Ecuador

Ecuador is just the right size for a country. You can get from the beach to the Andes, or from the Andes to the Amazon, in a few hours. This seems very sensible. I dealt with the ridiculous scale of the US by refusing to leave the tri-state area, but this left me with monotonous scenery. Ecuador may be compact in length and breadth, but it has the most ambitious landscape I’ve ever seen. It’s as though every other mountain valley I’ve seen is the smallest Russian doll in a series that keeps unfolding up and up.

I have no desire to conquer the high peaks here—I’m very submissive when it comes to mountains—but to walk and sleep in the Andes for days at a time has been the most humbling and uplifting experience of this trip. In the Himalayas, Dervla Murphy observes, the peaks are for mountaineers only; lowly walkers go through passes. In the Andes, though, hiking paths go right over the peaks, and as you gasp out the carbon dioxide that has collected in your wobbly legs, you look down and feel like a gnat on an elephant. Last week I saw a condor swoop not far overhead. What a world.