A series of mad dash bus tranfers, topped by a driver who impatiently began to back up the bus while the guys were still loading our bikes underneath, made for an adventurous arrival to the coast. Our first stop at Montañita was dictated by the bus with the largest cargo hold (we’re always keenly aware of our limitations with gigantic bikes). Two days there of tumbling in the surf, drinking smoothies on the beach, and boogie boarding cured us of all our ailments.
With dreams of blue-footed boobies, we saddled up and shoved off toward Isla la Plata to the north. Moments after arriving in Puerto Lopez we established loyalties with Miguel, a seasoned grill master who rides his moto every morning to buy some of the day’s catch down at the beach. We ate four dinners and a breakfast there (not all at once), and we toyed with telling him his $3 grilled swordfish fillet dinners could fetch $30 in the U.S. Our second loyalty was to the elusive ice cream man who pedaled around a gas-powered ice cream maker. We’re constantly impressed with the number of businesses people can run off of a converted bicycle (propane tank delivery, pizza oven, compost collection, fish grill, crushed ice). We’re contemplating whether to finish our trip or begin our own enterprise.
From Puerto Lopez, we took a day trip 30 miles offshore to Isla la Plata. Much like the Farallones, this island is a breeding ground, albeit for blue and red-footed boobies, magnificent frigate birds, and an endangered albatross. After a hike, we snorkeled in a coral garden with reef fish and elusive green turtles. What a treat to be on the receiving end of boat tourism, complete with a fresh lunch and banana bread.
After one last meal with Miguel, we rode a few kilometers out of town with Alex to drop him at his all night bus to Quito. We’re sad to have the brother-in-law leave (“he pays for everything!”), but we’re excited about what’s ahead for the two of us.
The five days of relaxing and dancing around in the waves must have knocked something loose because we rode 100.9 km yesterday: a big bite on a hot day. We did manage 30 km of dirt road through the desert hills that skirt the coastal lowlands. Even on the coast, they’ve built roads with grades as fierce as the Andes. Who would’ve thought that at less than 100 mts elevation we’d be reduced to pushing our bikes (Okay, Katie pushed. James would rather rip his arms from his sockets wrenching on his bars than push his bike). After 5 hours of riding, we stopped for our second lunch of canned tuna, crackers, and raisins. All the kids within eyesight immediately flocked to us, first hiding around corners and in the cracks and slowly inching closer and closer until offering us what looked like olives but weren’t. Their three questions for us were: where are you from, do you speak English, and do you know how to weave. Refueled, we rode into a new ecosystem, a scrubby desert with huge green-trunked trees that were the color of the Hulk and could’ve been drawn in a Dr. Seuss book.
We finally dragged ourselves into Montecristi, home of the Pananma Hat, around 6:30pm. What we haven’t quite figured out yet is how we’ve twice now walked into a closed restaurant where a woman has shrugged and said “there’s no food left except a few things,” only to moments later walk out of the kitchen with two heaping plates of fish, rice, salad, and plantains for us. We closed out our day with ice cream from the “ice cream and photo copies” shop. We considered long and hard what we needed photo copied while we ate our vanilla blackberry swirls, but alas, we couldn’t think of anything.
Today we reached San Clemente, a weekend beach town for Ecuadorians, which essentially feels shut down on a Tuesday. We’re writing this from under a thatched roof, bellies full of shrimp paella, looking out at the sun setting over the ocean. Two pongas have already launched from the beach and the kids are now using the ponga rolling logs as goal posts for their evening soccer game.
While idyllic, we’re planning our escape back into the mountains on our continued hunt for biodiversity. Looking east, we daily see the rain clouds developing, and after experiencing the pasty mud those bring and the pains of living in a water logged world for days, we’ve chosen not to ride that portion. We’ll catch a bus two days from now back into the Andes, and our specific destination no doubt will be determined by where the bus with the largest cargo hold is going.