The Bay Area was under lockdown on and off for about 6 months in 2020, not long after we returned from Belize, so, like most of the world, we had no choice but to stay put at home! It certainly wasn’t terrible though, as we got to catch up on many simple joys in life that we normally wouldn’t have had time to, such as crafting, taking long strolls in our beautiful neighborhood, and learning a ton of new recipes. The hardest part though, was just not being able to see and gather with family and friends!
Once the lockdown was lifted towards the end of summer, and the COVID situation was seemingly better in various parts of the world, I began toying with the idea of traveling again. At the time, not many countries were open to Americans, so we didn’t have that many choices. I started planning a road trip for us instead, to see the Pacific Northwest by car. I planned out all our stops and stays, including the stops to charge our car on the road! But, there was just this nudge inside of me telling me that the trip didn’t feel quite right. Every time I sat down in front of my computer, ready to book everything, the nudge came back. As a Christian, I have learned to pay attention to such nudges as a God thing, so I eventually decided not to proceed. God then somehow led me to see this post from a Worldschooling family that I had gotten to know on Instagram, who talked about being in Ecuador at the time and how safe they felt.
Hmm, I thought to myself. Ecuador. I had never ever considered this destination. I whipped out my laptop and google searched Ecuador to see what this country had to offer. I ended up spending hours being in awe at everything I read about this small country on the equator. I reached out to the Worldschooling family on IG and asked them to share with me their current experiences in Ecuador. After chatting with the mom for awhile, I felt a strong conviction that this was the location God wanted me to proceed with. It took me no time to figure out our itinerary and to proceed with all the bookings. When you’re going through a God-led path, the doors just seem to open so easily!
The hardest part of planning this trip was figuring out what it meant to travel during COVID times. What were the entry requirements of Ecuador? What is the difference between a PCR test and Rapid Antigen Test? Where do I get tested to meet Ecuador’s requirements? What airlines have the best filtration system? What hotels have the best safety protocols in place? This was all new territory for me, and the learning curve was high.
At the end of September 2020, our family was finally ready to embark on our first travel adventure during COVID times! We arrived to a deserted SFO with our face masks, face shields, and negative PCR tests in hand. There are no direct flights from San Francisco to Ecuador, so we had to make a transit in Houston, Texas. Surprisingly, the airport in Houston was quite crowded!
We arrived to Quito, the capital of Ecuador, in the wee hours of the morning, so we stayed one night at the airport Wyndham before being picked up and driven 2 hours to our first destination– Mindo, a small village in the Andes Mountain of northern Ecuador. We stayed at the loveliest lodge in Mindo, call Las Terrazas de Dana, owned and managed by a brother and sister from Spain. It was tucked away in a quiet corner by the river, but conveniently located to all the places you’d want to visit in Mindo. One of the owners, David, was kind enough to upgrade us to their biggest bungalow, which provided an extraordinary view of the cloud forest!
As I was planning our trip to Ecuador, the first thing I wanted to seek was an opportunity for our family to serve, and God led me to be connected to an organization call Salem in Mindo, which was why our journey began in Mindo. Salem is a children’s, youth and community center that cares for the most under privileged and at-risk children in the village. We were to spend a week there teaching the children English and to connect with the local teachers there. Sadly, Alan got food poisoning (not from the lodge) on our first day in Mindo, so he was completely out of commission the first few days. I hated that I had to leave him at the lodge by himself when he was so ill, but I also felt it was important for us to fulfill our commitment to Salem. Fortunately, David from the lodge took great care of Alan while we were gone, checking in on him from time to time to make sure he was okay, and bringing him staple food like banana and toast.
Bridge and I loved our time at Salem, connecting with all the teachers and children there. The language barrier was a bit of an issue in the beginning, but we quickly found that music and games were great barrier breakers! Bridge took the lead in all the teaching, and I took a backseat as her “assistant” to help organize some of the games that we brought with us. Through various games, she taught vocabulary to children ranging from 5-16 that week, and had a wonderful time connecting with the community there. Alan eventually recovered after sleeping for nearly 48 hours, and joined us on our last day at Salem.
After our time at Salem, we had a few days before our next destination, so we explored Mindo a bit. It’s a destination that is most known for its bird watching, but none of us were really interested in that, so we opted for canyoneering and river tubing instead. 🙂
It was our very first time canyoneering, and I was a bit nervous since I have a fear of heights. Fortunately, the waterfalls were pretty dried up, which made it much easier to descend. I had to keep praying and reminding myself that I only needed to focus on one step at a time!
The tubing was super fun! The locals invented their own “raft” by tying together 7 individual inner tubes together, and it made for a fast and furious ride down the rapids. The whole ride was fairly quick, like around 15 minutes, but it was definitely thrilling enough for me already. 🙂
We also visited a beautiful butterfly sanctuary, rode across the cloud forest in the Tarabita, nearly got lost searching for the waterfalls, visited a cocoa farm to learn the the chocolate making process, and tried almost every restaurant in their small, cozy town. We loved our time in Mindo and was a little sad to leave, especially because David and Anna provided such amazing hospitality to us at the lodge!
We felt completely safe in Mindo as far as COVID was concerned. Everyone was diligent in wearing masks, even our guides when tubing and canyoneering. Businesses took all the right precautions such as requiring patrons to measure their temperatures, to wear masks, and to sanitize their shoe soles and hands. We were the first international visitors at the lodge since the pandemic began, and the whole village itself was very quiet, but the locals told us that it does get more busy over the weekends with local Ecuadorian visitors. We really hope to be back one day!