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An Honest Review of Rio Muchacho Farm. Hint: It’s Not Good.

In my last post, I took the uncomfortable step of pledging to be more direct in reviews of certain hostels, tours etc. There’s no point in writing a review if you’re not honest! It shouldn’t have to make me feel uncomfortable if I’m being unbiased. The reason why I wrote that last post is because I need to come clean about my feelings for Rio Muchacho Farm near Canoa and would be really happy to get feedback on this because I felt like it’s not living up to it’s ethos as well as the sparkling comments it received in Lonely Planet- I also have to say that it was the last time I really took a recommendation from LP because I just feel like it’s not for me; a bit commercial, outdated and sometimes it delivers a big misrepresentation of a place which is ultimately misleading. Ok, here goes.

Arriving at Rio Muchacho Farm.

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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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Recommended Reading

The Gift of Rain

When we were in Puerto Lopez and surrounding areas, I was spending my down time completely engrossed in this book. The Gift of Rain is incredible: every paragraph is full of such gorgeous description, you are transported to pre-war Malay in all it’s glory and into the life of a young half Chinese half English boy who can’t identify with society. I love books with some historical context which can teach me a little something and keep me entertained and this novel achieved that and more- we’re now planning our first trip to Asia next year having been spurred on by this book!

PS If anyone has any recommended reading, let me know!


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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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The Surprises Begin in Guayaquil inc. Naughty Police Officers Making Us Pay For Lunch

On our drive from the not so charming border town of Huanquillas to Guayaquil, we were treated with some beautiful views. One of the zones that we drove through, Naranjal, is home to lots of fruit plantations, an Ecological Mangrove Reserve and landscapes of beautiful beautiful green which carries on for most of the country. It also features some rather wide motorways to support farmers and distributors deliver as soon as they can. I didn’t realise that Guayaquil was such a large city (for Ecuador’s standards) and it was Rulo who suggested we stay there. Although it’s not an action packed definite tourist destination, it’s a nice place to stop off if you’re in the area, although I can imagine it feels more exotic in the sunshine


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Just before we get stuck in to Ecuador…

So, let’s get our little tour of Ecuador started but just before I begin, may I once again stress how amazing the motorways and connections between cities are in Ecuador. If you’re thinking of touring a country in South America in your own vehicle or motorbike, Ecuador would be one of my recommendations not only for the quality of the roads but also the seriously cheap petrol prices- we were paying $1.03 per gallon of diesel.

Heading to the forest after a few days in Quito

Heading to the forest after a few days in Quito

 I ask myself why I had never been tempted to go to Ecuador before, and I still haven’t come up with a decent reason. I think since the first time that I visited Brazil I became very partial to going back, which bode well with the fact that I studied Brazilian Portuguese. In more recent years (before visiting Arica) I thought of going to Peru, possibly tempted by the recent food boom in London amongst other cities. Then came Colombia when friends began to go and came back declaring their love for it which led to me googling images of ‘Colombia beach’, yes I google beaches I am not ashamed to say, it has led to me creating many dream destinations lists. But Ecuador…it had just never occurred to me. We travelled very nearly the entire coast of the country and I absolutely fell in love with it. In certain areas there were a lot of North American tourists because of the dollar, in others there were also Europeans and in other places I didn’t see many foreigners at all. If you are thinking of or have thought of going to Ecuador, now is the time. It is cheap, a lot of attention is being paid to Colombia and Peru these days so it isn’t over run with tourists and last but certainly not least, the locals are being well educated on recycling and the environment. I was a little sad to leave but I know I shall be back.
PS One very important thing! If you go to Ecuador in dry season, be prepared to very nearly not see the sun along the coast. I didn’t know that until we got there!


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Peru to Ecuador: An easy and safe border crossing

First of all, I really have to mention the drive along the coast from Mancora to the border-it is absolutely beautiful and definitely worth driving during the day (preferably when the sun is out) so you can see across the bay. We passed through many a town including Zorritos or ‘Little Foxes’, how amazing is that name for a town? If you’re not stretched for time and come out of Mancora looking for a place to stay, I would recommend Zorritos because it is quiet and gorgeous.

Florida Beach in Zorritos. I was tempted to jump out of the van and run to sea and hide from Rulo so we would have to stay the night.

Florida Beach in Zorritos. I was tempted to jump out of the van and run to sea and hide from Rulo so we would have to stay the night.

 

Back to the border. We had heard mixed opinions about the border crossing at Aguas Verdes which is after Tumbes, Peru’s last coastal city. Some people said it was fine whereas a Colombian couple told us that their immigrations forms were stolen by officials who then charged for new papers, as well as Tumbes not being a great place to be with a foreign number plate. If we had been travelling by bus, we probably would have gone for the Tumbes crossing and hoped for the best but because of the van we wanted to be sure and not run into any problems.

We asked Luis, the owner of the hostel in Mancora if he knew of anywhere other than Aguas Verdes to cross and he did, which was great because he didn’t have anything good to say about Tumbes or the border crossing nearby and instead suggested Santa Rosa, which is in Ecuador.

After a spontaneous exit from Mancora, we quickly popped over to the nearest Western Union which is south in Organos, a sleepy town woth few tourists and then hit the road back north.

We crossed the border into Ecuador and headed straight to Santa Rosa which is where you do all the paperwork. Before hand there was a little checkpoint and when we told them where we were heading, they waved us on. Once we got to Santa Rosa it was really simple and everything is done in one building- we were stamped out of Peru and into Ecuador within a few steps of each other. No unloading all of our bags or vehicle revising or queues, perfect! Note: I have dual nationality and was travelling as a Chilean in South America, but further down the line I left Colombia as a British citizen. If you are planning to do the same and will enter Colombia at Rumicacha, it’s better to enter Ecuador as a British citizen because everything is done at once on the Ecuadorian-Colombia further north, and this may complicate your exit from Colombia.

Anyway, we didn’t have to take any luggage out at all at the border but we did have to go to Huaquillas and buy insurance and present papers before we could continue our journey. The insurance is called SOAT, just like in Peru, and is sold everywhere. The papers were presented at Chacras and you will need a photocopy your vehicle’s papers as well the insurance papers which earn you official entry into the country for your vehicle. That part took a while because there were a few pusher inners (the technical term) and we were there for about an hour.

Chacras, where you need to get all of your vehicle paperwork done so you can enjoy the glorious motorways that await you in Ecuador

Chacras, where you need to get all of your vehicle paperwork done so you can enjoy the glorious motorways that await you in Ecuador

So after we got all the bureaucracy done, we were off on the incredibly built motorways to Guayaquil, the biggest city in Ecuador with a few little surprises in store.

(Photos courtesy of http://www.andes.info.ec and http://www.rundomundo.com)


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Oopsie, it’s been a while (back in London)

Oh wow, I am fully aware of the extent to which I have been slacking for the last few weeks. Well, I have and I haven’t, I can explain.

In the last few weeks we left Mancora to move in to Ecuador (which we loved, there is a lot to tell about our time there) and then we moved in to Colombia where we spent two days before getting our flight to London. Colombia was very eventful! I also need to pass on the details of border crossings, bureaucracy, a bit of bad luck and an incredible hostel in Bogota with equally as incredible owners. But, all in good time.

I guess I could give quite a few excuses for not being up to date and some of them include; the internet not being too great, there wasn’t enough time to go exploring and be on the internet so I chose the former and then lastly, getting back to London for some serious R&R at my parent’s house with weather that we could not have even imagined that we would be blessed with, selling the majority of my belongings on ebay (due to a mishap in Madrid airport that left us with a lot less cash). And this little one:

There he is, Bo the Brave.

There he is, Bo the Brave. I love his paws. 

who is the best company ever and has formed some sort of bromance with Rulo.

And now we’re currently in Belfast, Ireland where my Dad is from so we’ve been seeing family and exploring up to Giant’s Causeway and the Bushmills Distillery (the oldest whisky distillery in the world) and today we shall head down south and over to Wales tomorrow.

So here is a bit of what is to come:

  • Driving up to the border crossing in our vehicle to Ecuador with a hassle free cross
  • The amazing motorways all over Ecuador/ environmental awareness all over the country which we were very impressed with
  • Humpback whales and blue footed boobies in Puerto Lopez
  • Mompiche, a surfer town which sounded amazing but turned out to have a bit of a weird story
  • Altitude sickness and a great hostel in Quito
  • Mindo, our favourite place in our entire trip. Sorry Mancora, but it really was amazing
  • Our crossing into Colombia featuring pretty bad road standards (especially in comparison to Ecuador)
  • Momentous times in Colombia featuring breaking down 3000 metres up and being shafted by a 15 year old mechanic
  • A bit of Bogota
  • London, the sunniest place ever and that is not at all an exaggeration. Ok maybe a bit.
  • Ireland

I haven’t mentioned previously but I will also start to put up info on a trip we were lucky enough to do last year which involved buses, planes and boats from Chile up to and across Bolivia, across and down through Brazil (including the Amazon river and rainforest) and up through Argentina back to Chile. Now that was a trip! Amazing.

Have a good day everyone and I will be back soon!