Friday, August 31, 2007

The Sun Comes Out

One day, for a glorious few hours, the perpetual clouds over Canoa thinned and the sun shone down. Shone down with a serious attitude, we discovered, when after a couple of hours sunbaking, Angie was crispy skinned, glow-in-the-dark and feeling very sorry for herself. The sunshine on the Equator is many times more potent than even our un-ozone-filtered rays.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Canoa Beach

Rio Muchacho

We hired a couple of bikes- Super Huffies- top of the line k-mart tredlies- to cycle our way out to Rio Muchacho, a permaculture farm outside of Canoa. After a couple of hours pedal through some beautiful, green landscape, we were fed and then taken on a tour of the farm. The farm exists as both an educational example of how the land can be better used by farmers, and as a money raising project for the nearby primary school.

Super Huffy and another perilous water crossing

The farm has an abundance of animals, both in adult and baby form, the latter of which kept Angie enthralled the entire length of our stay. Perhaps the one species that did not win her heart were the roosters, who settled on a nice crowing position right outside our room at around 1 or 2 in the morning, and maintained that position until well after breakfast was served at 7:30 (!!!!!- it is a working farm so times are of a different, and rather unpleasant significance).

The farm house

Angie making chocolate

The ride back was going swimmingly, until the chain on my Super Huffy snapped about 2km from the main road. After pushing my disabled machine along to the highway, we flagged down a passing pickup, whose driver gave us a lift into town. Apparently he was in a desperate race against some clock to get to wherever he was going, and we had a high-velocity journey of pure terror in the back of a truck. The wind in my face has never been more horrifying than those five minutes, with total obliteration just a road-crossing animal away. But we made it back and just tin time too, five minutes later and we would have to pay for the full day rate for the bikes.

Monday, August 27, 2007

San Vincente- 'Cesars Palace'

Bahia de Caraquez

It´s actually a peninsula

You get there via small, unstable, ridiculously overcrowded fibreglass dugout.

This is inside the crucifix that overlooks town.

The beaches aren´t great

The hotels are past their use by dates.

So are the tennis courts.


Yet another beachside village ideal for doing nothing.

But you can do weights if you like

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Manta- there´s really nothing to tell

For a backpacker, Manta is one of those places that sits uselessly midway between large city and small town. Too big to retain any charm and friendliness that smaller townships radiate, but not big enough to be able to support anything, you know, cool. Like big cities can (however it does run a strong line in intimidating darkened streets).

Our first hotel room was transported from a nearby prison, but given added charm through the use of supermarket style illumination. The spine-alteringly hard mattress was complimented by the toilet in one corner of the room, next to the cold water shower (which didn't have a showerhead). There was a television, but it didn't have any distinct channels, and this was all gloriously lit by a bank of fluorescent tubes set in a blinding mirrorbox in the ceiling. The remarkable thing was that this was the most attractive, happening place we could find that night, and we spent the evening eating peanut butter sandwiches and drinking, peering through the fuzz on the tv at Ecuador's Search for a Supermodel.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Puerto Lopez- Chicken is a Vegetable

Jean Claude welcomes you to the Puerto Lopez video library

Another little blip set inside a broad bay on the coast of Ecuador, Puerto Lopez is a fishing village that also deals in whale-watching and selling juice against along the dilapidated beachfront boardwalk. We avoided seeing the whales, and spent a couple of days lounging around this chilled out, homely cousin of Monañita's. Being less of a tourist resort town, the place had fewer in-your-face money grabbing opportunists, but also less in the way of food and lodging. We went to a restaurant that advertised a variety of vegetarian dishes on its sign, but when we began to order, the waiter quickly interrupted me to say that none of the vegetarian dishes, or dishes containing vegetables, were actually served here. We told him that we didn´t eat meat, and without skipping a beat, he triumphantly exclaimed 'chicken!'. Angie went flexitarian and ate some fish, while I contented myself with chips and more beer than usual.

The next night was more of a success, we found a place that served wonderful vegie stir-fries with real Chinese flavour, and it even came with chopsticks- a first on this continent. Also interesting were some lax hygiene standards in place at the local bakery. While the bread sat safely in the open air, the glass cabinet housing the sweeter treats also housed a colony of bees and wasps, living it up amongst the oodles of sugar people here love. It didn't faze anyone, not the woman who thrust her hands inside the buzzing throng to retrieve the goodies, nor the customers who enthusiastically wolfed down the sweetsweet merchandise.

This is how the fishermen teach the dogs to swim

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Escape from Certain Dinner

One night at the hotel, in the midst of a deep discussion about what we were about to have for dinner, a fellow guest approached bearing that exciting phrase just brimming with possibilities: 'So have you heard the news?'. The news concerned the 7.7 tectonic rearrangement that had just struck off the coast of Lima. The really meaty cut was that there was a possibility of a tsunami making its way up the coast to shove a boot into our humble, flimsily constructed town.

The discussion disregarding the value of alerts from American geological departments and the need to find higher ground (and skip dinner) was put to a stop by the other two guests who arrived and simply asked: 'where are you going?’ Apparently the entire town was in a state of unabashed panic; restaurants were closing and people fleeing hotels without paying to be the first in line to pay four times the usual price to be taken to the nearest city. The fact that Guyaquil is a coastal city, and the entire road to Guyaquil follows the coast was seemingly unimportant.

Anyway, we decided to simply walk up the 60 metre high headland (59 more metres above sea level than our beachside hotel room), which had a nice view over the town and oblivion should the tsunami do it's thing. By nine o'clock we were safely clifftop, perched between a large crucifix and a massive church shaped like a giant boat. Word came that if it was to come, the tsunami would be here by midnight. We waited, our nerves calmed by the soothing rhythms of the German guy's laptop emitting tinny eurodance90'spartytechno.

Midnight came and the town was spared disaster. We made our way back to find a nearly empty town, completely devoid of all food-serving lifeforms, except for the pizzeria hidden around the corner. Montañita was safe, and we had dinner after all, feeling very lucky that we had left Lima two weeks ago.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Spider that Lives in the Lampshade

After all the excitement of the non-tsunami, we spent a week in Monañita learning Spanish, surfing and hanging out with wildlife such as this guy.

Friday, August 10, 2007


We arrived just in time for the non-stop weekend celebrations to mark Ecuador´s independance.

Montañita is an industry standard tourist town in Ecudaor. The entire centre of town is geared toward one thing: relieving visitors of their dollar via providing alcohol, souvenirs, tightly packed accommodation or ceviche (a local seafood dish served up by street vendors). There is also a nice beach with good waves, although at this time of year it is permanently under cloud.

Sometimes cows need time off at the beach too.

Thursday, August 9, 2007


Walking through the streets of Guyaquil is like exploring an unfinished sci-fi novel from the fifties about some distant dystopian civilisation. The buildings are either retro-futuristic monuments to shape, form and colour, or dirty, to-be-completed utilitarian monuments to purpose. The people are of all appearances and builds, with the harshly drawn features of unlikely fictional characters. For me, there were simply too many handguns around to feel comfortable, and we left as soon as we could.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Damn tourists

Mancora is tourist filled beach town on the very Northern coast of Peru. The locals there have to live with the unhappy duality of at once depending on tourists for their livelihood, while also despising the very sight of these intruders from afar. The result is a town full of good food, decent accommodation and easy transport all served up with a undisguised scowl, backed up by an attitude bordering on outright hostility. Of course, the reason for this attitude could also be to do with the fact that the town seems to lack any running hot water. Cold showers never mean a good start to the day.

Anyway, once you can see past the frowns, Mancora is an especially good place to hang up the thermal underwear and enjoy a week or so in nothing but a pair of shorts. After months of bitterly cold temperatures, climaxing with the recent salt flats tour, the constant sunshine and hot, dry air provided the perfect conditions to thaw out. Apparently, Mancora is the only place on the coast that enjoys this utopian climate, the areas North and South tend to be covered by cloud at this time of year. Our bodies soon turned a healthy brown, as we enjoyed long days by the pool or on the beach.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Mancora- Tropical all year

Mancora is a beach town in Northern Peru with a tasty lefthander out the front. It's always hot, always sunny and always the best place to spend five days after living in thermal underwear for the past 4 months.

The waves got better than this, but I was surfing so there's no pictures.


Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Mini Busses in Lima

A large portion of Lima's battered public transport system is made up of privately run, hideously overcrowded minibuses. 'Minibus' is probably being a bit generous in describing these vehicles, as they really appear to be nothing more than delivery vans fitted out with a couple of seats and an impatient maniac at the wheel.

The four cylinder vans are painted with a few colourful stripes and some street names, the hurled through the streets of Lima with all the enthusiasm and recklessness of a five year old in a dodgem car. The lack of any straight panels on these machines is proof of the battlefield nature of the roads in this city, and the warrior mindset of the drivers.

Catching one of these beastly rides is an acid test of nerves and timing. The man with the failing grasp on the value of human life finds a gap in the ceaseless flow of metal and slots his steed in the opening, managing to pull up next to the most tightly packed cluster of pedestrians. At this stage, his manic partner in this operation will have the sliding door open and will be swinging from the handle shouting the names of all the places this van is likely to stop. He screams with all the desperation of a heretic being burned at the stake, and to see him pull a gun on these waiting people would not seem too surprising, given the apparent urgency.

Should one of the onlookers express any interest in the services of this unbalanced duo, he or she is herded aboard with as much haste as can be mustered without the use of a bullwhip. Once the final passenger is almost inside, the driver, now hysterical at having been stationery for so long, plants his foot and merges with the belching throng. Hopefully by now the last of the cargo is inside and the door is mostly shut.

These flying meatwagons are only for those who know exactly where they're going, and who possibly would rather die than show up. I never got so sick of life that I felt I needed to risk the drivers judgement, or risk the undeniable adventure that would be being dropped off in a place I didn't know in a city as dangerous as Lima. So I don't know the minutiae of what happens inside these four-wheeled death machines, but I can say that from the outside, looking in at the miserably cramped conditions makes the small cost of a taxi worth it.