Speaking of dirty old towns, it’s been an eventful past few days. From Canoa we cycled to a small sleepy fishing village called San Jacinto. Pulling into town and wondering what’s what, a rather large pink-skinned bald gringo with a prominent white beard and large black sunglasses (could only have been an expat) caught our eye. Figuring he would be an easy source of info, we quizzed him for only a few seconds on accommodation options before he insisted we stay with him. We graciously accepted and ended staying for 3 nights at his house along with his french wife Patricia.
Marshall is a wonderfully generous guy who left the rat race of a high-stress contracting business in southern California to retire and live the rest of his life on the shores of Ecuador. Being a contractor-developer kinda guy, he had all the ins and outs on buying property and building houses in the area. It was 3 days of “how to be an expat 101”. According to Marshall, the coast of Ecuador is the cheapest place in the Americas to buy and build a retirement home on the ocean. As part of our course we took the property tour, went to the expat bar for drinks and met everyone, and had dinner with the locals. As an added bonus, he arranged for his buddy Andre from Sudbury (Ontario) to drive us in his car into the bigger town of Portoviajo to have Amy’s wheel trued and pick up a replacement helmet (which was recently cracked, for those who have read her accident report).
Living the expat life for a few days was pretty good, a little too good J It was very hard to leave the comforts of a real house, with real beds and real things (like a coffee maker, a toaster, a microwave...things generally unknown here), but alas, as in the past, the dream must be kept alive and we kissed them goodbye and continued south. It was even harder to leave since the day we picked to leave, was the only day the sun has shined in weeks. Although, it was nice to ride in the sun for a day.
Along the route we spent the night in a place called Montecristi – locally famous as a craft centre for all things woven, including a world-famous hat erroneously referred to as the “Panama Hat”. It would seem that back in the day (and continuing to this day), Ecuador, and particularly Montecristi, was/is the epicentre of the woven hat industry. Here they more accurately call them a sombrero de paja toquilla, which means “toquilla straw hat”, with toquilla being a fibrous species of palm (the raw material for the hat) which is indigenous (i.e., doesn’t grow anywhere else) to this area of Ecuador. Anywho, back in the day, the hats were shipped all over the world, via ports in Panama, and hence they became known as Panama hats, instead of Montecristi hats or some such thing. Bit of a sore point here from what we can gather. “It is NOT a Panama hat!”
From Montecristi the route was a bit inland and then over a hump – a rather large 500 m vertical hump – back to the coast to a place called Puerto Cayo. The ride over the hump, although a bit tiring, was fascinating in that we went from the scrub-deserts of the leeward side – dominated by Ceiba trees, a large thick-stemmed tropical tree – to the wet cloud forests of the windward side. As far as either of us could recall, this was our first cloud-forest experience. True to the name, it’s simply a mountain slope facing the ocean that is drenched in more or less continual mist, fog, and drizzle, and therefore incredibly lush and verdant. Unfortunately, it’s an ecosystem in peril in these parts.
Puerto Cayo turned out to be another dirty old town located on a beautiful stretch of beach that you could land as many 747s as you wanted to. This morning we woke up to drizzle and decided to forge ahead and see if the next town was a little less dirty. A soaking wet (although not cold) ride through the mist and drizzle brought us to Puerto Lopez, a....wait for it, another dirty old town on a ginormous and gorgeous stretch of beach. Upon getting to town we found a fantastic little spot on the beach serving endless hot coffee (Nescafe...actually getting very used to instant) and breakfast – pretty much exactly what we needed in our tired wet state. With only 36 kms under our belts, we figured that was enough riding through the drizzle and found a bamboo cabana (with ensuite bathroom!) overlooking the beach for the night.
The plan: keep going south in search of more beaches, more dirty old towns, and of course, the sun. ¡Hasta luego!