This was my first little trip in Ecuador. Although I arrived on the 15th, Erich my employer, was not in town until the 24th. So the plan was to arrive at the B&B that night and get somewhat settled. I briefly met Monica, Lady of the House, and spent the night. Between the 16th and the 25th I was free to explore. I met up with Chrissy, a New Yorker living there for another month or so, and visited the coast for beaches, pre-Inca ruins, seafood, and plenty of wildlife viewing. On the 17th we began our journey and the following day ended up at Puerto Lopez, an unremarkable town on the southern coast, after something like a 12 hour bus ride. It is a good base to explore Machalilla National Park however.
That first day we moved into Hostal Villa Columbia, got oriented, and then located Carlos, our tricicleta driver for a 10 km ride to Agua Blanca. There we took an interesting guided walk and got to see and taste some of the local plants. We discovered that the ruins were greatly exaggerated in my guidebook however. There was nothing more than a low, collapsed wall for a single building. Later at a thermal spring we saw a gigantic iguana high in a tree. That lizard was huge.
The second day we took a boat with some other tourists to "The Poor Man's Galapagos", Isla de la Plata, or Island of Silver. It was an all day trip and very enjoyable. We saw interesting wildlife including a sea turtle, flying fish, some other crazy fish that could skip along the surface of the water on it's tail, small lizards, and a bunch of various birds. Our tour of the island ended with my first snorkeling trip.
On the 20th we were headed back to Quito because Chrissy was getting a bit low on funds. After 8 hours on the bus I remembered that my passport was still in the hotel room. D'OH!! Not being able to think of a good way to get it back, I turned around at Santo Domingo and went back to Puerto Lopez. I arrived in the morning (21st) and retrieved my passport. After a long nap I rented a mountain bike and returned to the park. I biked a nature trail around the beaches of Los Frailes. I think the round trip was around 28 km (17 mi). That was fun and I got to see a new (to me) kind of crab that could climb rocks like a spider and jump.
Having spent enough time in the Park and Puerto Lopez, I took a short 45 km bus ride south to the surfer and backpacker hangout of Montañita. There was a different vibe in that town for sure but it was the end of the season so not much was happening. I only spent a day and a half there before returning to Quito by way of Manta.
I briefly visited the colonial jewel of Cuenca (pronounced Cwenka). In truth Chrissy and I found it to be so lame that we didn't even spend an entire day there. Considering that it was a 10 hour bus ride from Quito that is saying something! We arrived at night and attempted to find some lively nightlife and failed miserably. We had a beer at the recommended venue but there was nothing happening. The next morning I went out to photograph the much praised colonial buildings and was underwhelmed. Chrissy didn't miss anything by sleeping in. A nice surprise was the Banco Central museum. It was 3 very nice floors of exhibits. Many of the Inca artifacts were excavated right behind the museum and the foundations of those buildings were available to tour. The top floor was dedicated to the cultures of Ecuador and boasted 4 shrunken heads from the Shuar Indians of the Amazon.
We left Cuenca after lunch at El Gordito's which if you are ever in town comes highly recommended by me. It is a place with large plates of food and where the Inca Cola is cold. The fried trout is especially tasty. After a long bus ride we transferred to Baños and arrived sometime after 10 pm. Baños was a completely different experience. The town was packed with an exhuberant crowd and we were soon in a discoteque on a street lined with bars. It was still going strong when we left at 02:30 am and got a hamburger at a little grill across the street to wait out the rain. After chatting with the 3 ladies running the hamburger/hot dog hut we braved the rain and made it back to find that our key didn't work in the gate to our hostel so I had to scale the fence and negociate a wood pile to let Chrissy inside. Good thing I've spent all that time at the climbing gym and the cliffs!
The following day we saw a little bit of the town but had to leave early. Chrissy's flight was leaving the next day. I'll be back. There is a ton of things to do around there and I'd like another of those excellent hamburgers! And many delicious guinea pigs, cuy, were roasting up curbside to tease the hungry crowds. Update: Visit my cuy lovers page. I did not partake but I did have my first "blood and guts", yaguarlocro, soup there. It was a yellowish, steaming bowl of intestines and something unknown in broth with potatoes to which was added several healthy spoonfuls of congealed blood. It didn't look as bad as it sounds. It wouldn't have made a startling picture.