Friday, November 6, 2015

Pink Hat, Aqua Water

6 November 2015

We spent two days in Puerto Lopez, which turned out to be a pretty little beach town, very traditional and not all touristy and kitschy like Monta├▒ita.

We mostly wandered around the town, chatted with some people, and hung out at the beach.

Several walls seemed to be devoted to painted murals, mostly featuring either the ocean or the traditional and indigenous arts of the region.

Puerto Lopez is well-known regionally for whale watching, with trips to see the orcas, humpbacks, and other whales that migrate through this part of the Pacific.  

We opted for the more casual time, and either walked the beach or rented chairs in the shade.

One morning, we talked with a tour guide who had been escorting a group of Dutch tourists around the country, but she was heading back to Quito.  Anyway, she's the person who identified our animals from Las Cajas National Park as being llamas, not alpacas.

She explained that yes, this route was once known as the Ruta del Sol, but the spondylus shells were used as money so the Ministry of Tourism decided to change the name, preserving the history of the local shells.

She also explained that the people living on the coast don't celebrate the Day of the Deceased (2 November) as much as people in the foothills, highlands, and mountain regions.  While the Day of the Deceased is sort of Catholic, more of the traditions date back to the beliefs and celebrations of the indigenous people.  So the more celebratory events occur in the more traditional and indigenous communities.  Places like the coastal towns are comprised of people who are of more Spanish descent, or even from other places in South America, and so there might be some casual picnic at the cemetery, but it's more of a social thing here.

Our tour lady also pointed out that it isn't usual to find the guaguas, the bread babies, in the coast towns.  Just not part of the traditions here.

So while we enjoyed the beach, we missed out on the colorful celebrations of the Day of the Deceased.

The other person we got to know was one of the hotel workers, a nice young man from the area, who is going to university in Kentucky.  (He's a chemistry major, working on his doctorate, and currently doing cancer research, or rather a cure.)  He was very interesting, as well as helpful since his English was great.  Anyway, he sent us to a fabulous Italian restaurant for dinner one night, which we enjoyed very much.  (Bellitalia restaurant, right in Puerto Lopez.  They don't have a website, but tripadvisor lists them as the top-rated restaurant in town.  Definitely eat here if you get to Puerto Lopez!)  

Well, portions in Ecuador tend to be way too much food for me, especially in hot weather.  I enjoyed my cannelloni con ricotta i espinaci (cannelloni stuffed with ricotta and spinach), but I could only eat half of my huge portion.  So after chatting with the owner and his wife, in some strange mix of English, Spanish, and Italian, I had my leftovers boxed up.  We didn't have a fridge in our hotel room, so I found Mr Young Chemist Research Guy, and gave him the extra cannelloni - and he gave me a big hug!  It was funny but sweet.  

(And no, I don't know Pink Hat Lady - I just liked her bright pink hat against the gorgeous aqua water.)

So after our two days, we needed to head back toward Guayaquil.  We ended up opting to drive all the way to the city, since we couldn't find a hotel in the small towns along the inland route.  

Traffic was HORRENDOUS!  We thought most people would have headed home after the long weekend, rather than on Tuesday.  But apparently many people also took Tuesday off from work, and were driving home then.

There were a few areas where police were out keeping an eye on traffic, with almost like checkpoints.  At one in particular, one officer seemed to be filming every driver and passenger in every single vehicle, on his smart phone.  NO idea if this was to record drivers, or if they were looking for one person in particular and were using some kind of facial recognition app.  It was really bizarre!

Plus Ecuadorean drivers don't necessarily follow the traditional rules of the road.  We saw cars, trucks, even buses driving on the wrong side of the road, despite oncoming traffic.  Or driving along the shoulder side of the lane, even though the shoulder was only half as wide as the actual lane for traffic - and then cutting into the lane, slowing traffic even more.  It was a mess!

We finally arrived in Guayaquil, after hours on the road, but without a hotel reservation.  We figured we'd head to the airport and get a room in the same hotel where we'd stayed previously, especially since we were returning the car the next morning.  Well, somehow we missed the signs for the airport, and ended up heading into the city.  So we pulled into a strip mall, and asked two policemen for directions.  But with their minimal English, and our minimal Spanish, we couldn't quite figure out all the directions.

So what do cops do in such a situation?  Well, in Ecuador, they call for backup, in a police car.  To guide us, flashing lights and all, onto the highway heading in the right direction.  Stop at a bus stop on the highway to hand over their smart phone, using a translating app, telling us which way to head, go over the bridge, the street you want is on the other side of the bridge.  Uh, okay!  We followed our police escort, followed their directions, and found our old friendly hotel.  Whew!

It's always an adventure!

So we're settled in our hotel, a quaint place not far from the huge Guayas River, and apparently owned by Jewish people - we can tell because there's a mezuzah on every door.  We've had to change rooms a few times to accommodate the hotel as they've had various groups coming through, including what seems to be contestants for Miss Ecuador Universe Transgender (according to their sashes).  On our third move in three days, we've ended up in what we're calling the Presidential Suite - a large and lovely room with a narrow balcony, and windows on three sides.  

We'll enjoy this room until Monday, when we head off on new adventures!


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