When I arrived in Guayaquil, on May 5, 2016 I’d planned to stay there for two weeks to hand off immigration documents to a visa facilitator (that’s another story). I arrived less than a month after the devastating 7.8 quake that killed over 600 people. On top of that, they were still having aftershocks which proved to be pretty unnerving for me being on the 4th floor of a pretty dated hotel. But I was there and fully committed to the experience nonetheless.
My plans were to stay in Guayaquil for a few weeks and then move on to Loja, a small city in southern Ecuador, where I would start my new life. The main thing that attracted me to Loja was having read it’s the “music capital” of the country. Which sounded like a good place for me, an avid music lover and casual musician. Loja isn't the most popular city for expats but from the ones I talked to who were living there, they really enjoyed it.
So after handing off my documents to the American visa facilitator, I hired a driver to take me from Guayaquil to Loja. I loved how easy it was to find him using the popular expat website, gringopost.com. There, he had tons of good recommendations from other expats so I hired him and he arrived on time and with a pleasant attitude.
The journey from Guayaquil to Loja would take 7 hours through all of the Ecuador’s different landscapes. Nestor, the driver, and I had a great time from the very beginning chatting and getting to know each other. He was eager to tell me about his country and all it had to offer. At some point he asked me why I wanted to go to Loja. I told him what I’d learned about it, what other expats living there had said and that I thought it was the best place for me.
Along the way we stopped in Cuenca, a very popular city for expat living, before we continued on. Nestor told me it was a great place to live with a lot of expats and asked if I wanted to stay. I told him I heard it was nice but I didn’t want to live there. We headed once again toward Loja but not without him asking if I was sure I wanted to go to there. I said yes and thought nothing more of it.
Let me just say that the drive from Guayaquil to Loja was nothing short of magical! As a lover of biology and nature my brain was on overdrive at all that I saw. We went from jungle to cloud forest to mountains to desert and more. The landscapes were absolutely beautiful. I was even fascinated by the different types of dirt!
However, as we got closer and closer to Loja, I started to give our surroundings the side-eye… In my head I was thinking “Oh my, what the hell is this?” The landscape was changing indeed but not for the better…
I remember thinking “Please don’t let this be Loja”, only to be assured by Nestor that we had indeed reached Loja. The further in we went, the worse it got. It was an ugly, depressed looking place that while there was no loose trash laying around, it still had a dirty, grimy feel to it. It’s a small city so it felt more like rolling into a one road town forgotten by time than anything modern. My heart sank but I said nothing to Nestor about it.
When we arrived at my hotel, it too was a depressing place but not so much so that I wanted to run for the hills. I was still willing to give my original plan a try. Nestor helped me check in, made sure I was all set in my room and we said our goodbyes.
Inside I was in a panic. We had driven 7 hours and I hated what I saw in Loja. I had only been there 5 minutes and I wanted out. I knew as soon as we arrived in Loja, I didn't want to stay. When checking into the hotel, I really knew I didn’t want to stay. Once in the room, my brain was screaming for an escape and when I looked out of the hotel room at the grimey city below, I didn’t see how I could stay.
I sat on the bed for a few minutes trying to convince myself to give it at least 3 days. I was trying to change you see… I have always been an “I don’t like it, so I’m done.” kind of person. Every now and then I convince myself that it’s not a good way to be. I was fighting the urge right there on that bed. I didn’t like it so I was done but I was trying to convince myself to be more open about staying.
I lost the good fight.
I barely had a signal on my phone and worried I wouldn't be able to make a call. I darted around the room until I got a strong enough signal to dial out. I called Nestor hoping like hell he hadn’t gotten to far out of the city. When he picked up, I was ecstatic and he was worried something had happened. All I could tell him was that I couldn't stay there and asked if he had already left. Like a pot of gold making it rain from the sky, he told me he was still in the city because he stopped to have this breaks checked before he headed back home to Cuenca which is about 4 hours away. I asked him if he could come get me and I would ride back with him.
Five minutes later he was in the lobby waiting for me. I met him at the counter and he explained to the hotel clerk that I was checking out. They seemed very concerned that I was leaving and had to make a ton of calls just to see if it were ok to give me a refund. In the end, I still had to pay for the night but I was cool with that, I think the room was like $20 or something.
Once in the car, I told the Nestor everything. “I was trying to get you to change your mind the whole way. There’s nothing in Loja,” he said. When I tell you we laughed for a good 45 minutes, we really laughed that long. Every time one of us thought about it, we would laugh some more.
Looking back, yeah, he did try to warn me. Ha! I wasn't trying to hear it. But you know that’s how life is. That’s how people are. We make our decisions and while I wish I had listened, sometimes our brains just won’t let us. Now that’s something I can work on… listening more when someone who knows is trying to give sound advice.
In the end, I decided to give Cuenca a try after all and since that’s where he was going anyway, it worked out. After I hung up with him in the hotel, I got online and booked a hotel in Cuenca. When we got close to the city, I told him what hotel and he said he was sure it was closed because they’d torn up all the roads for that silly tram. I was surprised because they let me book a room online. So I called and sure enough, the hotel was closed like hell.
More laughter ensued.
Once again, Nestor came to the rescue and called a hotel popular with expats in Cuenca and arranged a room for me. It was late but the owners lived in the hotel too. When we arrived, the owner came out and they put all of my beastly bags in the room and said we’d handle check-in in the morning. Aside from Nestor, the couple who owned the hotel would become some of my first friends in Cuenca (but that’s another story).
I could have turned this into a depressing story about failure abroad but I never saw it that way. It has always been a delightfully funny story that I enjoy telling people. It’s life. I had a plan but it didn’t work out. In the end it worked out for the better because I’ve been in Cuenca for 3 years now.
Well, that is my Loja story and one Nestor has also told to many others … I would sometimes meet knew expats while out and about and they would say “Oh, you’re the one who drove 7 hours to Loja, stayed 15 minutes and then wanted to leave!”