Since about the time I arrived in Quito last November, I’ve had this idyllic image in my mind of “the beach” of Ecuador and wondered how soon I could visit it. My biggest qualm about that though was that whenever I polled friends, students, coworkers or strangers, they always talked about different beach towns as being their favorite. Why no one could agree, I couldn’t figure out. So, one day Brent and I are sitting in Bandido Brewing (www.bandidobrewing.com – highly recommend) talking to Dan the owner about how I should be the first growler customer when the conversation shifts to our upcoming vacation. Dan seemed like a pretty like-minded person so when he very nonchalantly told us that Canoa was his favorite beach I ignored all of the previous input and decided that that’s where we would go.
Moving forward a few weeks, Brent and I find ourselves on the overnight bus to Canoa. It leaves around 11pm and is supposed to arrive around 6am. The seats are plush and clean and there are few other travelers on the bus; all around an ideal setup for a good night’s rest. Things quickly turn for the worse when I become sick before we even leave Quito as the driver is aggressively slanging around curves in the road like he’s racing someone. This continues as we climb higher into the mountains along curvy roads passing Santo Domingo and is further exacerbated by the three travelers who are discussing social justice and gender and racial inequalities. Throughout their arguing about prejudices, I am calmly yaking up my dinner in the Ziploc bag a few rows behind them. Still not sure if they noticed. Brent hands me a water bottle and goes back to sleep. I try to sleep but it makes me dizzier. In a disoriented state, we thankfully arrive in Canoa at 4am, two hours early. We arrive on the last night of Carnaval to a zombie town of drunken people stumbling home from bars.
Upon finding our hostel Coco Loco, the night guard kindly informs us that the morning worker has the key to our room (which makes no sense) so we set up Brent’s Eno double hammock and snoozed until a little past sunrise. By 8am, we decided that Coco Loco had seen better days and was not the place for us so we picked up our bags and began to wander down the beach in search of Hostal Bambu, another Lonely Planet rec. We ended up walking the wrong way down the beach but lucky for us found the amazing Olmito eco-hostel which was basically a giant tree house. Still morning and feeling queasy, I was thankful to have a homely welcome by the German owners and their cat that was well-decorated for Carnaval. Brent and I dropped our bags and went for a sweaty morning run on the beach then returned for free breakfast and the most delicious juice combination I’ve yet to taste – papaya, mango, and some unidentified flavors.
Next up on our list of to-dos: rent a cabana on the beach, read, and sip fruity drinks. I wasn’t sure if the $8 rental price was the gringo price or not, but we paid, slathered on the sunscreen, and relaxed. In between reading In Cold Blood and swimming, I sipped on coconut water and ate the meat while Brent played beach soccer with the little boy in the cabana next to us. Around lunch time, we wandered over to the beachfront grill for some (shrimp with rice with a nice coastal flavor and lime squeezed on top). We took a beach walk to the other end with a dog that was looking for new owners (or food) and found Hostal Bambu which seemed like a nice option if we ever return. Walking back through town, we found the yoga place that was sadly closed for Carnaval. At sunset, we returned to the beach for cold Pilseners and to watch the surfers. In search of a fruity cocktail, we learned that there is a ley seca (dry law) for the last day of Carnaval which explained why the town was so much quieter. At least the Pilseners never stop flowing! For dinner we ate a delicious corvina a la plancha con menestra, grilled bass with menestra, an Ecuadorean lentil specialty. I think I prefer the food on the coast to the sierra, more seafood and a bit of Caribbean flavor twist.
(Okay, so the trash is a bit abundant in this picture, that was an anomaly though)
The next morning, to leave Canoa and continue down the coast, we took a bus to Bahía which was about 1 hour and a half but felt like we could have arrived in only 30 minutes if we went driving at snail speed. There we transferred to Manta and bought delicious bolones de verde (green plantain dumplings) stuffed with fresh fish and topped with a carrot cilantro salsa. Mmm my mouth is still watering thinking about those. From Manta, we weren’t really sure where we wanted to stay but we found a chill looking surfer dude who lived in Puerto Lopez and decided we’d follow him. Our next bus was to Jipijapa (“hippy hapa”) and when we arrived for a “quick transfer” we thought we were ditched at dusk at a small bus terminal. To our surprise, a bus finally arrived to pick us up and we cruised into Puerto Lopez just in time to snag the last room at Hostal Itapoá. The place was filled with lots of cats, luscious flowers, and Brazilians to practice my Portuguese with. Across the street at the bar on the beach, we finally indulged in our fruity cocktails – a piña colada and a caipirinha. Taking in the beach at night reminded me of another surf town, San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua. The next morning we had just enough time to have a morning cocktail and take a long walk on the beach before catching the bus back to Jipijapa and over to Guayaquil.
Guayaquil – wow! What a completely different city than Quito. Whereas Quito is the cultural center, I have heard people describe Guayaquil as the economic center and that is definitely reflected in the urban planning of the city. The dense buildings in downtown do however open up into the malecón (boardwalk) where Brent and I sweated buckets on a 90F run after sunset. We returned to the malecón for dinner at a restaurant overlooking the water where Brent and I decided to hydrate post-run with a beer chugging contest while waiting for our food. We’re so mature. After that and a quick night’s sleep in our overpriced hostel, we were dropped off at the airport to fly to Lima!