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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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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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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!


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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.