I’ve been going through my pictures recently – you know, that ubiquitous crate full of matte paper snaps left over from pretty much every moment before digital cameras came of age – and found a bunch from my trip to Ecuador in 2000.

A remedy for a broken heart (I left on Valentine’s Day), this trip was a whirlwind two weeks in the cheapest, closest country I could think of. Mostly I stayed in Baños, a small town in the central-south region, with hot springs and hardly any people around. Tungurahua, the active volcano nearby in the Andes, had erupted in the fall and kept threatening to go again so many people had evacuated. Weirdly festive banners showing the proper route to take should the crater start oozing still hung in the streets. In the town’s cathedral, murals painted over hundreds of years showed scenes from the previous 15 eruptions – think women in old-fashioned dress running from fire-tongues while frightened angels looked on. But by then, with the last eruption five-months past, the town still bustled a little bit with tourists and locals who ran restaurants, hotels and bars.

What a trip that was! In Quito, I met and immediately clicked with a Spanish-speaking French Canadian woman and the two of us travelled together for pretty much the entire time, basing ourselves in one spot, lolling about in the steaming hot springs, getting to know the locals and even helping some Ecuadorians open up a nightclub, where bands played folk music and the wait staff served deadly traditional drink in clay jugs. Our hotel room, our home away from home for the fortnight, cost us each $2 US.

I also did a five-day trek into the jungle. The picture above was taken during that excursion. Andres, from Brazil, is standing closest to the camera. Despite a total language gap – no Portuguese for me, no English for him – we got along famously. A kindred spirit, he reminded me so much of my dear friend Darrin, a happy-go-lucky traveller who once wandered his way from Vancouver, B.C. to Panama and back.

This trek was tough and beautiful, with lots of rubber-boot-sucking mud and hard uphill climbs and one particular fruit that seemed to come from a fairy land: it tasted exactly like vanilla ice cream. When I complained, using plenty of miming and sneezing and blowing of the nose, about a nagging sinus infection, Eduardo, our Shuar guide, peeled back the bark of a tree, scraped some of its fleshy green insides into a rolled up banana leaf, mixed it with water and gestured that I snort it up my nose. I did. It was a bit like combining some illicit drug with super-extra-strength nasal spray. Apart from the minor fire that flared in my brain (or maybe because of it), my breathing passages opened right up.

But that was then. Things have changed a lot since this pic was snapped. Tungurahua has not been quiet, causing the local tourist trade to die down. The country’s decision to adopt the U.S. dollar has also created some chaos. But still, Ecuador remains a beautiful and compelling country, well worth exploring and extremely photogenic.