Friday, September 25, 2015

Montanita, Ecuador - surfer beach party town

Three years ago on a drive along the coast of Ecuador we drove through a small town on the beach called Montanita it had sand roads and the buildings were bamboo and grass roofs

After three months of cool weather here in Cuenca I decided it was time for another trip to Montanita to warm up and check out the area. I had a FB friend that just moved to Olon and another friend who was living in Montanita so I sent him a message and he reserved me a room with a balcony looking down on the main street. Being off season the rate was just $10 a night at La Casa Azul. 

So I packed up the car and headed out about 10 a.m. on a Thursday morning driving over the Caja mountain pass to Guayaquil and then up the coast to Montanita arriving at 4 p.m.

On the drive through the Caji's I passed many restaurants with their own trout lakes where you can catch your own dinner and the restaurant will cook it up for you. Always drive through a cloud bank which most of the time is pretty thick

And careful to watch out around the curves for Lamas and alpacas on the road

I took about 3 hours to reach Guayaquil and maneuver through the center of the city as directed by my trusty GPS! Can't leave home without it! And another 2 hours to reach Montanita.



My room was equipped with 3 beds and bathroom and wall mounted fan which came in handy even though it was not to hot out. Montanita has no water or sewer lines so it all has to be hauled in and out by truck which is the reason my shower was just a dribble of water and not heated! I later heard about another Hostel down the road with hot water, cable TV and A/C for $20 a night. When January comes it will be high season and even my room will be $50 a night.

My patio where I spent most of my time watching people walk by over and over again. I did meet people from all over the world some broke and sleeping on the beach and some selling any kind of drugs you can think of. I did indulge in a $5 piece of pot cake from the lady seller. Her boyfriend would scout the streets for her looking for police and put the money in his pocket. When the police did approach they would stroll around the corner and return later to continue their business.

On Friday and Saturday's the streets are roped off and there are many vendors selling jewelry, clothes, hats etc.

Me with a NYC tourist and Zane

Carlito a lifetime local that showed us around the area

My neighbors from Quito who were celebrating with a close friend back from the US great guys one was a DA, one an Attorney and the other a Computer Analyst and of course at their insistence I had a couple of beers with them which turned into a late night at Diablo's Bar! 

Every night this group from Argentina would play up a storm below my balcony and pass the hat, people were dancing, drinking and having at great time late into the night. If you want some peace and quit this is not the right Hostel.

The beach was full of people, bars and restaurants all day long and at night a few beach Disco's were open all night.

I met the owner of this beach bar who was from Hawaii with my friend Zane he will open in December and I guess it is a wild place right on the beach where noise is no problem.

Second day Zane went with me up the coast about an hour to Puerto Lopez

When I met Zane he had a beer bottle in his hand and everyday and night during my stay Ha! But one would last him a few hours at a time

View of Puerto Lopez

The beach in Puerto Lopez

With the new malecon under construction it was a bit dusty, really not a good time for a visit.

And back to Montanita for another night of loud music and dancing

Next day we took an hour drive north to Salinas for lunch, which is called the mini-Miami, the beach is lined with high rise condos which many are vacation homes for Ecuadorians that use them a couple of months a year. Not my favorite place Salinas, kind of dirty and at times to much traffic.

Well after five days of relaxing and sightseeing I headed back up the mountain to Cuenca it was nice to get back to a hot shower and low humidity. Although the best time for a visit to the playa here in EC would be June - October before it really warms up! Next trip I want to check out Manta, Crucita, San Clemente and Canoa.

It has been great to have a car, It is so much more enjoyable for me rather than taking buses and vans around the country!

Until next time I am waiting for more visitors and new expats to come to Cuenca!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Devils Nose Train Ride - Alausi, Ecuador

A day trip to Alausi, Ecuador for a ride on the Devils Nose Train!

My cousins Linda and Larry from Washington stopped by Cuenca for four days on their six week trip around South America. We decided to drive to Alausi, Ecuador to take the Devils Nose Train ride which is 157 Km (98 miles) drive from Cuenca. The 2 hour 20 minute drive took us 3 1/2 hours with all the windy cloudy roads with buses and trucks to maneuver around in my small car!

We left Cuenca at 6 a.m. and arrived in Alausi, which is on the Pan American Hwy driving towards Quito at 9:30 a.m.

Devils Nose Train

We purchased our tickets when we arrived, regular price is $25 each but with my Cedula (resident card) we got our tickets for $14.50 each.

The train ride takes 2 1/2 hours all together and travels down the mountain on a steep cliff using 3 switch backs. The train leaves at 8am - 11am and 3pm daily!

We boarded the train at 11a.m. for the 45 minute train ride down the steep cliff to another old train station once used by trains going from Guayaquil to Quito.

You can see where we descended behind us.

We arrived at the train station below Alausi for an hour stay, you can see the Museum on the hill above.

We were entertained by the local dancers

Photo shot with Lama. The track we are standing on once went to Cuenca, now it will become a hiking and biking path once all the tracks are removed.

Construction on the train tracks from Guayaquil to Quito was started in 1825.

After an hour we boarded the train for the trip back up the mountain to Alausi.

Back to the Alausi station we ran into the train that runs from Guayaquil to Quito on a 3 day excursion.

Then we headed out for our 3 1/2 hour drive back to Cuenca we encountered thick clouds, many pot holes which I think I managed to not miss any! Speed bumps, slow moving buses and trucks!  Alausi is a beautiful small Village and the lust green scenery on the drive is breathtaking!

Dinner for Larry and Linda on their last night in Cuenca with Deborah Marsh our good friend of three years who is moving to Mexico.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Loja, Vilcabamba and Zamora, Ecuador


Road trip to Loja

Had a great two night three day trip to Loja which is just a three hour drive south of Cuenca. We took Ellite shuttle service rather than a bus, they leave every hour. It was just $12 each and just seven people in the van, somehow being the tallest and biggest guy on the van I ended up in the middle of the third row of seats! It was a tight fit but considering the rough ride over windy mountain roads I did not get bounced around to much. It is great that all the roads in Ecuador are new and in good shape.

Loja is one of the oldest cities in Ecuador founded by the Spaniards in 1548 declaring its independence in 1820. The city is located in a valley at 6758 feet elevation (2060m) the average temperature  is around 70 degrees (22c)  and has a population of 200,000 people. It was the first city in Ecuador to get electricity in 1890 provided by a hydroelectric-dam.

 The gate to the city

Being Bryan is the marketing manager at the San Juan Hotel in Cuenca he got us a great discount on two rooms at the Howard Johnson Hotel. Normal rate is $123.00 per night and we got two rooms for $50 per night. The Hotel is located on a hillside overlooking the city and was complete with gym, steam room, pool and Jacuzzi. Also provided a fantastic buffet breakfast at not extra cost!

 Hotel entrance

 Front desk

Lobby Bar

View of Loja from my room

Pool and Jacuzzi

The Turco steam room - I managed to use this three times during our stay as well as the Jacuzzi. Wish I had one here in Cuenca!

My room

After we got settled in our rooms we decided to hire a taxi to take us to Vilcabamba which was just a 45-minute drive south of Loja. It was $10 an hour and took us three hours all together. I was more than happy to pay it rather than finding our way to the bus station and dealing with all that. The taxi driver also took us through a couple of small villages and gave us a tour of Vilcabamba.

Vilcabamba was the playground for the Inca royalty - also known for the longevity of its residents due to minerals in the water and a tranquil lifestyle. Our taxi driver did stop at the residents of a 100 year old man who is the oldest know man in the village, but he was not home.

Vilcabamba is about 5000 feet elevation (1500m) with an average temperature between 65 and 82 degrees (18-28c) Coffee is a main product as well as fruits and vegetables. All of the Loja region is know for its pork production. I had some great BBQ ribs!

   Although the Vilcabambans did not enjoy greater longevity than the rest of the world, researchers noted that the Vilcabamban lifestyle, which included hard work in a high altitude combined with a low-calorie, low-animal-fat diet, did seem to keep the villagers healthy and vigorous in their old age.

Foreigners and other tourists are increasingly buying property to build homes. Tourists have created problems for the locals, including rising prices as well as increasing drug and alcohol use. Some locals say that the peace and simplicity of their lives, to which they attributed their longevity, has been lost. The massive influx of western processed food is evident in nearly every local 'tienda', and people are visibly more obese than those seen in photos from only a few decades ago.

However, other locals report appreciation for the foreigners and tourist who also bring jobs and improvements to the area.

Restaurants and stores around the main village square

A couple of friendly locals inviting us for a beer

Main square and church

Beautiful cathedral in Malacatos

Back in Loja we decided to tour the center of town and ran across a very old Cathedral across from the place where we ate. I could not find any information on-line about it but when I was taking pictures a priest stopped and told us it was built in 1660 and is not in use at this time, hopefully they will restore it.

Our great BBQ restaurant across from the hotel was closed so we ate at this chicken place in El Centro - grilled flattened chicken, rice and fries!

I would have loved to see the inside!

After dinner we headed to the Main square

Monument to Manuel CarriĆ³n Pinzano, a founder in 1853 of the Federalism movement in Loja.

The Church of Santo Domingo was built in 1557; the entire edifice was once in the Gothic style, but after an earthquake in 1867 only the twin spires remained standing. The church was refurbished in the colonial style, but the spires were left as a reminder of the former facade. The church was painted and decorated by notable Lojano Fray Enrique Mideros.

The next morning we enjoyed a great buffet breakfast at the hotel before heading out to Zamora in the Amazons! 

We walked down the street from the hotel and stopped a couple of taxis before we found one that was willing to take us to Zamora, we agreed on $10 a hour and heading out for the Amazons. Again a windy mountain road ride, but the roads were all new concrete and of course the lush mountains with their hillside farms and houses is common all over Ecuador.

Roadside water fall

Zamora is a small town of 12000 people and of course much warmer at 900 feet elevation and know for it's gold mining. Human habitation dates back to 4500 BCE. The Spaniards found their way to Zamora in 1548  

El Centro Zamora

Zamora Cathedral Main town square

Hillside clock Zamora

New recreation center with a large swimming pool

Zamora is the gateway to the amazons, the highway to the amazon river is paved now and a 360 km drive. I would like to drive it someday. There are many beautiful places to see in Ecuador and I will eventually see it all. A trip to the amazon jungle will be another exciting adventure probably better done in our winter months July-Sept.!

Taxi ride back up to Loja (6000 feet) about a 50-minute drive

Back at the hotel for another Jacuzzi and steam bath and a relaxing night

After another great buffet breakfast we headed for the shuttle office and on the way they called and offered us an earlier departure which turned out to be 3 people in a car! Much better than the van ride down.

Another scenic ride through the Andes back to Cuenca in just three hours

Until next time hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving!

Gary Sisk

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