Ecuador Trip Journal Jan 22 (Wed) �C Feb 19 (Wed) 2014
Jan 22 (Wed)
Blizzard attacked the whole NE region all day & night yesterday followed by freezing temperatures.
Surprisingly, our LAN flight left JFK with only a 40 min delay shortly after 10PM.
We arrived at Guayaquil a little after 5AM in the pouring rain. We had rather tight connecting flight, but things went amazingly smooth, and we found ourselves sitting on a small prop plane heading to Cuenca at 6:20AM. Cuenca’s sky was clear and the temperature a refreshing 60F. We took Taxi to downtown.
To our surprise, our small boutique hotel had our room ready at 7:30AM. We went to our room and crashed until noon. We took afternoon stroll around the hotel, and shared a lunch of a Chicken sandwich, Fruit Tarte, and café con leche. Ecuador changed their currency in the year 2000 from Sucre to U.S. Dollar. It was so nice that I didn’t have to take out a pocket calculator every time I had to pay.
We met a Canadian couple in the hotel (Pat & Donna), and we had dinner with them in a lovely restaurant nearby the hotel. They are retired computer people who traveled around the world.
They had many interesting exotic experiences in the darkest corners of the world.
It is rare to meet people better traveled than us. It was also nice to be able to talk about our own experiences without worrying about being viewed as showing off our life style.
Pat & Donna were planning to leave to the Galapagos tomorrow. We wished them a good trip and many more of fun experiences on their on-going exploration of the world.
Jan 24 (Fri)
Sue forgot to bring her I-phone. Luckily, internet connection here in the hotel is good enough that we could use my laptop to get our E-mails and collect travel information.
We took a city bus tour for $5/pax. It was scheduled to leave at 10:30am but it took off at 10:15am.
We realized that their schedule doesn’t mean anything. 2 hours of sightseeing included a visit to the vista point at the top of hill. I tried to run up the stairs to the highest point and almost passed out.
It was a good reminder that we are at the altitude of 8200 feet above sea level.
After the bus tour, we took taxi to the historical museum. There were some shrunken human heads in the exhibition which Sue wanted to see.
There is this un-known fact about my lovely wife which is that she has this macabre fascination about death. It doesn’t make me love her less but makes me wonder about her true nature sometimes.
Well, if she cuts my head off while I sleep one night and stitches my eyes and mouth and sun dries it for a month to shrink it to the size of baseball, I would still think that it has been a good marriage.
Internet weather forecast tells me that we are having rain all day today, but the weather is very nice.
As a matter of fact, the internet weather forecast kept stating that it rained every single day in Cuenca for the last 2 weeks, but Pat & Donna told us that they had one little rain during the whole last week.
I think that someone who works somewhere like in Boise Idaho looks at the world weather chart and announces that it is currently raining in Cuenca, because if anyone in Cuenca was giving us a weather report, he/she won’t say that we have T-storm when he/she has to wear sunblock to go outside of his/her office. I think that all the weather people should be arrested and tortured.
Sue returned to the hotel and I spent the rest of afternoon walking around looking for our next 2 accommodations in Cuenca and visiting the tourist information office to collect some sightseeing information.
At night, we went to a Tapas restaurant nearby the hotel. The dinner was okay - I just love Tapas even when they are bad. I bought a beer on the way back and we stayed in our room watching American TV programs.
Jan 25 (Sat)
At 9am, we took a taxi to the main bus terminal to take 45 min bus ride to Chordeleg where they have a weekend market. Finding the right bus in the terminal went smoothly thanks to helpful locals, but we completely missed our stop and ended up at the last stop in the town called Sig Sig. But again thanks to the help from locals and American couple who were on the same bus, we found a bus returning to Chordeleg right away.
The market in Chordeleg is nothing compared to all the Mercados we visited in the world.
So, we walked around the small town checking out souvenir shops. We took the next bus back to Cuenca.
Although today’s excursion was a bust, we liked the bus ride and seeing the local scenery.
Bus fare was $1.25 /pax each way.
Jan 26 (Sun)
We moved to a new hotel (Hotel Santa Monica) on the other side of the square in the morning and, again, the room was ready at 9:30AM, so we un-packed and settled down.
Then we headed to another weekend market in the town of Gualaceo. We took a taxi to the bus terminal and were going to take a bus like we did yesterday, but we took the taxi all the way to Gualaceo thinking that the driver told us that the fare is $5 to Gualaceo. The taxi fare for 40 minutes of ride turned out to be more reasonable $15. Since it was obviously our misunderstanding, I paid the fare without contesting.
The Mercado was a bit bigger than the one in Chordeleg, but not much. Some Indio ladies were grilling skewed Cuy (Ecuadorian hamsters) at the entrance of the Mercado. Sue announced yesterday that she was going to eat this infamous local cuisine, but she changed her mind.
We walked around a bit in the scorching sun, entered a big church to see the Sunday morning service, shared a banana split in an ice cream shop, and took a bus back to Cuenca.
70% of business seems to close in Cuenca on Sunday. The temperature dropped suddenly in the late afternoon. We walked to the square to have a dinner in a popular Ecuadorian restaurant.
Jan 27 (Mon)
In the morning, we went to the tourist office to get some info about the Spanish school, the Modern art museum, a Karate school, and the Salsa dance school.
Our first Spanish class started at 2pm with a teacher named Daniel. He was an okay guy and was okay teacher, but I was very glad that we took option of 2 hours class instead of 4 hours class.
When we came out of class, it was pouring rain outside. The School administration lady told us that the coast side which we plan to go in 2 weeks is flooded right now.
We waited until the rain subsided and walked back to our hotel. I bought some booze in the nearby supermarket including Brazilian “Cachaca” which is called “Zhumir” here. The sweet and pungent smell of “Zhumir” reminded me of the night when I got stone drunk with it and got stabbed in my left arm at the dark alley in Rio de Janeiro over 30 years ago.
We had a dinner in a very elegant Italian / Ecuadorian restaurant nearby the hotel. We liked the food but we promised ourselves that we will cut down our food intake for the rest of trip.
Jan 28 (Tue)
After the breakfast, we walked to the museum of modern art. I was glad that it was free because it was not worth the admission. Afterward, we walked to the site where they had a wonderful outside sculpture, and then we stopped at a Mercado which was the biggest and cleanest we saw here so far.
We came back to hotel room at 11AM and I slept for about 1 hour before we went to have very light lunch of ceviche. We then had a cup of coffee and studied Spanish before our class at 2pm.
When our teacher Daniel made us read a text which was obviously designed for intermediate or advance students, I was getting aggravated by the lack of structured program in this school.
We did not get any texts to follow, and it seemed that they do not have pre-arranged curriculum for the different level of students. So, I started to express my frustration to Daniel but stopped myself.
I thought about complaining to the administration, but instead, I decided to help this guy to teach us something that we can use.
We had pouring rain again at 4PM, so we stayed in the school for half an hour, and when it started to slow down, we walked back to the hotel.
Jan 29 (Wed)
We both woke up with pineapple hair but went to breakfast without taking showers because the dining room has been totally empty for the last 2 mornings. When we arrived at the dining room, we saw the room half filled with people eating breakfast.
After the breakfast, we stayed in our room all morning taking care of things like checking E-mails, and making our own curriculum for the next 3 Spanish sessions.
Our Spanish class goes very well thanks to our new guide lines we created for ourselves.
We take Salsa lesson afterward in the language school with a few young people and one old lady under the instruction of Fransisco.
We have cocktails in an elegant bar nearby our hotel which serves 2 for 1 drink every evening.
We finish productive fun day with Ecuadorian dinner in a garden court restaurant.
Jan 30 (Thu)
Yesterday, I got E-mail from the owner of the apartment we will be moving in tomorrow telling us the detail direction of how to get there. Since it is only 4 blocks from our current hotel, I walked over there. The gate was closed but the gate itself looked pretty grand. It could be a great place.
Nearby our new apartment, I also found a Tae Kwon Do school and a big Mercado with outside tourist market right in front. I bought a small Christmas ornament in one of the shop. It was pretty fruitful morning excursion.
Our Spanish class was good but the Salsa class was problematic. There were more young girls in the class and Sue felt like she was intentionally ignored by our instructor Francisco. I couldn’t blame him, but she was quite pissed off about it.
We had a dinner in the Ecuadorian restaurant we went before, but the food was not as good as the last time. I ordered spaghetti with shrimp and chicken. It was like badly made Chop Suey with gooey noodles. So, I asked for vinegar in a desperate attempt to make it eatable. It did not help.
We asked about the weather and crime situation in the coast side at the front desk upon our return to our hotel. The hotel clerk didn’t think there were any problems related to weather nor crime but checked the website anyway. Then he reconfirmed to us that weather is good in the coast and we do not need to worry about the crime unless we plan to go to Guayaquil. Maybe I should start to make hotel reservation for the hotel in Salinas Beach.
Jan 31 (Fri)
We checked out the hotel and took a taxi 4 blocks to our new apartment. The owner Stuart White was an older American gentleman. He welcomed us with big smile and 3 dozen of pink and white roses.
Inside of the big locked gate, there was an inner court landscaped with flowers and small trees.
There were 4 apartments facing the court and 2 small art galleries in front. We were very impressed with the way the whole place was designed and built. Sue just loved everything about this place.
We unpacked, and went out to have a quick lunch at a restaurant called International Café at the square. There was a very friendly host and we enjoyed our light lunch before our final Spanish class.
We started our last class with me reading my short Spanish essay, then asked prepared questions to our teacher Daniel in Spanish. It was fun and relaxing class, and I was so glad that we could find a way to make this class work for us and Daniel.
After thanking and saying Chao to Daniel, we walked to a market to buy some stuff for our apartment.
Then for dinner, we went to a Tapas bar across the street from our place. It was a very small restaurant with a small menu, and the food was not too bad.
We went to a Jazz bar afterward. Featured artist was an American woman who used to play with one of Sue’s singing friends in New York. She played soprano sax and clarinet with a quartet. Although the sound system was poor, it wasn’t a bad show except one number. For a reason un-known to me, she put the horn down and started to sing. It was like one of those excruciating moments I experienced in New York Karaoke bars numerous times before. I don’t know why people didn’t realize that they should not sing in public if they cannot sing. They should be put in jail and tortured along with weather people.
The Street was busy with young people hanging around. There are lots of restaurants, bars and Hostels in our new neighborhood. Luckily, the big locked wall/gate blocked all the noise from street, and we had a quiet relaxing rest of evening.
Feb 1 (Sat)
Sue wanted to stay in the apartment and do the laundry and relax today. So, I went out to do more of walking city excursion by myself.
In the new side of town across the river, I saw an old passenger plane sitting alongside the busy street.
It turns out to be a night club. Long time ago, once I thought about buying an old plane from the plane junkyard in Texas and renovate it to make a restaurant. It was one of my wild venture ideas. I am glad that someone else realized it. I wanted to see the inside of it, but it wasn’t open.
In the old town where we have been staying, I only saw one Chinese restaurant at the end of town which looked like a small take-out joint. In the new town however, there are lots of them and some of them are pretty nice looking. Since Chinese New Year started yesterday, I may bring Sue to one of these places to celebrate it.
We were going to join a dinner party hosted by ex-patriots for other ex-patriots in the area.
It is called “Joe’s secret garden” and they have this thing every Saturday night. But looking at the place being rather far away and feeling a bit of awkward to join the party among total strangers, I cancelled our reservation.
So, I bought some fresh vegetable and steak meat at Mercado, and Sue cooked a fine dinner for us.
Being tired of all the walking around I did today + hefty amount of rum/wine I consumed with dinner, I went to sleep fairly early.
Feb 2 (Sun)
Yesterday, I posted a question on the local website called “Gringo Post” about visiting the coast side.
This morning, I received 4 responses mostly advising me to take a bus instead of a taxi along with some detailed information as to where to visit and where to stay. I thought we needed to adjust our plans according to the advice I received.
As we were getting ready to go out, we saw Stuart hosing water and washing the ground in the courtyard. There was a volcanic eruption last night, and Cuenca is covered with ash.
Later on, I checked the internet and discovered a rather freaky coincidence about this volcanic eruption.
There is a volcano named Tungurahua in the central Ecuador south of Quito. It has not been active until it erupted all of the sudden 15 years ago in 1999. It caused a massive evacuation in the area and the interruption of flights in/out of Quito. Our first visit to Ecuador on the day of the eruption was affected by it, and instead of landing in Quito as scheduled, our flight landed in Guayaquil and we were transferred by bus to Quito. It erupted again in 2006 killing several people in the region. It has been quiet since then until it suddenly erupted again yesterday. Volcanic activity is still continuing and the seismologists are observing it closely.
Sue thought that either the ancient Gods of Ecuador are telling us to stay away from here or they are rejoicing uncontrollably for having us over here.
We took a completely packed bus to Sig Sig at 11am. There were so many people on the bus including quite a few children and infants. We were extremely impressed that not even 1 child cried or complained all the way to Sig Sig in the 2 hours ride. Ecuadorian kids are not only adorable looking but so well behaved compared with screaming selfish brats in the U.S.
As we expected, Sig Sig was a dusty (some of it is volcanic ashes but mostly cars running on dry unpaved roads), small, very backward, uncharacteristic town. We walked up the long dusty road to the town center, visited Mercado, ate a small lunch and got back on the bus.
We met very talkative American gentleman named Bill on the bus back to Cuenca. As I sat next to him, he started talking about his life experiences and shared his unique views about politics and history.
He was born in a rich family, and he was an artist. He was blacklisted by the U.S. government for trying to save his ailing son by using unauthorized medicine. Doctors who invented them were assassinated by the pharmaceutical companies, and since he feared being killed along with them, he escaped to Mexico and stayed out of the US ever since. Then he became a business man, and worked and lived in Chile.
His business failed because his partner took his money (half million USD) and ran.
Later on, he came to help a lumber company to set up a factory in Ecuador which also failed.
Now he is a member of an archeological project in Gualaceo excavating ancient ruins filled with gold.
He thinks that US government is evil and Obama is taking the country down. He thinks that all history is twisted and re-invented by the government to justify their motives. He thinks that Hitler was not a bad man and possibly escaped and lived in a town called Bariloche in Argentina. I thanked him for the interesting stories when we arrived back in Cuenca. It made the long bus ride feel shorter for me.
At night, after eating a dinner in the nearby café, we watched NFL super ball on cable TV in our apartment. Seattle Seahawks butt-fucked Denver Broncos.
Feb 3 (Mon)
After being convinced that the coastal towns we want to visit are not deathtraps, I started to make arrangements for the last 10 days of this trip in the coast. I had some strong advice not to drive a rent-a car in Ecuador as well as not to take a taxi to Salinas. Since a rent-a-car is quite expensive (about $60/day + gas + parking etc.), it might make sense taking a taxi for the similar cost. But I am still un-decided about taking bus from here to Salinas.
After having a late breakfast, we went to the Mercado and I bought a hammock. It was sold for $25 and I offered $22. The sales girl said “Si” without missing a beat. Sue wanted me to offer $20, and I believe that the sales girl probably would have said “Si” without missing a beat. But I was okay with $22.
We ate a very late lunch/dinner at our favorite ceviche restaurant. We shared mixed ceviche and Sue had mixed meat with rice while I had Conch (black shellfish) with rice. We both enjoyed them.
Sue got sick after we returned to the apartment. We didn’t know what was the cause of it. She thinks that something bad was in the late afternoon lunch.
Feb 4 (Tue)
I woke up 3 times in the middle of night from stomach pain. I didn’t have diarrhea like I did in SE Asia, but something I ate yesterday didn’t agree with me.
Sue continued to have stomach pain and she told me that she kept throwing up all night last night.
So, she stayed in the apartment while I went out for a walk. I visited one Mercado and observed Herbal healing treatment (I assumed that it was that) performed by indigenous women. It went like this:
Several indigenous women sat in the open area among piles of herbs. People made lines in front of each woman some holding small children. They were all women and children.
There seem to be a slight difference in the manner in which the whole process was conducted, but all involved rubbing the entire body with a bunch of herbs, spraying of mouthful liquid at the patient’s head and face, the rubbing of the entire body with an egg, and then the examination of egg yolk in a glass after the rubbing process was over.
I’ve heard that Shamanistic healing methods using various herbs and tree saps are being incorporated into the modern medicine in this country and it is showing very positive result. I just remembered my experience 15 years ago in Ecuadorian jungle. I was bitten by some insect and my forehead started to swell like someone inserted a golf ball under my skin. Our native guide found a tree and scratched a surface with his machete which drew blood red liquid. He rubbed it on my skin and like some kind of magic, the swelling was gone in a few minutes.
Afterward, I visited the CEMU art building where venders in small booths sold souvenir stuff. Then I went back to the New Cathedral in the city center to climb to the top. Ascending the well maintained spiral brick staircase was not very difficult and was not very long either, but when I came back down to the ground, I had terrible cramps in my thighs. I have never experienced this before.
I brought empanadas back to the apartment, but Sue was not in shape to eat them. Since she just wanted to rest, I went out again and walked around some more. Sue was sick all night. We ate a light meal and went to bed.
Feb 5 (Wed)
I spent the morning reading internet news and making hotel reservations for our coastal visit.
The Internet news tells me that mid and Southern U.S. is being battered by snow storms again and it’s coming to the Northeast. I feel a bit guilty about making my tenant, Mirek do all the snow shoveling at our house while I am gone.
Sue was 50% recovered but still suffering some headaches and stomach problems. We went out for a short walk and bought a replica of ancient ceramic pipe in a souvenir shop nearby.
I walked to a big shopping mall at the end of New Town in the afternoon. On the way back, rain started pouring down around 4pm. At the steps connecting the new town to the old town, there were several dancers performing modern dance at the empty platform soaking wet in cold rain. (Well, art requires dedication.) I stood there and watched them for a while.
Back in the apartment, I made OYAKO-DON dinner by Sue’s request.
Feb 6 (Thu)
Sue was feeling okay this morning so we went to the old cathedral, CEMU art center, and the Mercado to buy some lunch / dinner stuff. I also bought a grilled banana with cheese from the street vender.
Sue didn’t think it was a good idea but it was quite tasty and I had no problem afterward.
I did more aimless walking in the afternoon ending up in the bus terminal and a giant cemetery.
On the way back home, I hit a jungle style down pour. The rain comes and goes very fast and intense here.
In the evening, we went out to have a drink in a nearby bar for their happy hour. We noticed that a stage is being set up in the small square near our hotel. It seemed like part of the on-going election campaign.
Upon returning to our apartment, Sue cooked dinner of pork fried rice, avocado/tomato salad, and I micro-waved a small piece of fish I bought in the Mercado. Sue wasn’t thrilled about eating fish, so I ate the fish by myself.
After the dinner, I went to the square to see the local rock band performing on the stage. It was a three piece band that played classic American style kick ass rock. They played in front of big political banners.
I thought that if their candidate is as good as this band, I would vote for him.
The owner of our apartment, Stuart White, showed up around 9 pm to say good bye and to collect payment for our additional stay. He seems like a genuinely nice guy. We both thanked him for the memorable stay in his beautiful apartment.
Feb 7 (Fri)
I had terrible diarrhea all night. I woke up sick and weak. I guess Sue was right about the fish.
Although I felt dizzy and had constant stomach cramps, we had to prepare for our departure tomorrow.
We packed the souvenirs we bought here in a cardboard box and took it to the post office. The window clerk told us that it will cost $140 to mail it 3rd class to the U.S. We took it back to the apartment.
We went to the bank to break my $100 bills to the smaller notes and we went over to the café at the square. Sue had coffee & Lemon tart while I sipped my hot tea.
I spent the rest of afternoon, pretty much half dead in our apartment. I just didn’t have any energy to do anything. This is 100 times worse diarrhea than the one I had in the SE Asia. But thanks to not eating the whole day (I keep drinking boiled water) my stomach cramps went away by the evening.
Feb 8 (Sat)
We got out of bed at 6:30am. I was feeling fine.
The taxi we hired came at 8 am and we took off. I wasn’t sure how to get to the coast side and I went back and forth about today’s transportation. Bus, of course would be much cheaper than taxi but it required changing in Guayaquil. Because of the additional cardboard box we had to carry, I finally decided to pay $150 and take a taxi.
5 hours of driving included going through scenic Cajas National Park (which I was going to visit, but didn’t), and the seedy downtown of Guayaquil. Our driver Angel spoke fluent English and gave us a bit of tour along the way. I thought the taxi was a good choice.
We arrived at the “Hostal Aquis” in the town of Salinas at 1 pm. Owner / manager William was there to greet us at the outside bar down stairs. When he took us to our room, we became silent.
The room was like a tiny old jail cell. We didn’t even know where we could put our luggage.
So, I asked William if he had a bigger room. The only bigger room he had available had leakage from the ceiling. I just couldn’t figure out why so many people in Trip Advisor website recommended this place.
I walked downtown looking for other places to stay and found vacancies in a few hotels. I returned to Hostal Aquis and asked William to cancel our reservation for the last 2 nights of our 3 night stay.
I was worried that he will not agree to give me 100% refund, but he did.
We had a “Brunner” in a touristy restaurant in downtown around 3:30 pm. Service was super slow and the food was bad but I am glad that I could eat normal food without feeling sick again.
Back at the Hostal, I checked the internet trying to find a better deal in the vacation rentals in Salinas, sent some inquiry E-mails, and then we had a drink at the bar and retired early.
Hostal Aqui had a constant flow of bar customers, all of them older English speaking people who seemed to live here. They were obviously mild to heavy alcoholics but friendly and cheerful.
Like one tourist stated in the Trip Advisor website, this is a great place if you like to drink the whole day and chat with old friendly folks in English.
Feb 9 (Sun)
I was working with my computer at the bar in the morning and a young Ecuadorian guy who was walking his dog passed by and asked me if I was Japanese. We started to chat and I found out that he is a tour guide and his Japanese girlfriend is coming to visit him tomorrow. He told me that he really wants me to meet her. When I said that I am changing hotel today, he told me to leave the new address at the front desk. Not wanting to be rude, I said Okay….
An owner of a tourist apartment contacted me by internet and told me that he has an apartment available for the next few days. I rushed over there and met an American guy named James & his wife Cecilia in the beautiful, modern 1 bedroom apartment facing the ocean in the downtown. We liked the apartment so much that we decided to postpone our stay in Salinas 1 more day. (The price of this apartment was $50/night compared to $80/night at Hostal Aqui.)
Because of this additional stay, and after talking to James and realizing that our next destination of Canoa is 6 hours away from here (I thought it was 3 - 4 hours), I decided to make changes to the rest of itinerary.
After we settled in, I tried to use my computer, but I had internet connection problem. So, I went out and used the local internet store to make changes to the rest of hotel reservations in our itinerary.
I also received a message from James which said that he & his wife wanted to have dinner with us tomorrow night.
For dinner, we went to a nice Japanese Sushi restaurant we found at the tip of downtown. I knew that the neighbor town of Manta is known as a fishing mecca for tuna and assumed that this could be the only chance to eat sushi in Ecuador. Dinner was expensive for Ecuador, ($69 for 2 sushi dinners with 1 sake & 2 green tea plus 10% tip) but not as bad as we expected (although it still was horrible).
Feb 10 (Mon)
In the morning, James came to deal with the internet connection problem. It was mainly a matter of location where we use the laptop in our apartment.
We went out for a walk and had a lunch in the tourist restaurant on the main street.
Then I did more walking in the afternoon finding a big Mercado in the back streets. I walked through a navy base and down the empty beach to the Coast Guard station at the end.
We knocked on the door of James & Cecilia at 5:30pm. They lived in an apartment on the same floor. (Since there were only 2 apartments on this floor, they occupied the entire floor). Their apartment was a big breathy 2 bed room with surrounding balcony facing the ocean. It was quite beautiful.
We sat on the balcony and chatted for about 1 hour. We found out that James is a retired architect and he and his interior decorator daughter designed this apartment. Cecilia is a Filipino. They met in Guam and lived in Oakland California before they came here.
We walked to a restaurant for dinner where we met their friends Gary & Sandy. We joined them and had a very pleasant dinner together.
Feb 11 (Tue)
Last night, we watched a DVD movie “The Wolf of Wall Street” from the collection left in the apartment.
The movie was good but long. We went to bed after mid-night. In spite of it, I woke up at 6:30 am, and went out for a morning walk. I asked a few taxi drivers on the street how much it would cost to go to Puerto Lopez. The price ranged between $50 - $80.
We went to a beach on the other side of the yacht harbor where it was not as crowded as the one in front of our apartment. We rented a big tent & 2 chairs ($10) and spent a few hours lounging and relaxing.
Although the sun was strong, the sea breeze was cool and soothing. It was quite comfortable under the big shade of our tent.
One nice thing about this beach was that there were so many walking venders of various kinds bringing stuff to us. It included some beverages (including beer), snacks, jewelries, hats, temporary tattoos, sunglasses etc.; we bought coconut, and some DVDs ($1.25).
We went to a local restaurant for dinner and spent the evening watching more DVD movies.
Because of the drinking that I started at noon in the beach, I passed out on the couch when the first DVD movie started.
Feb 12 (Wed)
In the morning, I brought garbage out and stopped a taxi on the street to ask how much is the fare to Puerto Lopez. The driver looked like a nice guy and he told me it is $30. I asked him to come back
at 11 am.
We cleaned the apartment and said good bye to James & Cecilia. To my surprise, the taxi came right at 11 am in front of our apartment. The driver told me that he made a mistake about the price and that the correct price is $45. I knew that $30 was too low and $45 was still the best offer I had, so I agreed and we took off.
We took the new “Ruta del Sol” coastal highway passing the surfer’s town of Montanita and other small beach towns. We arrived in the fisherman’s village of Puerto Lopez at 1 pm.
Upon our arrival at Punta Piedrero Ecolodge, we were greeted by a young lady named Christina at the front desk. Unfortunately, the room was very primitive and not very sanitary. Sue couldn’t hide her disappointment. So, I went out in the search of a better place.
Luckily, I found 3 options. 1 was a small hotel named “Hotel Pacifico” in the village. It was $65 per night and the room was spacious and clean. Although it had everything we wanted including TV, Wi-Fi, A/C, and Balcony with ocean view, it was a little bit old looking. The 2nd was Ecolodge recommended by James named “Hosteria Mandala”. It was at the location far away from the village, but it was very beautifully landscaped and the room was quite attractive. Unfortunately, they only had family suite room available for $128 per night. The 3rd one was called “Victor Hugo” located between “Hosteria Mandala” & the village. They had a very nice suite room available facing the ocean for $80 per night.
I decided to take this one, and made reservation starting tomorrow night.
Puerto Lopez is known among tourist as the place to see whales. During June through September, you can take tour boats to see whales up close. But being off-season, there were only few tourists in town.
Walking through this village in the afternoon, I realized how small this place was and how under-developed it is. They had a modern pier where tourist boats landed. There were small cabanas and restaurants along the beach for the length of about a quarter mile, and that seemed to be just all.
Tuk-tuks (like the ones in SE Asia but they just call it a taxi here) was the main method of transportation. (Cost 50 cents a ride around town). The whole village smelled like old fish (some areas stronger than the other) and the roads were dusty and bumpy. Everything seemed so laid back and half sleep.
People were sitting in the shade or lying in hammocks and sipping beer with their dogs sleeping by them. Even some store clerks were taking afternoon naps in the middle of open stores.
Since I wanted to end this trip in a relaxing small beach town laying around and doing nothing, this might be the ideal place for it. We had a dinner in a small local restaurant and slept in our room listening to the sound of ocean waves.
Feb 13 (Thu)
I was up early so I did some walking around the beach. By the pier, I noticed that fishing boats were bringing in their catch at the beach. There were temporary tables set up right on the beach to clean and pack the fish for shipment. It was a quite lively scene.
Upon returning to our hostel, we packed to leave quickly. The owner, Christina wanted 50% cancellation charge. Although I thought it was rather high, I agreed and paid. We left the place via Tuk-tuk.
Our new hotel “Victor Hugo” opened only a year ago and was still in the process of construction.
Our suite room with ocean side balcony was very comfortable and charming.
English speaking front desk guy named “Steve” brought us a DVD player to our room upon our request. Since we could get only Spanish speaking channels on their cable TV, this helped for the entertainment at night.
I walked around the village in the afternoon. Some locals were curious to see a Japanese man. So, some of them tried to talk to me in Spanish. Although we could not carry any meaningful conversation, I had fun having a little chat with them.
We had a dinner in a local restaurant and went to bed watching a DVD of the movie “American Hustle” which we bought from the beach vender in Salinas.
Feb 14 (Fri)
We took a packed bus to the surfer town of Montanita in the morning. The town was totally different from Puerto Lopez. It was a touristy town packed with restaurants, bars, souvenir shops, hostels and many young back packers (and surfers). I guessed that average age of foreigners visiting or living in Cuenca was about 65 while Salinas was about 60. This place seemed to be around 21.
Although the town was very small, they had a beautiful long beach and youthful energy. I could understand why other travelers recommended not to stay in the downtown area if we wanted to sleep at night.
Although we were not sure if we wanted to stay in this town, we liked the beach and happening-ness of this place. So, we reserved a hotel room on the outside of downtown by the beach for 2 nights starting the day after tomorrow. We took a taxi back to Puerto Lopez. ($25)
In the afternoon, I went out fishing. I was looking for a local guy who was trying to sell me fishing trip yesterday. After looking around on the main street, I finally found him and had him make arrangements. About 20 minutes later, I was on a local fishing boat with a fisherman who did not speak a word of English. We spent about 3 hours by the island called “Isla de Salonga” and caught about a dozen of fish with his very primitive but effective fishing gears.
Most of the fish we caught were small and since I didn’t have kitchen in our hotel room, I gave all the fish to the captain, and thanked him for the great time. It really wasn’t bad for $45 plus $5 (tip).
We went to an Italian restaurant for dinner which Sue found the night before. We had Meat Burrito and the special of the night “Thai shrimp noodle”. The dishes were excellent but we were grossed out by the amount of flies they had in the place. The restaurant was located right across from the fishermen’s beach where they brought fish and cleaned them, and our table was on the 2nd floor outside balcony.
There were so many flies around us that I had to make sure that I am not eating a fly along with my food every time I took a bite.
Feb 15 (Sat)
Before breakfast, we visited the beach where fishing boats brought up their catches. (The same place I visited 2 days ago and also the same beach right across from the restaurant we had dinner last night.)
It was as lively as the last time I was there.
We were going to go to Machalilla National Park together but Sue decided to stay in the hotel. So, I asked the front desk to make a taxi arrangement for me.
A taxi driver named Santos came over and told me that it will cost me $20 to visit “Los Frailes Beach” and “Agua Blanca Archeological Site” which are 2 main attractions within Machalilla Nat’l Park.
I said “no problem”.
Los Frailes was a beautiful empty bay with a very clean beach. Being part of Machalilla National park, it was managed by the government.
I walked the beach for an hour looking at sea slugs and small sea urchins among the rocks.
Then I went to Archeological site which was a very small ancient village excavated relatively recently.
It was called Agua Blanca because of the lagoon filled with sulfite in the site. The $5 entrance fee came with a Spanish speaking guide, but I had to decline their service on account of not being able to speak Spanish. I walked the premise visiting a tiny museum and the replica of ancient house. I was glad that Spanish speaking guide did not insist on guiding me throughout the place.
I returned to hotel 2.5 hours later. I asked my driver Santos to pick me up at 11 am tomorrow morning to go to Montanita.
We went out at night to village. Because of it being the Saturday night, everything was open and ready for extra business. All the cabanas along the beach had colorful lighting fixtures & some with DJ sound system with big screen showing the music videos.
We had a drink in one of those cabanas and had a very nice dinner in a local restaurant.
Feb 16 (Sun)
We have seen quite a few back packers throughout this trip. Most of them seem to travel alone or as a couple. Some of them looked to be in pretty good financial shape with clean clothes and clean outlooks.
Then there were some who didn’t.
There were few tents along the beach put up by these backpackers. This morning, when I was using my computer in the balcony, I saw a young girl emerge from one of these tents. She stretched and walked a few feet away from the tent, and squat to pee on the beach in public view.
There was also a young man who put up a tent at the corner of parking area in our hotel. Sue tells me that he negotiated some deal with the hotel to use the space in exchange to use their restaurant for meals. We didn’t know why he wanted to stay in the dusty noisy mosquito infested parking lot. We assumed that it could be a bit safer than having a tent in the beach.
I admire these kids for wanting to travel and see the world with their miniscule budget. I remembered my old high school friend Miyazaki who took off Japan with a bit of saving to Europe. The last letter I received from him told me that he was living in Spain and earning his food by selling his blood.
It was over 40 years ago. I wondered what happened to that easy-going hippie friend of mine.
I walked the beach of Puerto Lopez for the last time. It was very busy with families already at 8 am.
There were so many kids running around. I noticed since Cuenca that Ecuadorian kids are exceptionally good. They were cute and happy and friendly and very well behaved. It almost made me wished I had kids (just almost).
The same driver (Sr. Santos) who took me to “Machalilla Nat’l Park ” yesterday picked us up at 11 am and we headed to Montanita.
The town and beach of Montanita had 50 times more people than 2 days ago. We realized that Sunday is really family beach day in Ecuador. There were many buses parked on the street which we assumed brought all these people here.
We had to wait for our room to be ready for a while, but I was relieved to see our room being much nicer than what I expected. It was a very clean modern room facing the beach. It came with A/C, Cable TV, Wi-Fi, sound proof windows and breakfast. Sue was also happy with it.
As usual, I walked around the town and beach while Sue rested in the air conditioned room.
I brought some sea urchins I found among the rocks but they were too small and didn’t have any meat inside. We went out for dinner and had some pretty good local food watching the Olympic figure skating on the large TV screen.
Feb 17 (Mon)
I woke up at 5 am this morning and worked with my computer on the sofa in the hallway.
The tide was high and the waves rushed to the beach coming very close to the newly built boardwalk.
After the breakfast, I took a 5 minutes taxi ride to the village of Olon while Sue enjoyed swimming in Montanita beach.
Olon was a very small village with cabanas along the long empty beach.
The great thing about my visit here this morning was to witness bringing in of big fish nets on the beach. There were a few fish nets being pulled by large numbers of men. The first one had a gazillions tiny fish and the next two had small sardines along with some nice size fish. It seemed like it was a community endeavor. Villagers ran to the sites with buckets and big plastic bags and took what they could get from the nets while more professional looking people took them to their trucks.
Meanwhile hundreds of frigates & pelicans took what they wanted to take which didn’t seem to bother the fishermen. I suppose they didn’t care because they had so much fish in the net anyway.
After lunch in the local restaurant, we went for a long walk on the beach.
The sky was cloudy and the air heavy with humidity. We even felt very light drizzle while we walked.
When we returned to our hotel room, we noticed that the toilet was not working.
After a few hours, and after we returned from dinner, we were informed that the toilet is repaired, but it was not true. We used garbage pail to put water in the toilet to flush it.
Feb 18 (Tue)
It seemed like we had a light rain last night. The sky was still dark and the streets were wet.
I supposed it is one of the rare bad weather days in the coast.
We took a taxi to Guayaquil. (2.5 hours ride for $80)
The Holiday Inn Guayaquil Airport was a very nice modern hotel right at the airport. I went out to the nearby KFC and brought a large bucket of fried chicken with some cold drinks. For the rest of afternoon, we used the gym and pool and relaxed in our room watching TV.
I was glad that we had a chance to see a bit of downtown Guayaquil when we passed through this city on the way to Puerto Lopez from Cuenca by taxi. If we didn’t, I would have been tempted to hire a taxi to visit the downtown area although I knew there is nothing to see there and it is very dangerous even if you stay in your taxi.
We had cocktails in the hotel lounge followed by a light dinner. It started to rain while we ate. This was a real rain we saw since we arrived in the coast side. I suddenly remembered that the lady in the Spanish language School in Cuenca telling us that the coast side is flooded. I wondered where she got that totally false information. I spent the evening finishing a bottle of champagne I bought in the nearby supermarket.
Feb 19 (Wed)
Our stomach condition was a bit iffy in the morning so we refrained from eating big breakfast.
We took a shuttle service from the hotel and were at the airport 3 hours before the departure time.
There was no incident on our flight home except there was one screaming kid who pretty much screamed all the way to NY. We realized that not all the Ecuadorian kids are well behaved.
At the JFK Custom counter, an agent asked us where we came back from. When we said Ecuador, he grinned and asked us if we had cuy? I said No - No cuy lunch for us. He laughed and told us that they even have cuy hamburger in Mcdonald. We thought he was just teasing us. As we walked away, he was still laughing making a gesture of cuy on the BBQ stick.
We picked up our car in the JFK parking lot and returned home at 10 pm. Our neighborhood was quiet and covered with dirty snow.
General thought on this trip:
This was a different type of trip from our usual sightseeing driven “let’s see as much as we can” type of itinerary. Our purpose was to relax. We had this kind of trip once in Acapulco Mexico decades ago, but it was 4 day trip. This time was a whole month, and it was great relaxing trip.
Before I left NYC, I was very hesitant about coming to Ecuador after hearing about the rising crime rate in this country. Especially, the violent murder incident of Japanese tourist in Guayaquil shook me up.
So we were extremely careful while we were here. But after moving around without any incident, it seemed like the crime report in this country is somewhat exaggerated. Well, maybe our careful behavior kept us away from trouble. Anyway, I am glad that nothing terrible happened.
Because of the uncertainty about crime and safety condition in the coast side, we left home without making any plan for the last 10 days of this trip. If the local information we gather proved that the coast side is too dangerous to visit, I was going to take other options such as:
- Stay longer in Cuenca.
- Go to Oriente (jungle region) instead.
- Fly to Bogota Columbia or to La Paz Bolivia
- Return home early.
It turned out that high crime rate in the coast side is mainly in the city of Guayaquil and the rumor of flood was false. So, we stayed with our original plan and visited the coast side. I made hotel reservations as we traveled and although there were a couple of mishaps, we were fairly lucky to be able to find nice places.
After I bought the property in Florida a few years ago, I decided not to buy real estate for the vacation usage. If I didn’t have that decision made, we probably would have considered buying something seriously in Ecuador. We may still buy one if we decided to move out of NYC. I fancied having a beautiful house with the beautiful view of beach. With a very low cost of living, we can afford to have a maid and swimming pool and I can teach Karate to local kids and paint and fish while Sue can do whatever. It could be a wonderful retirement for us.