitude, and I just adore horses.

ATTA Adventure Week Ecuador group in Cotopaxi National Park, Ecuador
Our group taking a quick stop to take in the gorgeous landscapes. (Photo: Katherine Lalangan)

Our guides provided us a helmet, furred chaps, and a poncho – we were channeling our inner chagra (Ecuadorian cowboy). After a quick briefing, we hopped on our noble steeds and meandered through the Paramo. Beautiful volcanic landscapes surrounded us, but the cherry on top was when we saw wild horses galloping magically against a backdrop of the Cotopaxi Volcano.

A unique bond with horses

The next morning involved another horse activity, but this time unique to any activity I’d experienced before. Located nearby Cotopaxi National Park, El Porvenir offers what they call Horse Empowerment, which allows visitors to connect with horses on a deeper – and even emotional – level. Horses are one of the most intelligent and intuitive animals on Earth. Standing outside the corral, we began with an exercise that helped us become more present with ourselves and to hold space between one another.

Stepping into the corral, all the horses were simply snacking on the grass below them. We walked by every horse and said hello – not in the form of petting the horse, but merely acknowledging our presence. We wanted to be respectful and not touch any of the horses unless their body language told us it was okay.

After walking around for some time and letting the horses become more familiar with us, each person was given a bit-less bridle to put on a horse; this requires trust between the human and the horse. At this point, several of the people in my group seemed to have connected with a horse, but I was worried I lacked connection with any of them as they seemed timid around me despite my humble approach.

Then I turned around, and there was a brown horse with long blonde hair already looking at me. Instead of turning away as I walked slowly, his head was following me. The horse allowed me to pet him, and I got close enough to where I saw my own reflection in its eye. That’s when I felt a warm rush of emotions hit me.

Naturally, the horse allowed me to place the bridle on its head. I thought, “How incredible is it that humans can connect with an entirely different species?” Then I asked the guide for its name: Pelucón.

Pelucon - Horse Empowerment at El Porvenir, Ecuador
A calm soul decides to share its presence with me. Pelucón means “long haired.” (Photo: Katherine Lalangan)

Coffee and chocolate in the cloud forest

The most unique aspect of Ecuador is that embodies a mix of four different worlds: the Galapagos Islands, the Andes mountains, the Amazon jungle, and the Pacific coast. Within just a few hours driving from the high Cotopaxi to the cloud forests of Mindo, we passed by three different ecosystems!

In Mindo, we stopped by Café Frajares for a coffee experience which was surprisingly educational. Our host detailed the different outcomes when brewing coarse versus fine coffee grounds, dark/medium/light roasts, and more or less water to coffee ratio, as well as the amount of caffeine. The general rule of thumb: the coffee to water weight ratio for espresso is 1:2, while coffee using a French press is 1:12.

Coffee experience at Cafe Frajares in Mindo, Ecuador
A delightful coffee experience where we got to try samples with a bit of chocolate. (Photo: Katherine Lalangan)

Afterwards, we visited Yumbos Chocolate to learn about the process of turning the seeds of a cacao fruit into a rich and delicious chocolate bar. Our group got to taste several types of chocolate in relation to the purity percentage, and even some unique flavors. My favorite was the chocolate with aji (pepper).

Stepping on both halves of the world

Our group of explorers went to the Intiñan Museum to visit the real Middle of the World. (You may be saying, “What do you mean real Middle of the World?” I’m glad you asked!)

Fun fact: the big and famous Middle of the World monument is not actually on the equator. The French expedition team that discovered (what they thought was) the equator line in 1736 was actually 250 yards off.

Sundial at the Intinan Museum in Quito, Ecuador
The equator’s super cool sundial! Notice where the shadow of the needle points. This photo was captured at exactly 11:00am. (Photo: Katherine Lalangan)

At the Intiñan Museum, our guide conducted a few fascinating demonstrations on the equator’s gravity and the Coriolis effect. My personal favorite was the simulation of the Coriolis effect using a sink. Standing at the red equator line, the water flooded straight down the drain. When we moved to the north side, the water rotated counterclockwise down the drain. Then we moved to the south side and, of course, the cyclone moved clockwise.

By the end of our visit, we earned a stamp on our passport that accredited our checkpoint to the Middle of the World.

Egg master balancing egg at equator line and passport stamp at Intinan Museum in Quito, Ecuador
Since I was able to balance an egg on a nail head at the Middle of the World, I was pronounced an “egg master,” for which I earned a certificate! (Photo: Katherine Lalangan)

Through the rapids and into the Amazon

Our group was stoked to white water raft in the Amazon. With two separate rafts, we drifted down the Jatunyacu River and eventually met the Napo River, the longest waterway in Ecuador. We conquered the rapids and tread through the waters. At times our rafts would meet, sending a playful splash war between the groups. As the youngest person on the trip, it was truly a heartwarming sight to see a generation older than me letting out their inner child.

When our guide told us we passed our last rapid and were soon ending our voyage, there was one last way to channel out our adrenaline. “Let’s jump in the river!” shouted the girl next to me. With approval from our guide, she jumped with no hesitation, and everyone followed suit. Staying close to the boat, we allowed the river to carry us. Floating in a natural body of water at the “lungs of the Earth” had never made us feel so free.

Katherine Lalangan and ATTA Adventure Week Ecuador group white water rafting in the Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador
After each exciting push through a rapid, we would celebrate by joining our paddles in the middle. (Photo: Katherine Lalangan)

After a change of clothes, we headed to Sinchi Warmi, meaning “strong woman” in Quichua, the local indigenous language. This property is run by an empowering community of indigenous women that embrace the courage and leadership that women hold. Here, we experienced some hands-on activities to develop a deeper understanding of what they do. First, we made our own tilapia lunch by seasoning the fish, wrapping it in bijao leaves, and roasting it over a fire. While our meal was cooking, they showed us how they make thread from pita plants and the materials used to dye it. We even got to make our own handicraft bracelets from the thread and seeds!

Bracelet and maito fish meal at Sinchi Warm in the Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador
Left: A bracelet I made using the techniques they the community taught us; Right: Our homemade meal was one of the best we had on the trip! (Photo: Katherine Lalangan)

After we finished braiding our bracelets we were called for dinner, which was perhaps the best meal I had on the trip. The meal was perfectly balanced with tilapia, yucca, and some veggies. By dusk, we were set to depart and I farewelled with the Quichua word for thank you: “Pagarachu.”

Itching for adventure? Take a peek at our most popular mainland Ecuador itinerary that includes three of four key regions in Ecuador. If you’re hoping to go beyond the mainland, the Galapagos Islands are just for you! Pack your bags and start planning .

About the Author: As part of SA Expeditions’ marketing team, you might have seen some of Katherine’s content through social media, newsletters, or video creation. Coming from a small town in Oregon, she (as the youngest member on the team) decided to start her career path beyond national borders and now calls Finland her second home.

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