Hiking Laguna Toreadora in Cajas National Park, Ecuador

We filled up our 4x4 at the gas station, bought a few bags of plantain chips, and headed for the mountains. I drove through Parque Nacional el Cajas on the way from Guayaquil to Cuenca but I knew none of those stunning views would compare to actually having my feet on the ground. We started with the most popular trek in the area, the loop around Laguna Toreadora. For what seemed to be such a small lake, the views were grandiose. It was an epic hike, but laid-back enough to take our time and snap the perfect photos to capture just how incredible this region of Ecuador was.

Photos of me taken by Melvin Tracam.

An Escape To The Remote Region of Chugchilan, Ecuador

Needing a getaway from the hustle and bustle of Quito, I opted to escape to the mountains for a few days. After a bit of research, the difficult to reach village of Chugchilan piqued my interest. After getting dropped off at a “bus stop” on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, I ended up hitchhiking the final 30 minutes to Chugchilan before quickly nestling into my cozy cabin at Black Sheep Inn.

Over the next few days, the mountains and farms of this remote region of Ecuador were my home. My treks took me across beautiful environments where oftentimes, my only companions were the curious farm animals I would stumble into along the way. The highlight was the journey to Laguna del Quilotoa and back, an otherworldly turquoise lake inside a volcanic crater.

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Home Base: Black Sheep Inn

I stayed at the Black Sheep Inn’s bunkhouse, a dorm-style accommodation with three stories and 2-4 beds on each floor. I had it to myself for most of the time while I was there. Although a bit pricier than typical hostel accommodation, it included all meals as well as free yoga classes and free snacks and drinks throughout the day. It’s also always worth shelling a bit more money out for an eco-lodge that was committed entirely to sustainable travel.

Ridge Walk

This was a short 60-90 minute hike to the ridge situated above Black Sheep Inn and the farms surrounding the area. At golden hour, nothing could compare to the various ways the sun cut through the mountains and clouds. It was as serene of a walk as one could imagine.

Laguna del Quilotoa

This is the main draw for travelers going to this region of Ecuador. While the town of Quilotoa itself is directly next to the laguna, I opted to stay in Chugchilan to get away from the crowds of tourists. The day trek from Quilotoa to Chugchilan or vice versa is widely considered to be among the best day treks in all of Ecuador.

A Glimpse at Local Balinese Culture and Traditions

The serenity of the secluded jungles clashing with the chaotic city streets. The violent roar of its waterfalls eventually settling down into the still and quiet rivers. The majestic, centuries-old temples contrasting with the middle-aged woman and her modern selfie stick.

Because of those contrasts, it is hard to answer the question often posed "is Bali still worth going to?" The answer truly depends on each individual, because as widely diverse each individual is, so too, is Bali. You can find yourself trapped in the day-to-day tourist lifestyles of cafe-hopping and beach bumming. Or, you can find yourself amidst the local rice paddies, cycling down isolated villages that Starbucks or Australia has yet to spoil. Bali is the ultimate travel destination, yet in some ways, it feels like nothing more than just a playground for tourists.

Bali is what you make of it. If you come to Bali expecting to immerse yourself in traditional life and local culture, you might have to dig a little deeper but it is still very possible.

Pastel Skies At Sunrise From Atop Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka

Adam’s Peak is one of the most revered sites in all of Sri Lanka. For Buddhists, it is believed to house the footprint of Buddha himself at the top of the mountain. For Hindus, it is the footprint of Shiva and for Muslims and Christians', that of Adam’s. For those hiking just to catch the unforgettable views at sunrise, let’s say it happens to be the footprint of the guy who created Instagram.

At 2 AM, my phone alarm rang and I groggily prepared for the monstrous hike up to the top. With an intimidating 5,500 stairs to reach the top, it was going to be as much a mental challenge as it was physical. Every flight of stairs led to a corner where you look up to see yet another flight of stairs. On and on, it went like that. Before the sun starts to bask the countryside in its golden rays, you see absolutely nothing except for the steps in front of you.

You have no idea what you are getting yourself into. You have no idea what view you are working towards. Just step after step while you blindly hope that it will all be worth it in the end.

It is.

I shed a few tears once the skies turned into pastel blues and purples as the fiery sun started peeking out from behind the mountains. Life was beautiful at that very moment. Nothing else mattered. It was a reminder of exactly why I traveled, a purpose that had been lost as I got sucked in to the all-too-artificial throes of Bali’s expat culture. Nothing felt genuine while I was there, but this, this was genuine. People from every culture and background offered a friendly smile as we passed each other along the way. The whole world stopped for a few serene moments. All of this indescribable beauty shared with friends and strangers all the same.

When the terrorist attacks rocked Colombo not even two weeks later, I thought of Adam’s Peak, a place deemed so holy by four major religions as well as a major attraction for international travelers. A place where everyone from every background, every age, and every culture struggled and succeeded in unison and in harmony. This is Sri Lanka. And it will always be Sri Lanka to me.

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