Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ruta del Sol

We went on vacation!!!

Jose and I headed to the Ecuadorian coast for a week-long trip, we followed la Ruta del Sol, the Sun Route, although we essentially spent the week chasing the sun, as this tends to be the cloudy and cooler season. No matter.

We flew to Guayaquil, on separate airlines actually, which is the short version of a long and complicated story about my temporary residence rights and INGALA regulations. Not so interesting.

But we both arrived in the hot, muggy afternoon on Monday and were picked up by cousin Julio. We promptly headed over to the bus station to reserve our tickets on the first morning bus to the north, a small surfer town called Canoa.

After shopping at "real" stores (underwear and shampoo are cheaper on the mainland), we grabbed some exotic food (shwarma) and headed to the house where we visited with droopy eyes and finally crashed into a comfortable and clean guest bed. Instead of falling asleep to the familiar sounds of ocean waves and dogs, we heard lullabyes sung by neighborhood cats, loving and fighting all night long.

As the sun came up on Tuesday, we loaded up, hailed a cab, and caught our "executive" bus (it had a toilet on board), and slowly but surely made our way north. Approximately eight hours, a million stops, sadly no food vendors, but lots of interesting road-side amusement later, we arrived dusty and tired to the sleepy town of Canoa.

I say sleepy, since it's the off-season for tourists and vacationing students from the city. The town seemed so quiet and peaceful, sandy streets and fish shacks lining the beach, where we found our hotel: Hotel Bambu, right on the beach and in the corner of the pueblito. One of the best places that I have every stayed at in Ecuador, the food was great, the service excellent and friendly, and the entire setting was the very definition of tranquility.

Doing nothing much more than strolling the beach, taking photos, and exploring the town, we left two days later, with a little reluctancy. We caught the same bus that we had left earlier in the week, and boarded to head back south.

Let me take a moment to explain the phenomenon that is the bus system of Ecuador, and many South American countries. There are large, quasi-comfortable buses of all ages and states of cleanliness being herded across every corner and crevice of the country at nearly every hour. They are pretty darn efficient, and they are always run by characters. The drivers and "hustlers" wear button-down shirts and ties. The "hustlers" hang out the open door as the bus slows through town, yelling the name of the next destination, while potential passengers hurry to board. The price of a bus ticket varies and depends on the bus line and the distance. The minimum fare is around 50 cents, while the highest fare we paid was around $3.50 (for about four hours of bus service and entertainment). The people who take the buses are professionals, grandparents visiting relatives, people going to work, children riding to or from school, people coming or traveling to market, etc. The public takes the bus, and that's what makes it so darn amusing. Examples of cargo that I witnessed on our personal bus rides: laundry in a basket, briefcases, bags of fruit, a puppy, a large TV, baby carriages, and even building materials. The bus is perhaps one of the most real experiences I have had in Ecuador, while also feeling safe and adventuresome. RECOMMENDED.

During a brief interlude, we visited a small aquarium run by a small community Valdivia. Here young volunteers guided us through a display of animals and birds and marine life (some living, some preserved specimens) and told us what it ate, where it was found, etc. Our ten-year-old guide, David, told us he had been volunteering there for one year already. Hot stuff.

We boarded our bus again, after about a fifteen minute wait on the sidewalk, and continued on to Puerto Rico (town, not the country, obviously), just a few miles south of the famous Puerto Lopez. Here we stayed in a beautiful hotel called La Barquita. The best part was not the freezing pool, or the lovely garden, or even the friendly dogs keeping everyone in line, but the restaurant and "lobby" of the hotel itself, which was, in my opinion, a genuine pirate ship. Fun ensued.

The next day we had made arrangements to travel back to Pt. Lopez to take a daily tour to see the migrating whales. Like WHOA! This was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen, and I kept telling myself, as I feverishly scanned the horizon, that whales are probably the most marvellous beings on the planet, and that they are rare and timid and that I shouldn't get my hopes up to see them, let alone see one jumping above the waves.

And then I saw them. At first, we just saw their slippery backs, fins cutting above the white caps of the choppy waves, everyone on board got excited, cameras ready, standing up (despite our captains specific instructions not to). On the return trip, we saw several jumping, breaching, breaking through the ocean's world and into ours. Unbelievably large, powerful, graceful, I couldn't stop myself from pointing, gasping, and then clutching my heart and sighing as it disappeared back to below. BIG DEAL.<3

We sadly returned to Guayaquil the next day, after having traveled the last leg on our final bus. The next morning we headed back to the islands. I had a more eventful trip back, as I had difficulties with my ticket (as in it was actually scheduled for the 30th of September as opposed to the 11th, minor detail). So in the end, Jose took the regular two-hour flight back home and was resting and unpacking and waiting for me. I, on the other hand, took a two-hour flight to Baltra, then a bus, then a ferry, then another bus to Porta Ayora in Santa Cruz, where I had lunch and waited around in the sun on the pier, waiting for the charter boat to carry me (in a very bumpy and rough manner, if I do say so myself) the nearly three hours back to San Cristobal.

I can't explain the joy I felt, walking back into our little apartment, after a long and crazy week away, there's no place like home.