After four months away from home, I was starting to miss the fam. It was also approaching my 21st birthday, and so I was ready for some love and attention. Mum and Dad (who are probably the only people reading this anyway) were travelling round South America themselves, so we met up in Ecuador for a week together before heading in opposite directions.
They arrived in Quito a few days before I finished volunteering, but I was desperate to see them so we met up for a delicious dinner at Lulo, one of Quito’s best restaurants. I was loving all the local Ecuadorian meals but it was about time I had some properly tasty food. Mmmm the fish at Lulo was divine (although it still came with about 5 different kinds of potatoes!!)
We met up again the following night and they took Katy and I out for another dinner after some amazing cocktails at their beautiful hotel in Plaza San Francisco.
After the mothers’ day celebration at school on the Friday morning, I rushed off to meet them and begin the first stage of our little holiday together: a trip to Mashpi, an Eco hotel and national park in a beautiful cloud forest a few hours north of Quito.
Mum wrote down all the facts about the many species of birds in the park, so ask her if you want more details! but it’s enough to say that the number of species at Mashpi was astonishing. We went to a hummingbird sanctuary to view some of the 120 different species of the birds they have there in the park. We got some pretty cool photos through the telescope, and dad got an amazing video which you can see on Instagram at @charlesplowden!
In the afternoon, we did one of the best things I’ve done during my whole trip: a sky bike over the cloud forest. It takes about 10 minutes to peddle above the trees, and then you turn around and come back. You are on a level with the clouds and can see the volcanoes in the distance and the streams many metres below you. It was a weird sensation to be so high up and move at a fairly slow pace (unlike zip lining) but an unforgettable experience. I got to go twice so I could accompany both mum and dad, and it was quite amusing to see them both get pretty nervous when we first set off!!
In the evening, we went on a night walk to find tarantulas, snakes and frogs, which was kind of cool. Mum was great at spotting all the creepy crawlies!
The hotel was amazing. The food was unlike anything I had eaten in the previous few months – all fresh fish and fancy cocktails! -, and it was beyond spoiling to have my own luxury room to myself. I didn’t know what to do with all that space and the hot showers!!
On my actual birthday, (after getting some extremely generous presents and gorging on a delicious breakfast of amazing coconut juice and tropic fruit!!) we went to a butterfly sanctuary to see the beautiful creatures.
After lunch, we had to get the three hour bus to quito. A bus expert by that stage, I actually quite enjoyed getting to spend my 21st birthday in two such wonderful places. We spent the afternoon sitting in my favourite cafe in the main square, had delicious cocktails on the rooftop terrace with fantastic views of the city and went out for a scrummy dinner at one of the best restaurants in town. It was all very spoiling and I can’t express how happy I was to be able to celebrate my birthday with my parents (or how grateful I am that they came to meet me in Ecuador).
The following morning we were up at the crack of dawn for our flight to the Galapagos! Rather than staying on a boat, we stayed at a fancy new Eco hotel on Santa Cruz Island. We only had five days there, but we managed to fit in a lot!
We went on two day trips on the hotel’s yacht, seeing an incredible amount of animals on about 5 or 6 different islands. Blue footed boobies, frigates, penguins, flamingos, condors, crabs, land and marine iguanas, sea lions, sea turtles, a shark (!!), among many others!
It is impossible to describe how mind blowing it is to see such a wide range of nature in so little time. Really makes you think!
We had two days at the hotel, where we relaxed and enjoyed each other’s company. We visited the Charles Darwin Research Centre to see all the giant tortoises at various stages of their lives, strolled around the main town on Santa Cruz, and went to a giant turtle reserve.
I can’t say what my favourite part was because it was all so amazing, although watching the joy on my daddy’s face while he swirled and spiralled in the water with a sea lion was pretty high up there!
Visiting the Galápagos Islands really is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I had the most incredible time. I certainly would not have had the opportunity to go there if mum and dad hadn’t been there (and may not ever have made it there in my lifetime!) and so I am beyond grateful to them for taking me on such a luxury holiday. It was the best 21st birthday present a girl could ask for, and it was also fantastic to see them after 16 weeks apart!
After an awkward goodbye on the plane at Guayaquil, mum and dad went off to Bogota while I returned to Quito. Although I was really sad to say goodbye to them, I was very glad I was going back to a city I knew and loved, and that I was able to spend the weekend with Katy again.
I stayed in the Mariscal area, which felt very strange and unfamiliar after my experience in the homestay in the south, but it was nice to see what it would be like to visit Quito as a backpacker. On the Saturday, I finally got to walk through the Parque Carolina and explore some of the buzzier areas of the city. We went to an amazing artisanal market, where Katy got very overexcited buying souvenirs! We then spent the afternoon back at our beloved cafe in the main square, before curling up with our books (and many chocolate truffles) in a cosy restaurant in La Ronda.
It was a lovely way to spend my last day in Ecuador, and made me excited rather than nervous for my next few weeks on the road through the continent!