Last Saturday Ben and I decided to just take a day to check out the city — there were many corners of it we’d not yet ventured into.
We just started walking. We visited the archaeological museum ($8 for both), ate lunch ($6 for both at a delicious Colombian restaurant), and stumbled across The Rotary Market and another farmer’s market. The Rotary Market sells all kinds of furniture and housewares — if we needed furniture here, we’d come to this market! They sell unfinished furniture (raw wood) that you can paint yourself for a fraction of the cost of a finished piece.
We grabbed an ice cream cone ($2.50 for two generous cones with coconut gelato, YUM!) and walked some more. We went into another museum (free) which was in an old mansion on the street we live on, Calle Larga, then continued to Iglesia de Todos Santos (All Saints Church), a church made entirely of wood + stucco. We paid $2 apiece for a 45-minute tour, and it was all done in Spanish. It became the highlight of our day!
The guide was a nun who lived in the church. She spoke slow Spanish and I was able to understand about 65 – 70 percent of it — not bad for me!
The church is built on top of ruins and in the floor of the church are glass enclosures where you can see pieces of the ruins (unfortunately I did not snap pics of this).
The best part of the tour was going up into the tower of the church. The nun let us go out onto the ledges (which were NARROW and had NO guard rails whatsoever, so one wrong move and … SPLAT!).
We climbed up the old wooden stairs and had to crouch super low + go one at a time in order to keep it safe [enough].
Click here to see our Todos Santos photo album (23 photos).
Preparing for Puerto Lopez
Sunday we hung out around the house, got some laundry done, we both worked out, and I attempted to make rice on the stove. I succeeded in cooking the rice, but it was pretty slimy. Ben liked it … me, not so much.
We packed a small suitcase (which was a carry-on on the way here!) for our trip to Puerto López.
We watched an HBO documentary called Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief — and may I recommend it HIGHLY to everyone! It was WOW, so interesting and eye-opening. Also kind of scary.
Midnight Bus Ride
At 11:00 p.m. we left for the bus station in Cuenca. We met our new friends, three other couples who are on permanent resident visas here. We’ve really enjoyed getting to know them and I can already tell it’ll be hard to leave when the time comes!
We all got on a midnight bus through El Cajas National Park (winding roads!!). It was a four-hour bus ride. We got to Guayaquil at 4:00am. Surprisingly, I got a little bit of sleep. Our friend Stephanie said it was quite a calm ride.
We thought we’d have to stay in Guayaquil at the bus terminal for a few hours but found out there was a bus in 15 minutes after we arrived!! The ladies frantically scrambled to find an open bathroom before getting on the next bus, which we all expected to have a bathroom but did not. We also bought cheese empanadas from a street vendor at 4 in the morning for breakfast — $2.50 for both. They were pretty good.
That ride was 3 hours and the driver FLEW. I won’t lie, it was a little terrifying. I did get a little bit of sleep on that bus, too. Thank goodness for my eye mask and ear plugs!!
The final bus was in this RICKETY bus station in a town called Jipijapa (pronounced hippie-hahpa). It was about an hour ride to our final destination — the ramshackle fishing town of Puerto López. We had to pay 20 cents to receive toilet paper (from a dude) and use the bathroom — the toilets did not flush, and the sinks did not work — there were buckets full of water for people to rinse their hands off in. EW. It was gross, but I had a strange sense of appreciation for the differences in what was acceptable in different cultures, ha!
The last bus ride was a local bus and the ride made my stomach feel weird — Ben had a worse time. We crammed into a bus with a ton of commuters heading into work (it was Monday morning by that time). In fact, we spotted the guy who sat in front of me selling sunglasses on the pier yesterday!
Arriving in Puerto Lopez
We settled into our hostel/hotel — which was not what I expected based on reviews I’d read, and I briefly considered searching out a new place when I found hair and sand in one of the beds, then a tick crawling on the floor in our room, but it’s fun hanging with our friends, and I can live with it for a few days. The WiFi is good, too. There are stray dogs EVERYWHERE here and I’ll bet that’s how the tick got in. Not sure how the sand and hair got into the bed, though… haha.
I’m not complaining (it’s awesome running my business from a town like this!), but it is testing my limits for acceptable cleanliness levels … ha!
We took a nap and then went out to dinner to a local place. I am really enjoying the local food in Ecuador — you can get a large dinner plate called a “merienda” for $3.50 that includes beans, rice, salad, and some plantains. Sometimes it includes soup and/or juice. Most places will leave off the meat for me. As a big fan of beans and rice, I’ve been eating pretty well here.
The tables all have a homemade hot sauce called “ají” which usually has onion and sometimes carrot in it. I LOVE this stuff and use it generously.
Boat Trip to Isla de la Plata
We each paid $40 for an all-day excursion to Isla de la Plata (termed The Poor Man’s Galapagos because it looks a lot like it there). It included whale watching, a hike on the island, lunch, and snorkeling. I felt it was a good deal for what we got. Our friends who’d been before mentioned the tour was lacking in comparison to the last time.
Ben got seasick pills for 10 cents each that really worked for him, so we’ll be stocking up on those! I did not take the pills, but I did experience a little stomach upset. When we stopped to look at whales, the boat was like a rubber duck in a bath tub!
Click here to see our Puerto Lopez photo album (70 photos).
We hiked all through the island and saw the larger-than-I-expected blue-footed boobies (they are a type of bird). The hike was pretty rigorous, and one side of the island was not as breezy as the other, so that part was more difficult because it was HOT! The views from the cliffs are breathtaking, though, as you’ll see in the photos!
The Long Trek to Agua Blanca
Wednesday we ventured back to the bus station to catch a bus to a small community called Agua Blanca. It’s a community built around a sulphur spring/lagoon. You pay $5 just to get into the community, and you can either walk or take a taxi. We walked — three miles on hot asphalt — to get there. It was a beautiful day, just really, really hot.
Then you get there and take a tour with a guide through a small museum and some archaeological sites.
We walked some more through the woods — saw lots of free-roaming pigs, chickens, and goats — and got to the sulphur springs. They give you mud in little plastic cups that you slather all over your body.
Ben and I grabbed a beer and some empanadas (the BEST ones so far) at a little bar. This bar had the most delicious ají, too — it tasted like salsa, and I slathered it all over my empanada. I also let a live chicken perch on my arm! We loved the empanadas so much we convinced the rest of the group to eat another one with us 😀
The walk back (another 3+ miles) was quite nice — long, but not nearly as hot, since the sun had gone down and we’d just had a nice swim.
We spent Thursday just hanging out — Ben and I took a “work day” to catch up on some things. We ate at a neat little Colombian place for a late lunch.
Click here to see our Agua Blanca photo album (20 photos).
We caught a bus to “Los Frailes” which are said to be some of the most beautiful beaches in Ecuador. The weather was kinda wonky — overcast and windy — but we still had a good time! We climbed over some rocks to get to this neat cave, saw lots of crabs and coral washed up on the beach, and fantastic views of the beaches from the lookout point.
Ben almost lost his wallet on the bus! When we got off the bus at Los Frailes, Ben gasped and said he’d left his wallet, we thought for sure it was gone forever, until we remembered how slow the bus was going on the way here. We grabbed a tuk-tuk and chased down the bus. We caught it at the very next stop and luckily, they were doing some loading/unloading, which allowed Ben to hop on and quickly locate his wallet, which had gotten wedged between the seats. Now whenever we get off a bus, I ask Ben, “Do you have your wallet!?” We paid the tuk-tuk guy $2 for the chase, and we didn’t even need to catch up with our pals because they’d decided to wait 20 minutes to see if we would return promptly.
The walk to the beach wasn’t quite as long as the walk to Agua Blanca, but it was still quite a ways! It also wasn’t as hot. Lots of people stopped to ask if we wanted a ride, but we walked. It was nice to get in a lot of walking while we were away. We hung out on the beach, ate snacks and chatted, clambered over some rocks to get to a cave, then hiked up to a viewpoint. We unfortunately were made to leave the beach because it closed quite early, but we still had a good time.
On the way home, we waited for a bus for a long time, then decided to hitch a ride with a local. SIX OF US crammed into a pickup truck cab. Ben and I sat in the front seat together. It was quite uncomfortable, but we got home quicker, at least 🙂
Click here to see our Los Frailes photo album (34 photos).
Friday night was super fun — we got back from the beaches and headed out to an Italian restaurant, the #1 restaurant in Puerto Lopez, only to find the entire place booked up once we got there. It was a nice-looking place, too, and we were a little bummed it was full already, but it just made the hunt for a nice dinner all the more thrilling 😀
Ended up at a bar/restaurant that had GREAT food but terrible service — run by just two guys. On more than one occasion here, we’ve seen restaurant owners leave the restaurant to locate a missing ingredient, ha. I had one of the best vegetable empanadas EVER at this place — made out of herb pizza dough, I think, and only $1!
We stopped at a bar on the square on the way home where we had some “bon voyage” beverages — 2 x 1 mojitos and Caipirinhas (my favorite!), and you got 2 for $6! They did the trick 🙂 Left us feeling really warm and happy.
The Journey Home
One of the couples we traveled with decided to stay an extra night, but the rest of us were ready to head back home Saturday morning. I liked Puerto López and had a fantastic time with the friends we traveled with (we always played hilarious games at night!!), but I was ready to get back to the comforts of “home” in Cuenca. I did end up having to buy bug repellent and calamine lotion for bites — it’s weird in Puerto López: it really wasn’t that warm out, but the mosquitos were everywhere. I got about 10 really itchy bites.
We all had breakfast around the corner then headed to the bus station. I was really proud of us for “figuring it out” on our own — our friends Elliott and Stephanie had already been to PL and back before and on the way there had been the ringleaders to get us on the right buses. This time, we were on our own! Luckily, everyone in the bus stations is very helpful and you’re usually not there much longer than 10 seconds before you’re approached and asked where you’re going.
We had to take three different buses on the way home. The bathrooms are really gross in the first station we stopped at, so I did NOT go pee … I should’ve! The second leg of the trip seemed to take forever (despite Jurassic World playing on the TV, which was cool :-)) and I had to pee sooooooo bad once we got to Guayaquil!!
The third bus, we watched another movie — “Nonstop” with Liam Neeson — which I still enjoyed despite it being all in Spanish AND being unable to hear most of it because of the speakers, lol. It was a pretty good movie.
Ben got motion sick and barfed on the third bus. Thank God I got him a paper empanada bag in time — even though it spilled. He has sworn never to get on a bus here without taking motion sickness pills ever again. I think this decision is wise. I learned to breathe through my mouth really well on that trip, lol 🙂 Such an adventure.
We FINALLY got home and had a late dinner at one of our favorite places so far — Cafe Moliendo. It’s a Colombian place with AMAZING food. Very simple, filling dinners cost only $3.50! The owner is from Medellín, which is our last stop in South America before heading back to Orlando next summer.
We had a late start this morning and got some laundry done, then headed to the Pumapungo ruins to eat a waffle for brunch. Real Belgian waffles. So, SO good!
I’m really quite tired today and finding it hard to want to do much of anything … tomorrow’s a holiday in Ecuador, too, but not for us — we are going to get some work done! My plan is to work a good 5-6 hours tomorrow and then not work for like 5-6 days. LOL 🙂 We’ll see if that happens.
September 3 we’ll be heading to Macas and venturing into the Amazon for about four days, then heading up to Baños, the adventure capital of Ecuador. Stay tuned!