Ecuador (Part IV)
So from the colonial city of Cuenca we travelled to Puerto Lopez on the coast. The journey involved catching a 4 hour bus from Cuenca to Guayaquil (the country’s largest city) and then another 4 hour bus ride to the coastal town of Puerto Lopez.
During the journey we noticed a distinct change in “clima” going from the fresco Andean atmosphere of Cuenca to the more tropical coastal feeling of Guayaquil and then Puerto Lopez. Despite hoping for some seriously hot weather we were not in luck. No doubt about it, Puerto Lopez was warmer than our past Andean experience, but it was still not the tropical weather we were craving for on this next part of our trip.
We arrived in Puerto Lopez in the evening and after finding our digs we decided to walk along the beach front. Puerto Lopez is very small and is famed for whale watching and laid back chilling on the beach front at the number of small restaurants. The following day we walked along the waterfront and watched the local fisherman deliver the morning’s catch to the public. Very busy and all over the place experience watching this daily process unfold in front of our eyes.
After assessing the situation (ie not the most fantastic beach in the world and also not the hot clima we were searching for), we decided that we would leg it to Montanita for the day to see what all the fuss was about this place and then later return to Puerto Lopez for the evening. The following day we decided that we would move up the coast to Canoa in hope for some improved weather conditions.
We decided against doing the whale tour as that would mean staying an extra day which we were not keen on. Also Deborah had seen whales before and I had seen the movie “Free Willy”, so it wasn’t the biggest disappointment at the time (although later on we would regret it having seen some other travelers pictures!).
So that was really it for Puerto Lopez…on to Montanita for the afternoon!
We caught an early afternoon bus to Montanita – it is about 45 minutes south of Puerto Lopez and is according to locals the party town of Ecuador!
We arrived at this small town and after walking around the streets assessing the environment we settled for a super dish of cerviche offered by one of the many street vendors.
Montanita is a fun place where the young let loose for moments of extreme partying with lots of drinking and cavorting. It can probably be best described as what Magalouf is to Brits and what Bali is to Aussies! We were at least happy we got to see it given it was only a hop down the road from Puerto Lopez!
Canoa was a semi long haul from Puerto Lopez. It required taking 3 separate buses from Puerto Lopez with changes in Jipijapa and Portoviejo.
We arrived in Canoa late in the afternoon along with our newly acquired friend, Stefan from Zurich, Switzerland. Super young man, intelligent, mature and a very good travel buddy. The three of us found a place to spend the first night – probably not the most exclusive accommodation but we decided to share a room for the first night and then look for something more appropriate the next day.
Canoa has a population of about 7,000 inhabitants and is home to a massive strip of beach facing the Pacific Ocean – one of the better beaches in the region! We enjoyed two days at this fun beachside hangout chilling by the beach, eating ceviche and other local delights, and also just hanging out with Stefan. Fun times and good memories of Canoa, but we were still eager to find slightly warmer and clearer weather! So it was onwards and upwards to Mompiche in the departmento of Esmeraldas.
Mompiche was another complicated (but complicated in a fun way) journey in the northern direction of the coast which also involved taking 3 buses with changes required in Pedernales and Chamanga.
Our last bus dropped us off on the side of the road next to a big “Claro” sponsored billboard with “Mompiche” on it. It was clear that we were not yet in Mompiche, but after a few moments we realized we needed to catch a taxi (more or less a private car) 10kms towards the coast in order to reach Mompiche. So out of no where comes a young guy in his car…”Mompiche”, he asked. After agreeing on the USD 3 taxi fare we were off in his private car heading to Mompiche.
Arriving in Mompiche we decided it was best for me to stay put in one place whilst Deborah explored the local “hospedajes” in search for suitable accommodation. Deborah had a cracker in Mompiche and found us a very warm and cozy little “cabana” inside the grounds of a local family’s property located only 50 metres from the beach. It was USD 20 per night, but as usual some bargaining due to it being low season meant we were able to get it for USD 15 per night total.
Mompiche is only a place of some 2,000 inhabitants and we both have no doubt will be the next BIG thing in Ecuador. The beach is easily the best we had seen in Ecuador, the people were super friendly and it is as laid back as you can get in the world with people traipsing barefoot on the sand laden roads!
We immediately fell in love with the place and consequently ended up staying 7 days in Mompiche. Our routine was somewhat regular involving many walks along what is best described as one of the most naked beaches you could experience (naked not literally as in no clothes, but in the natural meaning of the beach itself). There were hardly any people around and it was nice to stop and enjoy a place for a decent period of time without having to be on the go 24/7 (I know this might be hard to believe, but travelling non stop all the time is tiring!).
So after one week in Mompiche we embarked on the longest day of travel in Ecuador (which we found an unusual experience as most places are only a few hours away by bus). Mompiche para Otavalo!
Mompiche to Otavalo was a 12 hour journey involving 4 buses with multiple changes at Chamanga, Pedernales and Santo Domingo de los Colorados. After setting off at 7am we finally arrived in Otavalo at 7pm!
We arrived on a Thursday and decided that the following week, Monday to Friday, would be a fantastic opportunity to undertake another week of one on one Spanish lessons at a local escuela de espanol. We also decided to do another homestay with a local Otavalan family. Apart from the “clases de espanol” the Saturday market was definitely going to be a highlight at this stop.
The Otavalo market every Saturday is one of the main highlights in South America in the Guia de Lonely Planet. It is considered one of the biggest open air markets in South America with everything being sold from live produce to vegetables to clothes to artisanal gifts etc.
We left our hotel at 7am on the Saturday morning so we could first take in the “animal market”. The animal market runs from 6am to 10am so it was important we left early doors! What an experience for us with locals who bring their live animals (cows, chickens, ducks, rabbits, guinea pigs, dogs, cats, pigs) to be sold to other locals for either consumption or breeding! We also enjoyed some early morning breakfast with Fudgie having some “humitas” whilst I enjoyed some “cerdo” for only USD 1 (hard to believe how cheap things are in some places in South America). Make sure you check out our photos of this experience as in this case the photos really do justice to the live experience!
After an hour or so at the animal market we ventured back to the main streets of Otavalo where every Saturday the majority of the main streets are closed to traffic and only open to street vendors selling everything mentioned above. If it is your “cup of tea” walking around such type of markets then your appetite is appeased – we enjoyed 6 hours of walking around the markets marveling at all things being sold and watching how this normal weekly event is routinely managed by all concerned! For us the Otavalo Markets were easily one of our favourite experiences in South America (along with about a thousand other experience I guess lol).
So the next week we hammered ourselves with intense one on one lessons for 4 hours per day. Deborah had the funny Juan as her teacher – ellos practicaron solo hablando espanol cada dia cual Deborah disfruto muchas! My teacher was a load of fun con nosotros tambien practicamos solo hablando espanol cada dia! We laughed a lot and my teacher’s favourite phrases was “no ingles, solo espanol” hahaha lol. She laughed at the end of the week when I thanked her for her fantastic tuition and called her “rompe de bolas” lol!
We could not fail to mention the wonderful homestay we enjoyed with la familia de Echeverria! Living with Marco, Yuli and their family was like living with our families. They were extremely warm and Yuli cooked delicious meals (in addition to working long hours as a dentist). Thanks also to abuela for preparing the guinea pig for us to eat! That was something we wanted to try in Ecuador and we are glad we got to experience it at your place. Marco went out of his way to engage us in as much speaking in Spanish as possible (which was exactly what we had hoped for) and he also took us on trips to their other family weekend home on their farm, pueblo de Cotocachi, Ibarra and a mirador in Otavalo. Marco is a fun character and we enjoyed great banter (laughs) and also several hours of titanic battles on their “ping pong” table!
Thank you to Marco “DJ Capitan” Echeverria and the whole family for a super week at your family home – amigos por la vida!
So that is it for Ecuador, easily one of our favourite countries (if not our favourite) in South America so far! If any of our family and friends only had 2 weeks to travel in South America and wanted advice on a country to visit then Ecuador is by far the first choice. It is as diverse as Argentina, except for not having Patagonia and Mendoza), as it has the Coast, Andes and Oriente (Amazon), but its major advantage is that it is a small country so it is easy to travel to places in only a few hours!
Thank you Ecuador for being a country of magnificent beauty and made all the better as we had zero expectations or knowledge on what to expect.
Next stop Colombia…bus to the border town of Tulcan (Ecuador) then over the border to Ipales and up to Popayan for the first stop! Marathon day ahead, but we will see you there with the expert writer, Fudgie!