Category Archives: Food

What I Will Miss About Living in Ecuador

– Not driving a car, being able to walk everywhere (Save $$$$ on Gas)

– A $2 three-course meal with dessert

– The variety of fruit and fruit juices (Quiero una jugo de mora AND the best pineapple I’ve ever eaten)

– High-priced fast-food and American candy (good incentive to not eat it)

– Empanadas (compare that to hot pockets, which are not as good)

– The breakfast at El Colibri

– Coup attempts that got us out of work

– Living in a country with vastly different geographical landscapes (the coast, highlands, amazon and galapagos)

– The passion in the culture and people

– Being able to survive without a cellphone

– Television isn’t the center of the living room (the only time it was turned on was during the coup attempt)

– Everything being so close (grocery stores, gym, cafes)

– Free Salsa lessons on Wednesday night in The Mariscal District

– Not living to work, but working to live


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Filed under Activities, Ecuador, Facts, Food, Galapagos Islands, Global, History, International, Latin America // South America, Nature, Outdoors, Sites, Tips, Travel, Worldwide

What I Won’t Miss About Living in Ecuador

– The diversity of people (predominantly one ethnicity unlike the melting pot in the States)

– Being stared at for being “tall” and “blonde”

– Having to watch my step, worry about breaking my ankle walking on the sidewalk

– Whistles, Car Horns/Alarms, Random Firework Shows every single night

– The no sense of time philosophy shared by every Ecuadorian

– Stores opening and closing whenever they feel like it

– Having to pay for “agua sin gas” (water) at every meal

– Holding my backpack like it was a baby on the bus in fear of it being slashed (aka having to be overprotective of belongings)

– Public breast-feeding

– Public urination

– Being asked for change when I presented a $5 bill or larger

– Nescafe or any of their coffee

– Fake ketchup

– The supermarket being crowded at any time of day

– Lack of personal space

– Coup Attempts

– Squeezing onto the buses and being packed lack a sardine

– The fact that insulation did not exist in the houses, meaning it felt like the Arctic in my bedroom

– The machismo personality (gawking and throwing pick-up lines at every ‘pretty’ girl)

– No seat-belts, No speed limits, No rules of the road

– Having to dart out of the ways of cars, not having the right of way as a pedestrian

– Having to throw away the toilet paper in a trash can rather than in the toilet

– Not having hot water in the faucets or showers (electric showers)

– Indoor smoking is still allowed in business/bars

– Having to haggle for anything (food, taxi fare, any item you wanted to purchase)

– Being begged for money at every corner, street light or on the bus

– Being sold/or asked to buy candy or food at every corner, street light or on the bus

– The lack of seasons

– Having to see stray dogs and homeless everywhere

– Lack of any spicy food

– Rice

– Not being able to eat salad for fear of contracting a parasite

– Slow walkers – they definitely take their time getting to and from places

– The scary stories of rape, robberies, slashed purses, drugs, etc

– Wondering whether or not the laundry people actually washed my clothes or not

– Being told not to walk around at night after 7 pm by myself

– No sense of common courtesy (knowing what the point of a line means, waiting your turn)

– The mission it is to pickup a package

– Overpriced imports (candy from the United States)

– Lack of laundry machines in the house, having to take it to the cleaners who may or may not even wash them


Filed under Activities, Ecuador, Facts, Food, Global, History, International, Latin America // South America, Sites, Tips, Tour, Travel, Worldwide

Why hostels are a lot more all-inclusive than a hotel or resort

the secret garden hostel in the cotopaxi province of ecuador

In the Cotopaxi Province of Ecuador is the Secret Garden. It takes a 30 minute taxi ride, then a 45 min bus ride and then another 30 minute truck ride to reach this remote, eden in the middle of vast plains coated in all shades of green and interspersed with rolling  mounds. The red paint of the hostel walls make it stand out vibrantly against its surroundings. Each building serves its own unique purpose: the dormitory for travelers, the camping awnings, the outhouse, the jacuzzi solitude, the stables, the greenhouse and the main building where most of the visitors spend their time. There is a fully-loaded kitchen where chefs are baking all day, the two dining rooms, living room with a fireplace, and the adjacent shower and toilet room, which is connected by a door.

hammocks for guests to relax and enjoy the breath-taking scenery

Why is this hostel loads better than your typical hotel or resort? Because The Secret Garden hostel offers top-notch service, breath-taking views, all meals and provides you with enough daily activities in one complete spot. What hotel or resort could give you a family-like feel the second you step onto the gravel driveway and close the door to the truck that picked you up at the bus stop? None that I can think of off the top of my head. The smiling hostel greeter came out and shook our hands, welcoming us inside while asking numerous questions to get to know us immediately.

We barely had time to set our bags down before she ushered us to the table for lunch: a delicious kale soup and plenty of home-made rolls with currents of steam emanating from their brown edges. As soon as we began slurping she let us know that one of the hostel volunteers would take us on a waterfall hike after we we got the chance to settle into our room. Once again I must ask, has any hotel or resort clerk done this for you? I didn’t think so.

the trekking boot collection at the hostel

The two volunteers took us to our dormitory room and figured out the beds that would be free that night and let us get organized. As soon as we walked back into the main house, we were told to go get our trekking boots. They had plenty to choose from and we each found our size. We were asked if they were comfortable and then set off down the path, over the hills and through an opening in the forest that only a guide would know of its location.

Our boots trekked through streams, over boulders, up hills, through mud, over trees, under trees, down hills, and along cliff sides to see two cascading waterfalls flow into clear ponds. The rushing water couldn’t be heard outside of this hideaway haven of nature that was only being captured by our eyes and lenses. As soon as we left the forest refuge, the candles were being lit and sparkled in the windows of the dining room where the table was being set for dinner. Were candles lit at the last dinner you ate at your resort? Did they even provide a free meal with dessert? Probably not.

one of the waterfalls we saw during the trekk

That evening, a wood-burning fire crackled in the living room where all the hostel guests sat on couches, in chairs and on the rug on the floor journaling, reading, listening to music, looking through pictures and conversing with one another. The hostel owners arrived with their children at that time and welcomed everybody like they were part of their family. The kids ran around playing for a bit before being told to get ready for bed. Last we saw of them was them in their pajamas and bare-feet running off to their bedroom. The hotel volunteers stood up and told us of the itinerary planned for tomorrow. If anyone was interested in  horseback riding they were asked to sign up. My friends and I did. Each only $30. One by one each traveler departed through the bathroom door to get ready for bed.

Soon, we did the same. By the time we got to the dormitory and opened the door we felt the heat embrace us from the burning coals in the heater that warmed our room. We climbed up and slid into our individual bunk beds and enveloped our bodies within the thick, down comforters before we let our heads hit the pillows. Once the last of our bedroom guests did the same, the candles in the windows were blown out and darkness folded over our eyelids.

horseback riding in the cotopaxi province of ecuador (photo: rachel tavel)

In the morning, we ate our breakfast, which was served earlier for those going horseback riding before the regular time. We brushed our teeth and all met at the stables where we selected our horses, were fitted for the stirrups and made sure we were comfortable before setting off on the six-hour ride. We were allowed to go at our own pace, which meant most of us were galloping away.

Once we reached the top of the Rumñahui Mountain, we got to see the Cotopaxi volcano from a closer distance. The guide served us tea and some sort of cake to warm us up because of the freezing and harsh, blowing winds we faced at such a high altitude. Did your hotel or resort hook you up with tours like this? Oh, right, they just passed you a bunch of brochures from other people in the area they most likely know nothing about.

cotopaxi, the tallest active volcano in the world

We were met with fresh rolls and steaming soup once we returned to the hostel. After that, we got in the back of a truck that took us all the way back to Quito for the same price as the taxi and bus. We saved time and our bodies from more pain after six hours in the saddle. My final question is, did your hotel or resort have this much to offer in terms of service and value? Or simply, atmosphere and people?

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Filed under Activities, Ecuador, Facts, Food, Global, International, Latin America // South America, Nature, Outdoors, Sites, Tips, Tour, Travel, Worldwide

What I’ve learned in my first week of living in Ecuador

1. The men are extremely machismo (hola bonita! que hermosa!) and persistent

2. Never fall asleep on a bus, or leave your backpack in-between your legs or under the seat. It will be cut open and things will be stolen.

3. No gracias, No gracias, No gracias – say that to all the street vendors

4. Say NO next time your co-worker wants to tell you a rape or robbery story

the city of quito with the pichincha mountains backdrop

5. Eat with your purse in your lap, never leave it unattended

6. PUSH your way onto the crowded bus despite the “enter” and “exit” doors

7. Choclo (Andean corn) is a popular topping on pizza – EW! Nasty!

8. Don’t feed the dogs, someone else will

9. Cars have the right away, not people, there are no rules of the road, or speed limits

10. Guinea Pig is a delicacy to eat

11. To have a hot shower, you have to use electricity … electric showers can catch on fire

12. It is almost impossible to get a full night’s sleep with horns, whistles, dogs barking outside

13. Never carry more than $20 USD with you because no one will know how to break it

14. Don’t shower at the same time as your roommates because the power will shutdown

15. You never know when your favorite shop or store is open because people work to live and don’t live to work, which means they decide to open and close when they want to

exploring the cloud forest in mindo, ecuador

16. There is no sense of time here, unless you create it. (i.e. buses leave when they want)

17. No convenience exists. You have to shop around to find everything you are looking for

18. The parks present an escape for everyone

19. The altitude makes even a fit person breathe harder with a simple uphill climb

20. Despite Ecuador exporting good coffee, the coffee here is not that amazing, really watery

21. The smoking indoors ban does not exist here, sadly

22. Always remember “agua sin gas” so you don’t receive a bottle of non-flavored, carbonated tasting water. I think the U.S. is the only country that does not like gaseous water.

23. Do.Not.Flush.Toilet.Paper.Down.The.Toilet.

24. Milk and other random items come in bags or a box-like container, not in jugs.

25. Despite all the horror stories, there are extremely nice and friendly Ecuadorians


Filed under Ecuador, Facts, Food, Global, International, Latin America // South America, Tips, Travel, Worldwide

Unfinished artwork: the basilica del voto nacional

the pinchincha mountains in quito, ecuador

Quito is alive. If you don’t wake up, the city will sure enough wake you up with honking horns, sirens and blasting music. People never seem to stop walking and cars never seem to stop rushing around. Today, there were clear, blue skies, even though the forecast for the entire week predicted rain and thunderstorms. Who would complain about that though, right? This gave my friend and me a lovely first day to explore some of what this capital city of more than 1 million people has to offer.

We climbed a large metal ball in one of the four parks located in the city and found a great place to eat almuerzo (lunch). For $2 US we got really delicious juice, tasty soup and the main meal, which consisted of white rice, fried chicken and a mix of vegetables, along with a gelatin dessert. This was so much food for $2 that we thought we had accidentally ordered both dishes that were being offered today and couldn’t even finish our meals.

the basilica del voto nacional

After that we visited the Basilica del Voto Nacional, the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas. For $2 US ($1 for Ecuadorians), you are able to explore all levels of this cathedral, that technically is still in construction.

Apparently a local legend states that the world would end if the construction of the basilica were to be  completed. Maybe that’s why they haven’t finished building it?

While climbing each level, differently designed windows provide glimpses of the church’s sides, decorated with arcs and grotesques (gargoyles) in the forms of Ecuadorian animals.

You can stop on each floor and look around. On one there is a gift shop and on another there is a cafe with inexpensive meals and treats. In the beginning, you get to see the vast sanctuary filled with benches and decorated with stained glass windows. There were some Ecuadorians cleaning and restoring some of the intricate architectural beauty on this floor.

the basilica sanctuary

Walk through the gift shop to get to the wooden plank. This is your bridge to a really beautiful panoramic view of the city. With each hesitant step, you’ll hear creaking, leaving you to pray that an earthquake does not occur. At the end of the long plank there is a steep staircase that climbs to a 360 degree view of mountains and colorful homes. If you are even more brave, there are two more sets of steep stairs that take you to a room at the very top, allowing you miles and miles of visibility in all directions. The hardest part is the climb down because of the angle at which the stairs were constructed.

One more trip across the wooden plank will get you back over to the clock tower side of the cathedral. To see the clocks and bells you have to climb many more stair cases: steep, vertical and spiral. At the top, however, you are welcomed with spectacular views through symbolic cut-outs that make you feel like it is all worth more than two dollars.


Filed under Ecuador, Facts, Food, Global, History, International, Latin America // South America, Sites, Tour, Travel, Worldwide

Hand-sized Hamburgers & Super-sized Sunsets

Once your lungs get used to the thick, humid air and your ears get used to the buzzing sound of cicadas in trees, you can start to enjoy all that Indiana has to offer the casual traveler.

The Hoosier State’s capital city of Indianapolis

is known as the “Crossroads of America.”

My first day of this trip was spent eating at the places “you must eat at” when in the Mid-West and traveling back through my mother’s memories. There are restaurants and fast-food places that don’t exist on the Western part of the country such as Hardees (think Carls Jr.) , Steak N Shake and Bob Evans. However, the most discussed by everyone who grew up here or, in my case, whose mom grew up in Indiana is a little well-known place called White Castle.

It is a U.S. fast-food chain that was the   first to focus on the production of hamburgers. It’s reputation grew larger than the size of its hamburgers, which are smaller than the palm of your hand and can be eaten in two to three bites.

The ingredients are basic:

100% beef patty

Diced, tasty onions

Soft, white bread buns

Dill pickle slice

The menu is basic, using the number system for a meal that comes complete with a side of fries and a drink. An individual hamburger costs less than $0.50. Most of the meals come with either four hamburgers or two, depending on the type, such as beef, chicken or pulled pork.

For the really big fans, they can order the bagged or boxed set of a large quantity of White Castle, and don’t be ashamed if you’re one of them. They are quite the popular food item. My mom actually ordered a box the night she flew back to Arizona and they were still warm off the airplane and scarfed down on the drive home by an eager husband and kids from what I recall some years back. White Castle truly becomes a tradition for families whether it is a weekly visit or at least eaten at once during a trip.

Later that evening, while driving down the one road that goes through downtown Franklin and into farm country, where my mother’s childhood house still stands right off the rugged, bumpy pavement, the sun began setting. Our windows were rolled down to let the chill, sticky air play with our hair during the orchestra of buzzing performed by the cicadas and the trees became silhouettes against a backdrop of bright orange and pink haze.

The Mid-West’s landscape can be more appreciated at night because its industrious appearance is taken back to its earlier days. The roads are empty except for the occasional headlights seen far off down the path before you. Individual lights shine brightly in the front windows of homes barricaded by large trees and fireflies are taken for a ride on the cool, breeze over cornfields.


Filed under Food, Indiana, Nature, Outdoors, Sites, Travel, United States