Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Ecuador's Andes mountain drive with Sue

Sue and I continue our Ecuador drive from Manta up the windy high passes in the Andes mountains to Quito and Otavalo

We left Manta after a great buffet breakfast at the Howard Jonhson Hotel which was just a couple of blocks from our hostel and we headed north on the coastal highway past Crucita and then up the mountain pass towards Santa Domingo.


Crucita is a small town with many condos and houses on the beach. It is a place I will visit again.

We drove past the turn off for Bahia de Caraquez, a town I really wanted to visit, but considering the long drive ahead of us to Quito we headed toward Chone and then Santa Domingo.

  We drove past many corn and sugar cane fields as we headed up the windy mountain roads.

One good thing is that all the roads we drove on were in great condition and many of them were new, unlike my drive through Ecuador in 1975 when most of the roads were gravel and mud.

 We did get a bit excited during our many car passing adventures on blind curves! But if we did not pass the cars and trucks we might have arrived in Quito the next day.

Richard, the real estate guy from the hostel in Manta told us by the time we got lost several times we might arrive in Quito in 13 hours! Well he was right and we did arrive in Quito at night and it was pouring rain and bumper to bumper traffic.
I thought I could avoid this by taking a side road to Mindo but of course I did not find that turn off.
We drove through many small villages with houses made of bamboo on stilts and always roadside stands selling everything from honey, oranges, to food and drinks. All the small villages were inhabited by Indians wearing their typical costumes. It seemed they were farmers and had small herds of cows and sheep. It amazed me how they farmed the sides of the mountains at what seems 70 degree angles. Unfortunately Sue took many hours of movie film on our drive and very few pictures. We could not get the movies to play at my house but hopefully she will fix this problem in Iowa.

By the time we arrived in Quito I was worn out from all the driving and with our limited road map and very few road signs I stayed in the right lanes upon entering Quito. Guess it would not matter what road you take through Quito it seems to always be bumper to bumper driving. It started pouring rain, we ended up in El Centro driving past a few expensive looking Hotels so we stopped at a gas station to ask about places to stay and had a jalapeno hamburger and fries, which did not set well with me for the rest of the night.
We followed the airport signs thinking that there would be lodging around the airport. 
We finally saw a motel sign, which was our excitement for the night in Quito.

We drove into the entrance of the motel and noticed a guy with a flash light directing us into a garage. So we followed him and as soon as we entered to garage the door closed on us with no explanation as to what we should do to check-in. 

 We saw a staircase so of course we went upstairs to what was a room with a king size bed, mirrored wall and a glass shower stall visible from the room. The front door was locked but had a small door that opened to a box. 

So I called the operator to find out what we should do about checking into this motel. But all I got was I don't speak English and a click on the phone!

The mirrored wall and guess what was playing on the TV?

I must have been really tired because I could not figure out what this stool was for!

I finally decided to call Bryan and I explained to him our situation, how we were locked in a motel room with no way out. While I had him on the phone I knocked on the box on the door and this guy opened a door on the other side, so I handed him my phone so he could explain to Bryan what was going on.
When I got back on the phone with Bryan he was having a good laugh while he explained to me that we were in a 'love motel' and we could pay $8 per hour or if we stayed until 7:30 am it would cost $18 for the night. 
Of course being so tired and $18 for the night being a good price we decided to stay for the night.
The next morning Sue took the first shower warning me not to look through the glass! But the glass did steam up right away blocking any view of Sue in the shower. Promptly at 7:30 am a women entered our room to count the condoms, booze and other items on the snack tray to charge us for plus she collected the $18 and opened the garage door.

As we drove away it looked like the guy next door tried leaving without paying!

Back on the road again we headed north to Otavalo and Cotacachi. The sun was shining as we drove along steep mountain passes. It was a pleasant drive without much traffic.
We decided to go to Cotacachi first which was just a few miles north of Otavalo. I had read so many articles from the Gary Scott blog about all the expats settling in Cotacahi and about all the sub-divisions being built I was curious to see it.
When we arrived the town was very quiet, very few people walking around, but very clean.
We stopped by a coffee cafe I had read about to check it out.

The cafe was owned by an Ecuadorian guy who spoke English and we did meet a couple of American residents and had a conversation with them. One nice thing about traveling with Sue she can start conversations with anyone and end up friends with a new e-mail address.

We asked the ladies about expat subdivisions but they did not seem to know about them other than saying there are places outside of town, and they lived in condos in town. In fact they were about to take a trip to Cuenca and were considering relocating there. 

After some espresso coffee we stopped by a couple of leather shops so Sue could buy more gifts for her daughters and friends in Iowa.
In the basement of one of the shops were a few men busy making leather goods.

Sue was happy with her purchases, seems the quality and prices were a bargain.

Downtown Cotacachi

We drove back to Otavalo and at the suggestion of the coffee shop owner we stayed at the Hotel India.

Hotel India was very clean with great rooms and just $53 per night.

Social area with WiFi and glass roof inside the hotel

A mural inside the hotel, Otavalo is just 90 years old and the sidewalks are beautiful colored tiles. It is very clean city, warm weather and is located on a large trout lake.

The Otavaleños (or runa, as the refer to themselves) are a people and culture indigenous to the Otavalo valley in the Imbabura province of Northern Ecuador. The Otavalo Indians are the descendants of the Cara Indians who inhabited this region of South America about 500 years ago. In 1495 the Caras were conquered by the Incas of the south, and the Incan Empire was in turn conquered by the Spanish Conquistadores in the 1530s. The Otavaleño people today are skilled textile weavers, and are perhaps the most prosperous indigenous group in all of South America. Today, there are upwards of 50,000 Otavaleños; the majority of them still live in the valley surrounding the town of Otavalo, but they are a common site in virtually any Ecuadorian city. Within the past two decades or so, increasing numbers of Otavaleños have also been travelling overseas to sell their handicrafts in Europe, North America and other countries in South America.

Our room was quiet, lots of hot water and TV! After a good nights sleep we had breakfast that was included and headed for the marketplace to shop for more gifts.

Sue bought 20 cotton scarfs for friends in Iowa which will come in handy during those cold snowy winters.

The marketplace had lots of woven goods to chose from including blankets, sweaters, wall hangings and many oil paintings.

Otavalo was a beautiful city full of happy friendly people. A place I will visit again.

Unfortunately we had a lot of territory to cover and just a few days to do it. So after Sue's shopping spree we headed back to Quito and to Bano hot springs for the night.

And once again we were stuck in bumper to bumper traffic for 3 hours driving through Quito. But it was a relief to get through the city and back on the Pan American Highway.

Next blog will cover the trip to Bano and back to Cuenca! Until then keep enjoying life.  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Ecuador coastal drive from Salinas to Manta

After our great vacation in the Galapagos Islands we rented a car in Guayaquil and started our drive up the coast.

We landed at the Guayaquil airport at 3 pm and stopped by the car rental agencies after collecting our luggage. This turned out to be a time consuming affair, we walked by several booths and asked prices. It seems the cost of rental cars in Ecuador is expensive and each booth offered very high prices followed by discounts, put with taxes, insurance and other fees the prices were very high again.
Arriving at the last booth Localiza, we were offered the best deal on a mid-size 4 door Hyundai. Starting with a 35% discount plus all the other fees they added on we ended up paying $450 for a week and we waved the $10 a day insurance. In doing this they took a $1000 off Sue's credit card as a security deposit in case we did have an accident. They also offered us a GPS for $8 a day which I declined. I did not know they worked in Ecuador and I passed mine on to my cousin in California when I moved. We did decide to pay a $54 drop off fee so we could leave the car in Cuenca to avoid another 3 1/2 hour drive over the Caja's and a 4 hour return trip in a express van.
It seems we got the last mid-size car they had and we had to wait for them to clean it up before heading to Salinas.

We finally got out of the airport at 5 pm and started our 2 hour drive to Salinas. I had seen many photos of Salinas which is called the mini Miami and I was looking forward to seeing it.
We arrived in Salinas after dark after a not so nice drive through La Libertad. There was lots of traffic and the city was dusty and uninviting.
When we arrived in Salinas we stopped three girls walking along the beach and asked about a Hotel. They directed us down the street to where they were staying and we got a room for $35 for the night. I was tired from a long day and happy to have a room.

Salinas is a seasonal vacation town with many apartment building lining the streets and most of them empty. I imagine in the season starting in December the town is very full.

After breakfast at one of the oceanfront restaurants we headed north on E-1 towards Manta.

We stopped at Montañita which is known as the party town on the coast. There were many Hostel's, bars and restaurants, I could see that it might be lots of fun at night with music coming from all the bars and people having a good time walking about the streets. And again after December I am sure it is full of tourists from all over the world.

Beach front Hostel with four beds per room for $10 per person per night.

The beach across the street from the Hostel.

After our short tour of  Montañita we headed north up the coast again. The roads were in great condition and there was very little traffic. The only road map we could find did not show much detail, but there is just one coastal road and not many road signs.

We stopped in Puerto Lopez for lunch at a beach front Palapa restaurant. It is a small fishing village with not to much going on.
You can take a boat from here to Isla Safango, which is also called the mini Galapagos. It is a two hour boat ride to the island and I understand there are lots of blue foot boobies there. Perhaps a fun trip for another time.

Sue had her daily serving of shrimp ceviche and I had a seafood mixture with rice, which I could not finish!

Back in our Hyundai we headed towards Manta.

Sue took many hours of movies of all the scenery on our drive. We drove through many small Villages always lined with roadside stands selling everything from clothing to food. Unfortunately we could not get the disc's from her camera to play at my house. I sure hope she can figure out how to show the disc's.

The coastline in Ecuador is much like Northern Baja, Mexico and parts of California. No beautiful blue water or tropical beaches. 
We stopped by one of those gated beachfront developments where you can buy a building lot. But there were no houses in this one.

Nice looking entrance, it even had tennis courts but no houses.

We arrived in Manta about 5 pm and ended up in El Centro with all the traffic. So we headed north towards the ocean and ended up in a nice area of town on the coast with lots of new developments going up. It was a good time of year to be on the coast, the weather was great not cold and to to hot.
We stopped at a hotel but it was full so they directed us to a new Hostel up the road. It was nice but we did not want to pay $120 for one night. Back down the road we saw a sign with a bed on it and turned down a side street to another hostel.
This one was very nice and only $53 for the night so we checked in. 
As we were checking in this American guy named Richard suddenly appeared in the lobby and asked us if we might be interested in buying some Real Estate. We had a short conversation about how the area was growing and many rich Ecuadorians were buying there, but only 1% of sales were from Americans. Richard assured us our drive to Quito the next day would take about 13 hours by the time we got lost several times! Ha! I turned out he was right unfortunately.

Breakfast at Howard Johnson's

After a good nights sleep and a big breakfast we headed out for Quito, which will be the next blog!

Thanks again for all my readers from over 26 different countries now! Hope all is good with everyone. Until next time keep enjoying life.