Our journey to Puerto Lopez on the Pacific coast took us on an old road, rather bumpy and surprisingly without a lot of traffic. I found out later the driver we hired had an urge for some sort of dish at a local spot, a aguado de pato,(duck stew). When we arrived, the owners were on vacation so we ended up taking a hike through some semi-arid landscape over winding hilly roads. It all seemed familiar from all my previous adventures here. I have seen a lot of roads, vegetation, mud, burros and whatever else catches your eye in the back of a car's window on the dusty back roads of Ecuador.
Gradually, as we climbed and then descended from the more arid landscape, we saw greener, more dense vegetation in valleys filled with wild papayas. And in the distance I caught sight of blue from the Pacific ocean breaking on the white sandy shoreline. After four hours, we decided on having lunch on the road in a town called Puerto Cayo, formally the first attraction and tourist destination on Ecuador's Ruta del Sol.
Quaint and pretty desolate, we stopped by several places to inquire what was on the menu. It seemed everyone was just waking up; mind you it was approaching lunch time by my calculations, or is twelve noon too early? No one was offering anything of sustenance, not even soup, something typical here for breakfast and lunch. Instead most places had a ceviche, or a fish fry with rice or shrimp dish. We ended up all ordering a fresh Corvina frito with rice, accompanied by a crisp cabbage salad and the ubiquitous but delicious patacones,(fried and mashed plantains).
Taking off, we passed a road sign that informed us we were entering Machalilla Nacional Park, a drier lunar looking landscape winding along the coast with brush, cactus and supposedly large feline creatures! Slowly, the car seemed to crawl over an even dustier road that, at some spots, looked totally in-hospitable, other than some shade from trees that covered the road, seemingly like they were closing around us as the limbs met from one side to the other. All to say that Ecuador is a dreamy country. With so much road time, your mind can go virtual, dreaming about who lived here before, the conquistadors arriving, or when will we ever get to our hotel!
Finally after a few towns we arrived at an equally dusty road and sign, Puerto Lopez, our destination. I was looking forward to jumping into the pool at the Hosteria Oceanic where we would be spending the next five day's. At the moment, though, the idea of having an ice cold beer seemed awfully inviting. Or even a surf on the internet…. Ahhh, not so fast, my wife was taking control! First check in! Then we would head to town. But first get into some comfortable clothes, sun block, etc…Lord I thought I was on vacation! After checking in to our humble cabana's we had unpacked it was off to town just for a look see.
A huge humpbacked whale skeleton lay along side the road next to the palm covered cabana's of the very lovely looking Hosterial Mandala. Apparently the hotel was booked solid. Whale-in-the-road or not, next time I will try it, as it's the place where everyone wants to stay.
We followed the sandy dirt road and followed a street up to the more center of town, away from the beachfront and towards the direction of the village food market. As we passed a little house, there were signs everywhere for La Bella Italia. From my wife's last trip, she had found a couple who had settled in this sleepy hamlet from Modena, opening the village's only Italian restaurant. We decided to stop there for dinner. The sign on the restaurants door appealed to me, reading "siesta 2-4." Italian, Ecaudorian, same smart sense of the good life!
The market was a low covered group of stalls filled with all sorts of fruit. At this point I was parched and my brother in-law suggested coconut water. The salesman ceremoniously took the large fruit and hacked it methodically on the ground with a machete. We took a gulp of the fruit till we had finished, and then he the cracked it in half, letting us dig into the soft flesh that he had kindly separated from the shell.
It was getting hot and dark and we decided to head back to our hostal for a bite for dinner and some sleep and an early walk onto the beach, maybe a dip in the pool?