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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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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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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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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.


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Chilling in chilly Huanchaco

After our unexpectedly fast paced trip to Lima, we were ready to be back in a beachy town and relaxing after a long drive. So we headed northwest to Huanchaco, a town known for it’s surf and waves to breathe in some pure fresh air and wander about the beach.

We arrived at night time and drove through Trujillo after seeing a campsite called Naylamp based there on the Internet, with the map showing its location in the centre of the city. When we began to ask directions people looked at me as if I were a crazy lady and I realised that just perhaps the map was incorrect- the campsite turned out to be in Huanchaco, the town after Trujillo.

The streets in Trujillo were more or less deserted because Peru were playing a friendly against Ecuador, so we cruised on to Huanchaco to find our campsite. We arrived at Naylamp which appeared in fact to be a hostel with the camping unavailable during the low season. Rooms were 40 soles with a private bathroom and no kitchen access. Not convinced, we decided to try somewhere else so drove around the corner and found Huanchaco Gardens which was advertising itself as a campsite and hostel. Again, when we asked about camping, the owner hastily told us (he was watching the end of the game) that he preferred that we didn’t camp because we would mess up the grass with our van, but could offer us a room for 50 soles. I asked about a kitchen and he said it was 60, but being the crafty traveller that I am, I knew he wanted to go back upstairs as soon as possible so pleaded with him for 50 soles for the room with the kitchen. He said yes and flew back up the stairs to watch the final minutes of the game (Peru won 1-0).

The room was lovely with a little camping stove, a table and chairs and a few cooking utensils. The shower was ok with lukewarm water, but the bed was an absolute dream (seriously, no pun intended), it was huge and comfy and had lots of blankets. The pillows were really nice and after making ourselves something to eat, we had a good night’s sleep.

The two beds in our room, a large double and a single

The two beds in our room, a large double and a single

The next day we explored a bit and went to the market to find some food. It’s quite small and there are fewer options than in other places we had been to, but coming from the corner we could hear a little lady’s voice telling some locals about the menu she was offering. Bingo, we went over to meet Tia Juanita.

The little market in Huanchaco which shuts around 4pm

The little market in Huanchaco which shuts around 4pm

The little lady was offering a yummy soup with vegetables and pasta and the standard veggie option of fried fish with rice, salad and beans with a glass of juice for a bargain 4 soles per person/94 pence. She was an absolute sweetheart and spoke to everyone that walked past whether they were local or not. She told us proudly that she’d moved Huanchaco with her seven children thirty five years ago, when she began to work in her little kitchen and that she likes Chileans because a few of her children had moved there and were enjoying being there. We also bought some veggies and fruit including spinach, tomatoes, passion fruit and lemons to take home with us.

Getting a candid shot of the little lady standing still was not easy

Getting a candid shot of the little lady standing still was not easy

Rulo and I well fed and Tia Juanita. What a little star.

Rulo and I well fed and Tia Juanita. What a little star.

Unless you’re a surfer, there isn’t much to do in Huanchaco during the low season (although we did see quite a few foreigners) and the temperatures are far too low to sunbathe. I met a lovely couple a few days ago from Washington D.C who said that Chan Chan, the ruins of a Pre-Columbian city 5 km from Trujillo are an absolute must see because they have been so well preserved due to recent excavations i.e. that will soon change now they have been opened up.

Services included in the Huanchaco Gardens hostel and ‘campsite’;

The hug double bed with comfy pillows

The camping stove and kitchen utensils

Wifi that reached as far as the kitchen

Warmish water in the shower

Parking

And this little guy

Jonny! When he heard that I was writing a blog, he asked to be featured so he could have more luck with the ladies. You're welcome Jonny.

Jonny! When he heard that I was writing a blog, he asked to be featured so he could have more luck with the ladies. You’re welcome Jonny.

Next stop: Lobitos, a surfing ghost town