Our friends, Bob and Glenda, owned a home in a small town named Vilcabamba located in what is known as the valley of longevity in the mountains of south central Ecuador for many years. Earlier this year they decided that Vilcabamba was growing too big with lots of development geared toward foreign immigrants and the nature of their community was changing. They also wanted to live on the coast, so they sold their home in the mountains and began looking for a place along the Ecuadorian coast. We had a nice visit with them here at our home in March, but they did not find a place that suited their needs then and returned to the United States.
Bob and Glenda came back to Ecuador a few weeks ago intent on exploring condominiums in Playas, Salinas, and up the coast as time permitted. After about a week in country we learned that they had fallen in love with Playas and were making some offers on condominiums there. So…we decided to hop on a bus for a three-day trip to Playas to see our friends and see more of our adopted country.
First a note on bus travel in Ecuador. Bus travel here is very affordable (roughly one dollar per hour of travel time) and there are many busses running throughout the day between the major cities and even to towns off the beaten path. When we want to go to Portoviejo or Charapoto we simply walk up the road to the main intersection and wait for no more than fifteen minutes for the next bus to come along.
This picture was taken by our friend Lisa as we were leaving on a bus from Crucita. (Look closely at the blond-haired beauty by the open window.) Sometimes the arriving bus is new and modern, in excellent condition, with wide seats and good shocks like this bus we were on with Jeanne on a trip to Portoviejo a couple of months ago.
But other times the arriving bus is older with narrow seats, questionable shocks and brakes, and might be crowded with people carrying all sorts of bags, tools, and animals (we saw a woman carrying six live chickens strapped together at their feet on the bus once coming home from Charapoto!) It is literally the luck of the draw. The busses are usually decorated with colorful curtains, stickers and large pictures of Jesus, various virgin saints and Che Guevara (draw your own subplot there!) Generally speaking the longer trips between major cities are slated for the more modern busses with a toilet in the rear and comfortable seating. All are an adventure and Mary and I both enjoy mixing and mingling with the happy crowds on the busses.
We set out last Tuesday morning to visit Bob and Glenda in Playas hoping to be lucky and catch good buses, especially for the longest leg between Portoviejo and Guayaquil. We left our house at about 8:30 and caught a bus to Portoviejo (about an hour and twenty-minute trip) with no problems. We had a quick turnaround in Portoviejo and left there at about 10:30. The bus appeared to be fairly old, but it did have a toilet in the rear and we were hoping for an express ride to Guayaquil. Turns out the driver was a frustrated gran prix driver (not uncommon for bus drivers here) who seemed bent on taxing the worn shocks to their extremes on the switch back curves leading up to Jipijapa (pronounced, “Hippy-Hoppa”) and down the mountain on the ride to the lowlands near Guayaquil. We arrived in about four hours in spite of stopping about one hundred times to pick-up and leave off passengers laden with their bags and boxes.
The bus terminal in Guayaquil is very modern with a three-story shopping complex attached complete with food court featuring McDonald’s, Pizza-Hut, KFC, and dozens of other eating establishments. Mary and I both took the opportunity to see if McDonald’s hamburgers tasted the same in Ecuador. They do! It was nice to rest up there before our last leg to Playas.
We got tickets for the bus to Playas and the attendant pointed to the doorway and said the bus was at slot 70 on the first floor (primero piso). I should have known better as I have been told this before, but we do not frequent multilevel bus terminals here in Manabi province, but primero piso actually means the second floor. Ecuadorians call what we would call the first floor, ground floor (abbreviated PB for reasons I do not know) and the second floor is the first floor. Anyway, we made it up to the primero piso to find our bus that was to leave at 3:03 pulling out as we approached at 3:13, but attendants waved it down and we boarded without further incident.
After a little over two more hours on the bus we arrived at Playas, had to talk with three different taxi and moto-taxi drivers and still could not find one who knew where the hostel Promenade was located. We got one driver willing to make some calls and we searched the road Bob told us the hostel was on until we gratefully saw Bob and Glenda waiting outside in front of our lovely hostel.
This hostel is located one block off of the malecon (roadway along the beach), has large, clean rooms and a very accommodating staff comprised mostly of the Swiss owner Ueli (sounds like Willy) and his Ecuadorian wife Narcissa and their son Josue. Within two blocks one way is a large park
My sons would also be excited to see that the park has a skate park area with ramps, rails, and half-pipe.
And about one block the other way is a quaint little city square area with a gazebos, benches, birds, iguanas, and a church.
The city of Playas has been the resort town for wealthy citizens of Guayaquil and only recently has come up on the radar of foreign immigrants. It is planned out well with a wide malecon arching around it bow-shaped beach area. I saw an aerial photograph in a restaurant that shows the beach better than my ground shot photo can.
Here are some pictures of the malecon. I am told that the place is really bustling on weekends and holidays, but we were there in the middle of the week and had these unobstructed views of the beach area.
The town has not forgotten its’ fishing roots and has an active fishing fleet next to the resort beach chairs and quaint seaside eating establishments.
We had a nice walk up the beach one morning with Bob and Glenda.
That day we ate at a lovely seafood restaurant where we were greeted by these colorful parrots
We can see why Bob and Glenda like the city! It has a brand new modern hospital, major shopping areas in town and modern homes and apartments available. We did not eat at this place but I got this picture of Mary’s corner (Rincon de Mary) which shows a painting of some of Playas’ balsa wood sailing boats. Mary is preparing a post about those balsa boats which she will post soon.
After three days of fellowship and association with our dear friends it was time to bid them farewell and once again board the bus. We wanted to take the coastal route home to see different scenery, so I made some inquiries at the bus terminal in Playas. My Spanish is getting pretty good, but I still have to guess at the meaning of some words and am never totally certain that I understand everything, so it was with a bit of trepidation that we set out on Friday morning to return home. I was told we needed to debark at Progreso and then take the bus to Salinas to transfer to a bus to Manta. We were going to travel on the Ruta del Sol (Route of the Sun) along the coast. Our trip was complicated by our having to carry a floor lamp made of bamboo and wicker that we bought at one of the shops on the malecon. We loaded our two back packs, duffel bag, small suitcase and cumbersome floor lamp on the bus and took off for Progreso.
When we got to Progreso we wrestled all of our gear off the bus and stood there as the bus drove away. There was no bus terminal and I could not see any busses to transfer to. I asked a man where one could catch the bus to Salinas and he directed me over to a pickup truck and started loading our bags into the back of the truck! I was not excited about driving several hours to Salinas in the back of a pickup truck, so I pulled our bags back until I learned that this pickup truck was the shuttle “bus” we needed to ride to get to the other side of town where the Salinas bound busses stopped (at least that is what I thought he said)! Mary was doubtful and commented something like, “We are going to ride in that?!?” But she gamely scaled the back bumper and stepped over the tailgate where there were bench seats on the sides of the bed.
Luckily, I had heard right and the truck took us on loop around Progreso to another intersection where a bus stood waiting to drive us to Salinas. It was totally full and Mary got the last seat as I stood holding our floor lamp in the aisle. A seat opened up fairly soon and I sat one row forward of Mary. I was not entirely clear about where we were to transfer busses to head toward Manta, so I asked the attendant and numerous passengers to let us know where we should debark. We were told to get off at La Libertad which is a beach town on the coast before the peninsula heading out to Salinas. Once again we got off the bus and were directed to a taxi which looped us to another terminal area where we got seats on a bus to Manta.
After we were on the bus we noted that it was one of the older busses with no toilet, narrow seats, and more pictures of Che than Jesus. The route up the coast is winding and diverts inland periodically to transverse mountains before winding back down to the coast. We also were driving this route in the early afternoon and the bus regularly stopped to pickup scores of school children, workmen, and other travelers who crammed onto the bus well beyond any anticipated load limit specifications.
One note is that Ecuadorianos are very good about being crowded! They do not mind being shoulder to shoulder with no leg room on a bus full of people talking over the loud latin beat music while swerving back and forth over narrow roads. I, on the other hand, was somewhat uncomfortable seated in a small seat with the suitcase, backpack, and lovely floor lamp all vying for space in my cramped quarters! Mary was seated right behind me overcoming her aversion to mountain switch back roads holding her back pack and other gear and praying for a stopover somewhere where she would have time to visit the banos (restroom)!
We actually enjoyed the trip overall and got to see many of the picturesque beach towns we have heard about. But, but the time we got to Manta, after five in the evening, we decided to get a taxi to drive us home to San Clemente.
We can see why Bob and Glenda love Playas, but for us, our quiet little pueblito of San Clemente is our home and never felt more so than when we wearily stumbled in last Friday evening.
Life is good in San Clemente, Ecuador!