When we left Canada for Panama, we had no intention of visiting Ecuador this time around. However, since we had seven months of time away and only a six month visa in Panama, a visa run to some other country was necessary. That country turned out to be Ecuador! And my goodness, are we glad we took this three week foray into the South American country to which we had seriously considered moving before we actually did retire in 2015. The phrase ‘the best laid plans’ and other cliches like ‘water under the bridge’ come to mind, a story for another day.
Let me tell you about our time in Ecuador, limited by time and area though it was. We arrived to Guayaquil late in the day, too late for a five hour bus ride. We make it a point not to be in a moving vehicle after dark in most of the countries to which we’ve travelled. It can be nerve-wracking enough to be a passenger hurtling down the highway, careening and swerving, in daytime Asia or Central or South America. We chose a convenient hotel near the airport and spent time relaxing, eating and wandering the river walk málecon of the city. We had heard Guayaquil could be a dangerous city to navigate but our time spent wandering the streets, though short, did not elicit that stalked feeling. I did notice that the river has a thick, opaque green hue which is less than appealing, and have read of the pollution. The environment does not seem to hold high priority in Ecuador, where some folks survive hand to mouth.
The following morning we headed by bus to the Pacific coast, to the fishing village of Salango. Peaceful, sleepy, with friendly locals, safe, a touch exotic, and, of course, on the sea — beaches abound. Exactly what we were looking for —a simple few weeks by the sea. Our host was most accommodating and we found our way to our AirBNB abode with no trouble. Though accommodations were fine, and encounters with locals in Salango exceptional, we will choose different villages to explore for future visits to Ecuador, partly due to the pet food plant located in Salango. It uses fish, and the processing emits a strong fish odour at times. Excellent for the economy of the town, but less attractive to bystanders. That said, I believe that residents more distant from the plant do not experience its smell due to a frequent breeze off the ocean.
While in Ecuador, we made several outings, from simple beach walks, into Puerto Lopez (where we had the best pizza! made by an Italian chef at Pane & Vino), to the local Museo, to Nacional Park Machalilla & Los Frailes beach, to Isla de la Plata, or the ‘poor man’s Galapagos’ (it’s what ‘they’ call it, despite my objection to the patriarchal term!), to nearby Salango Island to snorkel and to investigate a couple of nearby coastal villages.
My tendency towards seasickness did not abandon me during our snorkel outing to Salango Island (10-15 minutes by boat), so I chose not to go along on the much longer boat ride (1 hour+) to Isla de la Plata. This expedition and photo/snorkel experience drew Aaron twice. His photos of blue-footed boobies and tales of snorkelling with a sea turtle are enough to turn me green with envy. (Alas, it’s true that aging is not easy. We have to be tough to do it!)
See photos below of blue-footed boobies, the ubiquitous crabs and snorkelling discoveries taken by Aaron White. The boobies, as seen, make top notch parents! They are very protective of their eggs and newly hatched young. Imagine the joy of snorkelling with a turtle! Though these islands are far less renowned than the Galapagos, they are also far less developed and touristed. I would have definitely chosen this experience had I not been prone to motion sickness.
Notable is the pristine yard and brick building which house the congregation of the Testigos de Jéhova, or Jehova’s Witnesses, on the Ruta de Spondylus in Salango. We passed by in our wanderings daily. The other, larger church in the centre of the village was having its roof replaced and, though we saw no sign, assumed it to be Catholic.
The Museo in Salango provides an informative exploration. While it houses various artifacts found in the village area and in the sea offshore, the grounds house another aged building with many displayed items. A rare peak inside the storage room, which housed a multitude of items, showed us that only a fraction of the items were on display. The grounds of the Museo also provided sleeping cottages, kitchen and showers/bathrooms for persons visiting from universities, volunteers and tourists who wish to stay. We met an archeologist who described finding fishing weights from much earlier times while diving in the bay off Salango.
The Spóndylus shellfish was a source of food, hand made crafts and was used as currency since pre-Columbian times in this area of Ecuador. Although I have read that this shellfish is nearing extinction and that there is a ban on the capture or sale of this shellfish for any commercial means, I have also seen it for sale on the streets of Puerto Lopez in the form of handicrafts and decorative items. The unusual shell, displayed in the Museo in the middle photo above, is striking in appearance and was considered the ‘red gold of the Incas’, a symbol of beauty and wealth.
Our trip to Los Frailes beach and the Parque Nacional Machalilla was an exceptional day of discovery. From tramping through a bone dry forest to expansive views above the beaches, from beach walking (turtle nests) to the delights of the forest paths (snails, orchids & termite nests attached to trees), there should be no shortcuts to truly appreciate this gem. Allow for at least a whole day.
During a long walk north along the beach at low tide, we encountered the turtle sanctuary and took a tour of the facility, following our guide’s words with our minimal Spanish. The centre facilitates several programs, mostly executed by volunteers, which ensure increased populations of sea turtles. The centre even has a medical and rehabilitation component, bringing in surgeons to provide medical care for wounded turtles. The centre staff then provide care, rehabilitating the turtles for a return to the sea when possible.
Perhaps the best part of staying in Salango was my daily hike upwards to the viewpoint gazebo. Surrounded by candelabra cacti and dry scrubby desert as I climbed the hill, I was amply rewarded with an astonishing view and cooling breezes. Highly worthwhile! To add to my enjoyment my two dog friends were awaiting me each time I arrived at the top. Unassuming, they seemed delighted with a pat and a kind word, and would often accompany me into the top of the gazebo. It was a sad goodbye I offered them as we prepared for departure from Ecuador.
Finally, I will include Aaron’s photographs of only a few of the many birds to be found in our short travels here along the Pacific Coast of Ecuador. The flower photos and Salango street scene are my photos.
We both agree that this country, as well as other South American countries, invite our further exploration. We will return!