About Lainie Liberti
Lainie Liberti is a recovering branding expert, who’s career once focused on creating campaigns for green - eco business, non-profits and conscious business. Dazzling clients with her high-energy designs for over 18 years, Lainie lent her artistic talents to businesses that matter. But that was then.
In 2008, after the economy took a turn, Lainie decided to be the change (instead of a victim) and began the process of “lifestyle redesign,” a joint decision between both her and her 11-year-old son, Miro. They sold or gave away all of of their possessions in 2009 and began a life of travel, service, and exploration. Lainie and her son Miro began their open-ended adventure backpacking through Central and South America. They are slow traveling around the globe allowing inspiration to be their compass. The pair is most interested in exploring different cultures, contributing by serving, and connecting with humanity as ‘global citizens.’
Today Lainie considers herself a digital nomad who is living a location independent life. She and her son write and podcast their experiences from the road at Raising Miro on the Road of Life.
Latest Posts by Lainie Liberti
The water drops glistened like a peeled grape in the early morning Guatemala sun. My cheeks were starting to warm but I could still see my breath. I watched light transform the fountain into a stage where dancing water droplets bounced up, then dove down onto the surrounding concrete creating a impressive misty haze.
Lost in the splendor, I found myself transported to a faraway place from my childhood. Then suddenly I realized I was in a far-away place in the present, with my 10 year old son Miro. Our lives were no longer a day dream, they had shifted into a life of perpetual travel.
On this crisp September morning, Miro and I became united with the rhythm of Parque Central the main hub of Antigua for locals and travelers alike. Antigua was to become our new base for the next eight months, and this particular morning was among one of our first mornings there. After three months of non-stop travel, Miro and I decided to slow down and make the energetic Colonial town nestled between three volcanoes, our new temporary home.
Just months before, neither Miro nor I spoke a word of Spanish. But that morning in Antigua, I realized Miro had a much better grasp on the new language than I did. As I reflected, I noticed that not only were our learning styles vastly different from one another, we both had completely different aptitudes for learning a new language. At the time, I was 42 years old and Miro was just 10 and neither of us had ever learned a second language.
Just a month prior, Miro and I studied Spanish for two weeks in Nicaragua. We paid upfront for ten private classes reserving one teacher for the duration. My son and I sat in our classes for five hours a day over the two week period. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it didn’t turn out to be the best approach for neither of us. My initial thought was it might be fun to learn with my son so we could practice together and hopefully converse after two weeks of classes.
But that is not what happened.
During the first week of Spanish classes, our teacher Maria approached class by introducing vocabulary, speaking phrases and having us repeat words back to her. Unfortunately, that approach didn’t work for either of us.
Miro absorbed the lessons but was easily bored. After the first week, Maria shifted approaches with him and began playing board games with Miro giving all instructions in Spanish. My clever 10 year-old son was up to the challenge and gleefully engaged in every move and learned Spanish quickly.
But for me, things couldn’t be more difficult. I was a complete failure in class and in fact it took me almost a complete year of full immersion to simply recall the phonetic rules. In my two weeks of classes, I had no ability to retain, remember or even process new sounds or words. As quickly as Maria gave me a word, it would seem to slip out of my memory like water escaping through my fingers.
Language classes didn’t work for me, but a 10 year old Miro absorbed quickly through playing as if his mind were a sponge.
That first morning Antigua came alive, colors became more vivid as the sun grew larger in the sky. I watched pigeons gather around the fountain, crowds of indigenous women merge and tourists pull out their maps. Miro and I knew we belonged there but we felt the barrier of language alienating us from integrating within the natural movement.
I sighed, pulled out my journal and started to write about the beautiful things I was observing that morning. Miro was hungrily reading a book on our shared kindle, accustomed to devouring a new book every few days.
“What are you writing, my love?” An ancient voice, belonging to an old man in a blue sweater vest and a gray newsboy hat inquired. He had just silently sat down next to me. His heavily accented English told me he was local, but his words were very precise.
I looked over at him and said, “I’m writing my reflections about this beautiful park and how excited I am being here in Antigua.”
The man smiled and nodded. And I continued “however, I realize I’m sad I am that I cannot communicate with that woman over there.” I pointed to the plump dark skinned woman in the colorful embroidered skirt and pale blue cotton lace shirt . She had an angelic baby blissfully sleeping on her back, secured by similar cloth to her skirt. “I wish I could speak Spanish, I wish I could speak to everyone in this park,” I replied.
“You may not have the language my dear, but you can share a million words with your smile,” the old man said.
His words held deep meaning for me. Later, I reflected that being able to speak in the native language is an important aspect in creating a meaningful cultural experience, but for now, my smile and non-verbal communication was the most valuable tool I had. Communicating relies on many things other than words. I realized body language, tone and volume, extrapolation and smiles were equally important. These were my early tools, my non-verbal modes of communication which helped me communicate with natives and have a more immersive experience with a limited vocabulary.
As the air grew warmer, I loosened the scarf around my neck. I sat up on the stone bench listening to the old man’s stories and watched as Antigua came alive around us. His colorful stories were laced with history, culture and personal triumphs. Then, the old man, turned, looked at me an asked me to repeat after him, “muchas gracias”.
I repeated those words. I knew instinctively those words meant “thank you very much”. Was he thanking me or giving me a Spanish lesson?
“Muchas gracias” I said again. The old man smiled. My smile widened. We had connected, I had learned.
Next, the old man said “buenos tardes”. I understood as Miro glanced up from his reading, then went back to his book. He too, had a smile on his face.
“Buenos tardes,” I said back to him. I was speaking basic Spanish with him. My pace was slow, but in this moment, I was engaged. The old man was deliberate with what he was doing and I was happy to allow him to guide the experience. The last words the old man said to me before he stood up to continue his morning was, “Mucho gusto Lainie and always remember to smile.”
For many months, the old man’s words prompted many reflections in me. I examined how different the learning styles were between Miro and myself in the case of language. Even though we both had the desire to know the information, learn Spanish, we both absorbed new information differently. I looked at my reaction to forced learning from a teacher who’s intentions were good, but who’s patience with me was limited. My own inability to absorb the new information straight away by being “taught” directly created an extra layer of resistance within me, which certainly did not support further learning.
On the other hand, Miro’s experience was very different as was his aptitude for learning. In Antigua, Miro had met a group of local Spanish speaking boys in our neighborhood he created friendships with. He continued to play which encouraged his learning. And within the first eight months without any further Spanish classes, Miro became a fluent Spanish speaker. There were no grammar lessons. There were no long hours of instruction. There was no struggle. The approach that worked best for Miro was immersion and play, and without effort, natural learning happened.
Five years later, I can finally pronounce words correctly and speak Spanish at a basic level. I have not taken additional classes either. The first challenge I had to overcome with the idea that Miro and I should learn the same.
Once I realized I could only learn how I could learn, and could only achieve what I could achieve and that my individual learning did not need be compared to any one else’s, I experienced a sense of freedom. My personal learning process required much more immersion time than Miro’s. That makes me uniquely me. But effort, immersion, creativity and patience is required when learning a new language as well as honoring everyone’s own unique learning style.
Travel was the opportunity we needed to step out of our linguistic comfort zones. Learning happens and most of all, learning is an individual process that happens naturally. This is our worldschooling education.
Photo credit: howto.wired.com.
The geographical set up of Ecuador is blessed with a variety of natural ingredients. The large coastal region of Ecuador makes seafood plenty. There are much kind of traditional Andean crops like potatoes and grains like quinoa and corn that are cultivated in the mountainous strip that is in the middle of Ecuador. The region is tropical thus produces a number of exotic fruits. The Ecuadorian diet is made of staples like yuca, potatoes, beans, rice, seafood, chicken, plantains, pork and beef. Aji is a chili pepper hot sauce found in Ecuador. My favorite 8 Traditional Dishes of Ecuador are as follows:
Ecuadorian Shrimp Ceviche
Mmmmmmm…. This is the most common Ecuadorian dish and a favorite to all. The dish is made the following methods: combine peeled onion with mix with lime juice then add salt and put aside, combine 4 cups of water, reserved onion slice, 2 teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper all in a medium saucepan then boil. You can add shrimp and blanch for one to two minutes or till lightly pink, you can remove the shrimp then drain then add tomato mixture, shrimp, onion and lime juice mix well and cover before you cool and finally you can add cilantro and oil then mix to combine. After the exercise you can serve the dish with popcorn, plantain chips, and roasted corn kernels.
Biche de Pescado – Ecuadorian Fish Stew
Biche de pescado is a fantastic Andrew stew, chock full of traditional local ingredients such as coconut, corn, plantain, yuca and peanuts. It is simple to make, even though it has a complex taste that boasts both sweet and exotic. Sweet plantains and peanut broth are perfectly complemented with the local fish flavor. Most stores that sell Latin products have frozen yuca (tolled and stringy fibers removed). But if you don’t mind doing the work, the homemade version is that much more satisfying.
I’d recommend using super ripe plantain and fresh coconut. The stew works well with many different kinds of local fish. If you are sensitive to heads floating in your soup, remove it from the broth first before mixing. But typically the broth is flavored by the whole fish, head, bones and tail and the Ecuadorians aren’t afraid of leaving remnants in the soup. But the flavor, absolutely divine!
Humitas Verdes – Fresh Corn Tamales with Cilantro
We’ve all had tamales before, the Ecuadorian version is truly a must-try-flavor! Humitas is a kind of tamal that is made with ground fresh corn apart from the usual dried corn meal known as masa harina. The ground fresh corn makes humitas taste sweet than the traditional tamales. The humitas are prepared from the large Kernel Andean corn known as choclo that are always found in frozen section of Latina food stores. Luckily here, we can buy directly from the fresh markets directly from the farmer. (Sorry, I know you are jealous.)
The humitas verdes trademark bright green color is given by cilantro. You can prepare humitas plain, a combination of cheese, olives, roast chicken, hard boiled eggs, roast pork. It is up to you to decide. We haven’t made them yet, but I just might roll up my sleeves and give it a shot. Here’s a fabulous post by Hungry Sophia on Ecuadorian tamales.
Ecuadorian Potato Cakes (Llapingachos)
They are also known as yah-peen-GAH-chos. These are Ecuadorian traditional dishes referred to as potato pancakes that are made from crushed potatoes seasoned with onions and sated with cheese. Um yum! Salsa de Mani is a creamy peanut sauce that is typically with Llapingachos and is served often alongside, avocado, a simple salad, chorizo sausage and fried egg for the meal to complete. They remind us a little of a cross between pupusa and latkes…
Fritada de chancho or Ecuadorian pork fritada
Fritada de chancho is a popular weekend dish here in Ecuador. The pork is cooked in a sweet mixture of orange juice and water, seasoned by onions, cumin garlic, salt & pepper until the liquid cooks down, browning the meat through the process. This is a typical plate from the highlands region of Ecuador and is traditionally found in restaurants and snack stalls throughout the weekend local Andean villages.
This tasty combination is a clear example of cultural mixture between the Spanish culinary tradition and local Ecuadorian traditions, as pork consumption did not occur in America until after the Spanish colonized over 500 years ago. This dish would not be the same without the readily available local ingredients: mote (range white corn), plantains, potatoes, pickled (marinated tomato and onion with lemon) and roasted corn.
Encebollados (literally, “onionateds”) are a wonderful local food, though not well known outside of Ecuador. This is a traditional Ecuadorian coastal dish that consists of seafood in a tangy, tomatoey soup with mashed yuca, onion and coriander.
Our friend’s father brought this to the beach with us one morning and I thought he was crazy, but after I tried it, I was hooked! This dish can be made with varying degrees of lemon juice according to taste, and served with toasted corn or fried slices of plantain called chifles. That morning I was informed, this was the special Ecuadorian coast remedy said to cure hangovers. Did I need it that particular morning on the beach? I’ll never tell.
Choclo con queso
Choclo con queso literally means corn with cheese. It’s simple but certainly an Ecuadorian staple. Cobs of Andean corn or choclo having large kernels and I think taste quite different compared to corn that is sold. It’s mellow in flavor, actually. Then, it’s generously slathered with a fresh soft cheese, similar in consistency to tofu.
The queso fresco is literally fresh cheese and always made locally in each town. Choclo con queso on the cobb can be found in any food stand from the coast to the midlands, to the mountains to the jungle. In restaurants, this dish is often served along side a meat dish, already removed from the cobb.
Yes, like just over the border to Peru, the guinea pig is still the most talked dishes about when discussing Ecuadorian tradition fares. We listed this on our post 8 Traditional Dishes of Peru but it just happens to be a favorite in this country as well. Cuy is served in most Andean towns and is primarily on special occasions. When we wrote the post about Peruvian food, we hadn’t actually tried cuy, but since then, we have!!!! And, guess, what??? It’s delicious!
Like Peru, Ecuadorian dishes vary according to its geography which has its own distinct flavor and flare. While traveling anywhere, we always urge you to try the local favorites sampling something new as a chance to embrace a new culture.
We recently relocated to Montañita, a quaint little beach town on Ecuador’s coast. Not far away, we were excited to discover a truly unique cultural and historical destination just an hour outside of Montañita.
Miro and I took a a day trip to Agua Blanca community found in the Machalilla Parish, which is part of the nature reserve. The Agua Blanca community is a vividly painted rural parish and fishing village in the beautiful Machalilla National Park.
The village is the site of several not so well-preserved archaeological ruins from the Mantena culture of around 800 to 1532 A.C. It’s a functioning indigenous village that has colonial ties, and very interesting to see. Most tourist visit Aguas Blanca for its therapeutic mud and sulfur water pool, said to have many medicinal healing effects.
The History of the Agua Blanca Community
The location of the present-day Agua Blanca community is considered to be the ancient capital of the Manteno Lordship of Salangome. Here, more than 3,500 years ago, thousands of people lived in this area, mostly working on the sea-trade routs from Mexico to Peru. The site of the Agua Blanca community is considered to be the largest of the four Manteno Lordships that existed here. Manteno culture is the last pre-Columbian civilization in Ecuador.
Manteno settlements are known by their large stone foundations and typical pottery. At Agua Blanca, researchers have found U-shaped stone chairs that have humans and animals carved into the bases. Some researchers believe these figures represent shamanistic significance. Others hypothesize the chairs may have been used to distinguish positions of power. Also large intact pottery urns have been found containing the bones of the deceased community members that have been dressed in finery and jewels.
We took a bus to the Puerto Lopez from Montanita, about a 45 minute bus ride. Once we arrived in Pto. Lopez, we found a taxi who took directly to the village for $5.
The local archaeological sites and museum are a highlight to the visit. This day trip can be comfortably planned either from Guayaquil, as long as there is an early start. The Museo de Agua Blanca: Arqueologia is open from 9 am to 5 pm everyday.
Once we arrived at the parish, we toured the museum, containing artifacts from the immediate area, spanning thousands of years. Afterwards we were guided through the township sites, seeing the location the intact urns were uncovered after a heavy rainfall, ruins of temples, houses and squares, the farm land with indigenous plant, trees and flowers and finally the thermal water lagoons. The famous lagoon of sulfur water in the Valley of the Rio Buena Vista is generated from volcanoes, and is believed to have healing properties for the skin. The valley is a birdwatchers’ paradise, a place to spot motmots and horneros among others.
The hike through the township took us an hour and half, allowing us to get a glimpse into the daily lives of the locals. About 52 families live in the community today and many of them are tourist guides.
Our hike ended up at the thermal baths, where we were offered a message with palo santo oil (which is related to Frankincense), a cup of healing mud to rub over our skin and a dip into the natural mineral pools.
The community also has camping areas and cabins with single, double or triple rooms for visitors who want to stay overnight. There is no hot water there, but there are restaurants for meals and you can also choose to eat with a local family for a more intimate experience of the community.
Andean mysticism can be felt throughout every part of Cusco and the Sacred Valley, but most visitors seem to experience only a glimpse into this unseen world. Still, many are drawn to the area’s energy, intuitively knowing a deep connection to the universe, the planet, the mountains and nature lie somewhere below the surface. Many who wish to have an immersive experience, often just scratch the surface, encountering a tourist ready-made version of a thousand year old traditional ceremony. These types of ceremonies can be found at the tourist offices and remind me of the “luaus” I once saw in Hawaii, feeling as superficial as Disneyland, geared towards entertaining the eager consuming tourist.
Miro and I have been immersed in the Peruvian culture for several years now. Part of our desire for living here is the intention to dig deeper into the culture, understand the history and explore the traditions. We’ve explored much of the history though the archeology, and experienced the mysticism through he traditions.
Last year I explored one of the sacred pilgrimages by attending the Qoyllur Rit’i festival, high in the Andes. We made our way to the Sinakara Valley along with 10,000 other pilgrims to experience the sacred Snow Star Festival.
Cesar is from Cusco and for generations back, his family have been healers and mystics. When the Spanish Colonized the area, the Catholic church worked hard to integrate the cultures healers into a new linage of faith. Now, Cesar’s family bridges two worlds, the Catholicism of the Colonial settlers and the traditions of the people of the Andes.
Recently, we had several families visiting Cusco and so I arranged a family “Despacho” ceremony for us all to experience.
What is a Despacho Ceremony?
A despacho is a ceremony honoring Pachamama (mother earth), the sacred Apus (mountains) and the spirit in all of nature. The Andean people believe all are connected and as a way to show continuing appreciation and gratitude for the crops we eat, the water we drink and the land we live on they make an offering. The offering is a gift, charged with intention, love, reciprocity and reverence, unifying all living energy of the physical and unseen universe.
Despacho ceremonies are traced back to the Q’ero peoples of the Andes.
From the Q’ero web site:
Who are the Q’ero?
High up in the Andean mountains of Peru lives a small community of farmers, weavers and medicine people known as the Q’ero. The Q’ero sought refuge in “villages in the clouds” following the invasion of Peru by the Spanish Conquistadors almost five hundred years ago and remain there to this day. They were “discovered” in 1949 by the anthropologist Oscar Nunez del Prado, who led the first expedition to the Q’ero villages in 1955.
The medicine people within the Q’ero nation are known as “paqos,” which means “priest or mystic” in Quechua, the language of the Inca. The Q’ero paqos are credited with preserving and maintaining the healing knowledge, ancient prophecies, beliefs and traditions of the Inca – and the knowledge of the civilisations which came before them – via their oral tradition. Over the years, they have selflessly shared their traditions and wisdom with seekers of knowledge from all corners of the world.
The Q’ero do not see themselves as separate beings with separate identities as we do in the West, instead they see themselves as one with each other, one with nature, and – as with most indigenous cultures – also one with God.
In fact, they are so ego-less and focused on the collective spirit that they do not have a word in their language meaning “I.” Their main philosophy is to practise “Ayni,” which means living in reciprocity, balance and harmony with the Earth, with nature and with each other. Ayni is the practice of giving before taking, of fairness. For example, when harvesting their corn crops – which they do together as a community – they search to find the two most perfect ears of corn. These are then buried ceremonially, as a thank you to “Pachamama,” Mother Earth, for their abundance and as a prayer for future abundance. Thus they gift the most prized ears of corn back to the Earth, as a thank you and in order to remain in balance and harmony with Pachamama.
You can read more about the Q’ero people or offer your support here .
Traditionally, the Q’ero Paqos perform an offering to Mother Earth known as Pachamama, and to the sacred Apus, the mountain spirits in a ceremonial display. Despachos are given as gifts from the heart; an action of honoring Mother Earth, the feminine spirits, and natural beings. In this way, the Q’ero Paqos people are able to connect with their ancestors; for abundance; for healing; for celebrations; for initiations and other uses among the villagers.
And this was the spirit in which our ceremony proceeded.
How Is A Despacho Ceremony Performed?
Prior to the ceremony, those participating are asked to prepare themselves. Although there are multiple ways to prepare, the purpose remains the same–to elevate one’s consciousness, and engage themselves to a higher state of presence. Some of the most effective ways to prepare for a despacho include meditation, relaxing music, prayer, walking through nature or cleansing with incense, tobacco or Palo Santo.
The environment for which a Despacho ceremony takes place can take a few minutes to set up. The basic idea is to set a tone of respect–a sacred circle involving all participants. In the mountains of Peru, the people sometimes use rattles, flutes, or drums during a ceremonial chant, a meditative rhythm. Despacho ceremonies are always performed outdoors, as it is an opportunity to commune with nature.The closer one can become to Mother Earth, the spiritual guides, and the sacred Apus, the more likely the spirits will become invoked and join their offering circle.
The ceremony finally begins when one person (typically the leader of the ceremony) lays out a generous sized, piece of paper. The offerings are systematically placed on the paper, usually involving chanting.
Our ceremony started with the traditional coca leaves. Cesar combined groups of three cocoa leaves, allowing each participant to channel their blessings into them, by holding them close to our hearts, then heads, then placing within the group.
Then over the course of the next hour Cesar combined the offerings using a variety of ingredients into the paper wrapping. We each took turns with the blessing, and often burning the traditional Palo Santo to signal the spirits of our intentions.
A variety of ingredients were placed into the paper envelope including paper, shells, coca leaves, flower petals, corn, candies and cookies, spices,cotton, animal fat, streamers and confetti. Some of the other items used were a wooden cross, a petrified condor and a llama fetus.
After the offering to mother earth was completed, Cesar gently placed the package into the fire. As the children of our shared mother, Pachamama, all participants joined hands and felt our blessings received.
There really is no ‘one’ way to invite the presence of all sacred aspects of the Pachamama, aloud or silently, together or by turn, but the people of the Andes have based their lives on the natural principles of expressed through the traditions of the Despacho ceremony.
Since ancient times, most indigenous cultures have a connection to the spirit world and have traditions to expressing gratitude to the Sun, the Earth, the Wind–for they recognize, without them, all life would all perish into nothingness.
Join us on a visual journey of “Despacho”, which is a ceremony that honored Pachamama (Mother Earth), the sacred Apus (mountains) and the spirit in all of nature.
If you have always dreamed of traveling the world but are unsure how to start, you may be interested in trying something unique and completely off the beaten path, such as working at wineries around the world and contributing to the world’s finest international wines. If you’re intrigued, continue reading to discover just a handful of the countries where you can work at a vineyard in exchange for accommodation and a life changing experience. Let’s explore many of them via The Harvest Trail.
Photo by Mike Goren, based on Creative Commons license.
There are approximately 100,000 grape picking jobs available in France, each year. So, if you’re keen to practice your French and experience life in a small French village consider visiting France in September, when you’ll be able to apply for a grape picking job. If you’re keen to spend a few weeks or months working at a French vineyard, you may be interested in working or woofing in exchange for food, accommodation and the opportunity to learn about organic farming. If you haven’t heard of the term woofing before, it comes from the word woof, an acronym for working opportunities on organic farms. If you’re partial to Bordeaux wine, perhaps look for farms in the Bordeaux region?
If you can stand the heat of a long, hot Italian summer, make sure to include Tuscany in your international travel plans. Between June and October each year seasonal workers can live and work on a traditional Tuscan farm, in exchange for board and mouth watering, home cooked meals. At the end of a harvest, the whole community bands together to process and bottle the fruits of their labour. As an added advantage if you choose to work at an Italian vineyard you won’t have to apply for a work visa or permit as grape picking is classified as agricultural tourism. If you choose to work in Tuscany, you’ll be able to sample authentic Italian gelato and catch a glimpse of Michelangelo’s David, in Florence.
Australia is world renown for producing world class wine. If you choose to woof in Australia, you’ll be expected to volunteer picking grapes, or helping out with general vineyard duties for four to six hours a day. If you start your daily duties in the morning, you’ll have the afternoon and evening free to explore the cities and towns surrounding your vineyard. Activities you may want to try on your summer down under include horse riding in the outback, feeding a kangaroo, attending an Aussie Rules football match and learning how to surf.
New Zealand boasts eight major wine regions, which span the length and breadth of New Zealand. So no matter which region of New Zealand you’d like to explore, you’ll easily be able to find seasonal work at a local vineyard. New Zealand’s harvest season runs from December to March each year. Tasks required of seasonal workers include bud rubbing, shoot thinning, fruit thinning and net placement. On your off time you may want to try hiking one of New Zealand’s spectacular bush walks, bunjy jumping off a bridge, booking a Lord Of The Rings themed tour or trying your luck on a whale watching cruise.
Photo by Michael Cannon, based on Creative Commons license.
If you’re interested in learning about the day to day operations of an organic vineyard appeals to you, consider woofing at an Argentinian vineyard. To find out more about woofing in Argentina visit wwoofargentina.com, an information service which helps match local organic wineries with international tourists who are interested in learning about Argentinian culture and sustainable agriculture. If you’ve ever studied Spanish, woofing in Argentina will also be a great opportunity to put your Spanish skills to the test. During your time in Argentina, you’ll also get the opportunity to attend an Asado, which is a social barbecue shared with friends.
While you may not think of wineries, when you think of Canada, over the past decade both Ontario and British Columbia, have flourished as emerging world class, wine producing regions. If you can’t get enough of the great outdoors and enjoy adventurous activities such as kayaking, hiking, bear hunting (with your camera of course) and fly fishing, then Canada may be the perfect woofing destination for you. Depending on what time of year you visit Canada you may even be be able to take a weekend trip to see the Northern Lights. A dazzling display of natural lights which are visible in the night sky, at certain times of the year.
Photo by Natalie HG, based on Creative Commons license.
Now you’ve read our tips for the traveler who is looking to get off the tourist track and experience life as a local, it’s time to start planning your dream woofing trip. After all, life is far too short, to put off your dreams of traveling the world. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be a millionaire to put your day job on hold and travel the world! Where there is a will, there is a way, such as woofing, to make your dreams come true.
This is a photoessay of our trip through the Oldest Archeological site in the Americas, Caral.
Ecuador is a country we’ve yet to explore in depth even though we’ve been there 3 separate times. Like Peru, Ecuador boasts gilded Spanish cathedrals, breezy colonial palaces, tropical jungles, mountain villages and sprawling beaches. Culturally rich as well, Ecuador promises vibrantly dressed natives filling the colorful markets with exquisite handcrafts and archeological sites to ponder and explore.
Although Miro and I have spent a total of four months in the country, we tend to travel deeper than wider making our experiences more immersive. We’ve only really sampled the beaches of Montañita, volunteered in the mountain town of Banos and marveled at the culturally rich Quito including a stop to the center of the world.
Puerto Lopez was once a small fishing village, however in recent years, Puerto Lopez has been able to take advantage of it’s spot along the Ruta del Sol. Now, Puerto Lopez has become a delight for eco-tourists. The Parque Nacional Machalilla is close inland and promises to be the perfect place for hiking. Puerto Lopez also offers numerous eco-tourist lodges offering exclusive windows into the biodiversity and archeological nature only found within the coastal rainforests.
The Silver Island or Isla de la Plata is also in close proximity. This is the only place other than the Galapagos Islands where you can see many exotic sights, including the Blue Footed Boobies living in their natural habitat.
Also, between July & October, you might see Humpback Whales brought by Pacific’s Humboldt current. Whale watching is one of the most popular activities in Puerto Lopez during these months. I’m told, it’s a breathaking site, something on our to do list for sure. The Humpbacks are know for slapping their tails in order to attract mates. I imagine it is something to remember for a lifetime.
As we’ve just returned from our third visit to Montañita, my interest has sparked to explore the entire Ruta del Sol (Sun Route). Our trip was cut short this time due to my passport issues (which I will write about soon) but I wanted to share with you my research in hopes you too will find inspiration to follow the route of the sun. We plan on returning sometime in the next 6 months, so here are some of the beautiful destinations that inspired me to research more:
Ruta del Sol (Sun Route)
Map of the Ruta del Sol
Click map for a larger view
Manta is home to Ecuador’s largest seaport. It has many attractive beaches making it a popular stopping point for cruise ships.
Manta was originally known as Jocay.The Maya people arrived in Manta around five hundred years A.D. However, they found that it was inhabited by other people and left. By this time Jocay was an important trading centre for the Inca and its inhabitants. The first Spanish explorer arrived in 1526. Other Spaniards followed and took the Chief Ligua Tohalli as a prisoner. They found large quantities of precious stones, gold, silver and emeralds.
During the colonial period Manta was part of Guayaquil until the 18th century when it became part of the Canton of Montecristi. There are two wonderful beaches to explore in this area. The are Mucielago Beach and Tarqui Beach
This picturesque beach has a board walk that has many restaurants where you can sample the best dishes from the region. Murcielago beach is a popular tourist destination. People got to this beach for the surfing, wind surfing, sky diving and sunbathing.
This is the best place to watch boat builders and fishermen as they carry on with their daily business. The beach has many open air boat yards. I think it’s definitely worth a trip.
It is located on the Western coast of Ecuador in Manabi Province. Canoa has beaches that stretch for miles. The town has magnificient palm trees. The best part is that the town centre is near the beaches. You do not have to worry about moving around since everything is a walking distance from the town centre.
Canoa was originally known as Pantaguas o Pintagua. The original inhabitants escaped from the beach when they saw the invaders approaching and hid in the hills. A century later priests arrived , they included the beach to be part of Canton Sucre in the twentieth century . This led to changing of the name to Canoa.
One of Conao’s best known celebrations is the festival of San Pablo.This festival is held in August. You will enjoy the music and the lively crowds as everyone comes out to enjoy this spectacular festival.
The beaches in Canoa have some of the best waves for surfing in the Pacific. There is also paragliding, surfing, kite surfing and kayaking on the great waves of the Pacific ocean. Other draws to Conoa for the outdoor or hiking enthusiast, are the great hiking routes in the country side.
San Lorenzo is a small town located in the northern part of Esmeraldas. Many years ago, when Europeans arrived in Esmeraldas, San Lorenzo became an important trading centre. It was a major slave trading centre which led to its growth.
San Lorenzo is known for its lively Marimba festival. The festival draws large crowds eager to hear traditional Ecuadorian music fused with Afro beats.
Esmeraldas province is located in the north western part of Ecuador, thought of as quite cosmopolitan since it is inhabited by many ethnic groups.
The first Europeans to reach Ecuador arrived in Esmeraldas. They called it Esmeraldas since they believed it had vast quantities of gems. San Lorenzo became the main town and trading centre. Slaves from Colombia were brought to work in the province of Esmeraldas.
Not only do people flock to the Esmeraldas province for the beaches, they come to explore the jungles too. You can move through the dense mangroves using a canoe since rivers are the only way to move around. Nature lovers will enjoy bird watching and seeing unique mangrove species.
Located within Esmeraldas’ jungle areas is the Mataje-Caypas Ecological Reserve. The reserve has many unique plant and animal species. It is home to the world’s tallest mangroves. The reserve has uninhabited beaches, mangrove forests and other species that are native to Ecuador.
Another attraction within Esmeralda is the Caypas River. This river has spectacular falls, gorges and unique species. At the Zapallo Grande you will see indigenous architecture and clothing.
A little farther down is the Santiago River. On the upstream side of this river you will find the Playa del Oro community. The community runs an eco lodge where you can spend the night and relax.
Our favorite stop along the Ruta del Sol is of course, Montañita, which is just an hour’s drive from Puerto Lopez. As we know, Montañita is popular with tourisits and surfers alike. There is a small downtown area packed with many restaurants, shops, bars and clubs. Montañita is famous worldwide for its nighttime beach parties and incredible surf. The high season is is between December & March, but Miro and I prefer to visit during the low season April through November.
Exploring Ecuador’s Ruta del Sol would not be complete without a trip to Salinas. Salinas is about two hours south of Montañita by bus. Like many of the beaches along the Ecuadorian coast, Salinas promises many beautiful white sandy beaches. But the town itself has modern towering shopping complexes, chic stores, restaurants and condos. Some say Salinas has a “Miami touch” as it is often described as “retro, yet modern with a funky vibe and high-end choices. One day we’ll see it for ourselves.
Finally, the most southern stop on Ecuador’s Ruta del Sol will bring you to Guayaquil. Guayaquil is one of the largest and most populated cities in Ecuador, but don’t let that dissuade you from exploring its wonderful attractions. The famous Malecon is a beautifully remodeled waterfront along the tidal estuary flowing past Guayaquil. The Malecon stretches 2.5 kilometers offering many cultural exhibits along the way, like lush gardens, docks for boats, restaurants, artisan markets, chic boutiques and nightclubs. There is even an Imax theater to pass the time. Guayaquil seems like the perfect place to wrap up the journey down the Ruta del Sol.
Creative Commons license – Manta- Johnny Chunga, Canoa - vtoxic, San Lorenzo- (-J. Nilsson Photo) , Esmeraldas- Rinaldo W., Puerto Lopez- Szymon Kochanski, Salinas - Johnny Chunga, Guayaquil - Yassef,