Drivin’ Along in My Automobile … to Puerto Lopez

 

Puerto LopezWe’d wanted to visit the bustling fishing village and eco-tourism hub, Puerto Lopez, south of Manta since we’d arrived in Ecuador and when Barb, our Canadian mentor and friend here in Manta, invited us to drive there we jumped at the opportunity.  Puerto Lopez serves as headquarters for the Parque Nacional de Machlilla, a whale watching port and is a jumping off point for the Isla de la Plata, known as the Poor Man’s Galapagos, which hosts many of the same sea and shore birds as the Galapagos Islands with a day trip costing only $35. trees forming a tunnel

a change in climate - coolerIt was an overcast day as we climbed away from the arid landscape of the coast; the leaden sky gave up a light fog which in turn yielded to a fine mist. The grayness of the drizzle contrasted sharply with the lush greens of a micro-climate through which we passed for a time and then, once we crested the hill and began the descent, we returned to the cacti and scrub of the native coastal desert.coastal desert

roadside eateryDriving through the more typical barrenness of the land, we slid through the nondescript pueblos of the campo, the countryside, of Ecuador. There was no glitter in La Pina, no tourist destinations in Santa Rosa. The surroundings through which we passed were the earthen tones of the uncompromising land itself; the dull red of the bricks, the unpainted gray of the cinder blocks and the fading gold of bamboo turning a monotonous brown with the passing of time.  The colors seemed to be drained by wind, sand and salt air and within were sheltered extended families striving to eke a living from the land and sea.  And somewhere within the mass of dwellings would be one or more churches each proffering its claims of grace in the afterlife as precious little of it was available here. This was the rural side of Ecuador and its people not, as yet, invited to sit at the tables of the middle class.  In this nation of relative prosperity, the country folks stood in stark comparison to their city cousins

near La Pina

As if to mirror the image projected by the villages, the sea faded into the sky, foam pushed close to shore, the rocky shingle of the beach mocked the absence of the sandy stretches elsewhere to the north and south. The view was more stark and on this particular morning it appeared that the seascape was about the immensity of the ocean itself, offering little succor.bluffs of Machalilia beach

We were well past the mid-point of the trip to Puerto Lopez when we pulled into the sleepy little village of Machalilla outside the national park of the same name. It was a small town of indeterminate size with a concave malecon circled around an arched, sandy bay.  Three parallel streets crowded into the bowl area delineated by the highway which hugged the hill furthest back from the water. The town was in desperate need of a facelift: stucco patching, fresh paint for the buildings as well as asphalt in the frame-rattling pot holes. But the beach was a scenic attraction stretched around a half-moon bay.  Small fishing boats were lined up on the fine sand or in the water among larger ships rigged out with fishing nets. After reconnoitering the city and snapping a few photos we departed for our final destination.Machallil Bay

Puerto Lopez beach A few more miles and we arrived at Puerto Lopez. The humpback whales had departed the waters near Puerto Lopez for the season as had several species of birds from the Isla de la Plata.  We walked down the new pier for a long overdue view of the sea birds. Peruvian pelicans, closely related to the brown pelicans of the U.S., were in fine form plunging again and again into schools of fish close by the pilings.Peruvian Pelican

Peruvian PelicansSmall terns harassed the pelicans unsuccessfully as they emerged from their headlong dives with their beaks streaming with seawater and a morsel of fish. Overhead the Great Frigate Birds circled and looked for opportunities to quickly snatch a tidbit from an unwary, feathered competitor. Gulls, few in number, sat in desultory knots away from the action with little hope of getting into the game. The black vultures drifted on the winds or hopped about on the sand dejected by the paucity of options available to them at the moment but their time would come when the fishing boats returned.

We ambled by the numerous hotels, hostels and tourist agencies and browsed through the souvenir shops before we sat down to a fresh seafood meal, indifferently cooked, of shrimp and rice.  After a bill negotiation with a waitress who had trouble adding accurately we climbed back into the car and pointed the wheels north towards Manta. Our slow journey was retraced through the small villages and rural areas while we kept an eye out for the wild burros that we had seen alongside the road.wild burro by the ocean

By Richard and Anita

 

34 comments

  • The “Poor Man’s Galapagos” sounds like an area we should see when we ever make it to Ecuador. Great photos though sad the contrast between the rural areas and the cities. But I like to see the countryside too and how the everyday people live.

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  • That’s exactly the reason why we like to drive in our own camper around South America – and we wouldn’t even need to head back to our accommodation since we carry it with us. I confess: we didn’t visit the coast of Ecuador, we consider ourselves too spoiled from Australia when it comes to beaches.

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    • Having our own portable home with us would make life much easier sometimes! We’re looking forward to visiting Australia and its famed beaches one of these days but. for now, it’s fun to zigzag from the Caribbean to the Pacific coasts. Each country that we’ve visited has some spectacular beaches on both shores that they can rightfully be proud of, too.

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  • Poor Man’s Galapagos sounds like a whale of a good deal.

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    • It’s a great deal and a very popular day trip to see many of the same birds (blue-footed boobies, magnificent frigates, etc.) that are viewed in the Galapagos. During the fall (September – October) the humpback whales also arrive offshore and excursions are available for whale spotting. We had many friends who said how much they enjoyed their experiences around the area.

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  • Terrific piece! Loved the pictures – especially the wild burro at the end. We saw a few while in Nevis and were told they outnumbered the humans but we never did catch a good photo of one. Really interesting story.

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  • What a contrast between the rural areas and Puerto Lopez. I enjoyed reading about this intriguing place. I doubt I will ever see it in person.

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  • Thank you so much for sharing a place with me that I will most likely never see in person. Loved your photos – especially the last one – the sweet burro.

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    • One of our favorite things about slow travel is the ability to visit a county and explore it by road away from the cities and tourist attractions. It’s definitely the best way to learn about a country and its people. It’s also good to find readers like you who are interested in these areas away from the cities and share our visit!

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  • Driving is such a great way to see places. Wish we could do it more often, unfortunately it is just not practical on a lot of our trips. Nice report, thanks.

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    • We’ve spent too much time in planes the last few months and traveling slowly by bus and shuttle and watching the towns and countryside go by is our preferred way to travel. It gives us a chance to see how people live and learn more about a country. It’s also great to be able to stay for a month (or a few months) shopping and cooking and living like a local.

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  • Great report, your descriptions are vivid. I await each one with anticipation. Your ability to project gives me a sense of being there. Marlene and I after great turmoil will be moving to Dunedin Fl (check it out) next week. We will make every effort to meet up with you on your FL arrival in Miami or somewhere. Ed

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  • It looks like a great place for wildlife. I particularly liked the pelican – I’ve never seen one of that colour before.

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    • I think the pelicans are our favorite birds after living on North Padre Island off the coast for ten years. The National Seashore is home to hundreds of brown pelicans (and the white pelicans which migrate in the winter). Watching the Peruvian pelicans in Puerto Lopez dive with such speed and precision is amazing and they never seem to come up empty!

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  • The poverty of rural areas of Ecuador is staggering—especially amidst all the natural resources. Thanks for showing us both~

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  • I really enjoyed the bleached-out colors of sky and sea, and the monotone of the countryside in your photos this time around. I’ve come to believe the simplicity of life isn’t necessarily one of deprivation unless one compares our different worlds. I’m reminded that my perspective on what constitutes riches has been significantly altered most recently. The photo of the burro is magnificent – again, it’s so simple, but so very powerful. Lovely piece.

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    • I have to agree that perspective about wealth changes with time and, especially travel. We’ve talked about what wealth is many times and have come to the conclusion that choice plays a big part in true wealth. Deciding how one lives (whether as a “minimalist” or pursuing material goods) is wealth in itself. True poverty seems to have no available choices and options for change …

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  • I always love seeing candid shots of a country. You’re so right, we are lucky to be citizens of wealthy nations, and often unappreciative. I would love to take the tour of the “poor man’s Galapagos”!

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  • Great entry. I always enjoy your pictures and colorful descriptions. Thanks for sharing this part of the world.

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    • Thanks, Suzi. So much of our travel seems to be about the daily life of places we go to and, since we have time, exploring beyond the tourist areas. Don’t get us wrong though, we love seeing the hotspots and tourist destinations with their beautiful architecture, amazing wildlife and birds and interesting customs. It’s all part of the travel experience!

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  • Your descriptions are so vivid and the contrast between city life and country life is outstanding. We lucked out staying in Puerto Lopez because we met two young guys from Argentina on the bus who were headed to work at a hotel in Puerto Lopez. Gabriel was a chef and he cooked up some marvelous meals for us. Hope you are enjoying Colombia.

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  • A lovely read. Great descriptions. Will you be going to Isla de la Plata?

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    • We would have loved to have had time to visit Isla de la Plata but decided to forego it for a visit to the Galapagos. We’d love to go to Isla de la Plata (and several friends have recommended it based upon their own experiences) because one can never see too many of the blue-footed boobies or the Magnificent Frigates!

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  • Thanks for your very colorful and intriguing reports from afar. Who knew 50 years ago you would become such a fascinating photo journalist. Again, thanks and safe journeys.

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    • Denise, thank you for the kind remarks. However, I can only claim, at best, fifty per cent of the credit. Anita is the co-author of the blog and works assiduously to keep me from overwhelming the posts with a more pedantic style. But we’re pleased that you enjoy it. And, yeah, who would have thought we’d be out in this amazing part of the world, traveling and writing about it? Dick

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  • Amazing! How do you always see something of great interest in the most simple landscape and villages? I have two students in my classroom at the college preparing for careers in nursing. Based on your latest accounts, it seems that a miracle landed them on LongIsland.

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    • Travel makes us appreciate how truly lucky we are to have come from a wealthy nation where so much is taken for granted. It also makes us appreciate how welcoming and generous so many people are with their smiles and patience as we stumble about in our Spanglish. And there is a hidden wealth to so many of their lives; their treasured children and family relationships.

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