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Usually we rent a car and explore a country on our own. There is such a joyous freedom in being able to stop when you want and where you want, or take that little side road, or stop at that quaint little village.
This time though, after a few days in Ecuador’s capital, Quito, a week with an Ecuadorian family in Otavalo, and a week on the Amazon Riverboat, we decided to try renting a car and driver for our last two weeks in Ecuador. Mauricio at www.guanguiltagua.com came highly recommended on Trip Adviser, so we decided to do a little research. Turns out a car and driver was less than a rental car! And who doesn’t like being chauffeured around?! We felt like royalty.
The car and driver picked us up at the hotel, and we were off to the explore the beaches along the west coast of Ecuador, then later drive North through the Andes Mountains back to Quito.
Mauricio, our driver.
Leaving Quito, the charming capital of Ecuador, surrounded by the grand Andes Mountains, we still had to go West across the mountains to get to the beaches.
We often travelled long days, some days through thick fog or pouring rain, or construction with more fog and pouring rain, but Mauricio drove with skill and patience.
Sometimes it was like driving through a misty fairyland with the soft haze of the fog floating over the lush green foliage. So beautiful! Can you see the waterfall?
Beautiful, and scary!
With sharp turns, steep cliffs, rock falls, and signs in Spanish saying,
“Reduce Velocity. NOW!”,
we zig-zagged this way, then that, up and down the huge Andes.
Finally we got through to a nice little mountain town, and took a break at a candy making shop! What fun!
Oh… the look…
Back on the road, we passed all sorts of interesting vehicles.
And bare-armed helmet-less motorbike riders in skirts…
Transport by donkey…
And some on foot…
We thought we were making fairly good time until we came to a mile-long line of vehicles stopped on the road. Mauricio got out to talk to the guys, and reported back that a big truck caved-in the highway, again! Third time this week!
So I took the time for a photo op. (I take a crazy amount of pictures). Sometimes T gets quite exasperated as I spot something amazing, and call out “Stop, please stop” for the 85th time. And with an impatient whine, he replies, “You know I cannot pullover all of a sudden with five vehicles behind me.” And I wonder why not. He has signal lights, hasn’t he?!
Two hours later, as dusk was falling, we started moving slowly ahead.
When we saw where the road caved in, “Holy Crap!”, there was barely any highway left, and the truck almost went rolling down the deep mountain ravine!
Finally, we got to the beach town of Atacames. What a relief it was to get out of the claustrophobic mountains, and nail-biting driving.
Mauricio was a little hesitant to go to Atacames. He said it could get a bit rough sometimes. Our research had mentioned that it was a black community, a Caribbean party town with reggae and marimba music, and spicy food. The beaches there were popular with Colombians and Venezuelans, and they were crowded on weekends. It seemed just fine though, at least in the day time.
Finally, we got to the beach!
Down the road the next day, the little fishing village of Tonchigüe was charming.
The next town was actually on an island close to the mainland, so we took the ferry across to Muisne and we were entertained by an expressive little boy, the son of a worker on the ferry, who chattered away to us, going a mile a minute.
Other Ecuadorian people in villages along the way…
Animals along the highway…
A heavy load of logs…
Pigs being herded….
Strange donkey with legs splayed out oddly… maybe the rain made it slippery.
“Jeez, I’m missin’ the game…”
We stopped to look at some villas for sale at Coco Beach Village, near El Matel, between Jama and Canoa. 1300 square foot villas on one-quarter acre lots on the beach for $110,000 CAD (2011).
The price was right, but it was extremely windy. Later we were told that it is usually windy in this area and that’s why many buyers owned sailboats. Since we’re not into sailing, we quickly lost interest.
We continued driving all around the coast stopping at quaint towns and villages, most with beautiful undeveloped beaches, especially at Jaramajo and San Mateo.
We found nice beach accommodation each day after we arrived in a town, around supper time. In San Clemente, we can highly recommend the Palma Azul Hotel. Most of our accommodation along the coast was between $30 and $6o Canadian.
We didn’t get to Isla de la Plata (poor man’s Galapagos) with its many unusual animals: Waved Albatross, Red-Footed, Blue-Footed and Masked Boobies, Frigatebirds, Tropic-birds, because it was a rough 1 hr boat ride and it was pouring rain.
On a similar note, we deliberately did not go to the famous Galapagos Islands in Ecuador. They were just too touristy and expensive, not to mention a long way out into the ocean, and after seeing many wild animals in their natural state on the Amazon river boat, we don’t think we missed much.
Our favourite town on the Ecuador coast was Olon. It was in the rain forest, but on a beautiful beach as well!
Lunch on the beach – best calamari ever!!!
Shallow water going out forever, with soft waves to play in…
Ayangue Bay was full of boats…
Thousands of seagulls screaming and fluttering overhead as the fishing boats come in off the ocean…
Cleaning the nets…
A Typical rural house scene…
A travelling Shoe Store…
But Lemonada and Beer – only 50c!
Beach restaurant in Manta…
Where we had the best Ceviche ever!!!
A strange fruit the waitress showed us…
Near Manta Park… a man carrying fresh – very fresh – chickens….
And another selling fresh langostina…
How to advertise a pork sandwich restaurant…
Huge tree in the park…
Our hotel in Manta, Hotel del Sol
Views from our hotel room in Manta…
Now in this same nice hotel room, picture this. I woke up in the morning after a very comfy sleep to stare at the shiny clean floor in complete shock.
The floor was covered in bugs!
I mean covered. The floor was black!!!
Maybe I was still dreaming? Nope, the floor was covered in hundreds and hundreds of what looked like flying ants.
There was nowhere to step on the floor! And I had to go to the bathroom! I called out to T, who replied, altogether too cheerily, that he was having a bath.
I called the front desk. She spoke Spanish only! Maybe it was the urgency in my voice, or the screaming in half-English/half-Spanish (I did not know the word for “bugs”),
“Urgente, Urgente!!!” I shouted.
When the bellboy came and opened the door and looked down (I was still squirming on the bed), even he looked shocked!
He quickly got a broom and swept them mostly out, but when I put on my housecoat. one little bugger bit me! Nothing serious; the sting was gone in a second.
I raced to the bathroom.
Of course T never quite believed me when I told him the floor was covered in bugs, until we went to down for breakfast and the stairs were also covered with them. Someone explained to us that when it rains, they sometimes seek refuge en mass, indoors.
On down the road, the highway would change from smooth pavement to potholed dirt and back again, every 10 kilometers. The lush rain forest gave way to a drier desert-like terrain.
Our casita in Puerto Lopez, another little town with a pretty beach, and lots of flowers.
Further along the coast,we just had to stop at Los Frailes Beach in Machilla National Park.
The last town before heading inland and up into the mountains was Salinas, more of a resort beach/yacht club town. Seeing skyscrapers was a shock! People everywhere, noise, booths on the beach selling food and trinkets, shouting, music – it all felt like an invasion of the senses. With a population of 50,000, Salinas seemed large compared to all the tiny villages and towns we had been through, which frankly, we preferred.
The cost of the car and driver was $100 a day, and included the full-time driver, gasoline, food and lodging for the driver. We had the driver for 14 days, and a rental car would have cost $70 a day without insurance, a GPS and gasoline, so a rental car would have been more like $120 a day. With a chauffeur, T got to really look around instead of having to focus on driving.
Note: Cost of Car and Driver in 2014 is $195 US per day for 2 people, including accident & life insurance, and an English-speaking guide. A Spanish guide is $150 per day. You are responsible for paying for meals and accommodation for the driver, however those costs are very reasonable in Ecuador.
Mauricio, booked through www.guanguiltagua.com , was a fantastic chauffeur – a careful driver, polite, considerate, knowledgeable, respectful, funny, and easy-going. Cute too – T still occasionally refers to him as “your boyfriend” when we talk about Ecuador. Too funny.
*Stay tuned for the wildest train ride as we turned inland and back to Quito through the mighty Andes.