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Back on the Pacific! (EC)


January 5, 2018

This was one of our longest driving days in ages – from San Pablo to the coastal town of Machalilla; we did about 300km in six hours on pretty decent roads which seemed good by the standards we’d hit in Colombia (where once 150km took eight hours!). We stopped in one town for a couple of necessities, stopped for gas/water but otherwise drove straight through. We did encounter one “road closure” as a tree was being removed from the highway but that took less than ten minutes. We left the high altitudes, got to super flat land with rice paddies and Dole banana plantations before going up over some foothills to the coast.

As we drove through the Machalilla National Park (which actually surrounds the town of Machalilla), the forest became quite dry and we saw tall cacti– we learned later that this forest is considered a dry tropical forest and that except for a few varieties of trees, is only green from May to November.

We arrived at La Canoa Camping about 3:30 and after setting up, went for a walk on the beach; what a pleasure it was to be back on the Pacific! The sky was mostly overcast but the temperature was about 26C/78F and there was a lovely breeze off the water. We are parked right in front of the hostel on a dirt dead end road with access to power, bathrooms with showers and decent internet for $3pp a night.

Christine, Mark and Liat arrived about 5:30 from east of Guayaquil – they had encountered a car accident that delayed them 1.5 hours and then taken a dirt road “shortcut” through the park that we’d seen on the map and decided against – thank goodness, as it took them two hours to go 30km!

We enjoyed a beer on the beach for happy hour watching the sunset and then dinner in our separate rigs.

The next day was January 6 which in the Christian faith means the feast of the Epiphany – when the three kings visited Jesus. Liat had read that there were celebrations/processions in various places and wanted to see one so the ladies piled into Mark’s truck (their camper comes off) while Mark stayed behind to rest (he had a cold) and Doug stayed behind to attempt installing our new power converter (this converts the DC power to AC in our coach) and ours, now twelve years old had been slowing down so we’d brought back a new more powerful one.

Fran, Christine and Liat drove north through the vacation city of Manta to Montecristi where Liat had read they have this celebration. They drove right to the main square where the Basilica was located with a nice square but no one knew of any procession or fiesta.

They walked around a bit checking out the tourist shops where Liat bought a duffel bag and came across a large gathering of people but it was not a religious thing, it was a protest against some laws that the government wanted to pass. Next stop was Santa Ana where they also found nothing but did take a short walk around.

A nativity scene outside the church in Santa Ana

The last chance was the little town of Salango, about 20km south of where we were camped and it was early afternoon. We found the church and it seems that it was decorated for something and vendors and a small fair was being set up. They sat in a small bar/restaurant for a fruit smoothie and spoke with the owner. He advised the procession was tomorrow morning at ten but that tonight the party/festival began at seven.

We encountered several of those stalking caterpillar trains near the fair. It seems that during “fiestas” people like to take rides on them around the town.

So back to Machalilla where they discovered both Mark and Doug working on the converter; lucky for Doug as Mark helped him a great deal.

Mark on the outside while Doug worked on the inside as they tested wiring and figured out which fuse powered what inside.

The ladies went for a quick dip in the ocean and by the time they rinsed and showered, the guys were done and it was time for happy hour with snacks on the beach. Fran brought out the tequila that Barna had given us, Christine brought out watermelon vodka and we again watched the sunset but it was not much that night.

The weather here on the coast is quite pleasant; goes up to 26-28C (78-82F) during the day and dips into to around 20 at night so with a fan we are quite comfortable sleeping. The sky is often overcast in the morning but it clears up and then clouds come in around sunset again but so far no rain…..

Sunday, we all packed up and took our rigs to the beach part of the park to do a 4km hike to three beaches, watched the crabs on the beach, went to a lookout and then sat at what is described as the most beautiful beach in the country.  The day started out mostly cloudy but about halfway through our hike, the clouds were all gone. It was quite lovely and we rated it about an 8 or 8.5 in our books. It was very clean and the water was clear and a lovely colour – however no palm trees or any type of shade. By late morning, Christine, Mark and Liat decided to leave as they wanted to stop at another beach south of here before heading to Guayaquil as they the girls are catching a flight to the Galapagos in two days (Mark is not going but will stay in that city to get some work down on their truck). We had planned to hang at the beach the rest of the day before returning to La Canoa for another night or two (it’s only 5km away) but the wind caught our sun umbrella and a small plastic piece on one of the spokes broke so rather than risk breaking any more we too left. There is no shade on this beach at all so we didn’t want to hang around frying in the sun (especially here so close to the equator).

Playa La Tortugita
Mark, Liat & Christine on the trail
Playa Preita
Playa Los Frailes

We returned to La Canoa and spent the afternoon relaxing, Fran went in the ocean a few times and Doug enjoyed some quiet time after working so hard yesterday. The hostel has a palapa set up on the beach for shade so we didn’t need a brolly.

Monday we awoke to clear skies and Doug tackled two jobs: the rear signal lights and replacing the screen in the lower portion of the screen door – success on both counts! We did our usual walks/Spanish into town (which is pretty dead….) and then sat under the palapa on the beach; Fran enjoyed a couple of swims while Doug worked on making his “dog whip”.

There are SO many dogs in Latin America including a great many strays. However, it’s not only the strays that can be a problem when we are out walking/running.   The majority of them just bark but there are a few that “attack” and Fran has now been bitten three times in just over two years. She has now taken to carrying a stick to threaten dogs with when she anticipates them. It’s a light piece of bamboo scrap about 4 feet long. Doug wanted something a little smaller for jogging with so he’s working on a “whip” with a rock on the end to whip out at dogs who threaten him but it’s small enough to fit in his pocket.

That evening we had a nice chat with the owners here, Cristobol and Lydia. They are really trying to make a go of this hostel/overlander place. They have a small two level house you can rent with a kitchen downstairs and a bedroom, sitting area with an ocean view and lovely breezes.

For supper we decided we wanted to use our popcorn popper but the power didn’t seem to be strong enough to run it so we decided to unplug and use the generator – mistake! it wouldn’t start. Not sure what’s going on there as it worked three days ago….

Tuesday, we needed a few things worked on – like the generator –and supplies so we unhooked and left La Canoa Camping to move on down the road to Puerto Lopez – a larger town and where we wanted to take a tour out to Isla Plata soon. First we struggled to locate someone who could work on the generator but in the meantime, we found a steel fabrication place to build us a small stand to set up our new power transformer in an outside cubbie. Doug had the dimensions all ready and they made him such a stand in about an hour. We also decided to get a 10” steel spike to use to help ground Tigger; it doesn’t happen often but sometimes (like where we’re camped now) the power supply is not grounded and Doug especially gets small shocks when touching the truck. Here, even Fran was getting them and if you’re the slightest bit wet, they are quite shocking!

Mark suggested to us that a steel chain spiked into the ground should work .  This way didn’t so Doug got an actual grounding wire and tried that with the same spike, nada.  Gonna have to find an expert I guess.

The steel guys recommended a mechanic to us for the generator and this man got it working (said the filter was very dirty)BUT although he got it running, it still wouldn’t power anything! Then we realized that was probably not a generator issue, but was maybe related to the install of the new power converter? So we sent out an SOS to Mark and maybe we can meet up soon or we’ll have to find an electrician.

When we had the box off the back of the truck to access the generator Doug was able to replace the drain valve whose handle had broken off recently. Fran also walked over to a supermarket for supplies, we drove to a market for fruit and picked up beer.

We had a place in mind to stay in this town (there’s not much for rigs) but when we got there we didn’t like it so we drove the 15km back to La Canoa. We had some lunch, went for a walk and then sat by the beach.

Cristobol had mentioned last night that Isla Plata tours could be arranged for us with a pick up from here so when we saw him later, we asked him to call and arrange one for us for tomorrow or the next day. He was able to do so and they will pick us up here – bonus!

So Wednesday morning we were picked up (late due to a flat tire but turned out not to be a big deal) and met with our guide, Tito from Luz de Luna Tours in Puerto Lopez. He took us and 14 others (several from Argentina, a young women from Korea, a family from the US, a German and a Spaniard) out to the dock where we boarded a boat for the trip northeast to Isla Plata – Silver Island.   The boat ride was pretty comfortable compared to other tours we’ve been on and there was shade cover – took just over an hour.

Now we did not have high expectations for this little tour as it’s touted as the “poor man’s Galapagos” and it’s not whale season which is a big draw. We knew we’d at least see blue footed bobby birds; all else was going to be extra. The island was named Silver Island by the British sailors who saw the moon shining on the guano at night and it looked silver. It is not in any way connected to the Galapagos Islands as it is not volcanic; it was once part of the mainland. It is currently a part of the same national park we went to on Sunday: Machalilla NP.

The day was overcast but as we motored out to sea, we saw blue patches in the sky. Halfway to the island we were offered fresh banana bread. About fifteen minutes from the island, we came upon a large pod of dolphins (almost impossible to get pics of them diving in and out of the water)! Upon reaching the island, we encountered a large sea lion on the rocks sunning and posing for us, then just before landing, we came across at least eight large green sea turtles – it was fantastic!

We got off the boat and were able to use bathrooms before walking into the island itself to see birds. We chose the 1.5 hour route and on it we saw at least thirty blue footed boobys, many with babies. It was amazing; they were right on the walking paths or beside them. They like to nest in the open.

The male will dance, slapping his blue feet during the mating ritual. (not our pic)

Facts about boobys:

  • They are born completely white and their feet do not go blue until 7-8 months
  • Their parents take turns going to get fish for the babies until about a year old
  • They are not monogamous
  • The female is larger than the male
  • Their blue feet come from pigmentation obtained from their fish diet
  • They leave their nests around 14 months old
  • You tell the difference between the sexes by the size of their eyes; larger is female
  • They are not afraid of people; their predators are hawks and vultures

The island at one time had a rat problem and you can see 18” long pieces of PVC pipe that they use to put rat poison in and they are apparently nearly all eradicated. No one lives on the island and there is no fresh water. Rainy season is May to November when the island is green; otherwise the tropical dry forest is pretty brown as it is now.

We ended up on the other side of the island and had beautiful views of the cliffs and rocks with spectacular turquoise water.

We walked back to the beach seeing more boobys and then after another bathroom break, reboarded the boat heading to a snorkeling spot near where we’d see the sea lion. First though, they served us watermelon, sandwich rolls and water/pepsi for lunch before getting into the water. As we travel with our own snorkel gear, we got ready while those that didn’t were given masks and snorkels (but no fins). We spent about ¾ of an hour in the water and were pleasantly surprised with the clarity of the water and the number of fish.

We saw many angelfish, parrotfish, a white starfish, a few puffer fish and an eel! Much of the coral was white, some brown and some green so not out of this world, but better than we’d hope.

All in all a great day and we were driven back to La Canoa Camping where we showered and rinsed gear before grabbing beer and watching another sunset.

Thursday we did in fact leave and after making a few pit stops for supplies, we made our way to the touristy vacation &  surf town of Montañita. Christine and Mark spent a night here at a surf camp at the south end of the beach but said the bathroom facilities were not great, but the beach was nice. We checked out two places on the north end of the beach and although the first was right on the beach, the parking area was rather small so we went to the other place across the road from the beach which was a small hotel with a big parking area. We were able to get power and internet and bathroom access (no shower though) and she told us we could get laundry done for $3 a bag – so we decided to stay here two nights.

After setting up and having lunch, we both went for our walks. Fran went along the beach (about 300m away) and went past the surf camp that Mark & Christine had stayed at and it looks nice, it’s a less crowded part of the beach and it actually has palm trees. So we might head there on Saturday.

The beach here is wonderful; long, flat and has big tides but the only thing missing to rate it a ten is a lot of palm trees. You can rent two chairs and an umbrella on the beach for $5 for the day and there are lots of bars and restaurants but also lots of vendors on foot and with bike powered carts selling food, drink, sunglasses and souvenirs – they are not as pushy as in Mexico though.

We reached out to PortaBrella about getting a new piece from our sun umbrella but they were no help; so don’t buy their product people! We have had this one for nearly two years but it’s not like we use it every day. It should have lasted longer than this; we will continue to use it with the broken spoke and hope no more break.

For sunset we wandered back to the beach (about a five minute walk) and enjoyed drinks at a bar with music – this is the life! The weather continues to be about the same as Machalilla here but the wind is not as strong as Los Frailes. Again, we don’t need air and the humidity is not high.

Friday morning we dropped off our laundry (including towels and sheets) and spent the day doing errands, walking, Spanish and ……beach time for the afternoon. We rented beach chairs and umbrella and enjoyed people watching and reading for the afternoon. The tide was going out and we noticed many small jellyfish with long purple tails along the water line. We asked a few people and they are apparently not poisonous.

The last time Doug went into the water, he did get stung on his leg. There were three young German men who asked us to watch their bag while they went swimming and when they returned, one of them had a large “sting” across his stomach. Ouch! (This turned out to be the only day we saw these in our nine days here.)

That night we went up to the hotel’s third floor terrace to watch the sunset. You are able to see the ocean from up there but not the actual beach but we did see the sun sink below the horizon (without our camera though and we are still waiting to see the “green flash”).

Over the weekend after exercising and video chatting with the grandkids, we walked and spent the day at the beach; we enjoyed lunch on the beach on Saturday, brought right to our chairs. It clouded over by early afternoon and actually felt “cool” with the wind so around 3 we headed back to Tigger and showered using our outdoor shower.

This morning on her walk Fran encountered this outside a hotel on the beach that was protecting a turtle nest:

They had built a temporary “pathway” so the turtle would head directly to sea and they were watching to ensure no predators intervened.

Monday after morning “chores” we packed up and drove a whopping 1.3km to the surf hostel right on the beach at the south end in a lovely location. They gave us power and they have internet but they need to improve their bathroom facilities. The entire hostel has ONE bathroom to share and the toilet has no seat. There is a shower with no shower head (which is not the end of the world) but really, just one toilet (and it doesn’t always flush well…..)? They do have a second floor with a sort of bar which was lovely to view the sunset that night. We had some fun boogie boarding in the waves here. We are out of fresh fruit and veg so tonight we walked into town for dinner and had a pretty darn good veggie pizza and some cold beer. We are away from the main area of the beach so no umbrellas to rent or vendors bugging you.  Sadly Fran saw a dead adult turtle on the beach. Rest of the day was chillin’.

As we alluded to early in our blog, our plan for Peru was to meet Christine and Mark at a charity house build in the city of Pucalpa at the edge of the Amazon. We may be omitting that part of the plan; we have now been told that we are not going to be able to “live” in our rig at the hotel and that we are required to take a room and pay for meals as well as a $100 fee each for activities and local transport. This was not made aware to us until the past couple of days. We wanted to take part in the house building and give back to the community but not at this price and many of the activities they have planned is not our cup of tea. We have reached out the charity to confirm the above so if they respond favourably, we may still go but it’s not looking good.

Tuesday through Friday we did our exercises, chores, lessons, walked on the beach and spent the afternoons chillin’ under the hostel’s palapa, reading and boogie boarding. The surf was pretty good for that and although one of the boards kept springing a leak, Doug would patch it and out we’d go again. We did hear back from the charity and due to the response we are no longer going to do this project. Too bad. But at least we found out before going all the way out there…. We hope Mark & Christine enjoy their time.

On our last night, we went for pizza at a new beachfront restaurant right next door and invited an Argentinian to join us. Mario is on way north to meet his girlfriend in Mexico and was making money along the way playing his guitar and singing. We bought him pizza in exchange for him playing and singing for us and there was a local man there who played a flute and joined in as well. It was a pleasant evening.

Saturday morning we left after breakie and went further south to the vacation town of Salinas – it was about 90km/55m. We had a spot picked out before the city, but desperately need groceries (after over a week without decent shopping!) so we hit the large Supermaxi in the city and then went further west to the point called Puntilla Santa Elena where the most westerly point of the country is located. It appears to be a nature reserve/military base and although you can visit during the day, you cannot spend the night.

There were three places to visit: a hill that gave you 360°views, the actual most western point called La Chocolatera where there is a small pebble covered lighthouse (because the rocks are brown) and then the rocky outcroppings where we saw about 50 sea lions!

It was a nice surprise that the reserve was so organized and well set up and even better, free!

Salinas has lots of waterfront but the beach is not as nice as Montañita. There are many, many high rises and hotels and it is described as a “Miami wanna be”. The beach sand is more granular with lots of bits of shell so not as soft to walk on – yeah we’ve been spoiled! There are very few places, like most cities, for overlanders and we didn’t want to shell out money for a hotel that was not on the beach and that probably wouldn’t have secure parking so we opted for a place outside the city on the coast.

Magnificent Frigate on a light post

Infinity pool at hostel overlooking the ocean
Hostel Farallon Dillon as viewed from the beach (near Salinas)

This Hostel/hotel is right above the beach with private access and has an infinity pool! It’s owned by an ex-cargo ship captain and it’s quite a nautical (and more) museum full of pieces and furniture – a lot of junk….but very eclectic. Captain Dillon and his wife had turned their huge home into a restaurant, bar, hostel with beautiful ocean views and breezes.

Tigger was a little large to park out front of reception so that asked us to park in the “lower lot” so no view but we had power and a private bathroom complete with shower. There’s wifi at the reception and in the pool area outside the bar. We settled in and immediately went to rest by the pool.

Sunday we spent the day here; Doug went for an early morning run and Fran walked the beach after breakie. This confirmed that the beach was not Montañita but the waves here are big and there are lots of surfers to watch. There are also a lot of freighters out there and the water is a lovely aqua green. The weather here has been a bit warmer then Montañita and Saturday was actually humid but Sunday was not so bad. Internet was not great when it worked and it wasn’t till Sunday afternoon we figured out password for the internet down in the parking area by fluke so we’ll probably leave tomorrow.

Monday morning we packed up after breakfast and chores and headed into Guayaquil to see about getting the gennie problems fixed. Mark had recommended the mechanic he used there and Doug has been in touch with him on Whatsapp. Fingers crossed we can get this sorted.