While we were camped out in the jungle, our guide Diego was reveling us with stories of Ecuador’s coast. Hearing tales of the Ruta Del Sol (Route of the Sun), Galapagos Islands, and fresh ceviche was enough to have us change our destination from mountains back to the coastline.
Headed out of the jungle we picked up a flat-tire, we easily tracked down a vulcanizadora in a nearby town. A 14-year old boy and his 8-year old brother came out to greet us. As they were removing the tire I realized it was a Tuesday and asked the kids if they should be in school. They both looked at me confused and said “This is our school”. I felt guilty as I spent most of my 14-year old childhood doing my best to make my teachers lives a living hell. I think they should send little jerks like me to fix tires out in the jungle for a few months. I would be begging to come home and study. Perspective.
15 minutes and $2 later the tire was patched, filled, and we were back on the road.
We made a pitstop near the touristy town of Banos to relax for a few days at the wonderful Pequeno Paraiso, a highly recommended hostel/campground run by a friendly couple whom primarily cater to large. These tour companies rig up giant buses with kitchens, camping equipment, and other overlanding gear, load 30 people on the bus and drive all over the place for months. A concept I had never heard of but is apparently very popular in South America, Europe, and Africa. Personally I don’t think I could be stuck on a bus with 30 strangers for 6-months but some people must enjoy it. Luckily no group was there and we had full run of the joint. Its a great spot to hang for a few days.
We explored the areas waterfalls and recharged our batteries for a few days enjoying the cool mountain air.
From Banos we hit the highway, passing up and over the Andes, waving hello to Mount Cotopaxi on our way.
Pick your cut!
Eventually we were cruising closer to the coastline through some interesting dry tropical forest like landscape, it was full of these giant “bottle trees” which looked more like something out of Africa than South America. I later learned these are called “Ceibos” and actually are related to the famed Boabab trees of Africa.
Lauren, ever the queen of wildlife, picked up a new friend along the way, somehow this guy ended up landing on Lauren’s hand while we were cruising at 55MPH. Amazing colors.
Soon we met up with the coastline itself, ah the Pacific, nice to see you again!
We discovered the “Route of the Sun” was more akin to the “Route of Grey”. It is common knowledge (to us now as well…) that this time of year in Ecuador the coastline is primarily clouded over with grey clouds. Undeterred, We trekked on down to Puerto Lopez, our next destination.
Arriving in Puerto Lopez we quickly tracked down a little campground with wifi, hot showers, and a bar. Check, Check, and Check.
We made arrangements to head out to the “Isla de la Plata” the next morning. We had read that Isla de la Plata was the “poor mans Galapagos”. Home to blue-footed boobies, frigate birds, and other forms of rare wildlife usually seen on the famed Galapagos islands. The difference was, a trip to the Isla de la Plata is $40 whereas a trip to Galapagos can range from $1000-$5000 depending. One day we would like to return and explore the real Galapagos. For now, the $40 Isla is more in our budget range.
Next morning we were out on the beach where we mingled with the fisherman hauling in the days catch. Seemed like 1/2 of the damn ocean was being hauled in to the shore.
We saw giant squids, tuna, dolphin, shrimp, you name it, being loaded by the crate into refrigerated trucks.
We weren’t here for the food today, I doubt my stomach could handle eating a giant squid at 7:00AM anyway.
We met our boat captain, suited up, and walked out into the ocean to board our vessel. No fancy docks here, you gotta get wet to get onboard.
We were soon tooling along across the Pacific, the weather had cleared up and it was a gorgeous morning. My eagle-eyes caught many whales breaching the water off on the horizon. We also passed a few trawlers out hunting for shrimps or squid.
After a 2-hour ride we spotted a small island in the distance. From afar the island island appeared to have strange white patches all over it, as we approached I could see why, surrounding the island were thousands upon thousands of birds flying to and fro. The white patches? Awww ya thats doo-doo baby.
On the boat ride over we made friends with some fellow english-speakers, Aaron and Bri from Canada. We teamed up and got ready to hit the trails. However, once we actually made it onto shore we learned we were not allowed to just freely roam the island, we needed to go with a tour guide. Pretty lame, especially lame since we ended up standing around waiting for an hour for a late boat to arrive with more touristas. Oh well, We made the best of it practicing our best boobie jokes in preparation.
What kind of bees make milk? Boobies!
Finally our hike started and within 15 minutes we came across our first booby-sighting!
Seeing Blue-footed boobies was one of Lauren’s top items on her bucket-list and she was pretty stoked.
I soon learned they don’t have birds in Canada so our friends were a bit frightened by the strange creatures, doing their best to avoid their potential attacks.
Bri and Aaron gracefully dodging the hungry beasts
It was mating season on the island, the male birds were all out shaking their tail feathers trying to find a lovely lady to get it on with. We saw some pretty awkward moments when the males went into a all-out sexy dance for 2 minutes only to be scorned by the female who boredly sauntered away after the dance was over.
I think back to the days showing my white-boy moves off on the dancefloors of Miami. I know that feel, Mr. Bird…
The views from the island were breathtaking and we saw more boobies than we knew what to do with.
Some boobies hanging out on their doo-doo nest. The way the birds mark their nest is by crapping all over the thing. You probably won’t see in the next Martha Stewart magazine but it works for them, I guess.
As much as Lauren was into the boobies, I was interested in checking out the giant Frigate birds. We rounded a corner where we saw hundreds of them filling the sky. Score!
I stood and watched them cruising around with their giant red throats puffed out. So cool, cross it off the bucket list!
Eventually we got bored of birds and the tour came to an end, back on the boat for some up close humpback whale watching. We spent the next few hours chasing after whales and attempting (in vain) to get a decent photo of one breaching out of the water. We did manage to get a few snaps of them swimming along side our boat.
As we motored on home we enjoyed a beautiful sunset over the ocean.
…and just as a reminder that we were still in Latin America, the boat broke down and we watched the mechanic struggle to get her back to life. Some of the greener touristas were a bit scared to be bobbing around in the fading light, stuck in middle of the ocean. However, I had faith in my latino brother and sure enough he rigged up some old gardening hose to replace the busted line and we were soon back to shore.
Next morning we were up and headed south. Our new friends were going to be stopping in the town of Montinita just about an hour south. We told em we would see them there and cruised on down the coast.
Hey Dad, this ones for you. You think it would stand up to Miami’s hurricane codes?
We spent 2 nights in Montinita hanging with our buds and drinking way to much. Not much to do in Montinita aside from drink and lie on the beach. And since the weather was crappy, we focused primarily on the former. The weather did clear up a little bit and we strolled down to some cool cliffs at the end of the beach.
Heading south again, the brakes on the truck were making some pretty god awful noises. We stopped in Guayaquil where they were eventually able to track down some new pads and rotors. Note to self: When constantly traversing huge mountain ranges you may need to replace brake pads more often… expensive lesson learned.
We slept nearby the Peruvian border, with plans to cross into Peru the next morning.
Ecuador is an amazing country, we will miss it and its $1.50 gallon gas. In my opinion Ecuador is one of the best countries to travel if you have a short time schedule and small budget. It has everything you expect from a South American country, Amazon jungle, Andes mountains, and endless coastline. The country is small enough to traverse from one side to the other in a day or two as opposed to the giant expanses of neighboring Colombia, Brazil, and Peru. Gas is incredibly cheap and that trickles down to all of your consumer goods. Transportation is practically free, food is cheap, lodging is fair, and the people are incredibly friendly and warm.
Ecuador, we will be back!