Monday, November 2, 2015

The Spondylus Route

2 November 2015

We thought we were taking the Via de la Costa, and then the Ruta del Sol - the coast road, and then the sun route.  And of course the map has one number for each road, but the actual road has a different number.  Just to keep tourists on their toes.

But  then, what everyone calls the Ruta del Sol has signs along the way saying Ruta del Spondylus.  I thought maybe this was a seashell (concha) or a sea sponge (esponje).  No, it turns out the Spondylus is a certain kind of bivalve mollusk - meaning it's an oyster.  Or at least a certain type of oyster.

Anyway, it explains why we've gotten a bit lost and turned around several times - the map says highway 70, the highway says it's number 40, and then the name is all wrong anyway.  Yeah, it takes a little while to figure this all out.

After our night in Guayaquil, we managed to find our way to the Via de la Costa, also known as Highway 40 (but marked 70 on the map).  We drove through Santa Elena, which is a cute town but not right by the beach.  So we ended up in Salinas, because we wanted that beach time.
Salinas is one of those beach towns that probably is booming in season, but quiet and maybe a little depressed during off season.  We prefer off season, even if some places are closed or hours are curtailed - it's just quieter and more tranquil, which is what the beach is all about.

If you drive through Salinas (on 40 or 70), you can get to the westernmost point in all of South America - named La Chocolatera, because the churning waves supposedly look like a freshly mixed cup of hot chocolate.  Or the foam does, anyway.

Well you KNOW that if it's named for chocolate, Richard and I will go and check it out.

We drove along 40/70, and followed the signs to La Chocolatera.  Which led to a military base and artillery range, or something like that.  Just to make life more confusing, one actually has to drive through the base to get to La Chocolatera.  I know, right?  We explained to the military guard at the gate (who looked about 12 years old) that we were trying to get to La Chocolatera.  He raised the gate and let us in, and explained (in Spanish) that we follow the road and then turn somewhere.  Uh, okay.

So we drove in, and wound around various buildings, artillery sheds,  and an Ecuadorean ninja obstacle course, following the few signs to La Chocolatera.  Parked and voila, there it was!  Wonderful rocky cliffs overlooking the sea, waves crashing on rocks and churning into white foam, although the sea was blue and aqua, and really looked nothing like chocolate.

But it was beautiful, breezy, and wild, with trails laid out with stone borders, and various scenic overlooks along the way.  And a stone lighthouse, which was really intriguing!

Of course, there was also a coffee shop on site, and I had to have a cup of chocolata caliente, because, well, we were at La Chocolatera!

I think we stayed in Salinas for three nights, enjoying the mellow beach town atmosphere.  We visited the beach, which was fairly uncrowded, since it was still mid-week.

Most interesting, the road that runs along the beach had various mosaics, including the street lights!  They all had beach or sea life themes, and each one was different.  It really was gorgeous!  And as much as I don't really want to meet sharks in the water, the shark mosaic was truly phenomenal!

Then we headed east a bit and turned up the coast for the Ruta del Sol, labelled Ruta del Spondylus - also named Highway 1 on the map, but Highway 15 on the signs.  

Richard really wanted to visit Montañita, which is everything that Salinas isn't.  Montañita is a big party town, catering to Ecuadorean and foreign tourists.  The beach was huge and pretty, with a very gentle slope, and a raised concrete boardwalk or esplanade.  (In Spanish, or at least here, it's referred to as a malecon.  No idea why, that sounds sort of negative, right?)

It was low tide when we arrived, so the water was waaaaay out there, creating a nice wide beach.  But by evening, the tide was in - and at high tide, the waves actually hit the rocks forming the base of the malecon.  

Montañita is a surfing town, and we were told the best waves are mid-tide, while the tide between low and high, or high and low.  Our lunch waitress was a surfer from California, and her shift was ending just in time for the tide change.

So, Montañita is one of those spots to see and be seen.  People walk along the malecon, or the beach, or through town.  There are vendors walking through all those places, selling their wares.  And the central part of town is closed to vehicular traffic, with shops and stalls and eateries and places to drink.  It seemed as if all of central Montañita was one huge shopping mall and cocktail lounge.

So, Halloween in Montañita - children were dressed up in either those outfits kids currently wear (princess dresses and superhero clothes), or homemade jobs - my favorite were a few teenage boys wearing all black, with white and black zombie face paint.  Young women tended toward the fitted and revealing outfits, mostly not very costumey, but maybe with a black and gold witch hat.  Young men wore mostly shorts and tees, or jeans.  Middle-aged and older people wore their normal clothes.

Except, well, me.

I tend to wear a lot of black.  Always have.  So with black slacks, black tank, and black sweater (because it gets cold along this part of the Pacific coast), I figured I might as well be a black cat for Halloween.  Get into the spirit of things, right?

An eyeliner pencil is perfect for just about any costume.  Cat eyes.  Cat nose.  A little cat mouth.  And of course cat whiskers.

I had great fun as we wandered around, listening to the music and watching people.  A few little kids looked at me and started laughing and pointing, so I meowed.  They laughed harder.  Then there were a few other women with cat faces, so I went up to them and meowed.  They laughed and meowed back, then said things in Spanish.  I meowed again, we waved, we walked on.  The children were carrying plastic bags and trick-or-treating at various stores and restaurants - I walked by one café and the women at the door laughed and gave me a thumbs up, so of course I meowed.  They gave me gummy vampire teeth candy.  So I became a vampire cat.  Or something.

The night went on like that - it really was very funny!  Well, except when the music near our hotel continued until 2 or 3 AM, then it wasn't funny anymore.

But we enjoyed our one night in Montañita.  (And one night was enough.)

We headed north again, passing through small towns.  There's a large national park, much of it on the beach and into the sea, but also containing an area of cloud forest (marked fog forest on the map).  So we drove though all of that, and ended up in Puerto Lopez, another smallish beach town.  But while there are some groups of tourists, this is a more traditional and less kitschy sort of town.  It seems as if most people fish, given the number of boats in the harbor.  But there are several hotels, and good places for meals, and we're enjoying the laid-back town.

So we'll be here for two days before we head back toward Guayaquil.

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