Soul Searching in the Ecuadorian Andes.

When you’ve been on the road long enough, you start questioning your own wanderlust. You wonder whether your travels have transformed you into a better person, whether the road has given you a deeper understanding of the world, whether all those fleeting interactions have left you incapable of forging real relationships.

I found myself contemplating these questions as I hiked across the dramatic Andes mountains in Ecuador.

At the edge of the volcanic Lake Quilotoa, I gaze at the turquoise shades in the water changing with the drifting clouds. My thoughts drift along too, and I feel truly lucky to be born on Earth, because even heaven can’t possibly outdo this beauty.

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In my mind, I’ve always been a drifter. But as I traverse the mountains outside of Baños, it strikes me that home is not a place but a feeling. A feeling that eludes me no matter how often I look for it.

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Perhaps it eludes me because deep within, I don’t really want to find it. With a home nowhere, I have everywhere to go.

So I put out my thumb, and ride countless times in the back of pick-up trucks and in vintage cars, the cold mountain air chilling my bones, but the rush of adventure and the warmth of the locals making up for it.

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What amazes me is that locals don’t always travel by road. The indigenous mountain communities walk and ride their horses on volcanic trails, commuting to work in their traditional dresses, basking in their breathtaking surroundings.

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I quickly learn that the pre-colonial cuisine in Ecuador was healthy vegan food, and find modern-day variations in small cafes perched high above the mountains; quinoa tabouleh and tree tomato juice is a treat I didn’t expect in the Andes.

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Even on a long hike around Lake Cuicocha, I compulsively pull out my notebook and scribble: To travel is to realize that the goal is not to get anywhere; it is merely to be where you are with all your heart.

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There was a time when I was plagued by FOMO (fear of missing out) on my travels. I wanted to go everywhere, see everything. But over time, I’ve truly found JOMO (joy of missing out). As I wander around Ecuador, I have no fixed plans. I talk to locals, go on long walks, embrace unexpected adventures and find beautiful spots to read, write and just be.

Like getting on an unmanned cable car on a farmer’s assurance, to cross a deep gorge to the mountain on the other side!

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I follow female shepherds from my indigenous Quichua community as they take their sheep and cows to graze, to mountain pastures covered in yellow wildflowers, in the shadow of the Imbabura volcano.

When we stop to chat, some seem bewildered to hear I’m Indian; when Columbus found the Americas, he thought he had arrived in India and christened the native people Indians. Isn’t it ironic that they mistake me for their native “Indian” community when I come from the land Columbus was looking for all along?

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But I feel as far from India as I geographically am.

In fact, I feel like I’m here and now. I’m today. I’m this moment. I’m this thought. I refuse to dwell on what has been or what might be. And that’s what my travels have taught me – to live free.

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When we look back at life, we won’t remember the times spent working on a laptop or watching movies on the couch or fretting over the meaning of life. We’ll only remember the times of incredible beauty and unexpected joy.

Like the time I found myself hiking on a ridge with deep gorges on either side, surrounded 360 degrees by the lush Andes. One false step and I’d become one with the mountains.

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Una paloma blanca, I sing on a makeshift swing at the edge of Baños (not the famous end-of-the-world swing which is so popular, you have to queue for it). I’m just a bird in the sky.

As I stand up on the swing and face the precipice, I only remember the words of Moshe Dayan:

Freedom is the oxygen of the soul.

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I spent a month traveling in Ecuador, exploring indigenous villages near Cotacachi, Laguna de Cuicocha, Laguna de Quilotoa, Chugchilan near Cotopaxi, Baños, Mindo and a bit of Quito. I’ll be writing a detailed travel guide soon! 

Perhaps the best way to support Ecuador after the devastating earthquake is to travel to this incredible country. Go to safe/relatively unaffected areas and support the local economy.

What have the mountains taught you about yourself?

Join me on InstagramFacebook and Twitter for more adventures and musings.

The Shooting Star Academy

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  1. Your writing, Shivya, speaks to me like few other things or people do. Incidentally, I have music playing on shuffle and Beethoven’s Ode to Joy started playing somewhere in the middle of your post. I can’t help sharing some of bits, in English:

    All creatures drink of joy, at nature’s breast.
    Just and unjust, alike taste of her gift;
    She gave us kisses and the fruit of the vine,
    (She is) A tried friend to the end.


    PS: You on that swing, living the moment, facing the wide world beyond, looks like freedom epitomised.

  2. Beautiful post and pictures.. I’m glad you are living as you would want to cos in the end, that would matter. Nothing more.

  3. This is just beautiful! And your pictures….just WOW. I love that you say “To travel is to realize that the goal is not to get anywhere; it is merely to be where you are with all your heart.” It’s a lesson I’ve struggled to learn as well, always worried I’m not doing enough or seeing enough or that I’m running out of time or that I should’ve/would’ve/could’ve/if only I’d have…Second guessing yourself is exhausting. Once you figure out how to just be right where you are, man that changes everything. <3

  4. What are the chances of you being my mirror reflection Shivya? This morning, as I was cleaning a stock of pictures from my recent travel to Meghalaya, a thought worried me. Suddenly all these months of travel and coming back to family and friends is making me feel guilty. I have been making friends on the road whiles the ones at home have seemed to move on. And as I started to break in tears, my mailbox is hit by a notification from your blog. You are right. At our death bed, all that will come back to us is these unadulterated joys of life 🙂

  5. Beautiful photos of a stunning area. You could not get me in that cable car, by the way.

  6. Lalitha Raghavan says:

    Excellent writing. The thought about enjoying the travel moments more than the destinations is so true about life in general. Wish you more wonderful travel memories…

  7. Anila Nair says:

    I live my wanderlust through you… Keep writing.. Its beautiful to imagine where you are and what you do.

  8. misschristhel says:

    Nice pictures! The view is just breath taking..

  9. This is truly amazing and your words makes it more beautiful. Thank you for sharing this amazing post.

  10. It’s a beautiful read! Your photos are amazing as always… and the ‘swing’ shot gives a chill down the spine. 🙂 Travel more. Stay safe.

  11. That last photo is incredible! Can’t believe you did that. Nice reflective post… enjoyed reading it!

  12. I’ll be in Ecuador in 17 days! I love the photos and the reminder to be mindful when traveling. I really suffer from FOMO and am always eager to jump to the next activity even before I am finished with the current one.

  13. Beautiful photgraphs Shivya!

    And as for mountailns? They’re always my first choice. As are volcanoes lol!

  14. Mariana Z says:

    Love the pics, been in all the places you mention, Baños has a special place
    In my ❤️ Because Ehen I was little I ended to go every summer with my family. My country is beautiful no matter where you go, you’re surrounded by God’s creation. Safe travels!

  15. As I was reading this article I could feel your happiness through your words, embrace every moment, stay safe, enjoy, enjoy and I always thought home is where the heart is!

  16. Pragya Dwivedi says:

    Though I am already in love with your write ups, I feel this is one of the most literary article of yours I have read so far. Your pen seems to carry positive vibes with it. Keep moving, keep traveling, keep exploring, and ha, keep writing, of course!

  17. What a beautiful post and beautiful photos! I am trying to get away from the “FOMO” mentality myself…

  18. Nice Post. Ecuador awesome place. Thanks for sharing a variety of amazing beautiful attractive captures photo’s.

  19. Your words came like a sweet little droplets of rain when life is becoming like a never ending scorching sunny afternoon.

  20. Wonderfully written Shivya 🙂 Photos are strongly welcoming! Love the unique way you connect life with the beauty of nature!

  21. How inspiring, Shivya. Your writing speaks about truth. Its a harsh reality but true that we will not remember the time we spent on the laptop, running about in life achieving those goals… just sheer joy and love. I am glad you found happiness in your travels. Cheers

  22. Amazing journey and wonderful pictures. Ecuador looks magnetizing. You’re taking greater leaps for sure. Good luck with your subsequent travels. 🙂 🙂

  23. I was in Quilotoa for a week in 2009. We helped with water, learned mask dancing, and built a community center. I hiked about halfway down to Laguna Quilotoa – it was tough. But good to see it’s still the place to be.

  24. BCube |BloggerByBelief| says:

    Hi Shivya. A very bold and adventurous path you have chosen for yourself.
    This Ecuador post was a good read. Well said, “Home is not a place but a feeling” and “Travelling is about being where we are with all our heart”.
    Happy journeys and be safe.

  25. BCube |BloggerByBelief| says:

    Reblogged this on Blogger By Belief and commented:
    Wherever you go, go with all your heart. – Confucius

  26. khalil kallangodan says:

    Wow. Amazing write up
    The andes has much to show and clearly you’ve described the best parts!

  27. Can you please share detailed itinerary with places you stayed in Ecuador?

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