One Year in Ecuador – Part Two – “Puerto López”


Looking north, Puerto López, EC

Puerto López is a small fishing town on the Pacific coast of Ecuador in Manabí Province. The main industries are fishing and ecotourism. We had our eye on Puerto López before we left Nova Scotia and after leaving San Jacinto decided that this is where we want to be.

We both grew up on the coast of Nova Scotia. Since we were used to living near the sea, eating fresh fish, and being near beaches all our lives, Puerto López sounded just right. It is also the headquarters for the Machalilla National Park. This was a draw for us as well as we love to hike, camp and explore new places.

Lucky for us, Jorge, our driver from Guayaquil, was going to be in San Jacinto at the time of our leaving there so we arranged for him to drive us to Puerto López. We arrived at our temporary rental, Casa Mosaico, and were warmly welcomed by the owners, Lucy & Horst who are really great people.

Casa Mosaico. Puerto López

They lived next door in the same house and they taught us to place ‘ochos locos’ or crazy eights in Spanish. We enjoyed their company and also the fact that the beach and Malecon were only about 150 ft. from our doorstep.

We met another couple from Canada and through them found a house to rent from their landlords. It was very hard to find a place to rent; it’s really by word of mouth, as there are no rental listings in the local paper.

After moving into the main floor of our brand new house where we were the first renters, we settled into a routine. Fresh fruit for breakfast, working through the day – Dave was writing and I was trying to find on-line work – and going to the Mercado or taking a walk in the afternoon if it wasn’t too hot.

The evenings were the best; I looked forward to sunset because it cooled down! Most days were really hot and humid – the weather was beautiful but really too hot for me. Every evening we walked to the beach and enjoyed the beautiful sunsets.

Sunset, Puerto López, Ecuador

As the days went by, we explored Puerto López. We walked everywhere. If we had groceries or wanted to get somewhere quickly, we used the local moto taxi’s – kind of like a motorcycle with a cab on the back big enough for two people. They were great and only cost 50 cents a ride anywhere in town. If we ventured outside of town, there were many regular taxis to use or we would take the bus.

The bus service in Ecuador is great and very cheap. We met a lot of local people and quite a few ex-pats, some from the US and some from Canada. The local people are very friendly and easy to meet and were always willing to help us out and try to chat with us in our broken Spanish.

There are many day trips to be taken outside of Puerto López.

Agua Blanca:

A 15-minute bus ride will take you to Agua Blanca which is an indigenous village with a museum and archaeological site. You can go horseback riding in the dry tropical forest, take a hike around the site, and finish off the day bathing in the sulfur pool.

Playa de Los Frailes:

Just up the road a little further, about 12 km from Puerto López, is Playa de Los Frailes, which is part of Machalilla National Park. It is a protected, pristine beach and on the north end, there is an observation deck.

At the beginning of the road to the beach is an information building attended by a park ranger. You can get information here about a 2-hour hike which ends at Los Frailes beach. Make sure to bring a lunch, water, an umbrella for shade, and your swimsuit. The crystal clear water is very inviting on a hot day.

Los Frailes Beach, Ecuador

Isla de la Plata (Silver Island):

If you want an all-day adventure, make sure you sign up for an hour-long boat ride out to Isla de la Plata, also referred to as “The Poor Man’s Galapagos”. The island (which is only 8 square km) is 40 km offshore from Puerto López and is inhabited by the blue and red-footed booby, Nazca booby, Magnificent Frigatebirds, albatross, pelican and other seabirds.

While on your guided hike on the island, you can get up close to many of these birds but please do not touch or disturb them. The island is surrounded by coral reef and on the way back on our boat ride, we stopped and went snorkelling. You can also observe sea turtles, dolphins and at certain times of the year, the humpback whale.

Whale Watching and Deep Sea Fishing:

Whale watching is popular from mid-June to October, when the Humboldt Current brings the humpback whales here to mate and have their babies. You can book tours at a variety of places in Puerto López, not only for whale watching but also for a visit to Isla de la Plata. I totally recommend making at least one of these tours a part of your visit, you won’t be sorry.

Deep sea fishing is another option to explore. You can hire a local fisherman to take you out or sign up with a guide and join a group of people with fishing on the mind. You’ll have a chance to catch dorado, marlin, swordfish, red snapper, corvina, tuna, and many other species of large and small fish.

Salango:

Another great place to visit is the small community of Salango, just south of Puerto López. You can stay in a typical hut, visit the beautiful beaches, and buy local handicrafts. Tours, snorkelling, and whale watching are also available.

In the community of Salango, you can visit the Research Centre and Museum. You will see exhibits of archaeological pieces, declared a part of Salango’s cultural heritage.

Also, just off the coast, is Salango Island, with a beautiful white sand beach. A large natural aquarium is located on the edge of the island, which is only about 3 meters deep. It’s a great place to see coral reefs, multicoloured fish and the beauty of the marine fauna.

Puerto López Beach:

Our favourite part of Puerto López is the 6 km-long sandy beach. It’s a great place for a leisurely walk or, if you feel ambitious, go for a jog – we just walked. Lots of local people can be seen jogging the beach every evening. We enjoyed many walks here and a dip in the warm water was very refreshing.

It’s hard to actually swim because there are always a lot of waves happening but you can watch the surfers enjoying the waves. We also enjoyed watching the many games of futbol (soccer) or volleyball being played on the beach. Sundays are family days in Ecuador, and the beaches are usually full of people. If there is a Holiday happening, well, you’ll see lots of umbrellas and cabanas, food vendors and people everywhere!

At night, it was great to sit at one of the cabanas enjoying a beverage made with fresh fruit – mixed with something stronger if we so desired – right on the beach with our feet in the sand, music in the background. Sometimes we’d walk to a quiet place – just the sound of the waves and the stars in the sky – it was paradise!

Puerto López Town:

The town itself is small but has all the basic necessities. The streets are dirt, except for the main street which is the only paved street in town. If it rained, the dirt streets would turn to mud and it was really hard to walk on them. It was very slippery, almost like walking on ice and the mud would stick to our shoes.

The Malecon (the street along the beach) is paved with bricks, lined with palm trees, and is a very nice place to walk. At the south end of the Malecon, near the town wharf, there is a fish market that is open every morning. The boats land early so the fish are always fresh.

Fish Market, Puerto López, EC

They sell many varieties of fish. Our favourite was Dorado (Mahi-Mahi) and the camarón (shrimp) were so good! There are many shrimp boats fishing out of Puerto López. They would leave in the early evening and return every morning.

Fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, and poultry are always available at the Mercado, an open market in the centre of town. Occasionally, we’d take an hour-long bus ride to Manta, the nearest city north of Puerto López, to buy a few items that were not available in the local markets.

Puerto López, Ecuador

Pomarrosa:

One of the best outings we went on was a tour of an organic farm called “Pomarrosa”. While there, we enjoyed picking cacao pods and planting yucca and learning about bananas, coffee beans, bamboo and various other plants.

The highlight was roasting cacao beans, drying and husking them, and then grinding them to make chocolate! We also roasted coffee beans and made coffee. We enjoyed a typical Ecuadorian almuerzo (lunch) with fresh yucca and vegetable soup, chicken, rice, beans, plantanos, fresh fruit juice, cookies and hot chocolate (made from the chocolate we just ground). What a treat! For more information about Pomarrosa or if you would like to book a stay there, check out the following link:
http://www.salango.com.ec/pomarrosa_finca_organica_en_ecuador_wwoof.php

Earthquake:

After our tiring, wonderful, unforgettable day we returned home with our chocolate and coffee treasures. We were just getting ready to head to the beach for sunset when another unforgettable event happened – Earthquake!! As I’m sure most people have heard, Ecuador had one of its worst earthquakes happen on April 16, 2016, killing around 600 people and leaving tens of thousands homeless.

A day I will never forget! Around 7:00 pm a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck just outside Muisne, Esmeraldas Province about 400 km north of Puerto López. Yes, we felt it; the whole country of Ecuador felt it, also parts of Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru.

I was in our bathroom at the time and the shower doors started to shake – it did not take me long to leave our 2nd-floor apartment. We had just moved into this apartment, in a new 3-story building, at the beginning of March, moving from our house apartment so we could have an ocean view and ocean breeze.

As I was trying to walk down the outside steps I was pushed from side to side and tried to hold on so as not to fall. The electrical pole just outside our building was swaying back and forth and I could hear dishes breaking inside and saw big cracks appear in our building.

Damaged Walls

We had felt smaller quakes before but we knew this time it was much worse. Finally, after we were all outside, our neighbours and landlords included, the shaking stopped. Then the power went out (it was getting dark by then). It was surreal – we were all in shock.

My husband and I decided we would head to the beach to figure out what to do for the rest of the night. On our way there, someone warned us that a tsunami was likely to happen – so much for that plan.

We met up with our neighbours and all headed for the hills with the rest of the townspeople. Our neighbours had friends that lived up on the hill and out of harm’s way so we headed there. These wonderful people took us in plus many other locals and friends. They had a houseful of people stay all night and shared water and food – and the internet so we could contact family. They even shared their own bed. What caring people.

Of course, no one slept much that night; we had quite a few aftershocks as well. The next morning we walked back to our destroyed apartment. The building did not fall down but the walls were cracked and it was not safe to live there anymore. After that night, we stayed with friends (our neighbours from the same building) at another apartment on the Malecon that belonged to a friend of theirs. Thank you, Alex and Veronica, for taking us under your wings.

I was pretty upset over the whole experience, so we decided that we couldn’t live on the coast anymore. Prior to this, we had accepted a housesitting job in Girón for a month. Girón is a small town in the Andes Mountains, away from the coast and the main earthquake zone. Three days later, we were off to the mountains, feeling relieved and a little sad at leaving Puerto López and all the friends we made there.

Stay tuned for Part 3 – Girón: a little town in the Andes with a fantastic waterfall nearby and the Fiesta of the Bulls!

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