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We’ve been here at the beach three days now. We took a drive up to Muisne this afternoon, about an hour an a half from here. Along the way you pass many small and large farms, Cebu cows roaming, sometimes a few horses, some looking good, others not so good. Banana plants among tall green jungle, clearings in other spots with livestock roaming, natural fences grown in straight lines up impossible hillsides. Passing through a settlement here and there, you see fighting cocks out for sale on a dirt patio, large stalks of bananas hanging up for sale under a tin roof, a group of a dozen or so men and boys chatting at the bus stop, with a lone woman waiting for the bus. Cacao trees grow in among the banana trees, visible around nearly every corner with their red leaves and large pods growing out of the trunks.
At the road’s end, Muisne starts; an island separated only by mangroves and about 300 yards of water from the mainland. Before the crossing are shops selling dry goods, poor bamboo houses built over the muddy ground, motorcycle rickshaws which have been converted in only the last few years from tricycles due to the flood of cheap imports from China.
On the way back we stop in Atacames, a beach town whose waterfront has swollen out of control with a bazaar selling more cheap chinese goods-useless trinkets and souvenirs, cheap plastic toys from the lowest end of the quality spectrum, bathing suits and t-shirts. Piled in next to the endless bazaar are beach bars made of bamboo and cheap wood, each one blaring reggaeton, salsa, or cumbia music louder than the next. It’s a tinderbox that attracts mostly foreign tourists or those on the lower end of the income range. Cheap hotels and restaurants and shops selling clothing and beach gear line the other side of the street, and the town seems to rarely sleep.
Less than ten years ago this was still just a sleepy fishing village with an empty waterfront but for a few fiberglass boats and the buzz of outboard engines. Now you can hardly reach the beach without first having to pass through a store, a bar, or someone selling something from the sidewalk. And they call this economic development? It’s a sad alternative to what could have remained, and became, an even more pristine and quiet backwater, the kind of place you went to get off the beaten path. Now it is the beaten path.