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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador May 2009

We flew from Santiago to Lime, Peru. Peru has vast stretches of desert like, desolate beaches. The country appears to be very poor, and the international airport looks more like a museum, and winged craft wrecking yard littered with large & small vintage military and passenger aircraft, than a busy international airport. We will cover Peru in depth when we adventure to Machu Pichu.
From Lima we flew to Guayaquil, Ecuador a bustling commercial port. The modern cosmopolitan port is humid, and warm, and a growing destination for travelers. Transported by taxi to the new bus station which operates in conjunction with a new, large shopping mall. While this is normally an appreciated convenience, a porter was required to assist us in negotiating our luggage safely through the multi-level mall and the crowds of shoppers. Of course we had more luggage than normal vacationers would have, and faced the logistical challenges of taxi transfers, and buses to our destination of Bahia de Caraquez.

Now we know, at this point in time, that North American media’s hype & ballyhoo about A (H1N1) the official name for swine flu which has been factually linked to 17 deaths in Mexico, and minor symptoms in other countries scattered around the world. WHO alarmist reports have differed widely in an attempt to confuse and save face. They have successfully set Mexico & Latin American economies back once again by dissuading emmigration, and travellers. Incidentally 36,000 people die in the U.S. from flu viruses each year, and 500,000 worldwide!! Pig farmers around the world have been devastated! A powerful, orchestrated economic boost to large drug & medical supply companies (masks), media diversion of attention from the economy, and control of migration through fear, along with governments worldwide intervention with private enterprise and the economy. We must again wonder & question …….

Although Ecuador is one of the smallest countries in South America, it surely has some of the continent's most spectacular points-of-interest. Ecuador has two cities that UNESCO has declared world cultural heritage: Quito and Cuenca. They are both architectural jewels that have preserved archaeological and colonial treasures. Quito, the political capital is described by many travelers as the most beautiful city in South America. With its elevation and location near the Equator, its climate is always “spring like.” And of course the Galapagos Islands, with its marine reserve and the National Park Sangay has been declared Natural Heritage of the World. There are several national parks; the Avenue of the Volcanoes (Cotopaxi),Podocarpus, and Yasumi; rainforest; the cities of Ambato and Otavalo; and the natural springs at Banos. The indigenous populations mixed with those of European descent give Ecuador a unique cultural texture. It's a very friendly country, with people known for warm, welcoming hospitality, where it is hard to describe the “love of life” & happiness, even when often faced with adverse living conditions.

Our nine hour bus journey along poor coastal roads filled with potholes, was slowed & delayed several times with lengthy parades of cars, and trucks filled with residents waving flags, and marching parades. We discover that we are several days away from the presidential, provincial, and city elections. All held on the same day, Sunday April 25th. People jubilantly rally for their preferred party candidate. Voting is an obligation here, met with a significant fine if ignored. So the outcome, from practically 100 % of the populous, accurately reflects the desires of he people. The sale of alcohol is prohibited nationwide for three days prior to the election. These parades with bands, and music filled the streets each night until the day of the election. On the day of the election, streets and parks were filled with families picnicking, vendor concession stalls - it was a wonderful vibrant social occasion not even remotely resembling any voting experience we have seen in North America, nor the staunch military, or corruption experienced in other Latin American countries. Ecuador has not had any leadership stability over the last 12 years so it is good that Correa, after 2 years in office , has garnered the people’s support in re-election. It will enable him to orderly implement his plans for change.

Bahia de Caraquez established in 1642, with archeological findings from a variety of pre-hispanic cultures to 300 B.C. , is located in approximately the middle of Ecuador’s coastline on a sandy peninsula of land at the mouth of the Rio Chone. An extensive malecon (seawall walk) similar to Vancouver, B.C. extends along the peninsula with the mouth of the river estuary on one side, and the mighty Pacific Ocean on the other. We often enjoy the tranquility of walking the malecon. Friday & Saturday evenings, there is a 10 – 12 foot tide, and if high, we will be dodging the sea’s powerful splashing waves. Locals gather along the malecon strumming their guitars and singing, or dancing to calypso music blasting from their boomboxes. Late at night the sidewalk stroll is busy with a myriad of insects and critters scurrying about.
The harbour supports a variety of commercial vessels, and its shelter and tranquillity provides a favorite stop for private yachts, and leisure craft activity. Currently several dozen yachts are moored here, with sailors from around the world. Many stopped for supplies or a brief visit and have been here for months!

Additional information and photos on Bahia Caraquez may be obtained at:

Chamber of Commerce: http://www.bahiadecaraquez.net/

Local Newspaper: http://www.elnuevoglobo.com/
Museum : http://www.museodebahiadecaraquez.com/

The MVSEO in Bahia has a wonderful archeological exposition with pre-Columbian pottery.

Around Bahía, excursions can be done in the estuary of the Río Chone to the following islands:
  • Isla Corazón.- featuring a mangrove environment and estuary for birds and marine life. The bird colonies located at the end of the island but may be seen only by boat.
  • Isla Fragatas.- 15 minutes by boat from Bahía with a myriad of bird types. Between August and January a large colony of frigate birds can be seen very closely showing their inflated red sacks during the mating ritual season.
Other interesting places to visit around the area are:
  • Punta Bellaca, a beautiful beach on the way to Chirije close to the Cerro de las Orquídeas hill.
  • The archaeological site of Chirije, surrounded by tropical forest and nice beaches with boutique resort accomodation is 45 minutes south of Bahía. Chirije used to be a seaport of the Bahía Culture (500 BC-500 AD). This is a good place to relax, as well as for other activities in the area as birdwatching and horse riding.
  • Saiananda Located 5 km from Bahía, is a very interesting park. It has a very unusual combination of native and domestic animals and birds such as: Chuchuchos, sloths, ostriches, macaws, deer, geese, rabbits, peacocks, donkeys, and cows. The park also has a cactus collection and a bonsai garden.
  • Canoa is another attractive beach especially for hanggliders.
  • The Río Muchacho organic farm located in a river setting 10 km north of Canoa, offers horse riding trips on the farm, making chocolate, and rustic accommodation.
  • Cerra Seco – dry forest ecology
  • Casa Ceibo a new exclusive resort hotel
  • Miradora Cross
Our temporary home here is Coco Bongo operated by Susie a wonderful Australian lady. Located near the malecon it receives a dynamic array of travellers from around the world (young & old). Currently there is a young lady from Sweden, finishing her thesis on eco-tourism and another from the U.S. undertaking a teaching exchange program in ecology.

Bahia city suffered three significant natural disasters in 1997 & 1998 a major earthquake levelled a large portion of the city and left its residents without electricity and water for many months, El Nino rains caused extensive flooding and erosion of the hillsides, and an epidemic disease which wiped out their shrimp farms. To this day they are still recovering from those natural disasters. Most of the damage has been repaired, but some buildings and houses remain vacant and some damage remains visible, or repairs are still being undertaken. It is also one of the favourite vacation beach resorts for wealthy Ecuadorians, and home to a previous president. Consequently the city has infrastructure, and green parkland which seems to be much more than a small population of 25,000 urban & 15,000 rural residents would warrant. The town is a relaxed and very safe place to live in with a constantly tropical temperature of between 23 and 36 degrees centigrade.

Bahia declared itself an "eco-city" in 1999, initiating ambitious plans to recycle the city’s waste, and bring it into harmony with the surrounding bioregion. A consistent flow of water is not always readily available from city pipelines resulting in it being treated with respect as a very precious commodity. All homes, and businesses, have large water storage cisterns, rain water collection systems on roofs, and grey water systems for irrigation, to ensure water is always available. An extensive system of water trucks delivers potable water in the event of additional needs. Bahia has a thriving inner city taxi system of human powered tricyclettas. For almost a decade this small community has undertaken a much more extensive recycling program than the program which Kamloops has just now initiated. Bags of litter collected off the beach are rewarded with a free drink in local watering holes! Come on down Mark!

There are active grassroots discussions on utilizing alternative energy systems harnessing solar and wind power however currently utility costs here are so inexpensive (50 lb propane bottle $ 1.50 – average monthly electrical bill is $ 20) that these systems are uneconomical to install at this time.
In Latin America one needs to have an open mind in order to be accepting of the differences along with the positive attributes. For example while there are many new cars, motorcycles, & scooters, there are also old ones – no not restored! Noisy, without mufflers – often music blaring and puffing their way up the hillsides. Vive de largo Ford!! Roads on the coast are windy, narrow and filled with potholes. Roosters have been imported here from other time zones as they crow from evening to early morning dawn!
Semi-trucks, buses, quad ATV’s, tractors, and horses successfully share the streets. Hot water on demand from a tap is not standard here – hot showers – when available - are commonly provided by an electrical powered heater right in the shower head known as “a widow maker”. Refrigeration is less popular than cell phones, and while electric models are available, it is more common to be a simple ice box. Due to the tropical climate most families shop daily for fresh meat and produce, and milk is either unpasteurized fresh from the farm, or in an unrefrigerated tetra pack. Litter, debris, and animal excrement can be unsightly and disturbing.

A local school is home to a tortoise from the Galapagos Islands. Apparently miguleta appeared on the beach many years ago (1920) and ended up at the school playground. He was returned to the Galapagos but didn’t eat and got sick. They brought him back and he has lived happily as the school’s mascot ever since.

Several days after the election a “city block “was closed to traffic and a celebration party held for the mayor. Live bands entertained from a stage with a system of large speakers and myriad of lights to rival a live concert in New York! Street vendors sold a variety of food and snacks, and alcoholic drinks were available. The air was filled with loud music, and a sweet aroma from caldrons cooking slowly a hot alcoholic drink filled with fresh tropical fruit. Even though the evening was dampened with rain, there was a fair crowd dancing in the streets. On normal weekends music, laughter, conversation, and a variety of smells fill the air from streets and squares filled with people socializing.

We took a water taxi - panga - across the river to San Vicente and Canoa. We hope this transportation method is not made obsolete with the new bridge scheduled for completion in two years. Architectural design photos of the project are available at the city’s web site (referenced above), along with the many other current projects underway. On the other side we hopped in the back of a local’s pick-up truck, along with several others, and enjoyed “an open air”, “ hairdo changing”, journey 14 kms up the coast. Canoa is a small fishing village with unpaved streets, but a very popular beach. It rivals Montanita in drawing young travelers (and young at heart) to surf & sun on the beaches with a very active nightlife. Primitive beach shacks open during busy weekends to play music, serve food & beverages, and other wares. These informal stands hook themselves to the power lines and take business away from the formal permanent businesses located immediately behind them. Disputes arise resembling the untamed “ wild west”.

Ryan we have enjoyed some of the world’s finest pizza (next to yours of course) in the beach of San Clemente, a small village about 30 minutes south. A young Italian man, Graziani, who bakes in a wood fired clay oven adjacent to the beach. Fresh seafood harvested from the sea, and herbs and tomatoes from his garden provided the ingredients for the extraordinary culinary delight. About 8 years ago he adopted a lifestyle where he works in the tourist industry in Italy for 3 months a year, and the balance of the year enjoys and relaxes here in Ecuador. (reminiscent of the 60’s counter culture lov’n generation) .
One day we helped a Danish couple, who have become very good friends, in the construction of their new home in a quiet, forested, mountain location overlooking the estuary, a shrimp farm, & Bahia Ciudad. We discovered that aging has impacted more than just our “memory sticks” with exertion from physical labour in this tropical climate. The cleared site for the house is surrounded by natural “dry jungle “like cacti, vines, and fruit trees. We encountered a scorpion, a few mosquitoes, ants, a poisonous centipede like caterpillar, this bug that looks like a leaf, and a large black beetle ( 3 “ long ) with a white back and red markings which was new to everyone. A couple days later we enjoyed dinner in their magnificent two story penthouse apartment on one of four balconies overlooking the estuary, ocean, and city life. A stark contrast to a typical city dwelling.

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Bahia de Caraquez, Manabi, Ecuador