travel

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Travelers are often surprised at how expensive Ecuador is. You can easily pay $1.50 to $2.50 for a cup of coffee. Cheap accommodations can run you as little as $15 a night or as high as $30 a night. Bus fares to most parts of the country can cost anywhere from a few dollars to maybe as high as 15 or $20. Cheap meal can be $2 or $10. So a lot of what is “cheap” depends not only on your perspective, but on the quality of services you are comfortable with.

You can drink a cup of instant coffee or poorly made coffee for under a dollar at a lot of places. Or you can have a pretty decent, well-made cup of coffee, cappuccino, or other fancy coffee drink for a $1.50 to $2.50 at a fancy coffee bar. You can sleep in cheap accommodations, where no ways, bedbugs, and lack of security may be the norm. If you’re comfortable doing this, you can save a lot of money. Traveling by bus can be very cheap, but it all depends on your risk tolerance. Every year, there are numerous serious bus accidents in Ecuador, often with fatalities. If you’re okay with that, travel can be really cheap. If you’re not, expect to pay from $60 a day and up for a private taxi and driver, and similar rates for a rental car.

Just because it’s a developing country doesn’t mean it’s cheap.  If you want to travel safely, comfortably, and eat well,consider the following. Because the general standards of quality, safety, and comfort here are often below what we are used to in the United States or other modernized countries, you will pay extra to maintain the standards you are used to. However, there are some ways to save money.

You’ll find that if you do eat at very cheap places, where you can get a lunch say for $2.50, you might find yourself with stomach problems or worse. This will cost you a trip to the doctor and pharmacy, which will run you at least $30-$50. If you’re willing to spend a little more, and eat at slightly better places, you may avoid a lot of stomach troubles. Without going to the very best spots, you can easily have a decent lunch for anywhere from $7.50 to $10, or, better yet, head to the supermarket and pick up a baguette, some cheese, some fresh fruit, and whatever else you like on the cheap and eat well. Spending a little more for meals can save you time and money, and help you keep your health intact.

If you’re planning on staying for the long term, or a couple of weeks in a couple of different spots, use a service like AirBnB.com to find rentals in the area. This can be a lot cheaper than staying in hostels or hotels.

If you’re out shopping for handicrafts at one of the local artisan markets, just assume that the price you’re offered upon your first glance an item is at least double what you should pay. So, even if you don’t speak much Spanish, start the bargaining game. Bargaining is a friendly, regular part of doing business for Ecuadorians, so don’t be intimidated and don’t take anything personally. Offer a price that is at least Of the initial price, if not a third of it, and work your way up from there. Don’t feel guilty about paying less – Ecuadorians like to bargain and you may be pleasantly surprised how much fun it can be. And you’re saving yourself some money while learning to interact with the locals.

While Ecuador can be surprisingly expensive, by following a few simple rules like eating well and bargaining with the locals, you’ll save money while making your trip more enjoyable.

Left Bahia de Caraquez Monday morning for Manta, turned out to be another 30 minutes more than we expected. The kids nonetheless were pretty good and didn’t fight or complain too much.

The Ceibo trees are the one spectacular sight to see on the way, and they only grow only for maybe up to 20 miles outside of Manta.  They stand like sentries taking up the empty spaces seemingly at random, but at closer inspection around where water is bound to gather.

At first they appear to grow quite separately, as they have extensive roots which take up all the water in the surrounding area and don’t let much else grow nearby. Manabi is mostly tropical desert and there’s obviously not a lot of rain this time of year. As we got closer to Manta, there were forests of the trees as there must be more water in the soil. Ceibos, Manabi, EcuadorTheir thick trunks quickly branch out and the branches appear like so many hands groping. Most of the trees are gray in appearance, looking almost like dead things. In other areas, the trees appear with a mild green hue and none of them had any leaves, just the wiry, spooky branches. I’m not sure these are like Baobab trees in Africa, they’re not thorny but the seem to look the same. Anyway, they really give the landscape an alien sort of look, as they resemble giant creatures that have touched down and at any moment might use their branches to start grabbing things off the ground.

Manta is a tuna town-there’s a large port and fleet of tuna boats, and as soon as you’re within 5 miles or so of town, the smell of fish permeates the air everywhere, and it’s not pleasant. A lot of canned tuna is produced here, both for consumption in Ecuador and for export. Tuna of Manta, Ecuador

Until just a few years ago, the US military operated an air base here for interdicting drug trafficking flights. But  Ecuador’s current president, Correa, wouldn’t renew the lease unless, as he said “Why doesn’t the US let us operate a military base in Miami? Then we’ll be glad to allow them to operate here.” With all the US presence that was here for nearly a decade, the city has grown a lot, and there are a number of attractive high-rises dotting the waterfront.

We spent a few hours at the local beach, but it was too windy to really enjoy it, so we went and had lunch at one of the local beachfront restaurants. From there we headed back towards Bahia de Caraquez.

On the way, we stopped first just before the town of Roca Fuerte. The area is known for Tagua production-which is a kind of vegetable “Ivory” that only grows in a particular region and comes from a particular type of palm tree. The shop was full of bracelets, necklaces, and knickknacks, all nicely made. Fortuitously, Sebastian needed the bathroom and we weren’t sent downstairs where the workshop was located. It was nothing more than a very basic cement floor with four walls; but laid out on tables were pieces of Tagua in all shapes and colors, being drilled, sanded, molded, and over in another area the tumbling drums were spinning to polish pieces. of Tagua. The prices were ridiculously cheap and I can see that this is one of those places that if you “know” about could make a great opportunity for export. Tagua

Just down the road we stopped in Roca Fuerte, which is known for its traditional sweets. They had all kinds of little bite size things made with guava, papaya, peanuts, banana, and other fruits. I also tried a fully candied lemon=the outside of the lemon was coated with a layer of dried fondant sugar. I broke away the shell and bit into it; the lemon itself was actually filled with dulce de leche, or manjar, which is very similar to caramel. There was no sign of bitterness left, but it was too sweet to eat the whole thing in one sitting. We stopped in two different stores before heading back.  Roca Furete is worth a stop if you have a serious interest in food, but if not, you can pass it over. But the drive through Manabi is worth it just to see the trees. Their spooky appearance is something that will stay with you for a long time.Roca Fuerte, Ecuador, Sweets

After a long 8 hour drive yesterday we arrived in Bahia de Caraquez, a small coastal town on the Santa Elena Peninsula. The new roads through Ecuador are great; wide and smoothly paved, though still mostly unpainted and with no road signs anywhere, so you have no idea where you’re going unless you stop to ask.

We were kindly put up at a small apartment belonging to the parents of my sister-in-law. My in-laws were also along for the trip so of course we had some meals  together. As it is everywhere I’ve gone in Ecuador, the frying pans were not much more than toys-thin, wimpy things that heat up too much and burn everything. There was no large pan to slowly roast the bacon in the oven, so I took the biggest pan I could find, put it on the tiniest burner at the lowest heat, and moved it around as necessary and took all the time I needed (which was bout 20 minutes) to cook all the bacon. In the same pan I then added the scrambled eggs once the bacon was done and cooked those two. My SIL watched and said the eggs looked weird; I basically ignored her remark because when you add ten eggs to a large, crappy pan without enough heat, they’re going to take forever to cook-like they did-and of course they’re not going to cook up fast like they would have in a proper pan. Anyway, I pulled it all off and was glad to have had the distraction of cooking.

After breakfast we decided to head north, up towards a little beach town called Canoa, about twenty minutes from Bahia. The current government has constructed Ecuador’s longest bridge across the inlet, whereas you used to have to cross by barge with your vehicle. bridge bahia san vicente Even I hadn’t been back in 17 years, Bahia doesn’t seem to have changed a whole lot with the exception of this bridge. Canoa was a little better than it used to be; some of the roads are now paved, but it’s still a dusty beach spot with a bunch of crappy restaurants, some gringo backpacker type lodging, and a long wide beach with usually blown out surf. We decided not to stay very long and headed to the next town north-Jama.

Fortunately, the one thing Ecuador’s current president has done is build new roads and while they’re not all finished yet, travel is pretty good. It’s typical here that when you ask someone directions or how much further somewhere is, they’re likely to give you an answer-whether it’s correct or not is up for debate. Jama was supposed to be “another 15 minutes” north but it turned out to be more like 30. We finally got there-another extremely sleepy beach town.

It’s actually one of those spots in Ecuador that neither tourism nor progress seems to have actually touched yet; several dozen fishing boats lined up on the beach, with weatherbeaten fishermen mending their amazingly handmade nets under palm-thatched huts along the beach. The approach is through a bunch of shrimp ponds, and since shrimp farming is a lucrative business, there had to be money somewhere. Actually, along the beach there were a couple of very nice houses with laboratories, probably for shrimp larvae cultivation, alongside them.

A nice stiff breeze was blowing, and the ocean is a large green blue bay that curves for miles. Not a wave in sight. My Son Sebastian and I frolicked in the water a while, I flew my kite a few minutes, then swam some more. The others walked along the beach or sat on the sand. We stayed no more than an hour.

We headed back to Bahia. We finally stopped for lunch in what looked like a nice hotel, but the food did not measure up to the appearance of the hotel. Didn’t really surpass mediocre. Sebastian was hungry and furious and finally calmed down after getting some food in him; but even he commented that it tasted “weird.” So it is having kids with a gourmet palate. The next days adventures were a bit more scenic, so look for photos in tomorrow’s post!

I was visited a few weeks ago by Abercrombie & Kent with the idea of perhaps giving classes and/or talks to their clientele. Hopefully something will come through and all you gourmand travelers will hop on board to visit us here in Quito. Meanwhile, they helped leverage some nice coverage from An Andrew Harper Blog. Check it out!

Headed south from Quito today to visit the towns of Saquisilí and Pujilí. We were in search of handicrafts mainly, but since there´s literally almost zero info on the internet about market days, we arrived in Saquisilí to find the crafts market only takes place on Thursdays. As is the usual routine most everywhere when we headed out into Ecuador´s unknown, we arrive at whatever town we´ve chosen to go to, and just starting asking…”Where is the market?” or “Where can we find ____” fill in the blank-whatever it might be we’re looking for. Usually this leads to some interesting diversions….”go two blocks and turn left, it’s nearby.” Or “just keep going straight, you’ll be there soon,” which could mean anywhere from two minutes to 30 minutes or more. Does nearby and in 30 minutes mean near on a bicycle, a donkey, a horse, on foot, or by car? You can never tell, since country people’s definition of time and distance are often measured in units that we city people would rarely consider-or maybe even they are units we don’t know about!

Since there was nothing going in Saquisilí, we headed on to Pujilí. Both towns, by the way, are just a few miles north of the city of Latacunga, the first major city on the Panamerican highway you reach when heading south from Quito. In Pujilí, the open air market was on, one of the largest markets I´ve seen in South America and a spectacle in its own right. Measuring probably two football fields and of course spilling out into the adjacent streets, the market offers up Ecuador’s bounty from all over the country…tangerines, lemons, limes, grapefruits, bell peppers, swiss chard, various types of potatoes and bananas. As well, there were all sorts of cooking going on…llapingachos (a potato cake colored with annatto or achiote) and cooked in lard and served with fried pork aka fritada, stews with crab and other seafood, cebiches, tripe, and other local dishes. Not just foods but pirated CDs of any kind, cheap trinkets, hair pins, nail clippers, and ever other type of junk from China are available. On one street a man with the voice and earnestness of street-corner preacher offered up a cure for every type of ailment, for the prostate, stomach, liver, arthritis, indigestion, while a crowd of people gathered around.

Market in Pujilí

Pujilí Market I really enjoyed seeing these obviously hand-crafted lollipops for sale, being carried around in a hand-made basket!

Candies in Pujilí

Already the obvious tourist no matter how much I might have tried to blend in (I didn’t try and even if I had it wouldn’t have worked), I carried my camera at torso height and shot pictures surreptitiously as best as I could, and managed to get a few good ones shown below. At one point we stopped to see two parakeets sitting atop a  wooden box with small drawers filled with different colored papers.

I had never seen this before-you pay the woman fifty cents, she asks you “Married? Single? Divorced?” and then picks up one of the birds and commands it to peck your hand, then speaks to it in all earnestness and utter seriousness telling the bird your condition and then ordering it back to the box. The bird then goes to one of the small drawers open in the box, and through its divine power picks up your “horoscope” or fortune, she plucks it from the bird’s beak and passes it on to you. When we first stopped, and I raised my camera, she covered the birds and said no pictures. On our return pass, we stopped and paid her and I took a few good shots while she wasn’t paying much attention.

Fortune Telling BIrd

On the return we stopped at Hosteria La Cienega for lunch, a 300 year old Hacienda with decent food and gardens.You can feel the oldness in the place, and there´s often a cool breeze and a spooky, haunted sort of empty feeling about the place. My Mother-in-law won´t stay there…says it´s too creepy! Maybe it´s the “Burundanga” trees all over, from which scopolamine can be removed, that makes you feel weird!

Burundanga-Scopolamine Tree

Hosteria Pinsaqui

There are also a lot of nice antiques on display inside, with great lighting.

Hosteria Pinsaqui

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Welcome to Destination Ecuador!

Welcome to Destination Ecuador! My family and I have been living in Ecuador for the last four and a half years. We’ve dealt with the worst kinds of red-tape, searched out or ended up making hard-to-find ingredients ourselves, imported equipment for making chocolate confections, learned the import-export business...Continue >>

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