Monday, December 30, 2013

Our First Taste of the Ecuador Coast - Leaving the Mountains of Ecuador

As we drove from the central Andean mountains to the coast of Ecuador, it took a measly 50 miles to drop from 12,000 ft to 1,500 ft in elevation (steep!). A cursory check of our living quarters revealed water dripping down the mirror. The interior of our cabinets were wet, as were our clothing and food containers. This was a true lesson in the physics of humidity and condensation.

The drive from Quilatoa to Santa Marianita took us 9 hours. The total driving distance was only 180 miles!!! There was a bit of construction, a few very badly pot-holed sections, some sloooow twisty mountain roads, and of course, lots of awesome new roads. Interestingly, Ecuador is paving and/or repaving all of their roads, and for the most part, have the best roads we've driven in the Americas.

Over the following couple of weeks, we slowly worked our way down the coast hoping for some surf. We found some stunning, secret camping spots. The first was just north of Punta San Lorenzo where we had a quiet and peaceful night of sleep.

Outside of San Lorenzo

Just a bit south we happened upon another gorgeous beach with a quiet, free camping spot. The best part was the characters we met when we arrived. They had just camped for 5 days at this beach and were packing up to leave. They were 2 young French guys and 2 Argentinians traveling in a VW Bug. Their car battery was dead, a rear tire was flat, and their jack was broken.  No worries. Scott loaned them our jack, they changed the tire, and per their usual routine, 3 of them push started the car, in reverse, as they left.

Scott supervising the push start

Loaded down and ready for adventure

La Policia - pic courtesy of Wikipedia
An odd thing happened on our 3rd night camping here. Nate and Sarah showed up and decided to spend the night, as well. As the sun was setting, la policia truck arrived.  One of the officers flippantly told Sarah (who was on the beach) that we couldn't spend the night. Then, quickly drove off. We found them parked a little bit down the beach where we asked for more info. Something about it being "owned by the community" and "not safe". This seemed awfully fishy, but we really had no choice. Luckily there was a nice campground about a mile up the road overlooking our prior camp spot. It wasn't as nice as parking right at the beach, but it did have a nice view of the ocean and Salango Island. There, we learned that the beach spot was not owned by the community, but by a Swiss guy who lives in Guayaquil. Later, we read a blog post from an overlanding family who had a picture of our "secret" camp spot. I guess it's not so secret and I also guess la policia are not too diligent about kicking people out. A week and a half later we stayed at the camp spot for another 2 nights without incident.

La policia beach

A view from the Isla Mar campground that we retreated to, after getting kicked off the beach
Continuing to take advantage of Ecuador's free national parks, we hit Los Frailes beach in Machalilla NP. Here, we found a beautiful white-sand beach without a speck of trash. We spent the entire day at the beach hiking, snorkeling, and swimming. Unfortunately, the rules stated we had to leave the park by 4:30 pm.

Los Frailes beach

Since there were waves in the forecast, we drove south to the famous surf spot at Montañita. We feared that it would be hard to find a nice camp spot like those to which we had become accustomed, so we arrived prepared for disappointment. Montañita is known as a "party town" and has a pretty developed scene of random beach side accommodations, bars, and restaurants. We couldn't believe it when we found a camping spot on the beach, right in front of an abandoned public amphitheater (see pic), and most importantly, right in front of the surf break. We fed the local beach dogs and had some barking security, too.

Montañita beach camping

The security team

Cow vs. dog stand-off in Montañita

The waves did arrive and we got a bit of surfing in before we left, due to the crowds. A few days later, we started another beer mission, similar to our Buga pilgrimage. Stay tuned for our inland detour to the microbrewery/distillery of Rancho Bonanza.

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