Saturday, February 14, 2015
Saturday, February 7, 2015
Monday, February 2, 2015
Wednesday afternoon we joined our friends Curt and Scott in a rental car from Cuenca Car Share and started the six hour journey to the coast of Ecuador. The cities on our agenda were Puerto López and Montañita. This was the first trip for Mike and me completely across and through Cajas National Park. This part of The Andes are known for unpredictable weather and fog. We weren't disappointed. There was plenty of fog and Scott did an excellent job getting us across the mountains safely. Once we got to the other side of the mountain there was a drastic change in the landscape. The area is mostly flat with some mountains in the distance. The most dramatic change was in the temperature. Cuenca was in the high 60's when we left at noon. The other side of the mountain was humid and 90-degrees or hotter. The highway was surrounded, on both sides, by agriculture. We saw sugar cane, cocoa, and lots of banana trees. From this point forward, the most entertaining part of the trip was observing the traffic. I held my breath a good part of two hours. From the bottom of the mountain, to Guayaquil, there don't seem to be any "rules of the road" except for your own. Trust me when I tell you that cars were passing cars that were in the process of passing other cars. Yes, you read that right! To stay out of harm's way motorcycles ride in the emergency lane. Near miss head-on collisions are the norm. It was one of the most interesting things I've ever observed. Then, when we got to Guayaquil, the lines that define the driving lanes suddenly disappear. At this point, drivers make their own lanes. It was just so weird. Trying to ignore what was going on with the traffic I stared out the window and noticed huge amounts of trash alongside the highway. Upon further investigation, I realized that the majority was household trash that had been dumped behind neighborhoods. The trash then slid down the hillsides towards the highway. Guayaquil is a nasty, dirty, highly populated city. It's not the capital city, but it is the largest city in Ecuador. It's also a port city. Another thing I observed on the "other side" of the mountain is the poverty. A large number of people live in unpainted, windowless, concrete block houses. I'm almost certain that many had no electricity or running water. Many farm animals appear to live just feet from the houses. There are a lot a people attempting to sell their agriculture products along the road, in the road, and at traffic lights. We continued on our way and stopped in Montańita to watch the sunset.
After sunset, we hopped in the car and drove the remaining way to Puerto López. Just before the town is a lookout point. You can see the lights of the pier on the right.
Once we let that view soak in we drove down to the Victor Hugo Hotel, our home for the next two nights. The hotel is beachfront and was very comfortable. We checked in and walked to a nearby restaurant for dinner.
We were all tired so we turned in early. The next morning, we met Curt and Scott for breakfast before Mike and I boarded a boat for a day trip to Isla De La Plata, also known as The Poor Man's Galapagos.
It was a one-hour ride over to the island. The water was calm and the ride was smooth. Once there, and while still on the boat, we were given a square of delicious spice cake. After our snack we disembarked and were asked to pick one of three different routes around the island. Of course we chose the longest route, which was five kilometers, and would require two and a half hours to complete. It was hot and humid but once we started investigating it became a non-issue. The island is known as home to the blue-footed boobies. There are other birds, but the blue-footed boobies are the most popular.
At the end of the hike we got back on the boat and were served lunch that included fresh watermelon, fresh pineapple, and sandwiches. Several large turtles approached the boat and were given pieces of fruit to enjoy.
We also saw some very colorful tropical fish.
After lunch we were given the opportunity to snorkel.
Other pictures of the boat and surroundings.
The highlight of the day occurred when the guide spotted dolphins in the distance. He asked those that were snorkeling to return to the boat. With engines "full speed ahead" we raced to the most spectacular performance I've ever witnessed. Sorry, no pictures. Dolphins are fast. There were numerous dolphins, of various sizes, swimming beside the boat, coming within inches of my outstretched arm. They really put on a show for us. One dolphin decided to out perform the rest of them. Without hesitation he jumped at least ten feet straight into the air and seemed to fly for twenty feet or more. Once wasn't enough, he did this maneuver three times. All of us on the boat, including the crew, yelled and screamed with excitement. It was so cool to see the animals in their natural habitat doing what comes naturally without human intervention. I heard a dad say to his young son, "now that made the entire trip worthwhile." Turns out, the dad, his wife, son and daughter all live in Cuenca. After talking a few minutes we realized that we know a lot of the same people here. The dolphins eventually calmed down and moved on. We headed back to Puerto López.
When we returned to the hotel we spotted Curt and Scott enjoying the ocean waves.
Soon after, we enjoyed another beautiful sunset.
Later that night this happened.
Not sure why the kids were picking such young coconuts. As you can see, Mike and Scott were happy to give them a lift.
The next morning we said goodbye to Puerto López and were on our way to Montańita. This is a daytime view from the overlook.
About forty-five minutes later we were in Montańita at Montańita Estates. This complex sits about a block from the beach near the busy party district. There was just enough separation so that we could get a good night's rest. The two bedroom, two bath condo was well appointed and comfortable.
Our mutual friends, Jaci and Micki, recommended that we eat at a local Thai restaurant. We spotted the place immediately and sat down to enjoy a good meal.
This is a closeup of my Pad Thai dish.
Feeling satisfied, we headed to the beach for fun, sun, and well ... what happens in Montańita, stays in Montańita!! Enjoy the pictures.
Sunday afternoon it was time to load up the Jeep and drive back to Cuenca. I wanted to experience driving in Ecuador, and since I have my Ecuador driver's license, I volunteered to drive "Betsy." This is Betsy.
Just kidding. Here she is ...
Sunday traffic was lighter, and since I was now familiar with the lay of the land, the drive was not as stressful as I thought it would be. Remember the unmarked lanes in Guayaquil? I mastered them! Just before the ascent into the Cajas there is a unique fruit market with the freshest produce you can get. This has been a favorite stop for Curt and Scott on their previous trips to the coast.
And now, up the hill we go.
It was a rainy and foggy drive up the mountain. We saw goats, horses, sheep, and jackasses along the way. My first drive, in Ecuador, from the Coast to the Sierra was exciting, challenging, and fun. Thanks to Curt and Scott for being the best tour guides, ever. But, most importantly, thanks for being our friends.