I knew it was a bad sign when our taxi slowed to a crawl, the driver asking us again for our address. I sighed as my boyfriend Greg fumbled to look it up on his smartphone. We were just outside of Quito, Ecuador, where Greg had booked us a stay during an overnight layover.
In the morning, we’d fly back to Medellin for the last leg of a three week trip, which had led us through Colombia and to the Galapagos Islands. My head throbbed from the full day of travel while my stomach rumbled, reminding me that I hadn’t eaten since breakfast.
Greg pulled up the map and showed our driver a dropped pin of our destination—a place that may as well have been Timbuktu, judging from how the driver shook his head in despair. “Why did you book a place in the middle of nowhere?” I snapped. “There is nowhere to eat here and it’s getting dark,” I added. “We’ll find it,” insisted Greg, ever the optimist.
I breathed deeply to keep myself from saying aloud what I was thinking: if only I’d handled it, we wouldn’t be here…
In the past, I had been the one to handle it, because I’d traveled alone. Before I’d fallen four years ago for Greg, a born and bred Midwestern friend of a friend, I’d taken a solo backpacking trip through South America. I’d scoured travel sites and message boards to find destinations offering exactly what I wanted—places where I could ride horses through mountain passes, trek through remote villages, take cooking classes. I booked my own hostels and set my own budget. On the road, I made and changed plans as I saw fit, staying a few extra days in Buenos Aires just so I could squeeze in more tango lessons. I made travel friends, sure, but was always free to leave them when I wanted and return to the road. What happened was what I wanted to happen.
What I didn’t want was to be stuck in the middle of nowhere with a headache and a partner who clearly hadn’t thought things through. I would have booked a place in civilization, said my sidelong glare, which I’d flashed at him a few times when things had gone wrong on this trip. Like when we’d paid twice the normal cab fare in the Galapagos because Greg, knowing no Spanish, had negotiated the rate while I snapped photos of sea turtles. The time we’d sprinted down the street in Medellin to the meeting point for a tour he’d booked, thinking we were late, only to find out we were a day early. The time we argued over which museum to visit only to realize it was already too late to go to either of them.
Sure, these things were small, but it felt like they’d taken away from the sense of ownership I’d once felt over my own travels.
Now, I just felt hungry and upset. Sensing this, Greg tentatively handed me his phone and pointed to a phone number. I took the cue and read it aloud in halting Spanish while our driver dialed the digits on his own phone. Finally, our driver got someone on the line—and his deeply sincere “gracias” before hanging up told me we were finally headed somewhere.
We soon turned down a dirt road and I glimpsed a ranch-style, terracotta house at its end. As our driver pulled up to it, an older Ecuadorian woman wrapped elegantly in a white lace shawl came out to greet us, then told us to wait on the porch while she readied our room. The property was flush with flowers and the home well kept, though otherwise deserted. I thanked her and unloaded my bags before stalking off toward a swing set at the edge of the large backyard, hoping to clear my head.
As I swung, I breathed deeply, forcing myself to think past this night, one of the last of our trip. To think past the irritation and remember what had gone well.
Without Greg’s online sleuthing, after all, we probably wouldn’t have found a flight to the Galapagos within our budget. Without him, I also wouldn’t have learned how, if you did somersaults when swimming with sea lions, they would oh-so-adorably imitate you. No one would have taken every single picture I requested of me (with whatever animal or landmass was in the background) without complaint, or lent me sunscreen or pesos when I ran out. No one would have been my steady dance partner in Cartagena, or booked a private lesson with me so we could learn more salsa steps.
I also realized that, without Greg, I wouldn’t have had someone with a perpetually good attitude to cheer me up in the face of travel challenges, or someone always pushing me to be adventurous—whether that meant scuba diving with hammerheads or eating fried mealworms from a street vendor. And without me, he probably also wouldn’t have had as rich of an experience. (At the very least, without me to translate, he wouldn’t have known what he was ordering off of menus half the time.) Slowly, I felt my irritation give way to the cool tranquility of the descending night.
I walked back to the porch and sat down next to him. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I shouldn’t have snapped. I’m just beat.” “That’s ok,” he reassured me, just as our hostess emerged from the room to beckon us in. I walked in and gasped. Our room was a full suite, complete with Jacuzzi tub, fireplace and king size bed. Bouquets of lilies in ceramic green vases lined the worn oak dresser. Greg smiled in his “I told you so” kind of way.
“Ustedes quieren algo mas?” our hostess asked us. “Si, por favor. Podemoscenar?” She nodded quickly, returning half an hour later with a tray laden with simple rolls and scrambled eggs with a side of freshly squeezed guayabana juice. “Thank you,” Greg said, holding up a forkful of egg as we ate in the adjoining dining room. “No, thank you,” I said. “This place is amazing.”
It had been exhilarating to travel solo, to experience only what I’d wanted to experience. But traveling with someone I loved opened up experiences that were just as rich. There had been adventures that I might not have pushed myself to take on my own; there had been times where his sunny outlook had made me look on the brighter side of travel hiccups too.
And there were experiences, like that night in Quito, that deepened our trust in each other, and reminded me that things would work out—because, after all, we were in it together.
Best of all, I had someone I loved to share my travel experience, including the night we almost got lost in Quito and ended up in a romantic paradise. And, best of all, we would have these experiences to remember, to laugh about, and to bind us together long after our plane touched down back home.
Katie Hunter is a Special Education teacher in San Francisco who can’t imagine life without summer break. She’s checked South Africa, the Galapagos and Burma off her travel list and has her sights (and frequent flier miles) set on New Zealand.