Munich and Prague: A mini-European adventure

Yep, you read that correctly!

I’m so behind on the blog. I mean, I know I don’t need to justify this to my ten regular readers, but editing as a job really takes away the desire to get back on the computer after work.

Fun fact, we’ve lived in Ecuador for a year! Actually, it was a year back in September. Even further back than that, in August, we went back to Europe for a few weeks (good news, both the German and Ecuador visas were valid! 😆). We needed to go back for a couple of reasons. Technically, our residence permit in Germany becomes invalid if we’re gone for more than a year (we have an exception for this, but you never know). Also, Shane (and Lucie) needed to check in with the lab in person. However, the primary reason for going back was for them to go to the European Society for Evolutionary Biology conference, which just happened to be in Prague this year (darn!).

Honestly, in Munich we didn’t really do much, so I’ll gloss over our time there. We spent most of our time catching up on dentist and doctors appointments and other adult-like tasks, reveling in the immense options of the massive grocery stores, and beyond that… doing absolutely nothing. However, did meet up with a few friends and check one thing off my Munich bucket list, watching the trains from the Hackerbrücke! Oh, and we couldn’t leave Munich without a maß. 🤷‍♀️

We definitely experienced a few shocks coming back to Europe, the first one being how damn expensive everything was! And I don’t mean inflation; we’ve gotten used to Ecuador prices!

Second, my, lower body is no longer bike-trained… and I’m not talking about my quads! We picked up our bikes from storage and went back to our normal biking ways. After three days I looked at Shane and practically begged him to please, let’s just walk! I couldn’t handle it!

Third, the air is SO DRY. I’ve embraced being a disgustingly sweaty human for all my waking hours (literally). Walk anywhere and you’re sweating. Hell, just stand in a shop for too long and you’ll be dripping sweat. Being back in Germany was the exact opposite. I mean, weather patterns, different climates, blah blah; I get it. But I forgot the feeling of your nose being so dry that it makes you sneeze and the constant need for lotion.

Finally, the roads! The glorious autobahn! ITS SO SMOOTH! 😂 I’ve mentioned before, coming back from our butterfly collecting trip we have to take a 13-hour bus ride. For me, there is essentially no chance of sleeping on this bus because the roads are so curvy. There are no massive highways in this part of Ecuador (the Pan American Highway is near Quito). So, I was shocked when I realized that I ACTUALLY napped on the bus ride from Munich to Prague and back.

As I said, the main reason for going to Prague was the conference, and *humble brag* my main squeeze gave a presentation!

I found the conference to be a delight! This was the first time that I came with Shane as an accompanying person. Basically, this meant that I was allowed to come to the welcome festivities and a couple of other events, but I also snuck in for Shane’s talk and the evening poster sessions with drinks and snacks (🤷‍♀️).

Given that all the lab folks were busy science-ing, I turned the poster session into my own “spot-the-lab-member” game.

The conference center’s view.

While Shane spent the week stuffing his brain with knowledge, I did some sightseeing. I went to the Museum of Communism (lots of reading but well worth it), up the Old Town Bridge Tower on the Charles Bridge (Shane was devastated to miss the 138 stairs to the top), and took myself out to some delicious lunches.

I also went on a walking tour courtesy of my “accompanying person” status. So, uh, funny story. I accidentally joined a private tour not the free tour from the conference… and it was in Spanish. 😳😆

So, what had happened was that the conference gave two time options for the tour: Monday and Thursday. Shane’s talk was on Monday, so I opted for the Thursday tour, which Shane scheduled for me via the conference administrators. Thursday rolls around; I showed up on time but the tour operator was really confused, as was I because I appeared to be the only one there for the tour. After a few phone calls, the tour operator points me towards a small bus with an older couple and a tour guide and tells me to join them.

“Are you sure?” “Yes, yes, its ok!”

Turns out, I got the date wrong; the 2nd tour option was on TUESDAY not Thursday, and they made me a last-minute addition on this lovely couple from Chile’s PRIVATE Spanish tour. 🤦‍♀️

Hey, at least I got some Spanish practice, right?!

To be honest, the tour was lovely. We toured the castle, tried chocolate beer, and walked all through the old town. Once the couple realized that I wasn’t going to commandeer the tour with English they warmed up to me, and we had a nice (but basic) chat in Spanish at the end where I graciously thanked them for letting me crash their tour!

Prague is also known for its beer; it’s literally cheaper than water! So, the Merrill lab did a Prauge Craft Beer Tour! And yes, I long-ago inserted myself as an honorary Merrill lab member. The highlight of the tour was the final stop at the beer gardens in Letná!

The lab
The Ecuador Dream Team!

Shane also managed to sneak out of the conference so we could go to the National Museum. It’s part history, part natural history, part… I’m not sure because we didn’t make it to that annex! The museum itself is huge, but the inside is beautiful and worth the visit. Not to mention, they have a wooly mammoth!

Watch out, kids! It’s my turn!

That about sums up our trip to Europe! Per usual, it was a whirlwind trip, but it was fun to spend more time in Prague. Of course, we had to do a little photo recreation… 😜


Hasta luego,

Whitney

Rumi Wilco Nature Reserve: Vilcabamba, Ecuador

Remember when Shane and I went to the Buenaventura Nature Reserve to collect butterflies? Of course, you don’t because it was back in JULY (🤯), and I’ve been incredibly slack about writing on the blog.

Well, there was a part two to that trip; the other species we needed lives near Vilcabamba, about five hours away. I’m going to skip that part because it was uneventful. We caught a lot of butterflies and subsequently fed a lot of butterflies. But I wanted to share was our last-day hike in the Rumi Wilco Nature Reserve, which we passed on our way to our good butterfly-collecting spot.

The entrance to Rumi Wilco.

As the name suggests, it’s a nature reserve, but it’s on the other side of Vilcabamba, opposite the Cerro Mandango hike we did on the first collecting trip. There are a series of trails, and you could honestly spend all day if you wanted, especially if you packed some lunch. We only had a few hours in the morning before we needed to go pack up the butterflies for our 13+ hour bus ride home. Being the sucker I am for a view, I insisted on Ridge Trail 3.

The trail map.
A trail marker.

The trails were clear and well-signed with indications on the amount of time to the next trail crossing (they all cross each other eventually). They even had notable trees and plants marked with a short description, which I thought was a nice touch! And, as expected, the views were stunning!

Going up!

Remember when I said I chose the ridge trail? Well, that was an accurate description. The higher up you went, the more ridge-like the trail became. And the way down? The path was maybe three feet wide, straight down on each side. Certainly not for those afraid of heights!

But come on, LOOK AT THAT VIEW!

The way down.
On the ridge.

So, mostly, I just came here to say that if you’re ever in Vilcabamba, check out the Rumi Wilco Nature Reserve. It’s certainly worth the $2 (honor system) donation to enter!

A quick notable side-story before I go. Shane and I have been working hard on learning Spanish. Spanish is really fun, and not only does Shane need it for work, but we both really want to be able to speak it!

Anyway, when we were in Vilcabamba, we were in our hotel room feeding the butterflies with the curtains open because we needed the daylight and because it was hot (no aircon here…). A family with two boys was staying in the room next to us, and the boys quickly noticed that we were doing someeethinggg with butterflies. So, before you know it, we’ve got two kids lingering outside the window. Turns out, the family was half French, half Spanish (and zero English), but the kids were interested and asked about the butterflies. So, the next thing you know, we’ve had a 45 minute conversation IN SPANISH with the boys and their moms, explaining what we’re doing, where we’ve been, how you feed and care for them, and about their trip through South America.

I know, this seems like not that big of a deal, but it was notable because this was the first time that Shane and I looked at each other and were like… we can have a conversation in Spanish! It was one of those moments where you could feel your efforts paying off, and it blew my mind a little to think that our shared language in this conversation was NOT English. For me, until this point, the shared language has always been English!

So, on that note. I’m going to go schedule a Spanish class, and you should check out Vilcabamba. 🤪

Hasta luego,

Whitney

Buenaventura Nature Reserve, Ecuador

Remember that time I got to go butterfly collecting with Shane and Lucie?

Well, we’re back, baby!

The lab needed more butterflies, so Shane and I headed back to the field! This time, we started the trip in the Buenaventura Nature Reserve, in the south of the country. We had hoped to come here the first time, but since it’s a reserve, it required permits, which we couldn’t get before the trip.

Getting to Buenaventura was quite an adventure.

It takes ~11 hours to get there by car. We don’t have a car. So, we planned on flying, but the national protests back in June canceled our original trip, and we were out the cost of the flights. So, instead of risking it again, we decided to go by bus.

In theory, you take a ~3-hour bus ride to Baños, an ~8-hour overnight bus to Cuenca, then an ~5-hour bus to the city of Piñas. From there, you catch an ~45-min cab ride to the cabins on the reserve. Getting around isn’t quick, so we planned to spend two nights in Cuenca to see the city and break the trip up a bit.

Unfortunately, there was a ton of rain and several mudslides on our route to Baños. It’s good that I always insist on travel snacks because the mudslides were so bad that we spent the night on the bus in a tunnel about half an hour outside of Baños.

Mudslide ahead.

We were actually lucky, though. We were able to pass in the morning, but shortly after, they closed the road for a few days to clean everything up. We eventually made it to Cuenca and even tried guinea pig, which I said I’d never do, but when in Ecuador, right?!

From Cuenca, we caught a pretty uneventful bus to Piñas. However, this ride was unique because we were in a big ‘ole charter bus on a dirt road winding our way through the mountains for at least two hours. No interstates or autobahns here! The views were stunning, though.

Views from the bus.

Finally, after another very bumpy 5 km ride on a dirt road (take a truck taxi!), we arrived at dusk at Buenaventura… which had no electricity. So, our hosts prepared us dinner by candlelight, and with nothing else to do, we went to bed at about 8 pm. 😆

The next morning, the electricity was back, and the birds were out in full force, which made up for the night before. We also made a new friend!

Meet Jerry, the coati!

He’s like a South American raccoon.

Butterfly collecting at Buenaventura was like living in the lap of luxury compared to our time in Balsas! The reserve has seven cabins that sit on the edge of the forest. We’d heard rumors that you could see Heliconius butterflies (the ones we needed) from the cabins. I’m happy to report that rumor was true! We caught ~6-8 butterflies around the cabins on our last afternoon at the reserve!

The cabins.
Each cabin has its own bathroom.

Follow the road next to the cabins up a short distance and you’ll find the common area. Presumably, since you’re in the middle of nowhere, the reserve cost (~$40 per night) includes all meals, which was perfect since it required no additional planning.

The Umbrellabird Lodge

The hotel, if you will, on the reserve is named after the Umbrellabird, which is what most people come for. Birds. The reserve has six or seven trails that weave through the forest, one of which is called the Umbrellabird Trail. We were on a mission for butterflies, so we didn’t see any Umbrellabirds. But, if I’m being honest, that bird could have been sitting on a tree in front of my face, and I probably wouldn’t notice it. Unless I can watch them eat strategically placed rotten bananas while I sip coffee, I’m probably not going to see them. I’m a bad birder!

So, as I said. Luxury collecting. Nice cabins, prepared meals, and, most importantly, easy terrain! In Balsas, we were hauling ourselves up big mud-covered hills. Here, we could casually walk up and down the main road, collecting as we saw things.

Views from the road.

Which, by the way, see things we did! We left with ~50 butterflies, which is a lot for the species we were looking for. I also had a lifetime butterfly achievement. I caught THREE IN ONE SWOOP!

Shocked and very impressed with myself!

For the record, butterfly collecting isn’t all fun and games. I mean, it’s a lot of fun, and you can certainly make a game out of it. But you also have to hand-feed every butterfly you catch. So, by the time we left, we were getting up at 5:30 am for an hour of hand-feeding butterflies before breakfast, and then we were back at it in the afternoon.

Butterfly breakfast is served! Blurry picture… we were tired.

Nonetheless, if you’re into birds (or nature in general) and looking for a truly off-the-beaten-path experience, then Buenaventura is a place to try. Without the goal of butterfly collecting, this place would have never been on our radar. So, I’m happy we had a chance to see this beautiful area!

Hasta luego,

Whitney

BFF Ecuadorian Adventures, Part 3: Mindo, Ecuador

The last stop on our BFF Ecuadorian Adventure was the small town of Mindo, located in a valley about 2.5 hours northwest of Quito. Mindo is known for its biodiversity, and after a few days in Quito, we were ready for a slower pace!

Tip: Bring enough cash for your entire stay in Mindo. There is no ATM!

Where to Stay

Casa de Vista Alta

This place is magical! I don’t consider myself a birder. Birds are cool and all, but I need someone to point them out to me. Even still, I rarely actually see them. I feel like it’s mostly people going, “Hey! Look at that bird!” and me going, “Yeah… I see it!… ???”

Spoiler alert. I don’t see it.

BUT! At Casa de Vista Alta, I saw ’em!

Casa de Vista Alta was started by Fernando, who used to be a guide but decided it was time to start his own hotel. He’s really made something special here, and I’m not just saying that because he let us borrow his telescope and binoculars and spotted all the birds for us. 😆

Well, not all the birds! Plenty of Choco toucans, parrots, and hummingbirds flew by the porch. So, both mornings were spent on the porch, drinking coffee and watching birds!

Beyond the birds, the hotel itself is beautiful. Fernando has made the rooms feel really welcoming, and John, the chef, made some delicious meals. Meals that I wish I could have eaten more of. Remember how I said I think I got some altitude sickness after going to Quilotoa? Unfortunately, that hit my little tummy full force on our first day in Mindo. So, I wasn’t up to my full eating capacity. However, I can confirm that the bathrooms are nice! 🤦‍♀️😩

Our two-bedroom villa.

What to Do

Cable Car and Waterfall Sanctuary

The Tarabita de Mindo is a bit out of town. You’ll definitely need to take a taxi. Lucky for us, it was a ~20-minute walk from Casa de Vista Alta!

Five dollars per person gets you a return trip on the tarabita and access to the sanctuary of waterfalls across the valley. We hiked for maybe three hours, but you could easily fill an entire day on these trails. Especially if you bring lunch! There was also a restaurant near the start of the trails, so that’s an option.

Even if you plan on lunch elsewhere, bring plenty of water! We were shocked at how tough some of the trails were. The paths are well marked and easy to navigate. But, we didn’t really consider that to reach the river we flew over in the tarabita, you have to go down… and those who come down must come back up!

El Quetzal de Mindo Chocolate Tour

Take this tour!

Fernando, the owner of our hotel, recommended the chocolate tour to us, and it was a fantastic activity! The $10 hour-long tour gives you the full run-down on the chocolate process: from cacao bean to chocolate, which was really interesting and informative! Moreover, there’s plenty of tasting involved at the end–several types of chocolate, hot cacao tea, and a brownie!

The best part of this place is that they are completely self-sufficient. Everything used in their chocolate is grown in-house, including their chocolate additions, like nuts or coffee.

Tours are offered every hour on the hour until 5 pm. You can book online, or just walk in, which is what we did. Naturally, I forgot to take any pictures, except this one of Mary Beth holding a freshly cracked macadamia nut (yep, got to taste those, too!)

Mariposas de Mindo Butterfly House

I mean, Shane and I are IN Ecuador for butterflies, so how on earth could we possibly skip the butterfly house?! We couldn’t.

A little rotting, smushed banana on the finger does the trick for butterfly-holding.

The Mariposas de Mindo butterfly house was also within walking distance from Casa de Vista Alta. However, the walk there was mostly downhill (~45 min), so you may consider taking a cab back to the hotel. 😆

This place was pure joy. Butterflies are all over the place from the moment you enter the grounds! The entrance fee is $7.50 per person, but you can stick around for as long as you like. Plus, you can feel good about your contribution since Mariposas de Mindo also does conservation work for the native Mindo butterflies.

Inside the butterfly house.

Given that we only had two nights in Mindo, I feel like we fit in a lot! Mindo offers a lot of outdoor activities. There’s zip lining, tubing, and more waterfalls to explore. Plus, BIRDS! So, if birds are your thang, then you can’t miss Mindo. Apparently, the Cock of the Rock (heh heh) is THE bird to see… maybe next time. 🤪

Hasta luego,

Whitney

BFF Ecuadorian Adventures, Part 2: Quilotoa Lake

The strike is over!

After 18 days, the Ecuadorian government and the protest leaders reached a peace agreement. In the end, they negotiated lower gas prices, more money for education, some debt forgiveness, subsidies for farmers, healthcare improvements, amongst other things.

Unfortunately, Sis and Terry still had to cancel their trip (they should have arrived on July 1). We had no idea when the protests would end, and everything was changing daily, so at the time, it felt like the right decision. Especially given that the day they canceled, there was a vote to impeach the current president, and a soldier had been killed, so the negotiation talks had stopped indefinitely. Shane & Lucie also ran into roadblocks on their way to work, so they decided to pause all experiments. But, this roadblock was minor compared to others in the country.

This guy voted not to impeach the president. The residents of Napo were not pleased.
The roadblock on the way to Ikiam University.

Naturally, everything is nearly back to normal now. Food and gas supplies are still a bit low and the prices are little higher now, but overall the shortage is over, the shops are open, and the streets are clean! The government has 90 days to enact the changes they agreed to. Let’s hope they do, so we don’t have another strike!

Anyway, back to Quilotoa.


This place is STUNNING, and when the light hits the water… 🤩

We visited Quilotoa as a day trip from Quito with Community Adventures Ecuador, which I would absolutely recommend! The tour was $50 per person, including transport and lunch, and had a 10-person limit, but there were a few added bonuses! The tour was about 10 hours, starting around 7:30 am, so our first stop was at a local market for breakfast (at your own cost). Our guide recommended colada morada, a warm, thick drink made with fruits, spices, and corn flour and eaten with empanadas (dunked in the colada morada, por supuesto!)

Colada morada (minus the empanadas) ($1.50)

After our pit stop, we were off to Quilotoa! Lady Luck was working for us this trip for two reasons. First, when the guide took a group a few days before, it was so rainy and foggy that you had to walk into the canyon to see anything. Second, the protestors blocked the road to Quilotoa the day after our trip.

We, however, had great weather AND met some friendly alpacas!

It was 50 cents to take a picture with the alpacas. That was 50 cents well-spent.

So, have I mentioned that Quilotoa is around 3,900 m (12,800 ft) in altitude? 😳 In case you’re wondering, that’s in the “very high” altitude range, higher up even than Quito, which is around 3,000 m (10,000 ft).

You can absolutely feel the altitude. Mostly, we noticed being out of breath a lot faster than expected. Mary Beth noticed some dizziness at times, and I think I had a bit of stomach-related altitude sickness the next day (it can happen up to 24 hours later). Oh, and did I mention it’s cold at 3,900 m?

As for the lake itself, it formed after the collapse of a volcano about 800 years ago and is 250 m (820 ft) deep! 🤯 Its green color comes from dissolved minerals, presumably from the fumaroles (gas/heat vents) at the bottom of the lake.

Overall, we had about 2.5 hours to explore our surroundings. You can hike down to the lake, but then you have to come back up. That was a hard no 😂. Our guide told us to expect 40 minutes down and an hour to an hour and a half back up! So instead, we walked the path around the rim of the crater. The entire thing is ~10 km, so we only walked about an hour and then an hour back.

Obviously, you can hike the entire loop around the rim if you have more time; we were told it takes between 4 and 6 hours. Or, you can turn this into an overnight adventure. The Quilotoa Loop is a 4 to 5-day hike, starting in the town of Latagunga and ending at the lake, sleeping in hostels along the route.

Oh, and the best and most surprising part of this hiking adventure?

We were alone on the trail! Since Quilotoa is one of Ecuador’s most popular tourist spots, I expected it to be quite crowded. The main entrance has a viewing platform. So, most people seemed to stay there or hike down to the lake. It felt like a real treat to have this entire beautiful path all to ourselves!

After our free time at the lake, the group had lunch together before heading to our next stop, the mirador (viewpoint) for Cañon Toachi ($1). You can’t tell from this picture (or any I took, for that matter), but this canyon was very impressive! Our last stop on the way back to Quito was at the house of a woman from the indigenous community, where we learned a little about daily life (and the struggles) of this community.

Mirador de Cañon Toachi

Visiting Quilotoa was a long but great day trip from Quito! It was really nice to get out of the city and see a bit of the countryside along the way, so I highly recommend it!

Next up, Mindo!

Hasta luego,

Whitney

BFF Ecuadorian Adventures, Part 1: Quito & Mitad del Mundo

At the time, we didn’t realize it, but we were so lucky that this trip was actually able to happen!

As I’m writing this, we’re on day 12 of nationwide protests in Ecuador. Probably, you haven’t heard about this because the international news coverage has been strikingly thin.

In short, CONAIE, the organization representing all indigenous groups in Ecuador, started protesting on June 13. They have ten demands, the top priority being gas prices, which have nearly doubled. The others included more time to pay back loans, more money for education, and stopping mining (the mining issue directly affects the Napo region, where Tena is).

Also, side note, yes. Gas prices have risen globally. However, I think a key difference here is the average income in Ecuador versus the United States or Europe. Especially for those living in more remote communities, a nearly double price in gas hurts a lot more than in other places. That’s not to discount those struggling elsewhere, only to say that everyday life here can be very different than everyday life in the US or Europe.

Anyway, here we are. Most of the protests have been concentrated in Quito or the surrounding towns and communities in the Andes mountains. As of today, many roads leading out of Quito have been blocked with rocks, cars, or burning tires. As expected, with a crowd of 10,000+ in the capital city, there have been some reports of violence, but the majority has been peaceful. Given its proximity to the Amazon region, Tena also has a large indigenous population and has become more active in the past few days with local protests.

However, what you notice the most is the food and gas shortage. Locally, the road blockades have stopped trucks from entering Tena. Nationally, the major distributors have been blocked; food and produce have been unable to make it to the distributors, so (obviously) it’s not being distributed. So, according to reports, food has just been left to spoil.

The same is true for gas. Trucks have been unable to restock the gas stations and the propane tanks for cooking. So, fewer taxis have been running, and the buses and trash service have also stopped. So, shops and restaurants are generally closed, and Tena feels like a quiet Sunday morning but it’s a Friday afternoon.

Protesters in Tena in front of the main governmental building on June 24, 2022; burning tires but otherwise peaceful.

So, how does it end? Both sides keep calling for negotiations. The government has conceded some smaller demands, but they haven’t budged on the gas prices, saying it will cost too much to lower them (gas is government-subsidized here). The CONAIE says that they will keep up the protests until the gas prices are reduced. Now, people are starting to get annoyed that the country has been forced to a standstill, and counter-protesting has begun in some places. So, I guess only time will tell!

The point of all this was to say that Mary Beth and I were extremely lucky that we could visit everywhere we wanted without issue because the protests started on the third day of our trip!


We bookended our trip in Quito with a stopover in Mitad del Mundo, aka the equator!

With only one full day in Quito, we did some wandering through the historic center, went to the La Compañía de Jesús (the golden church), and stopped at Jimmy’s in the Mercado Central for lunch. However, the day’s highlight was definitely the Basílica del Voto Nacional!

Basílica del Voto Nacional

Yes, the clocks are wrong.

Supposedly, you can see several volcanoes from the tower. Naturally, it was cloudy that day, so we saw zero, but the views were still spectacular.

El Panecillo in the background.

And, I hope you’re ready to climb some steep stairs. My second trip up did not make it better! 😆 But, they did make some improvements since Shane and I first visited some months earlier. Their new stairs included a glass platform (😬), and the entryway ramp got an extreme makeover!

Up we go!

And speaking of views in Quito…

Cafe Mosaico

Several people recommended Cafe Mosaico, which was a perfect spot for our final night. I mean, these views. 😍 They also have canelazo, a warm, spiced orange apple cider-like (alcoholic) drink that just topped off these views.

and finally,

El Mitad del Mundo

The middle of the world!

One foot in the northern hemisphere and one foot in the southern!

Visiting the equator is something we just HAD to do! But, I didn’t expect to enjoy the Intiñan Site Museum as much as I did. The equator is about 40 minutes north of Quito, so on our way back from Mindo, we stopped for about an hour to check out the middle of the earth.

There is another (and probably more famous) monument at the Mitad del Mundo, but, fun fact, it’s not actually on the equator! However, the equator line at the Intiñan Museum is the real-deal (proven by our tour guide’s GPS).

We were led on a guided tour through the museum, which was much more informative than I anticipated. And, of course, you got to take the typical-tourist-but-I-gotta-have-it-anyway picture!

A quick little story about the next picture. Our tour group included two delightful older couples who, when asked, “Do you want to take a romantic photo?” jumped at the chance for a picture kissing across the equator. So, when it was our turn, I asked Mary Beth, “Do you want to take a romantic photo?!”

She said no. 😐

So, I made her hold hands anyway and we ended up with this. 💗

BFFLs.

Finally, the tour ends with some REALLY FUN experiments involving the equator. For example, everyone had a chance to try and balance an egg on a nail.

It’s harder than you think.

My recommendation? If you’re short on time, choose the Intiñan Museum over the main monument!


Next up, our trip to Quilotoa Lagoon!

San Francisco Plaza, Quito, Ecuador

Hasta luego,

Whitney

Getting a Professional Visa in Ecuador: A Cautionary Tale

Do you know what I hate? Not rules. I actually don’t mind rules. I may not always agree with them, but I know what to expect from the situation.

What I hate is ambiguousness.

When it comes to bureaucratic nonsense, I get it. There are going to be hoops to jump through. But, I want to live in this new country. So, if The Man says “Jump!”, I’ll say, “How high?!”. However, if you say “Jump 3 feet,” and I do. Then, you say, “Just kidding, 4 feet!” and I jump again, and it’s STILL not the correct height. Then, I have a problem.

I’d say this sums up our experience getting a visa in Ecuador, which is something I never expected.

The Professional Visa is one of the most popular visas in Ecuador because the qualifications are pretty straightforward. You need:

  1. At least a Bachelor’s degree.
  2. Proof of a minimum $400 per month income.
  3. A valid passport.

Sounds simple right?

Orange Is The New Black Lol GIF by NETFLIX - Find & Share on GIPHY

Ok, so theoretically, it IS simple, IF you know what you need. Here’s the problem. The website is woefully unclear about specific details that will get your application rejected… twice if you’re lucky like us.

So, here’s what we had to do for Shane to get a Professional Visa. I applied for a dependent (Amparo) visa, which I’ll also cover. If this information saves only one person from the headache that we went through, it was worth the effort of writing.

Don’t care about the details? Feel free to stop reading here. I won’t be offended.

TLDR

Getting a visa in Ecuador requires jumping through more hoops than expected. Start early, expect missing documents and delays, and be patient. In the end, it’s worth it!

Quito, Ecuador. Visa attempt #2.

Quick Disclaimer: The rules around visas change quite often. For example, the rules for the Professional visa changed in February of 2020. So, double-check the Professional visa and Amparo visa rules before you get started.

Part 1: Before Arrival

You will need to bring the following documents with you to Ecuador.

  1. The original diploma or a certified copy of your highest academic degree, with an apostille.
  2. Original or certified copy of your transcripts from your highest academic degree, with an apostille.
    • Note: If transcripts are unavailable for whatever reason, you must obtain an official letter from the university stating why there are no transcripts.
  3. An official letter from your university stating the mode of study, with an apostille. Ecuador prefers face-to-face instruction versus online.
    • Note: This letter can be combined with the transcript letter (if applicable).
  4. Background checks (i.e., certificate of good conduct) for each place you lived in the past 6 years, with an apostille.
    • If you’re American, this means State and Federal background checks.
  5. Passport photos (5 cm x 5 cm).

Important: The background checks are only valid for 6 months. So, plan accordingly!

For the Amparo visa:

Since this is a dependent visa, you don’t have to prove your education status. However, you do need:

  1. Background checks (i.e., certificate of good conduct) for each place you lived in the past 6 years, with an apostille.
  2. Original or certified copy of a marriage certificate (or equivalent), with an apostille.
  3. If you’re bringing dependent children: an original or certified copy of their birth certificate, with an apostille. Background checks are only required for persons over 18 years old.

Part 2: After Arrival

Step 1: Register with Senescyt

Senescyt is the governmental body responsible for higher education. All degrees in Ecuador are registered with Senescyt, including international degrees. So, if you want a Professional Visa, then your degree must be recognized and registered with Senescyt.

Now, this is where things start to get complicated because Senescyt takes *theoretically* up to 45 days to process your application and register your diploma. However, for Shane and Lucie, this process was longer.

Tip: Register your diploma with Senescyt as soon as you arrive in Ecuador.

Enter on a 90-day tourist visa, start the Senescyt registration process, then apply for the visa towards the end of the 90 days.

Once they grant the visa, you have three months to register your diploma, or they revoke the visa.

So, if you apply for the visa, then start the registration process, you will likely run out of time, as in Shane’s case. He had to contact a lawyer to help get an extension with the visa office. It worked, but avoiding that situation would be better.

Other blogs have detailed the process of registering with Senescyt, so I won’t go into detail. However, some notable points:

  1. Documents in English or Spanish are accepted.
  2. If you don’t have an original diploma (e.g., a certified copy), then you must get a notarized statement (in Ecuador) explaining why you don’t have the original. They will reject your application without this.
  3. After you submit the documents online, you will have to appear in person for someone to verify them. We had to make a special trip to Quito for this.
  4. A copy of your thesis is required online, but a printed copy is not required in person. Take a digital copy. This is for a plagiarism check.
  5. It IS possible for them to reject the application even after you’ve passed the online and in-person check… speaking from experience.
  6. Registration costs are $30 and must be paid in cash at a specific bank.

Once everything has been submitted to the online portal, it takes anywhere from a few hours to a few days for them to accept the application. After that, you’ll be invited to pay. Only after the payment has been processed (another few hours to ~24 hours) will you be able to make an appointment for the in-person document check.

….then, you wait!

Step 2: Translations

Don’t bother translating anything before you arrive.

We did, and then we paid to translate everything again because apparently, the visa office “can’t trust translations done in other countries.” 😐

Mmmhmm.

Anyway.

You’ll need to translate:

  1. Diploma + apostille
  2. Background checks + apostille
  3. Marriage/birth certificates + apostille (Amparo visa only)

Tip: All translations should have a Sworn Affidavit.

We used TranslatorsEcuador and have only glowing things to say about them. They were fast, responsive, and really worked with us in a time crunch. They also speak English.

Step 3: Visit the Notary

If you want power in Ecuador, become a notary!

Seriously, our experiences at various notaries reaffirmed that they are the gatekeepers for all things bureaucratic. Oh, and don’t expect consistency. However, mentally prepare for it to take forever and for the entire interaction to be in Spanish (it’s required).

So, you’ll need notarized copies of the following for the visa application. Also, the visa requirements do NOT indicate that your documents must be notarized but trust me. They do.

  1. Diploma + apostille.
  2. The letter explaining an alternative diploma (if applicable).
  3. Three months of bank statements (you will have to log in to your bank account before the notary and print your transaction list. (Weird? Absolutely.)
  4. Marriage certificate/birth certificates + apostilles (for the Amparo visa only).

Tip: Bring the translations to the notary. They won’t notarize documents in English or other languages if a certified translator isn’t present.

Also, you will need to translate the bank statements.

Pro-tip: Use Google Chrome at the notary and discreetly auto-translate the website to Spanish before they print and notarize it.

Step 4: Apply for the Visa

The visa application appointment itself is pretty easy, and it’s straightforward if you have all the required documents.

The visa office is located at Platforma Gubernamental Sur, in the south of Quito. The building is HUGE and fairly new.

First, request an appointment online. I say request because you don’t actually get to select an appointment time. Also, we got appointments extremely fast. We requested the appointment after hours and had early morning appointments the next day.

Tip: This is Ecuador. The appointment “times” are flexible.

So, don’t stress if you’re a bit late. They only seemed to care about the appointment date, not the time.

When you arrive at the offices, first head across the street to one of the many print shops. You’ll need to buy a folder (ask for a carpeta), hole-punch all your documents, and print the appointment confirmation (the confirmation email doesn’t tell you this).

Ready to go! The visa office is across the street.

Include in the carpeta (one per person):

  1. Appointment confirmation (put this first)
  2. Notarized copy of the diploma/title (Professional visa only)
  3. The original translation of the diploma/title (Professional visa only)
  4. Passport copy (no notary/translation required).
  5. Certificate of Migratory Movement
  6. Marriage certificate (Amparo visa only)
  7. Birth certificates (if applicable, Amparo visa only)
  8. Notarized bank statement.
  9. Original background checks.
  10. Original translations of the background checks.
  11. Proof that you lived in the country where the background checks were issued** (e.g., a driver’s license copy, residence permit, apartment lease, etc.). Translation and notary is not required.

** This is NOT listed in the visa requirements. However, we were nearly rejected for not having this information. Luckily, they let us leave to print proof and come back.

For the residency proof, translation and notarization isn’t required. However, for example, if you lived in country 1 from 2018 to 2020, then the document must indicate that you were in that country in 2018. So, we used copies of driver’s licenses and residence permits that had issue and expiration dates.

Once your folder is in order, just head inside and get in line (there are signs). You’ll receive a number and just wait to be called.

Tip: Be prepared to wait.

There were only 2 (maybe 3) people processing visa applications. So, depending on how many people are ahead of you, it takes a while. Bring a snack and some water! However, if you need reliable wifi or want a real meal, I recommend this place, across the street.

Good wifi, good food.

Tip: Bring cash.

You’ll pay for the visa while you’re with the processing employee (there is a bank inside). However, they only accept cash.


If everything is correct, you’ll receive your visa by email in a matter of hours. You’ll have to sign a confirmation document, though. So, recommend lunch across the street while you wait.

Oh, and you know that pretty passport photo you brought with you? They won’t use it. Instead, they’ll take a new one with you half looking at their sh*tty webcam.

Like, no passport photo is ever great, but come on!!

If something goes wrong, then don’t stress. Ask them to write down what is missing so you can correct it and try again. If you’re running out of time on your 90-day tourist visa, you can extend it once and give yourself another 90 days.


Three trips to the visa office, four online Senescyt attempts, and two in-person Senescyt trips later, we have visas (for two years, at least)!

You can see how this process takes way more time than expected. For us, it took 4 months (October to February). So, start early, expect delays, and be patient (easier said than done, I know).

In the end, it’s worth it.

Quito, Ecuador

Hasta luego,

Whitney

Tena, Ecuador: Arahuana Jungle Resort & Spa

Sometimes I forget that Tena is actually a city surrounded by nature…rainforest nature. A mere 2.6 km outside Tena is this beautiful resort tucked away in the forest. We first heard about Arahuana from Shane’s work colleague, who described this magical Resort del Dia (resort for the day) package. So, a few weeks ago, when Shane had a day off, we decided to switch up the routine and check it out!

Photo from https://turismoaccesible.ec

A quick side note.

When I said “a few weeks ago, when Shane had a day off work,” I meant that in the literal sense. As of this post, he’s on day 17 in a row. I recently posted about our six-month impressions of Ecuador. What I didn’t include in that post was our six-month impressions of the work.

In short, it’s relentless.

I think I can speak for Shane when I say that the project is great, and he genuinely enjoys what he does on a day-to-day basis. However, the problem is two-fold.

  1. It’s a lot of ‘effin work to take care of 100+ caterpillars, a plant house to feed those caterpillars, and 15+ cages of butterflies. Every. Single. Day.
  2. His experimental design takes about ~2 weeks for one round of data collection.

For some context, it takes 1 to 2 hours to feed the butterflies and anywhere from 4-6 hours to feed the caterpillars. Shane and Lucie should also be running experiments somewhere in there, given that’s the whole reason we’re here.

They’ve hired research assistants and have recruited student interns, but at the end of the day, it’s still just a lot of work that can’t be neglected. Unhealthy caterpillars mean no butterflies, which means no data.

So, my least favorite part about living in Ecuador has nothing to do with Ecuador itself; it’s Shane’s work schedule! Honestly, I expected him to be busy, but I did not expect the lack of routine days off. But, with time, I (we) have come to accept this new reality. I, especially, needed to shift my expectations so I wasn’t aNoYEddd 😤 all the time. And luckily, I’m a field biologist now, so I can come and help when he needs or wants it.

I share this because I think being honest about living and working abroad is important. It can look dreamy from afar, but there are downsides.

I also share this to emphasize how EXCITINGGGG it was to go relax at a resort for the day!

Ok, so back to this magical place in Tena.

The Resort del Dia package is $25 per person for 3 or more people (or $30 pp for 2). It includes access from 10 am to 4 pm to the entire property, which has beautiful paths throughout, an observation tower, and a spa (for an extra cost). Most importantly, they have two pools… and let’s be real. We were there for the pools!

Pool 1.

The package also includes a $15 credit towards food and drinks (alcoholic also) and a room for the day. 🤯 Anything you spend over the $15, you can pay at the end of the day.

By the grace of the weather gods, we had a beautiful, sunny day, which we spent by the pool drinking German beer (apparently the owner is German) and just… doing nothing! It was fantastic. We didn’t eat in the restaurant, but we did consume more than just beer! 🤪 We opted to order lunch from the pool bar/bistro.

Pool 2.

We went on a Tuesday and essentially had the place to ourselves. So, the next time Shane has a sunny day off, I think you’ll know where to find us!

Hasta luego,

Whitney