August 9, 2015
Sylvie and I finished our last Spanish lesson around 5 and walked the town a bit collecting some goodies for our overnight bus to Puerto Lopez. The supermarket was so expensive (even by US standards) that we picked up some bread at a bakery and later bought some treats at the station). A small bottle of vodka helped us greatly and allowed us to make it through the entire night on the bus. After guessing on which of the 4 bus lines we needed to ride we found ourselves as a bus station—a little covered area in the middle of the 6-lane highway. It was a quarter to ride. We couldn’t believe what we saw. It was every man, and child, for himself or herself. We waited for 8 or 9 busses before we finally built up the courage to push onto a bus. When a bus would come to a stop people would essentially explode off the bus, as if the doors were holding them in. We found a bus with what seemed like a pocket of air and we barged on. We were happy to make it one since we’ve witnessed busses pull away as people were half on and half off. After a 15-minute ride we learned that we needed to get off and switch busses at another terminal.
We waited for 30 minutes at this new terminal for a bus to take us to Quitimbe Terminal. Again, we were waiting for a bus with space for us. After 6 or 7 busses we were on the bus destined for the main bus terminal in the south of Quito. This bus ride was a long one, maybe 60 minutes? We finally arrived to our bus terminal and got some food for our 11-hour bus ride. “Bad Cops” was playing in Spanish on the bus.
We arrived earlier than expected and Sylvie and I had to gather our belonging quickly and exit the bus. It was just after 5. We took a taxi to our hostel and put our bags in storage, as we couldn’t check in until later that day. We decided to walk around the beach near us to watch the fisherman come in and sell their daily catch. We really enjoyed this. We witnessed hundreds of birds trying to steal fish from the fisherman—some were successful. As we walked back to our hostel we saw tons of places serving dinner, advertising tours, and selling sweets.
We sat down in the general hostel area and were served breakfast. We later found out that the owner was going to charge us for breakfast since we only got two breakfasts as we were only staying two nights. We found this pretty sleazy since he didn’t bother to tell us this prior to serving us. We opted to do our own thing for breakfast the next day to avoid the $8 charge.
We decided to spend our day going to a beautiful beach in the Machila National Park called La Playa Frailes. We took a taxi to the bus terminal and then took a $0.25 public bus to the entrance of the park where we had to register using our passports. We opted in taking the scenic route to the beach, which involved a 2+mile hike along the coast. We passed by 3 other beaches before getting to La Playa Frailes (or the bean beach as I like to call it). We essentially had our own beach.
Although the beach was pristine the waves broke a bit hard and made playing in the ocean undesirable. We sat and read for a few hours. I’m reading Digital Fortress by Dan Brown and Sylvie is reading Wild written by some chick. After a stomach full of ice cream and few new freckles we decided to head back to our hostel. We hiked for 40 minutes, waited for a public bus, then took a taxi back to our hostel. At this point we had taken 4 public buses, 2 taxis, an overnight bus, and walked for several hours…all within 24 hours. We were ready for a relaxing evening.
The taxis in Puerto Lopez were 3-wheeled open-air motorized buggies that reminded Sylvie of golf carts. They charged $0.25 for rides within the city and $1 for rides to/from the city’s bus terminal. We showered, changed and went for a stroll in the city.
Sylvie and I sat at a beachside restraint and ordered fish ceviche, garlic fish, and a tall beer. It was a little pricey at $11.50…buy hey getting Sylvie to eat fish was worth a hell of a lot more than that! The verdict, she actually liked it, the ceviche more than the cooked fish. A few chocolate treats for dessert, another walk into town where saw locals playing soccer, a public Ecuadorian dance/exercise dance class happening, and bed by 9:30. What a long day!
August 10, 2015
We had negotiated the day before for an organized tour of Isla de la Plata, whale watching, and snorkeling. The going rate was $40, one guy even tried to charge us $45. I didn’t feel like negotiation too much (for me that is) and settled on a rate of $67 for the two of us.
Isla de la Plata, or The Silver Island, gets its name because of the way the sun reflects off of all the bird shit that covers the island. There are other rumors about silver being buried on the island too, but those are just tales, obviously. We had a 1.5 hour bout ride to get to the island which was ~45km off the coast. Plata de la Plata is commonly referred to as the “poor man’s Galapagos” as it shares many of the same types of birds. We found whales along the way and stopped to follow them a few times. It was really exciting. We didn’t get to see them jump to high out of the water, but were able to get up close to them. There was 3 or 4 of them swimming together.
Just prior to disembarking on the island we saw dozens of sea turtles, pelicans, and angelfish. In addition to ourselves our boat consisted of several Ecuadorians, 2 Irishmen, 6 Germans, and a crew of 4. The island was fabulous. There was only one man-built structure on the entire island and it was a meeting place just near the beach where the boats dropped us off. It was mating season for the countless birds on the island. We got to see Frigates, Blue-footed Boobies, and others. The boobies seemed completely indifferent to our presence. I dropped down and took a video of two birds conducting their matting ritual just a foot or two away and they seemed to care less.
We ate lunch on the boat. Tuna sandwiches, cheese and marmalade sandwiches, pineapple, watermelon, and Pepsi. The tuna sandwich was actually quite good. I passed on the cheese sandwich. It’s really unfortunate how horrible the food is here. I say that only half-heartedly. I’ve had some good meals, but so far it seems that Latin American cuisine serves only the purpose of providing calories whereas foods in India, Asia, Europe, etc. represent the people’s desire to innovate and to showcase their sophistication and culture. I mean c’mon, calling queso cheese is like calling a frozen block of milk ice cream. Their queso is curdled milk…literally! A handful of us went snorkeling, but we sat at since it was overcast and the 1.5 hour boat ride back was going to be cold enough.
The boat ride back was the second time in the last two weeks that Sylvie felt she was 75% going to die. After I comforted her I tried to educate her about her use of percentages. Saying things like “I was 95% sure I was going to die” gets the point across even if it isn’t completely accurate. The water was much choppier on the ride back as the winds had picked up. I was a bit nervous and Sylvie a bit more than I. All of us on the boat were giving each other fear laden stares in hopes of gaining the other person’s confidence. It was a rather silent hour ride back. We were drenched with seawater by the time we reached Puerto Lopez. Since the showers lacked any real pressure I opted against taking one. I still remain (a day later) full of salt. I still find myself picking grains of sand off parts of my body from the beach two days ago.
We were very thankful for buying some Dramamine at a hole-in-the-wall corner store for $0.20/pill. We later picked up a 10 pack for $0.50 at a “more reputable?” place. Dinner consisted of two slices of pizza for $1/piece and then a typical “Ecuadorian Merienda”. We had learned Cena to mean dinner, but here in Ecuador they use the word Merienda--Cenar means to eat dinner (but usually much later in the evening). For $3.50 we enjoyed a huge plate of rice and beans, a small salad, fried plantains, a remarkably flavorful piece of thinly grilled chicken, and coffee. We had eaten at a local dining hall a few streets off of the touristy beachside strip. This same meal would have cost us at least 3 times as much if we had eaten there. We’re learning and enjoying how to eat like the locals.
Sylvie and I are on a 4-hour bus to Guayaquil now where we spend to spend one night. We’re hoping to take a night bus tomorrow en route to Peru. We think passing through immigration at the border during night will result in a much faster experience for us. We’ve opted against going to Banos and Cuenca, two popular destinations in Ecuador. Banos is known for their 5 natural hot spring pools, and Cuenca for being a quaint town known for Spanish language schools.