Published: July 26th 2012July 26th 2012
Sadly, the time had come for us to leave Colombia. After saying goodbye to Rob very early as he left for his flight back to KC, we packed up and made the same trip to the airport through the mountains of Medellin for our afternoon flight to Quito, Ecuador. We made the decision a couple of months back to fly to Quito rather than take busses due to rumors that there is once again some a FARC presence in some southern regions of Colombia. Travel by bus (especially overnight) was not advisable; therefore we did not want to take any chances! Our flight via TACA airlines (one of my favorite Latin airlines to fly) was short and a nice change from grueling bus rides. I was especially a very happy traveler because they served a glass of complimentary vino, yes please!
Our arrival was nothing but smooth as well. After an easy breezy jaunt through customs/immigration and baggage claim, we hailed a taxi and were whisked away to our hostel, Blue House, in the Mariscal neighborhood. We chose this location and made reservations per recommendation of a fellow traveler who told us this is where most backpackers
stay, and it would be the easiest neighborhood to navigate to from the airport. This was a mistake. It was very clear from our taxi ride that Mariscal was a dirty and very dangerous neighborhood. Yes, it was chock full of hostels and restaurants, but it was run down, spray painted, and had an overall ominous feel. After checking in to our hostel, we immediately decided to go to the closest restaurant for dinner since it was past sunset and it was not at all acceptable to walk around after daylight hours. Needless to say, our dinner at a hole in the wall traditional Ecuadorian restaurant was very good and we briskly walked back to our hostel two doors down to get some good sleep after a long night of travel. No chance. A very loud group of Aussie gentlemen were having a mini, but very loud party right outside our room window. After countless drinking games, thankfully around midnight they decided to leave for a bar. Sometimes hostel life can be not what you are expecting!! The next day we awoke to a nice Blue House provided breakfast of warm oatmeal, fruit & yogurt, cereal, fresh melon juice ,
coffee. We were surprisingly rested, and also very excited to visit as many sights of Quito we could fit into our only day in the city before heading to the beach.
Our first stop was the equator museum Mitad del Mundo which was located just outside of the city. We had a lot of fun taking pictures from two different hemispheres and visiting the local souvenir shops, but after about an hour we were excited to explore the Historic District t or “Old Town.” Lucky for us it was Sunday and the city of Quito closes the streets of Old Town to cars so it was a great time to explore and see the sights! We were not disappointed. There was such beautiful architecture from the Plaza de Independencia, to the Monasterio de San Francisco. We were even able to admire the beauty of the Gothic Basilica del Voto Nacional from afar. After choosing another obscure hole in the wall restaurant, we enjoyed another traditional Ecuadorian “menu del dia” lunch of chicken soup appetizer, chicken or beef, rice, beans and salad. After spending the rest of the afternoon shopping, people watching, and sipping an espresso, we made it back
to our hostel in time to grab a jacket for dinner and hop in a taxi to start our cuy hunt. Cuy is an Andean specialty of roasted guinea pig. Jeff was so excited when our taxi driver told us he knew the perfect place. Sadly the first restaurant we tried was out of cuy, so our driver pulled out his phone and found us another spot. 20 minutes later, we were seated happily in a booth, cuy order placed, and sharing a large Pilsen beer. Our guinea pig was served with avocado, lime, and a lot of mashed potatoes. It was actually very good despite the questionable crunchy skin with some stray hairs still in place. We were both satisfied we successfully accomplished our cuy mission, and we were able to see some different parts of the city that most tourists do not visit J
After another night at Blue House (this go around being quiet,) we set out very early to catch a 7 a.m. bus to our next beach destination, Canoa. After a very strange bus ride (the driver repeatedly stopped at other bus stations, to let on food vendors, and to pick up random roadside
passengers) we made it to the dusty town of San Vincente. From the San Vincente bus station we jumped into a taxi that drove us 20 minutes to Canoa, which we realized we would love right away. Our accommodations, Hotel Bambu, was located right on the beach and offered a large bar restaurant area, pool table, ping pong, great private rooms, and sand under our feet throughout the entire property. We were so happy to be back on the beach, and we happened to arrive during happy hour!! After a long day (almost 8 hours) of uncomfortable bus travel, caipirinas and a beach sunset was just what the doctor ordered. We then walked the sandy unpaved “strip” to a close by restaurant. We shared an order of ceviche and a calamari and could not have been happier!!
The rest of our stay in the small, sleepy town of Canoa (pop. 6100) was just perfect. We woke up every morning, grabbed a coffee at a local beach restaurant (sadly almost all restaurants only offered instant ha) and went on long runs on the beach. Then after a late breakfast we would have a tough time deciding in what order we
wanted to head back to the beach, lay in a hammock, and choose a lunch/dinner spot. We were also extremely spoiled by the amazing, and dirt cheap ($4-8) seafood plates we were eating every single meal. It was SO tough!! Sadly, we did have to move on to another beach town, Puerto Lopez, which was 4 hours south.
This journey proved to be a bit of a doozy because there was not a direct bus available from Canoa to Peurto Lopez. We were at the mercy of bus driver advice on where to catch a bus that would get us as close as possible. Therefore, our day went something like this: Canoa to Tosaquas on a VERY crowded bus full of teenage school kids, another bus from Tosaquas to Peurto Viejo, another bus from Peurto Viejo to Jippijappa, and then a final bus from Jippijappa to Peurto Lopez. Our easy 4 hour ride turned into almost 7 hours of crowded hot bus, aggressive bus hype men, confusing dirty bus stations, and heavy bag lugging. Surprisingly we did manage to nap, play a lot of itouch scrabble games, listen to lots of tunes, and keep ourselves cheerful throughout the entire
journey. I will also mention that Jeff spotting a local man with a KState hat on while at the Jippajappa bus station made my day… I couldn’t believe it!!
Peurto Lopez was just as laid back as Canoa, just a little larger and with more tourists. Our hostel, Sol Inn, had nice rooms, social atmosphere, and located a block from the beach. We took up the same routine of morning exercise, lazy afternoons, lots of reading and guitar practice, and awesome seafood dinners. A definite highlight of our stay was our day tour to Isla de la Plata. We started at 9 a.m. with a walk to the tour boat through the local fish market right on the beach. We had no idea it was even there!! After gawking and taking pictures of the variety of seafood catch to be sold, we boarded our boat and began the first part of the tour… whale watching. Unfortunately our 45 minute ride to the island was cloudy, cold, and we had yet to see a single whale. Our guide told us not to worry and promised we would see more than one humpback before the day was over. Luckily as our boat pulled up to Isla de la Plata, the sun came out as we waded ashore and were split into smaller groups to begin a two hour hike. We really enjoyed our tour of the Island which has been restricted as a wildlife sanctuary for the many different species of birds that occupy the island. This includes the blue footed boobie!! Our first boobie sighting was very early in the hike when we came across a couple in the middle of our walking path. Our guide told us to pass quietly, one at a time, and at a distance, due to the fact that other tourists had been injured by their sharp beaks. What exotic looking birds the boobies are!! Of course, they have bright blue feet, piercing yellow eyes, and the very sharp dark beaks. We made it past the first couple without sustaining injuries, and very excited to have seen the boobies so close! As we continued our tour through beautiful Isla de la Plata, we quickly realized the boobies were in/around our path almost every 100 feet or so. Our guide told us that due to the amount of tourism on the island, they are not afraid of humans and therefore do not budge from the walking path when approached. We did make it through the hike without being attacked, and also saw other species of birds including the Frigate and the Vermillion Flycatcher. After the completing our hike we boarded our vessel and headed to a snorkel spot on the coast of the island while lunching on the fresh fruit and sandwiches provided to us. Midway through our slices of pineapple, guess who else decided to join our tour?? Sea turtles! A couple of awesome animals swam up to our boat as our guide tossed overboard some pieces of fruit and bread, as well as some very colorful reef fish. Next we were invited to snorkel, but sadly the water had been very stirred up due to weather and there was poor visibility. That did not stop most of the passengers from jumping in, and once everyone was back aboard we turned back toward Peurto Lopez with our eyes peeled looking for whales. It was not long before we had our first spotting!!! Just our luck, it was not soon after that our camera battery died L Jeff managed to get one good shot to prove we actually spent some time with the humpback whales, who are in the area to mate and raise their young. After two hours of spotting and following different whales, we closed in on the coast Peurto Lopez with a couple of seasick folk in hand. Besides the visual of the cute little girl sitting across from us getting sick on her lifejacket L, we had such an amazing day!!
After another few days spent beachside enjoying the $2.50 ceviches, and cooking the 2 ½ kilos of large fresh shrimp (for only $6.50) at the market we discovered, it was time to think about the 24 hour bus ride to Lima, Peru. We packed our bags and said goodbye to the beach and Ecuador, who we both had come to love, and boarded a 4 hour bus to the very large metropolis of Gyuaquil. Upon arrival at the large bus station, we took a taxi to our “special” small bus terminal where we would catch our luxury liner 24 hour overnight double decker bus to Lima. After a 2 hour wait in the lobby and 4 chicken empanadas later, we settled into our seats for the long journey armed with snacks, books, tunes, and our Lonely Planet book to hurry and brush up on our destinations/schedule for our next exciting country…Peru!!