One of the things we’ve missed the most during our travels South is an abundance of hot water. Through nearly all of balmy Central America, hot showers were essentially unheard of. Even as we work our way into the heights of the South American Andes most showers are intermittently scalding hot, then freezing cold, or lukewarm at best.

Hot baths are not a thing. Even if there’s a tub, there is never enough reliable hot water to fill it.

We have hot water in our truck, but only six gallons. When using our setup we take “Navy” showers to conserve as much water and propane as possible. The luxury of soaking sore muscles in hot water is not one we get often.

One thing there has been an abundance of as we trace the long line of Volcanos toward Tierra del Fuego are hot springs. Seriously, tons. They’re pretty much everywhere in the mountains. For some reason, however, we never made time to stop and enjoy one until the termales in Popayacta Ecuador. Recommended to us by locals and travelers alike, and with a little time to kill, we made the 45-minute drive from Quito to check them out.

At 13k feet, the air is pretty much always a bit chilly and the dramatic cliffs of the valley direct your view to the towering (however many foot whatever it’s called) volcano. The people were friendly, the facilities immaculate, and we could camp in the parking lot. The best thing, of course, was the hot water. With multiple pools of varying temperatures, we could soak to our hearts’ delight for hours. There were even six gushing falls of endless, glorious, agua caliente. The pressure never dropped, the water never turned freezing, and I didn’t see even one scorpion.

We enjoyed it so much we stayed two nights. I don’t know why we didn’t take advantage of all the hot springs up North, but that isn’t a mistake we’ll make from here on South.

After overstaying our plans at Popayacta, we made our way back toward Quito to get gas (oops), then shot toward Ecuador’s most well-known National Park- Cotopaxi. At the main entrance to the park, we picked up an intrepid Peruvian hitchhiker. Since her plans were as vague as ours, we all decided to drive as high up the famous mountain as possible, and then make the 45 minute slog to the lodge at nearly 16k feet. Our new friend experienced her first snow, we all had well-deserved hot chocolates, and then scrambled our way down to a less ridiculous altitude.

 That night we shared dinner with two more new friends Richard and Rachel of R&R on the Road under the watchful gaze of Volcan Cotopaxi.

We spent two nights and three days in the park altogether. The rest of our time was filled with otherworldly hikes through the misty paramao, stunning drives along endless backroads filled with rocks and creek crossings, lakeside lunches, and an inability to stop taking pictures anytime the clouds cleared enough to see the mountain in its fullest.

We also gave a ride to a wet and chilly Ecuadoran family of four (and all their firewood) back to camp, where they turned out to be our neighbors a couple pines over. Taylor made chili and they grilled a mouth-watering selection of meats over their open fire. We all feasted together, the flames warming our bones and inspiring comfortable, lilting, conversation in two broken languages.

It’s funny how often we find ourselves looking for experiences that remind us of home. Whether it’s endless hot water, meandering backroad drives, or campfires with friends, the connections to a past life thousands of miles away help us to appreciate what we left behind, and what still lies ahead.