We left Cotopaxi and bounced our way along the cobblestone road back to the Panamericana. Once we rolled onto the regular paved road, it took a while for the van’s cobblestoned rhythm of rat tat tat tat to fade itself out of the expectation of our senses.
We made our way down a very windy road, through lush jungle, sharp turn after sharp turn, with my mom white knuckling it and eating saltine crackers. Our transition from the mountains to the coast took us through communal shrimp farms, where families, living in the nearby bamboo cabanas, mark their designated area with a colored t-shirt on a wooden stick.
We arrived in Canoa at the Hostal Bambu, which let us camp and use the facilities for $20.00 a night. My mom enjoyed a very inexpensive room with air conditioning and a private bathroom…pretty luxe around here.
We slept in the van, in a pool of our own sweat. One night, Darin and I were up most of the night, hunting down the mosquitos that had entered by way of a fallen homemade screen. I laid there mostly laughing, watching Darin’s one man war with the blood suckers, swearing at them, threatening them, and daring them to try it just one more time.
We surfed in the morning and at sunset, on beach break that was stupendous. For $40.00, we surprised Simon with a 40 minute ride on an ultra light, which made me a bit apprehensive as the pilot siphoned gas out of his vehicle in order to get the thing started. Simon’s smile forced his dimples out as he took off and landed, feeling a step closer to his dream of being a pilot. Marco passed on the ride but expertly videotaped the whole thing form the beach.
The kids and I lazily worked on a great sand castle. Darin, the foreman, needed to re-construct it for a Taj Mahal version, with a dozen spectators watching and thinking “who does this?!”. Ultimately though, his version was much better than mine because it included a moat and a draw bridge.
The boys spent hours in the river next to the hostal, floating on and pushing a giant Huck Finn log that they managed to free from the bottom.
They burned to a crisp (bad mom) and had the time of their lives. About an hour after reluctantly coming out of the river for some shade, they came running at me in full blown excitement, screaming “BOA CONSTRICTOR!”. I thought, noooo, it’s probably an iguana or a long tailed lizard of some sort. I came around the corner, in the middle of the hostel, next to the walking path and saw it! The owner, Joost, explained to us that the boa constrictors live mostly in the river next to the hostel and occasionally come over to hang out in the trees. We watched him catch it, bag it, and take off on his bike toward the woods with it. Eeeeesh!
On monday, we drove my mom to the airport in Manta. I commend her “good sport” approach to sleeping in hostels (with Boa Constrictors), sleeping in the van, hanging out at 13,000ft, watching us get washed and slammed around in the surf, being a passenger of driving that made her turn white as a ghost. Her visit healthily forced us to veer from our path a bit, and the quality time was cherished.
We continued on and enjoyed an amazing meal of just caught shrimp and calamari, in some woman’s kitchen, for $14.00.
We spend the night in Puerto Lopez, in a room with a TV, AC, and a private bathroom. We thought we’d died and gone to heaven. My morning run down the beach treated me to the shore’s busy morning return of its’ fishing boats. The variety of fish was impressive, as I admired it displayed for sale in enormous buckets while people stared thinking “who’s the gringa?”.
Just as a note for fellow travelers, Lonely Planet’s first sentence in regards to Puerto Lopez reads something like: “There’s not much too distinguish this ramshackle town…”. This was far from our impression, if there had been surf, we would have stayed on for a few days.
We left Puerto Lopez and arrived in the surf town of Olon, next to the party town of Montanita, with its’ rasta vibe. We found a camp spot on the beach and spent the next two days cooking, reading, and surfing. A grumpy man from a hostel nearby warned us that this wasn’t a good spot to camp because of the local “bad hippies”. We’re still wondering what a bad hippie looks like? Once again, the few people we saw and spoke with were nothing but friendly and welcoming.
The fishing boats coming in down the beach early in the morning provided us with a dinner of sardines, purchased for us as a “regalo” from the very friendly woman who fed us amazing seafood the night prior. I cleaned them in the ocean while Simon watched, saying “gross” over and over again.
With the exception of Marco, who was sick with a fever and vomiting, we all feasted on our fish and pasta with an alfredo sauce out of a pouch (impossible to find the ingredients to make such a sauce here) that my mom had left behind.
The following morning, Marco’s fever had broken and we were headed south to prepare for our crossing into Peru. We decided to spend the night in a town called Playas, which was said to have some surfing nearby. We stopped at a cevicheria called “Surf restaurante Jalisco” and met the owner, Juan Guitirez (spelling?). It turns out that Juan is a kick ass surfer, and a bit of a local celebrity, with his picture plastered all over various surf rags. Juan told us we should head 20 minutes north along the coast to the town of Puerto Engabao, where his good friend, Daniel runs a surf hostel.
We arrived in Puerto Engabao and had to stop numerous times for lazy pigs in the middle of the town’s dirt roads. We immediately loved it.
Puerto Engabao’s surfing revolves around its’ point break, with it’s consistent beautiful waves. The surf shelter, run by Daniel and his wife was very basic. It hosted only surfers and our van fit perfectly in the yard.
Our first night’s sunset cast its’ light on Volcan Tungurahua’s ash plume . The volcano, 10 miles south of Quito had been spewing ash for the past few days.
We surfed the following morning and afternoon in waves that crushed us over and over. It was big and fast and short, which made it very challenging for us green surfers.
Puerto Engabao Surf Sherlter
Friday morning, Marco was unrelentingly sick again and this time his gray look made me uneasy. We took a taxi to the town of Playas, where we went to the “Emergencia”. He got IV fluids, antibiotics, and anti-nausea meds and we left in a moto-taxi. They sent us home with antibiotics (first time ever) and anti nausea meds. For those who know us too well and are wondering, yes, we’re giving him the meds. Our theory is that the unmoving, boa constrictor water that he accidentally swallowed many times, did more than just inoculate his gut.
We spent that night, once again, waging war against the mosquitos, who seem to make their way into our van through an invisible porthole. We were up most of the night, fighting, killing, cursing, and swatting them but this time I wasn’t laughing. Simon and I have bites everywhere and on saturday morning we decided we needed a hotel room so Marco could have his own bed, we could be mosquito free, and we could enjoy a respite from sharing each other’s sweat puddles.
Marco woke up this morning, wanting to be upright again and he’s been in the pool ever since…ooof, we’re so thankful and relieved. We’re told that Playaa’ 15 point breaks are uncomparable. We’ll find out in a few hours when we go meet our new Puerto Engabao surfing amigos.
The Peruvian border still awaits us, but with Marco out of the woods, we might have to give Puerto Engabao one more surf and one more night…this time draped in mosquito netting.