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If you’re driving from Puerto Lopez to Manta…

Showing us his good side

Have a look if you can see any tarantulas crossing the road. Apparently they go onto the tarmac on the roads in the early afternoon to warm themselves up and then carry on into the trees.

We drove past one and looked at each other like “…was that a?” and then saw the one in the photo a few minutes later. After jumping out of the van and taking a few snaps, we stood near him until he had disappeared into the trees to make sure he wasn’t run over. Unfortunately, a tarantula a few metres down the road didn’t meet the same fate- even though we stood pointing and warning the oncoming motorist, he didn’t care and ran straight over it (this was on an A road and there was no traffic so slowing down or swerving wouldn’t have caused an accident), it was such a shame.

After sending my mum the photo, she replied that when tarantulas feel threatened they can run extremely fast and flick hairs on you which itch like crazy. So there you go, this was a friendly tarantula who didn’t mind us taking his photo.

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Passing through Playa Los Frailes and Machalilla

When we were talking to locals in Puerto Lopez, a lot of people asked us if we’d been to Los Frailes and Machalilla National Park. The look on our little curious faces prompted the locals to tell us that we could not miss it and tales of crystal water and safe surf. It’s billed as one of the most beautiful beaches in Ecuador and part of Machalilla National Park, a gated reserve found 12 km north of Puerto Lopez and perfect for a little day trip because it opens at 8 am and closes at 4pm.

A photo from the wonders of the internet. That's my kinda beach.

A photo from the wonders of the internet. That’s my kinda beach.

We passed through on our drive north to Canoa and were greeted by the friendliest security guard I’d ever met- I would have liked to buy him a beer but he was working and we were driving so it wasn’t the best idea. Once he established that smoking is not allowed in the park and all rubbish must be taken with visitors we were on our way to have a little look.

The water wasn’t as crystal as we’d hoped because the sun wasn’t out but it was still a beautiful deserted beach. If you go, bring something to eat because there is only a kiosk selling ice cream and little touristy things, and toilets.

This is a photo that I took. Not as exotic looking but sill a nice beach, there was one family there and the rest was up for grabs.

This is a photo that I took. Not as exotic looking but sill a nice beach, there was one family there and the rest was up for grabs.

Apparently the best time of year to visit is January to April when I assume photo opportunities arise such as the first photo. For the rest of the year, you’ll probably end up with the kind of photo that I took. But it was still nice! Worth a visit.

Swish photo from here.


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Humpback whales and Isla de la Plata: A Very Organised Tour and Seasickness.

Before I begin on the wonder that is the Humpback Whale tour in Puerto Lopez, I have to tell you something. From a young age I have been in love with whales and sea life. I grew up with the dream of seeing any type of whale in the wild; Blue, Humpback, Sperm…maybe not Orcas after seeing how cunning they are with their prey, anyway, you get it- I really hoped one day I’d get the chance. And then we were on our way to Puerto Lopez and I realised my dream was about to become reality and I couldn’t wait, I secretly had visions of me diving spectacularly off the side of the boat and being taken to the depths of the sea to witness what it is they do down there. I actually did think that, it looks like my childhood imagination remains with me.

The whale season in Puerto Lopez officially begins on the 22nd of June and ends in September-October and while it’s mainly Humpbacks, Orcas have also been spotted (I only just found that out now!). Depending on the time of the season, the Humpies might be travelling through the area or coming to give birth in the bay- the shape and current means that it is harder for sharks or other predators to attack the newborn calfs.

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Skipping Touristy Montañita for Beautiful Puerto Lopez and it’s Whales

We set off from Guayaquil at about 1pm for the two and a half hour drive to Montañita. From what we had been told by a few surfer friends from Arica, Montañita was the place to go- beaches and waves all in a chilled out town providing the opportunity to rest for a few days and explore the area. The reality, or at least how I perceived it was actually quite different and the sleepy surfer town that I was hoping for was actually really commercial and completely overrun with tourists. Yes, I understand that I am a tourist but when I see a huge sign for Texan Ribs and a restaurant serving both pizza and Thai food, it doesn’t really make me want to stay and sample the ‘local dishes’. I know there are lots of people who love Montañita but we decided to skip it and keep going to nearby Puerto Lopez, a small town famous for being a great location to go Humpback Whale spotting. Now that is my idea of a good time.

Puerto Lopez whales

Puerto Lopez whales

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Our round up of gorgeous Peru

Here is a little post on our personal tips on things not to miss in the beautiful country of Peru, which is mainly food. I can’t help it, I like to eat.

Food and Drink

In recent years, Peruvian food has experienced a big boom over here as well as in the USA, or so I have read. I have never tried it over here but if you know of a decent Peruvian restaurant, try it out. The food is amazing.

The absolutely not to be missed no way can you go to Peru and not eat it is: ceviche. Be it seafood or just fish, everyone must try a good ceviche when they’re in the country mainly because it’s Peru’s national dish and you will not find better/cheaper anywhere else. Obviously, the closer to the coast, the fresher the plate. From the market to the swishest restaurant in town, you’ll find it being ordered by locals who know their stuff which is always a good sign. Ceviche is raw fish cubed and served in a mixture of fresh lemon and lime juice, very thinly sliced red onion, sometimes cream of yellow chilli and the juice that runs off of the fish when it is being sliced.

Leche de tigre is the marinade of ceviche (as described above) which is also served alone and sworn to be a great hangover cure as well as an aphrodisiac. Some people order it with a shot of vodka for an added kick.

Tamales or Humitas are a great and cheap option for a cheap snack on the go. Both are made of corn and the former is steamed whereas the latter is boiled sometimes with pieces of cheese or meat or else sweetened with sugar and served wrapped in corn leaf. They are amazing and different to anything we have in England so definitely worth a try- if you’re in Cusco apparently there’s a little lady in the main square that sells them and I heard that they are de-lish.

Our pick of where to eat (but not necessarily the healthiest or most traditional option) is Campeón in Lima for the atmosphere and the simple fact that we would never have stumbled upon it by chance. I can imagine the sandwiches served there would be a perfect hangover cure.

Drinks

Pisco Sour: Chileans and Peruvians will forever disagree on who invented Pisco (and in the airport in Tacna, Peru which is about forty minutes from Chile it is prohibited to take an international flight with Chilean Pisco which I find hilarious, sorry, I digress) which is potentially a good conversation starter between you and a local barman whilst you enjoy the mix of lemon, sugar, egg whites and Pisco all whizzed with ice to make an incredible cocktail with a serious punch. If like me and your stomach just can’t take raw egg, just ask for it without. It’ll be less frothy but equally as delicious.

Chicha morada is a juice made from purple maize with a sweet berry like taste which is native to Peru. Apparently it used to be produced by the natives chewing on the kernel and spitting it out, but now it’s mixed with water.

Places

Our pick of places in Peru was Mancora. Perhaps this would not be the case if we had gone to Peru in the summer time, or if I wasn’t so fickle and so easily pleased by a nice beach and good cheap food…but I am so I loved Mancora. It is also for the fact that we had great company in the lovely hostel that we stayed in and we asked locals what beach and food they recommended, so all worked out in our favour.

Among the many activities that Peru’s varied climate allows for, surfing is very popular amongst locals and tourists. We didn’t stop off along the entire coast but we did drive it and the most popular spots were Lobitos, Máncora and Lima from what I could see, although we were not there in surf season so others may disagree.

Driving

Driving in Peru was great and we didn’t have any issues with police or feeling unsafe but that was partly to do with us always putting our van into a car park and not taking any risks at all. Drivers, on the other hand are not always very safe and we had a few episodes on mountain roads of shouting ‘woaaaah’ whilst we watched other drivers overtaking each other around corners and the like. Petrol isn’t cheap and neither are the tolls but food and accommodation make up for it.

So there you go, Peru. Definitely worth a trip- as soon as you’re over the border from Chile you feel like you’re in a different world and there is so much to eat, see, listen to…we love Peru.

If anyone else has been, please feel free to chip in with your own comments or opinions on what to see and do.

A deserted beach in Mancora. Love it.

A deserted beach in Mancora. Love it.


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Sun and sun in Mancora featuring how to make friends in a hostel

After having a look at Mancora’s weather forecast, I was more than ready to be heading north and finding a little spot on the beach- 26 degrees Celsius in winter is my idea of a good time. I’m not an avid Lonely Planet reader (although I have no problem in having a little flick through from time to time) but I think that Mancora gets a mention because it was bustling with European tourists, as well as many South Americans and is full of hostels and accommodation to meet all budgets.
Just as you’re arriving in the sunny town, you cross a bridge with a bumpy track running underneath from the beach towards a labyrinth of narrow paths which offer a great choice of low key relaxed hostels in a very quiet area about ten minutes walk from the beach, perfect. We were on our way to Casa Máncora (which you can find on Facebook or couchsurfing) where Rulo stayed a few years ago when he was playing a few dates in the north of Peru. He had been I’m contact with Luis, the owner, and we’d been told we could arrive any time and park our van inside the hostel’s gates.
As we drove to Casa Máncora, I was already pleased to see that it was in a peaceful little area- I absolutely love the beach but I’m not a fan of being kept up into the early hours with music blaring from bars. What a little old lady I am turning out to be. So anyway, we arrived at the hostel and asked some of the guests where Luis was, oh ok, he’s in Lima. So who’s in charge? Oh right, no one!? Luis had gone popped down to Lima for a few days and left his hostel with guests, saying that he’d be back in a few days. I hadn’t met him but I liked him already.
As we were trying to contact Luis, one of the guests came over to offer us some soup that she had just made. After having a light breakfast in Lobitos we were seriously hungry so we accepted the offer straightaway. I always like free food and I’m always extremely grateful when I am offered, but being offered free hot food from someone you have just met when you are travelling and in need of a meal was incredible. It’s so simple but so obvious! The amount of times that I have stayed in a hostel and seen people throwing away leftovers is ridiculous. It was such a good foot to get off on and the mood stayed the same over the following the days: when we cooked, we offered anything that was left, and when we made juices in the morning we asked if our hostel friends wanted to try them. (They hadn’t tried avocado, sugar and milk before and seemed to like it, honestly, give it a go before you knock it!). I also have to say, these guys were incredible cooks and would make our food look extremely basic, one evening they gave us so much, we didn’t have to make food ourselves. Can you tell I’m  a food lover?!
So anyway, back to our arrival. Tracey, a local girl was popping over in the mornings and afternoons to make sure everyone was ok and came over when Luis called her to warn us of our arrival, we had called him via Skype but he couldn’t hear us that well so she arrived to show us our room and make sure we had everything we needed. We had been fed by our hostel-mates, it was sunny and warm and we were ten minutes from the beach, so yeah, we were all good. The room was simple and exactly what I had been picturing: a double bed, two windows with mosquito net covers and a bathroom. We put our bags down and ran to the beach.
The mozzies had no chance of getting in due to the mosquito netted windows.

The mozzies had no chance of getting in due to the mosquito netted windows. Suckers…but actually, not really.

The living area in the hostel, comfy comfy

The living area in the hostel, comfy comfy

Past those thatched roofs= the beach. Yeah

Past those thatched roofs= the beach. Yeah

An unfortunate over heard conversation

Rulo had to head over to Organos, the town before Mancora to find the nearest Western Union. I decided to stay and soak up some rays on the main beach, there were locals, other South Americans and lots of Europeans and Aussies, but it wasn’t overcrowded and most people were sunbathing and watching the surfers, both learners and the more experienced crew. The sun was delicious, it wasn’t too hot and there was a lovely breeze to cool me off once and again. I had decided to head down to the beach without my music but with my book so I could relax and listen to the sound of the sea. However, my sunbathing neighbours did not let that happen.

There were three young English travellers, one girl and two boys, and I am not over exaggerating when I say that one of the boys was so obnoxious and rude that I found myself staring open mouthed at him. Not only was he shouting at every vendor walking past to come over and then on hearing the price of what they were selling, telling them to f*** off (all in English), he couldn’t stop shouting about how much cocaine he’d taken, how much drugs he had bought or when he was going to do another line. What a loser. I always say that travelling is always good for you, but in this case my compatriot had his priorities all mixed up. Being obnoxious and rude to the locals is one thing (lucky for him they didn’t understand his insults) but blagging about much drugs he had bought was just idiotic. He should have just stayed in his bedroom in the UK. I picked up my things and found a much more peaceful spot about fifteen metres away- same view, but I could hear the sea a lot better.

When we weren’t being offered food from our hostel-mates, we were as usual on the hunt for places to eat alongside the locals. If you’re after home style food, there are plenty of places to eat. If you’re after local cuisine at great prices, you are also in luck. Here’s where we ate;

Jasusi, yummy yummy.

Jasusi, yummy yummy.

A delicious fresh fish ceviche for 10 soles/ 2.33 GBP. It was as good as it looks.

A delicious fresh fish ceviche for 10 soles/ 2.33 GBP. It was as good as it looks.

Seafood rice, also 10 soles, also as good as it looks.

Seafood rice, also 10 soles, also as good as it looks.

Jasusi: recommended to us by a friend of Rulo’s who lived in Mancora for a few years and what a fabulous recommendation, it’s about ten blocks from the centre. We walked there and got a motor taxi on the way back for 1.50 soles/ 0.35 GBP because we were well and truly satisfied. Note: there wasn’t a ‘menu’ lunch deal and Jasusi’s brother-sister team have a rest on Thursdays when it is closed. If you’re ever in Mancora, check it out, the food was yummy yum and we went back the day after for more. Piglets.

Owing to my inability to give good directions, here is a photo of how to get to Jasusi.

Owing to my inability to give good directions, here is a photo of how to get to Jasusi.

The other places that we ate/bought food from were:

One of the seafront restaurants on our first day. I wouldn’t recommend the places over looking the beach, I think their main selling point is the view rather than the quality of the food. The menu was 3 soles/ for a small salad starter and fish chicharron (pieces of fish fried in batter) but I suspected it to be bought from the frozen section in a food shop.

The market where we bought veggies to cook in the hostel (be careful, a few of the vendors tried to short change me. They were unsuccessful) because we were too late to eat lunch their. I heard that a somewhat little but nevertheless delicious portion of fresh fish ceviche is 3 soles/0.70 GBP. You could just get two for that price. Seriously, what a bargain! I tried to find the address of the market to post a link but had no luck, if you ask anyone for the ‘mercado’ or ‘comedores’ they will point you in the right direction.

A little restaurant next to the Osaka shop on the way to the market (where you can change dollars to soles at a really good rate) which served us a chicken soup (the chicken was given to a little dog waiting outside as a present) and fried fish, beans, rice, salad and a drink for 3 soles/0.70 GBP each.

Beach time. My favourite time (as well as eating time)

After witnessing/listening to a psychotic child in a young mans body the day before, we decided not to go back to the main beach in Mancora. Instead, when we passed under the bridge to get to the beach, we turned left. What a good decision that was.

About fifteen minutes walk from the main beach in Mancora.

What a delight, a beach to ourselves with the sun up high and music to keep us company.

And more peaceful beach.

About fifteen minutes walk from the main beach, with a few hotels along the way.

We placed ourselves outside a hotel whose bar was playing swing music, lay down and relaxed. Luis had told us about a few rock pools to check out but the tide was too high, so we spent a few hours soaking up some rays and then headed back to Jasusi for day two of a yummy lunch.

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Two little cats enjoying a present from the fishermen.

Two little cats enjoying a present from the fishermen.

Little balls of sand made by crabs building their little crab houses.

Little balls of sand made by crabs building their little crab houses.

Unfortunately, our time was cut short in Mancora because of building work a few metres from our hostel. Early on Friday morning, we heard bull dozers arriving (I don’t know why, I thought I could sleep through the noise) and being the clever person he is, Rulo jumped out of bed and went outside to see if we would be able to get our van out with all the building work. Unfortunately, part of the digging was taking place right outside the hostel door so we had to bundle everything up and hit the road. After some incredible days, we waved chao to our hostel, Luis and our hostel-mates and hit the road.

Casa Mancora can be found on Facebook and Couchsurfing. The hostel offers private double rooms with bathroom for 10-15 soles/ per person or bunkbed dorms for 10 soles pp with bathroom. Internet, a full kitchen (including a blender to make juices for breakfast) and a television are available. There aren’t many mosquitoes in Mancora because the entire city has been fumigated. It is a safe and relaxed haven for anyone looking for sun, beach and surf.

Even our 4x4 wouldn't be able to compete with all of the digging.

Even our 4×4 wouldn’t be able to compete with all of the digging.

Tobi waving us off with his tail. If he had a CV, it would say 'flip flop thief extraordinaire'.

Tobi waving us off with his tail. If he had a CV, it would say ‘flip flop thief extraordinaire’.

Mancora had been a dream, and we were soon on the road to Ecuador.


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A little trip to the lost city of Lobitos

One of Rulo’s surfer friends had recommended Lobitos (which translates to little wolves in English, why don’t we have places with names like that in England?) as a stop off before the gorgeous Máncora. Being a retired surfer, Rulo always likes to go and check out the waves (and compare them to Arica’s, which are always bigger) and have a little chat with the surfers. It sounded like a plan to me, so I just hoped we would be graced with some sunshine and we set off.  The drive was beautiful, we passed through several towns with plenty of children playing together outside their homes, lots of animals and few other vehicles on the roads. The only downside were apart the punishing motorway tolls at an average of 10 soles combined with the petrol prices similar to Chile which were beginning to eat into our budget. Note: Peruvian petrol prices aren’t that cheap and if you’re further up the altitude will get through your petrol much quicker than lower down.

I had no idea that Lobitos and surrounding areas are petrol fields which means it is a gated community with what seemed like an assault course-come-maze to arrive at the beach with hundred of pipes twisting their way over the terrain and up and over the hills. We arrived at the guarded barrier to enter the area and I thought we would be turned away, but instead we were given (what seemed like) straight forward directions. After driving through the assault course after dusk and luckily catching glimpses of sign posts to Lobitos, we arrived about half an hour later (Rulo just said to me it was five, it wasn’t) to the little town and drove directly to the beach to look for a little spot to park up and sleep, which I was more than happy to do. When we arrived next to the little pier, Rulo decided to pop into the nearest hostel, Los Muelles Surf Camp which is a previous British military base in a huge wooden derelict looking building. When he came back out, he told me that he’d agreed on 10 soles to use the bathroom and park our van inside the gates. Even though it seemed like a tranquil place, you can never be too sure. The bathroom and toilets were very basic and quite smelly as the hostel serves more as a campsite with a roof. There is also a communal kitchen, a breakfast menu and non stop music accompanying the surfers relaxing in their hammocks. It’s a very basic hostel which does the job; a roof over your head, a shower and a view of the waves.

I was so happy to be spending our first night in the van, at last we were truly roughing it and we were nice and tired so ready for some shut eye. Unfortunately, our positivity couldn’t make the mattress comfier and we ended up having quite a bad sleep, not only was it cold from us leaving the front windows down ever so slightly to let in some fresh air, they also served as an invitation to an open bar for any mosquitoes passing through the area. I managed to sleep for two hours straight in the morning after my partner in crime had given up all the tossing and turning and gone to have breakfast with the hostel cat. When I finally got up, we walked the eighty or so metres to the beach, had a little lazy picnic and watched the surfers riding the waves whilst soaking up some vitamin D. At times like that, I really don’t mind if I’ve slept well or not, I was just happy to be lying on a sunny beach.

Chill factor on the beach: máximo

Chill factor on the beach: máximo

Rulo spying on the waves

Rulo spying on the waves

The surfers ranged from a boy of about 8 years to a more mature gentleman of about 60

The surfers ranged from a boy of about 8 years to a more mature gentleman of about 60

Los Muelles Surf Camp

Los Muelles Surf Camp

Inside the surf camp, lots of space for down time.

Inside the surf camp, lots of space for down time.

 

One of the old houses which now serves as a surf hostel

One of the old houses which now serves as a surf hostel

 

Driving out of Lobitos was an interesting experience for two reasons; first of all we were able to take in the beautiful old wooden houses which now serve as very basic spacious hostels for the many surfers and body boarders. I can only imagine what they looked like in their hey day and while it is a shame they were abandoned at one point, at least they are being used for something nowadays. Also, whilst the signposts to arrive to Lobitos were nice and helpful, there wasn’t a single one to exit the complex and get back on to the Panamericana. We ended up driving around for about an hour trying to find a way out. After many experiences over my trips on this side of the world, one of the things that I have realised is that many South Americans like to be helpful with directions and tell you which way to go, even of they don’t know. Brazilians for example, can just stick to being vague and wave their hand in a general direction. Chileans and Peruvians will tell you in a very informative tone where you need to go, even if they have absolutely no idea. So we went every which way until a security guard rode over on his motorbike and offered to escort us out…he led us for about three minutes and we still ended up getting lost. About half an hour later, we were back on the Panamericana and heading for some beautiful sunshine in Máncora.

After about ten minutes, the pipes begin to look the same.

After about ten minutes, the pipes begin to look the same.

If you’re not a surfer, Lobitos isn’t a must see but if you like adventure and need a stop off, it is a nice little quiet spot. I’ve called it a lost city because I can imagine that years back there was a lot more going on there because of the petrol, now it is much more chilled although you can see the functioning petrol platforms in the distance.

Next stop: Sunny sunny Mancora.