Moving to Ecuador: A Conversation with Mary Wingo
This month, we’re interviewing women from all over the world and asking them about their experiences traveling to Ecuador. We had the privilege of speaking with Mary Wingo about her experience traveling through the country. Here’s a glimpse into our conversation.
Tell us about yourself! What do you do when you’re not traveling the world? Where do you live? What made you decide to go to your most recent destination?
I live is beautiful colonial Cuenca, Ecuador, perhaps one of the loveliest cities in the Western Hemisphere. I am a small-business person, author and former scientist. Maybe “former” is too strong, as I just published a book on the science of human stress for the general public.
I was looking to emigrate from the US for a long time. When I came to visit a friend here for a month in 2014, I was sold. I went back to Texas, sold everything, and was here to stay three months later. Moving to Ecuador was the best decision of my life. I cured myself of nagging afflictions here, got feminine (as I feel the US tends to masculinize us women) and really found purpose for my life. I will probably never move back.
How long did you go for? How did you spend your time?
I have lived here for two years. I am an avid backpacker as well as an extreme hiker and long-distance walker. I know how to travel for cheap! Usually, I can travel here in Ecuador for $25 a day or less. It is about the same in Peru and Colombia. It’s hardly more expensive to travel than to stay at home in Cuenca, so I pack my backpack and walk to the bus station. Hell, sometimes I have no idea where I want to go. I just look at some obscure destination written on a sign pasted on the front window of the bus and hop on.
Of course, some of these buses end up in the middle of the sticks on dirt roads that go on for hours. The locals always look at me with curiosity. In 2015, I lived out of my backpack for one fifth of the year.
What were your most memorable experiences? What were the biggest disappointments?
I took a chicken bus to this random town called Pucara. I had no idea where it was, only that it was far into the Andean boondocks. It was Sunday afternoon, and after an hour on a dirt road, I was thinking that maybe I should get off at the next town and catch a bus back home.
Only, there was no town, just a raspy-voiced Chola inquiring why the hell I was there.
I started walking home and it struck me that I was alone in the deep wilderness in a Andean desert rim, just me and my Maker. It was such a beautiful day and I realized that this might be my favorite part of the world. It was just like West Texas (except it wasn’t), and I was overtaken. I was sobbing my eyes out. I had not seen a car for hours, but I didn’t care. It was the most beautiful spot I had ever seen in my life. Tears well up just thinking about it.
Well, after a few hours, a taxi (yes, taxi) came by and gave me a 30-minute ride to my bus stop for only $1. Then he picked up about six really good-looking male hikers, so I got to be packed in the car with six sexy men…what a great day that was.
What do you wish you knew before you went?
I wished I had left the U.S. sooner. For me, it was a toxic place to live.
Any favorite restaurants/hotels/hostels/
sites you’d like to recommend? Tell us what made them great!
Do you want to see mountains? Go to Cuenca. Do you want to experience the Amazon? Check out Tena. Want to go to the beach? If you are tourist, go to Montanita, but if you really want a real beach town, go to Playas. Oh, and then you have the Galapagos.
Is there anything that women specifically should know before they travel to your destination?
Ecuador is a fantastic country for a woman to travel in and to live in. This was the biggest surprise for me. I have traveled a lot by car and camping in the US, and overall, I found it a dodgy place in general for a woman to travel solo.
Here, grandmas and children stand on the side of the highway waiting for a ride. People just don’t tolerate shenanigans here. I have never felt so safe in my life. If you get tired, you can just lay down in some grass on the side of the road or in the city park. Nobody ever bothers you—though the men are shameless flirts.
This is a very polite society. I say it is advanced, because they taught me how to trust people again and how to feel that the world is safe.