Ecuador Packing Run-Through: Some Tips on Ultra-Light Packing

As many of you know, I’ve been on the struggle bus. I’ve had the Year of Eight Terrible Things.  Not to dwell, but here’s my year in a nutshell:

  1. Our dog Rooster Died.
  2. I was diagnosed with severe chondral defects in my knee (so painful) and was told I would never run again.
  3. Our Dog Penny Died.
  4. My Cousin Ali Died.
  5. John & I were flattened by flu.
  6. John was in the hospital for a cardiac event.
  7. Our puppy Nutmeg was diagnosed with a terminal birth defect.
  8. I was in the hospital for meningitis.

So I’d like to turn this ship around. Literally.

In less than two weeks we are departing for a trip of a lifetime. We will spend a week in the Andes of Ecuador, hiking Cotopaxi, Quilotoa, and exploring the market in Otovalo, the Mindo cloud forest, and the historical center of Quito.

Then we will take a flight to the Galapagos Islands, where in a span of eight days we will visit six islands for hiking, snorkeling, kayaking, and the most amazing wildlife viewing in the entire world. I can’t wait to see the place where Charles Darwin formulated many of his ideas about evolution. If you haven’t read On the Origin of Species in a while, please pick it up again. It’s hauntingly prescient. But also very sweet and smart.

So life is seriously looking up!

Except! For the fact that I did my first packing run-through, and I couldn’t get my items to fit. I’ve been traveling “ultra-light” for our past four trips with just a personal item and a carry-on roller, and though I am following all of my rules, I still had a large packing cube’s worth I could not stuff into my bags.

Internet to the rescue! I traded in my 21 inch with 4 roller wheels for a 22 inch with in-line wheels. This was enough to allow me to fit all my gear, including the massive DSLR with long lens. I was going to try to shoot on my iPhone, but I did several tests with each and could not recreate the clarity of my 200 mm lens. I am determined to get a great shot of a blue-footed booby!

Here are my top five rules for ultra-light packing:

  1. Leave the Vanity at Home: I travel with no makeup or jewelry. No fancy shoes or dresses or clothes. I take a “Travel Uniform.”
  2. Pack Leave-Behinds: I take items that need to be replaced anyhow, then shed as I go. I’ll be taking a pair of runners that will stay, a hat I don’t want any more, and clothing that has seen better days. That way I can donate my items, and fill my suitcase with goodies and gifts on the way home.
  3. Packing Cubes Are Clutch: Not only do they help you keep it organized, they also help compress your clothing and gear so that it fit in your bags.
  4. Remove Redundancy: No need for two pairs of black pants or two bright blouses. And pictures only capture the tops, so repeat the bottoms.
  5. Pack for Half: We always do laundry so we can pack as if we were staying only a week. It’s easy to find facilities or even to wash out items in the sink.

25 Days To Go

John and I are ready for a vacation. I mean really ready. Good thing the clock is ticking on our big journey this year, to Ecuador! It is going to be a great trip with good friends–Lori and Joe with whom we explored the Alps. Can’t wait to travel with them. Two more couples will join us along the way! Meg and Alex live in Denver and will meet us in Quito, and Chad and Shawna will be traveling from Phoenix later on.

We are so excited to spend time in Quito, the capital city of Ecuador. At 9350 feet, it is the second highest capital city behind Bolivia’s La Paz. Quito boasts some beautiful architecture, and it has one of the best-preserved historic centers in the world . We have chosen Hotel Mansion del Angel as our base there. The property used to be the home of a tobacco tycoon, and it has been  beautifully restored.

We are really looking forward to participating in Ciclopaseo on our first Sunday in Ecuador.  This is when a route of 30 km running from the North to South of the city is closed to traffic. I can’t wait to see the city from two wheels!

From Quito we will be going on several day trips:

Otovala: The Saturday market in this town outside of Quito boasts some of the most impressive textiles in all of the Andres.

Textiles in the Otovalo Market

Mindo: This region is a cloud forest area that covers about 100 square miles and features the convergence of three rivers. It is famous for its birdwatching, orchids, and butterflies.

Lush Life in Mindo

Cotopaxi: This is an active volcano in the Andres that can be seen from Quito on a clear day. We plan to hike to the refuge at 15,748 feet.

Cotopaxi Volcano

Quilotoa: This is a 2-mile wide caldera caused by a volcano collapse. We hope to do the 6 mile circumference hike with a high point of 12,844.

Quilotoa Crater

After eight days in the Andes, we fly to the Galapagos Island. We chose our 16-person catamaran the Cormorant based on amenities and itinerary.  We will get to explore 20 sites of interest across six different islands.

Points of Interest

As you might guess, we are busy getting ready for the trip. I have been swimming and hiking a lot to increase my stamina, especially since I lost so much strength when I was hospitalized for meningitis in May.

I have also been reading a lot of books about Ecuador, the Galapagos, and about Darwin’s theory of natural selection, which was formulated here, in the global heart of evolutionary science. Here’s a partial reading list:

Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands

The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time

The Origin of Species

Darwin Comes to Town

No Turning Back: The Extinction Scenario

Galapagos at the Crossroads