Friday, February 21, 2014

Traveling with kids: Cotopaxi

After our short stay in Quito (which due to a cold on Kalah's part was almost completely sleepless) we hopped in a van we hired and drove the 3.5 to 4 or so hour drive to Cotopaxi.

The ride flew by. The scenery was gorgeous. The girls were amazing. We were all excited for what lay ahead (even though we were sleep deprived).

Tesa holding Kalah on part of our van ride.

Upon our arrival to the Secret Garden, Cotopaxi, we realized what a special place this was. No cell signal. No wi-fi. A view of Cotopaxi from every room. Bright colors, open fields, lots of animals, plants, and flowers. It was truly an escape, and a welcomed one.

The view from the dorm room.

At the Secret Garden there is limited electricity (the dorm, for example, had no electricity), shared bathrooms (for the most part at least, and they even a composting toilet), a garden used for cooking, and all home cooked meals (included in your room cost).

One of the cabins at the Secret Garden

The view from the grounds of the hostel.

We got unpacked, had lunch, then headed out on a short guided hike (led by the hostel staff).

The outbound led of the hike was beautiful. Tesa tried to carry Kesh in her backpack, but we quickly realized that she was too tall for the pack that we own. So she carried Kalah, I carried Kesh, and this is how we hiked (uphill for about 40 minutes). We were hiking to a waterfall, but the last 10 minutes or so of the hike were downhill and quite tricky. So I waited with the girls at the top while our guide and Tesa hiked to the falls. 

Tesa carrying Kalah in the Ergo.

Kesh and me on the hike up.

As we started down we saw dark clouds rolling in. Then we heard the thunder. Then the storm was right on top of us, lighting was striking all around, thunder was booming, and it was hailing. 

We were okay with the whole thing until we got to an open field. Open field and strike lightening do not mix well. So, we made a run for it. Kesh was pretty brave considering the conditions, and we all made it back safe and sound. Cold, but safe and sound.

What it looked like as we started heading down
(the dark clouds were behind us)

Finally down off of the mountain! *phew*

Looking back the way we had come from. Completely stormed over.

The hail (it's kind of hard to see)

We had tried to reserve a private room, there were none available for our travel dates. So we opted to give the dorm a go. 

The dorm room at the Secret Garden, Cotopaxi

Now, I'm not saying if you have kids you should avoid a dorm. However, if you're traveling alone with a baby, a preschooler, and one of them is sick, avoid the dorm like the plague. 

Kalah screamed up until midnight on the first night, so I ended up carrying both kids outside in the dark from our cabin to the shared space and sleeping on the couch (yes, with both kids) so as not to disturb the other dorm dwellers. Pretty much a nightmare. Thank goodness the couch was super soft.

After our experience on our short hike Tesa and I decided it wasn't worth trying to take the girls up to the glacier. So she booked a glacier hike by herself, and I decided to hang out around the hostel with Kesha, feed the animals, explore, use the jacuzzi, etc. We had a wonderful wonderful day!

Views of the Secret Garden

Views of the Secret Garden and one of the hostel dogs.

Views of the Secret Garden.

Plants on the grounds of the hostel.

Plants on the grounds of the hostel.

Plants on the grounds of the hostel.

Plants on the grounds of the hostel.

Cuy... they are not pets.

Canela the calf.

Kesha and Canela.

Running to feed the llamas.


Llama face.

Jacuzzi time!!!

For Kesha to have space, and more importantly, freedom, was such a gift. She ran around outside, coming and going as she pleased. She picked flowers, looked for bugs, fed animals, socialized with people of all ages and cultural backgrounds. I can't think of a more positive experience for a preschool-aged child than the Secret Garden at Cotopaxi.

A shoutout...
Our second night one of the hostel workers took pity on me and put me and the girls in a private room for the same rate as the dorm so that we wouldn't have to worry that Kalah's screaming was waking everyone up. Truly superior service was given to us by the staff at the Secret Garden. And as a mom traveling alone with her two kids, I greatly appreciated this kind gesture.


To give you an idea of costs...

  • In all for our private transportation in a van from Quito to Cotopaxi, Cotopaxi to Mindo, Mindo to the airport in Quito we paid $300 total for the driver, the van, and the gas.
  • Our dorm room was about $40 per person with all of our meals and snacks included. It also included unlimited coffee, tea, and drinking water. They did not charge me for either child and still provided all meals for Kesha. (if you split a private room between two people it also ends up being about $40 per person)
  • Our hike to the waterfalls behind the hostel were included in our accommodation rate.
  • Antesa's glacier hike cost her $40 including transportation to/from Cotopaxi, a guide, the hike, and a snack.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Traveling with kids: short flights and Quito

My girls travel well.

Kesh is an old hand at flying, having taken her first series of flights at 3 months old and traveling to and from the US 2 times per year since then (each trip consists of 4 to 6 flights roundtrip).

Kalah, although she is only 9 months old, already has 9 flights under her belt.

Short flights are the easiest. Especially here in Ecuador. Here, things aren't so formal. Security isn't so intense. And when you're a woman flying alone with 2 kids, people go out of their way to make things easier for you.

When we flew to meet Tesa I committed the ultimate novice traveler error. I mean, the error I committed on my first time ever leaving the US using my passport. I FORGOT OUR IDs AT THE HOUSE!!! How do you even do that?! In fact, I had forgotten my entire wallet at the house! I had no money, no credit cards, no ID cards, so it was EVEN WORSE!

Luckily my husband is a speedy driver, we don't live far from the airport, and the Cuenca airport has only one big room with 3 doors and few passengers. Arturo rushed home to get my wallet and I made it with 1 minute to spare through security and was escorted on to the plan (*phew!*). People were carrying my bags for me telling me to not hurry and it wasn't a big deal that we had plenty of time (HA!). On top of basically being my personal assistants they upgraded me to first class for free! Here mam, no only are you late, overloaded with bags, and have two kids, but we're going to throw in first class seats for you as well!

It is only a 40 minute flight from Cuenca to Quito, but I can see who came out winning in this scenario, and it was not the businessmen sitting around me.

The 40 minute flight from Cuenca to Quito is a piece of cake. Even if your kid pees or throws-up on you, you've pretty much got it in the bag. Anyone can survive 40 minutes of pee or throw-up. Having said that, this flight is typically uneventful for us. We take off, look out the window, they bring the drink cart, we start landing, then we're there. You basically have time to chug your drink before they come around with the garbage sack and the plane starts descending.

On my way to Quito I always pack more than necessary in my carry-on just in case they lose my bag. I shove in at least one full day of day of diapers, a couple of changes of clothes for each of the girls (including a pair of pjs), a full change of clothes for myself (something that could double a pjs is preferable), a few toys, some snacks, bottles of water, and my personal items, such as my wallet (*ahem* yes, my wallet), my phone, and my iPad. Here is my original post on packing for this trip.

Arriving in Quito is easy enough. If I can't seem to get myself organized I am always okay waiting to be the last one off the plane. However, since I was in first class, and had a lot more room, I was able to get the girls organized quickly and be one of the first ones off of the plane.

The new Mariscal Sucre Airport in Quito is beautiful and very easy to use.

We waited for our checked bag to be delivered to us then headed out to connect with our hotel transfer.

Our transfer was a bit late, so we sat down at a little cafe right outside of the "arribos nacionales" exit and had coffee and chocolate milk (mama needed some coffee desperately after our early morning flight).

After awesomely spilling my coffee on my clothes, we were off to the hotel for a morning of rest and relaxation before Antesa arrived in the evening from the Galapagos.

The posada we stayed at had a pool and plenty of outdoor space. So we hung out on the grass, dripped our toes in the pool (literally, as the pool was quite cold), and just relaxed. It was a perfect day.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Traveling with kids: packing

One of my childhood friends is visiting (hooray!). She is the first of my friends that has ever come to visit me and I am thrilled about not only getting to show her where I live, but traveling with her and my little munchkins.

Our original plans were to travel from Quito to Cotopaxi, then to Baños de Ambato, Aluasí, Cuenca. However, the Tungurahua Volcano erupted this past weekend making travel to Baños and Alausí completely out of the question.

See... Would you travel there with two kids?
Picture taken by Photo Ecuador

Enter a change of plans and the ever useful flexibility I have developed whilst living here.

We will now be doing Quito to Cotopaxi (unaffected by the blast), Cotopaxi to Mindo then to Papallacta and fly back to Cuenca (from Quito). This means we will be in cold climates, tropical climates, and temperate climates all within 5 days.

We leave tomorrow, so commence the packing!

It's hard enough to pack for yourself, let alone for yourself and two small people, and let alone for 3 separate climates in a very short period of time. *facepalm* But I do have to say I'm pretty much a pro at this by now, so I thought it would be a good idea to share my packing lists with those of you who travel with kids, or are looking to travel with kids.

For the Baby (Kalah May 8.5 months old)
  • 1 towel
  • 2 swimsuits (I'm not sure which one will fit her)
  • 1 fleece jacket
  • 1 fleece vest
  • 3 long sleeved onesies
  • 3 short sleeved onesies
  • 2 pairs of warm pants
  • 4 pairs of lighter pants
  • 1 pair of SuperSoft BabyLegs (they're made of a fleece-like material and are very warm)
  • 1 pair of normal BabyLegs
  • 3 pairs of normal socks
  • 1 pair of fleece baby booties with a wide elastic band top (I would tell you what they are called and where to purchase them, but a good friend of mine bought them at a street fair and I have yet to figure out how to get another pair. They are the best booties I have ever received. They are the red sock-like item in the picture)
  • 1 pair of fleece pajamas
  • 2 pairs of light pajamas
  • 3 bibs
  • 2 washcloths
  • 20 diapers (we can buy more on the road)
  • 3 swim diapers
  • 1 large pack of wipes
  • 1 light receiving blanket
  • 1 heavy blanket
  • The Ergo Carrier
  • A few toys

For the Preschooler (Kesha Lee 3.5 years old)
  • 1 towel
  • 2 swimsuits (she will be in the water a lot)
  • 2 sweaters (1 heavier fleece and 1 lighter)
  • 1 turtleneck 
  • 3 short sleeved t-shirts
  • 4 long sleeved t-shirts
  • 2 undershirts
  • 2 dresses (because Kesha=dresses)
  • 1 pair of heavy pajamas
  • 1 pair of light pajamas
  • 1 fleece night gown 
  • 10 pairs of panties (2 for each day, cause ya just never know)
  • 6 pairs of socks (1 for each day plus one extra)
  • One pair of fleece socks for walking around the hostels (these are the ones we have)
  • 1 pair of SuperSoft BabyLegs 
  • 1 pair of normal BabyLegs
  • 2 hats (one fleece lined, one normal knit)
  • 1 pair of mittens (we will use socks on Kalah's hands)
  • 1 scarf
  • 3 pairs of leggings
  • 1 pair of sweatpants
  • 1 pair of waterproof pants
  • 1 down vest with a hood
  • 1 light receiving blanket
  • 1 heavy blanket
  • 1 pair of tennis shoes
  • 1 pair crocs
  • 1 rain jacket
  • The hiking backpack for Antesa to carry her
  • Her school bag packed with items to play with. This time I put in:
    • Crayons
    • Stapled index cards to make little "books"
    • A sketching pad
    • A small tupperware with pre-peeled stickers (You take off the outside part of the sheet so just the sticker remains. This will save you lots of frustration and tears over ripped stickers)
    • Her all plastic baby doll with changes of clothes, including a swimsuit 

For the Mama (ME! 31 years old)
  • Clothes
    • 2 pairs of leggings (1 long, 1 knee-length)
    • 1 pair of long, thermal leggings
    • 1 pair of jeans
    • 2 swimsuits (bikini and one piece)
    • 1 towel
    • 2 scarves
    • 1 hat
    • 1 pair of gloves
    • 3 long sleeved shirts
    • 4 short sleeved shirts
    • 4 tank tops
    • 2 sweaters
    • 6 pairs of underwear
    • 2 sports bras
    • 1 normal bra
    • 5 pairs of normal socks
    • 2 pairs of heavy socks
    • My Suunto Quest watch and heart rate monitor (to track our hikes!)
    • 1 pair of flip-flops
    • 1 pair of tennis shoes
    • A rain jacket

  • Other bits and pieces
    • An umbrella
    • A pair of dress-up heels for Kesha at her insistence (after I tried removing them several times)
  • The "Details"
    • National ID card for each traveler
    • Debit card
    • Credit card
    • Cash (most of my money will be in cash due to the remote areas we will be visiting)
    • Cell phone (and charger)
    • iPad (and charger)
    • Camera (and charger)
  • Toiletries Bag
    • 1 toothbrush for Kesh
    • 1 tube of toothpaste for Kesh
    • 1 toothbrush for me
    • 1 tube of toothpaste for me
    • Floss
    • A handful of small rubber bands or Kesha's hair
    • A few hair clips for Kesha
    • A comb for Kesha's hair (I will use the same one since I have short hair)
    • Deodorant
    • Travel shampoo (I just bring kids shampoo)
    • Travel conditioner
    • Travel lotion for Kalah (she has sensitive skin)
    • A large bottle of sun block
    • Contacts case and solution
    • Glasses
    • Child-friendly bug repellant (DEET free)

  • A messenger bag that will serve as a purse/diaper bag and is wearable with the Ergo. In this bag I packed the following (taken from the above list, not in addition)
    • 4 diapers
    • The pack of wipes
    • A full change of clothes for Kesha and me
    • 2 full changes of clothes for Kalah (she spits up a lot)
    • A sweater for Kesha
    • A sweater for me
    • All of the items from the "Details" list (minus the chargers, which I packed in our big bag)
    • A cup with a lid for Kesha (empty)
    • A bottle for Kalah (empty)
    • A book for me (if I ever get to read haha)
    • Snacks - I opted for the following:
      • Fruit leathers
      • Root vegetable chips
      • Candy-covered peanuts
      • Granola bars
      • A Kinder Egg for possible moments of bribery

And we are packed and ready to go! Or at least I think we are... Under 20 kilos in one suitcase for 3 people. I know it's only 5 days, but the different environments don't lend well to light packing.

Check back for stories from our adventures in Northern Ecuador!