Vamos A La Playa! (Let´s Go to the Beach!)
Trip Start Sep 09, 2006
113Trip End Aug 18, 2010
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On the other hand, the time away from the heat and sea did have the beneficial effect of letting our bodies heal from the countless number of mosquito bites that had spotted our bodies and created ghastly sores on our feet and arms. And, at the high altitudes of the longest mountain range in the world, we found that the crisp nights allowed us to sleep soundly without those annoying helicopter blades..err...ceiling fans spinning at 50000 rpm two feet above our heads, and that we were finally able to breathe while resting without sucking into our nostrils the nylon, insecticide impregnated mosquito netting that protected us from those tropical flying bastards.
Nonetheless, being away from the sun and surf brought forth a longing for the taste of saltwater, ocean breezes, and all that is associated with living and breathing at sea level, especially on the coastal edge of a country. So, being of sound mind and cold bodies, we decided to head west out of the Andean highlands and into Ecuador´s Pacific Coast.
A long descent by bus, down a wonderful stretch of the mountain range brought us to the lowland metropolis of Guayaquil. From here we transferred onto a regional bus headed for the coast and finally arrived at the fishing community of Puerto Lopez.
As soon as we arrived that night, it was the sound of the tide hitting the shore that gave us all an instant feeling of gratification. We all just stood there on the town´s beach promenade, peering into the dark horizon, watching Pacific waves grace the shoreline, and rejoiced in the fact that the next few days will be sure to bring us some good fun, calm weather, great seafood, and lots of time to just do nothing while we let the sun burn our bodies. Our friends, Ron and Nazimah now had the last part of their trip to experience equatorial coastal bliss!
Puerto Lopez (16,000 inhabitants) is a small fishing village set in an arched bay on the pacific coast. It´s probably the best-known and most popular whale-watching destination in Ecuador, and, understandably, most of Puerto Lopez's activities center around the ocean. Humpback whales swimming north from Antarctica can be seen gathering in the calm waters of the bay from late June to early September. We missed it but could imagine the ocean mammals off the coast.
Since it was ever so close to New Years Eve, and being a town that had quite a few bars, we opted to just use Lopez as a base for exploring the surrounding waters and celebrating the new year. After spending a night in the village, we were eager to move to a more tranquil location away from all distractions. So, after a few phone calls to various guest houses in surrounding villages, Ashif arranged our escape from Lopez for the community of Las Tunas, a short 30 min. ride southbound along the coast. We arrived in Las Tunas and were quite excited about our new surroundings. Our gorgeous guest house was situated a mere 200m from a pristine stretch of isolated beach line.
We spent the next few days getting tossed in waves, reading, playing cards and indulging in delicious ceviche, fish, and fresh fruit juices from a cheap restaurant shack we discovered on the beach front next to our guest house. At night we were welcomed by our hosts to a bonfire on the beach under clear night skies. Interestingly enough, as we enjoyed our coastal days with our friends, Reesh and I realized that we had now transported ourselves from one ocean body (the Atlantic) to another (the Pacific), and by doing so, had crossed the width of the South American continent. From previously only being able to witness sunrises over the ocean, we were now able to take in sunsets over the waters from our new geographical vantage point.
On New Year's eve, we spent the morning on a boat tour, voyaging out from Puerto Lopez to Isla Salango, a small island off its coast. It was a splendid way to spend the day as we had the chance to view some interesting sea and bird life. Along the way we spotted frigate birds soaring above, pelicans doing nose dives into the waves to snatch their meals, and a colony of the famous Blue-footed Boobies, with their oddly coloured blue feet perched along the walls of cliffs jutting out to sea.
A short while later we anchored near Isla Salango for some snorkeling. Fabulous visibility allowed us to spot numerous tropical fish such as Picassos, Angel, Rainbow, Starfish, and other varieties. Incidentally, Ron & Nazimah did well, considering it was their first time with mask and snorkel. Later, we were able to jump off the boat one more time for some more snorkeling and then swam to a secluded beach on the island where we soaked up some rays and rested in the hot sand.
The night of New Year´s Eve was celebrated in Puerto Lopez. And, it was here where we had the chance to witness the strange local custom termed the "burning of the heads". Every year, hundreds of paper-mache figures in many forms, are created and sold to families, individuals, and store owners. They are made to resemble cartoon characters, generic faces, or life-sized people, complete with legs and arms. The tradition is such that at midnight, the figures are doused with kerosene and ignited to symbolize burning away the old of the previous year in order to make room for the new. Some creations were so elaborate that they depicted a husband and wife sitting in a wooden model car with an explanation written on a card on the windshield of the car. We thought this might have symbolized an accident that claimed the lives of the figures depicted in the scene. There was even an image of the sloth named Sid, from the movie Ice Age.
As the clock struck midnight, the bodies and caricatures burned throughout the streets, roaring fires were scattered about alleyways and storefronts, the entire scene resembling a city under attack, a war zone. After a few fireworks, some live musical entertainment arranged by the city, and the best ice cream fudgecicles, we all agreed that it was an interesting, and unique way to end off the year.
That night, on our way back to Las Tunas, we managed to convince a local to give us a ride in his vehicle since our transport options were limited at such a late hour. He agreed, for a small fee, and the 4 of us hopped into his 4 door Fiat, quite happy to have found a ride at 2am. With plush seats, a malfunctioning window and speedometer, a horse figurine swinging from the rear view mirror, and Cuban salsa blaring from his radio, our driver, oiled hair and unbuttoned collared shirt, took us home in style! It was like we had been transported to a steamy Havana night, driving on a highway that would stretch the length of the Earth on a timeless cruise through eternal darkness.
And that wrapped up our circuit through Ecuador with Ron & Nazimah. On the night bus back to Quito, we all agreed that the beach was indeed a nice and easy way to end our journey together, and our friends were happy to be able to return home with some warm sun and sea spray in their memories. Little did we know however, that the bus trip would override such thoughts for the time being, and that what should have taken us 9 hours would eventually become a miserable 16 hour journey back to Quito.
We boarded a bus owned by "Reina de Camino" (the so-called "Queen of the Road") at 8pm and for the first 5 hours we were motoring along at a fine pace. Fast asleep in the upright position, we were managing to squeeze out some zzzzz´s that are so precious on most night buses. However, at about 1am, we woke up to find ourselves stopped dead in our tracks on a hill and actually rolling backwards! After several failed attempts to move ahead, our large, round, and bloated driver enters sideways through the door separating him from the passengers, and makes an announcement requesting the use of a cell phone from anyone who has service, as his was out of range. Thankfully, one of the passengers had cellular service from another provider, and the driver managed to summon his company to send another bus our way (5 hours our way to be exact).
Meanwhile, in an attempt to remedy the situation, one of the passengers, a mechanic, offers to assist the bus crew in fixing the mechanical failure. They then proceed to unscrew an access door located in the passenger aisle and, for the next hour, they try and try to re-engage the bus´ broken drive shaft, with absolutely no success. Yes, the engine could rev, but the wheels just weren´t going anywhere. After things calmed down, we managed to fall asleep for the next 4 hours (there´s something evil and warped about having to sleep on a bus, train, or plane destined to take you away on a long long journey, when said vehicle decides to stop moving for half the time it takes to get to wherever you´re going!) until the driver abruptly startles the passengers and announces that we must get off the bus and transfer our maletas (luggage) to the new bus, which has come to finish off our journey to Quito. Of course, we were hoping the driver was going to announce that we should all now line up outside so that we could be shot and put out of our misery. Dazed and extremely confused, we all end up hanging out in the rain while the conductor passes every individual their suitcases, backpacks, boxes, motorcycles, sheep, etc stored under the bus and then checks them into the new bus. We finally get going again at 5:30am, which is about 1 hour before our original scheduled arrival in Quito, and breathe a sigh of relief as our bus successfully begins to climb through the winding and extremely beautiful Andean hills.
In the end, we arrived back in Quito, 16 hours after we boarded our bus in Lopez, at 12:30 in the afternoon on Jan 2, 2007, with worn and tired limbs, an unrelenting craving for a huge bucket of KFC, and a wonderful array of memories created by adventuring for 17 days in Ecuador, in the company of good friends.
(View this entry´s Slide Show/ Photo Album Above)