South America had been on my bucket list for quite some time and now that I had been in the yachting industry for a few years, with no responsibilities of house, car etc to fork out on, money was plentiful. So I realised it was now or never and at the point got a map out and started planning the South American trip of a lifetime. The only problem is when I look at a map I seem to totally forget that in real life the distances are far greater than they appear on the static screen, in light of this I ended up booking a four-month trip covering eight different countries in Central and South America.
- Costa Rica
- Ecuador & Galapagos Islands
As anyone who has already travelled in these areas will know there are some great distances to be covered, in Argentina I literally spent 35 hours on a coach travelling from one side of the country to another and that was width ways (clearly I hadn’t done too much research before booking my tickets). However I didn’t want to miss anything out and insisted I would just speed things up and spend less time in each place in order to fit them all in, apart from one place. I spent almost a month in Ecuador and in that time I had some ultimately incredible experiences, I tried things that I think you would be pushed for opportunity to do so anywhere else in the world.
From the minute I arrived in Quito the capital of Ecuador I felt a huge sigh of relief it felt normal, almost like coming home, there was Mc Donalds, real shops, wifi. After spending two weeks in Cuba and being a complete idiot aboard, literally having no clue beforehand that wifi wasn’t even a thing there at all, it was a huge relief to be back in the real world where, when ever I had a question I knew google was right there to answer it. Well its like they say you don’t realise what you have, until it’s gone.
Quito was the exact fix of normality I needed after a few months of Spanish speaking, taco eating, Central America, but as nice as that reality injection is every once in a while, lets face it the real reason we all travel is to get away from reality and all the routine, boring, every day things that come along with it. So I booked myself on a G-adventure Tour which would take me to new and exciting places on unusual adventures. In a country I didn’t know with a language I didn’t speak, I thought it would be nice to take the edge off and travel hassle free for a while with all arrangements made for me and the biggest decision of my day being whether or not I wanted to throw myself down white water rapids or zip-line through canyons and canopies, (to which I chose zip-lining, just incase you were wondering).
This wasn’t my first G-Adventure Tour, in fact it was my third. I believe it’s such a hassle free, safe way to see the best of the local culture and a great way to have like minded people to share it with. As much as I am happy to travel alone, it just has such a deeper more pleasurable impact when you make those memories with others and know that you will all carry those experiences with you forever.
Having a local guide is a huge bonus as they obviously know how NOT to get ripped off, the easiest, quickest and safest routes to every destination and you get to have some insanely unique experiences you defiantly couldn’t pull off on your lonesome.
One of these unique experiences for me was not just visiting but actually staying and living with a Quichua Tribe family in the Amazon Jungle, I mean it was only two nights and yes granted we were hardly deep, deep in the Amazon Jungle, completely cut off from all forms of ordinary life, but still it was the Amazon, a place I studied with wonder at school and now I was actually going to be sleeping, living and breathing there (a massive tick off the bucket list).
The Quichua Tribe family, really welcomed us in with open arms, they were extremely proud of their way of life and so they should be. They wasted no time showing and teaching us everything they could about how they live and what daily life is like for them. The way they live off the land blows my mind, Papa Quichua (the man of the wooden hut type house) could literally make a different head dress or some sort of useful object out of any of the surrounding leaves or undergrowth. Every plant and tree had their own medicinal purpose, some had several and I began to realise that if you knew how, it would actually be more than easy to live off of the land, everything we need is already there right in front of us, it’s just knowing how to use it that’s the issue, its almost like we have gone backwards and made things harder for ourselves these days.
Now as stunning as the Amazon is, there was one thing I couldn’t get my head around, and that isn’t just the piercing noise from all the insects and wildlife. We ate many wholesome, home cooked meals whilst there all made with such love from the family, but when Papa produced a banana leaf full of HUGE grubs, my stomach began to turn. The thought ‘I’m a Celebrity get me out of here” popped straight into the forefront of my mind. However at the same time I knew this was a once in a lifetime experience to try this and one I would be forever proud of myself for doing. So I sucked up my fear and grew a pair of balls and put one into my mouth, it was still wriggling and very much alive. It felt even bigger in my mouth than it had looked on the leaf. I wanted to cry as I bite into it and a gooey discharge squeezed into my mouth, I started to reach quite violently, but I’d done it, I’d swallowed a live creature and I would NEVER forget it, unfortunately.
Other than suffering my way through eating a grub, there were many more unforgettable, tick off the bucket list experiences to be had whilst in Ecuador:
- Skipping over the Equator
- Watching Ecuador play in the World Cup, whilst in an Ecuadorian pub with the locals
- Teaching kids how to sing the alphabet, in a secluded school in the snowy mountains
- Staying in a 400 year old Hacienda (very scary)
- Having a face mask with natural mud from the Amazon Jungle
- Climbing waterfalls in the Amazon
- Spending a night in the Hilton Hotel (All a part of the tour and not something I can afford every day on a four month trip)
From Pet to Plate
Now for my second surprising dish of the day, the very humble pet Guinea Pig, yes that’s right the small furry animal that you had running around chewing on your lawn in the back garden, was now on a spit roast and being prepped for my dinner. Not sure at what point they had decided this was a good idea to try but I must say after my grub experience, a cooked Guinea pig was a hell of a lot more advertising to my taste buds.
Of course it’s a struggle to get your head around but again it has to be done. I’m here to try new things and step outside my comfort zone and I’m definitely ticking that box, so if it means putting my three pets to the back of my mind then thats what I will do, I’m sure Sally, Sneezy and Squeaky (my childhood Guinea Pigs) wouldn’t hold it against me.
The meat was extremely rich, quite gamey and had an explosion of salt to it, one to be eaten in very small quantities, which I guess is a good thing as they are only tiny, once you have sieved through all the bones, although I hear the locals eat the whole thing from head to toe, including bones (each to their own).
Guinea pigs are highly regarded among the indigenous Andes tribe folk, not only as a food source but also as a medicine, you can see it on the menu in the more local of eateries, and this was yet another perk to our local tour guide, he knew exactly where to go for a good one.
So there you have it two highly unusual foods to try if you are ever in Ecuador and fancy tasting the tribe life.
Let me know the most unusual foodie experience you have had and whether or not you would do it again?