When most people think of a romantic vacation, they imagine white sand beaches, sunset horseback rides and lobster tail dinners by candlelight. You sleep in private rooms with plush bedding and have a balcony overlooking the water or at least a garden. You visit cities with cobbled streets and old world architecture, dine on steak paired with wine and book expensive excursions like helicopter rides and scenic boat trips. This is what I thought, as well, until I found a travel romance in an unexpected place, backpacking through Ecuador.
One night while staying at a hostel in Cuenca, I sat on the balcony watching a woman on the street below grilling meats and potatoes. Javier snuck up on me like a mouse, holding a bottle of $8 rum and some coke and wearing wrinkled jeans and t-shirt.
“Want a drink?” he offered, extending the bottle my way.
I smiled. “Sure.”
Uttering that one simple word spiraled me into a 2-week romance-infused backpacking trip through Ecuador, complete with hostel dorms, hiking through muddy terrain in the Amazon Jungle, romantic dinners of guinea pig and chicken foot soup and many rum and cokes. There were no beaches, no plush white bedding, no waterfront resorts and no personal butlers, but there was passion and there was fun and that was what mattered.
In the Amazon Jungle, we got a private room, albeit one with spiders, dirty sheets and toilet paper-less bathrooms, but we were alone in nature, and it was enough.
“What’s your favorite dessert?” he asked me one night as we sat by a pond, listening to frogs and desperately hoping to discover a crocodile, jaguar or some other Amazonian animal.
“Apple cobbler,” I said. “But only because…”
“of the crumbly crust,” he finished my sentence, smiling. “That’s exactly what I was thinking.”
We spent the next two hours asking each other silly questions and finishing each other’s thoughts. I didn’t care that we were in dirty hiking clothes sitting on damp grass and getting bit by mosquitos. I had made a connection and we were discovering a new place together. What could be more romantic than that?
When we walked back to our room, Javier walked in first to clean out any spiderwebs that might be in there because he knew I hated them.
“Get out!” I heard him yell, before I heard a loud “thump” sound.
Just then, a giant great dane sprinted out of the room, barking and wagging its tail. It was clear the animal had been laying in our bed from all the dirt in the sheets. Instead of getting upset about the incident during our romantic weekend away from the world, we collapsed onto the floor in laughter. What a story.
While spending loads of money on all-inclusive resorts with lavender scented baths and rose petals on your bed can help bring an ambiance of romance to your trip, it’s the strengthening of your connection with another person and learning about a place together that’s really what’s important. It almost makes the romantic trip more meaningful when the love and laughter come organically, without the need to have it artificially manufactured and presented to you on a platter. If you can go somewhere with someone you love and spend most of your time laughing and having fun, romance will find you.
So, what happened with Javier and I? In the end I had to fly back to New York to my apartment, and Javiar had to return to Buenos Aires where he worked as a music producer, although we still keep in touch through e-mail. While the experience didn’t lead to marriage and kids it didn’t need to, as in my mind it became one of those perfect tales of passion and excitement that you look back on when you’re 90, the memory bringing a smile to your lips.
Have you ever found romance in an unexpected place? Please share in the comments below.