After leaving Quito, we headed for Baños, a small town located in the Andean highlands and well-known as a launching pad for numerous adventure activities.
We went white-water rafting on the Pastazas River which were probably class II and III rapids and provided more excitement than I had anticipated. For $20 each, it was easy to compare the Ecuadorean rafting experience with the rafting trip we did in New Zealand. Although we hit a couple of sections containing bigger hydraulics in NZ, they were punctuations in an otherwise placid river. The Pastazas River in Ecuador didn’t have huge hydraulics but it provided non-stop action for almost the entire trip. Notable as well was cost. NZ was over 5 times the price of Ecuador!
Zip-lining was another thrill. There were six stations from which to ‘launch’ and for a couple of them we were set up to zip ‘superman-style’ in a horizontal position, head-first with our legs trailing behind in a sling. Since I had never used the camera for movies, I tried unsuccessfully to take one while superman-prone; a reminder to test equipment and functions before you need to use them!
The trip to the small fishing village of Mompiche on the Pacific coast was long and grueling. We got on the first bus at 6am backtracking to Quito. Once there, we caught another bus which crossed a spectacular mountain pass that was so high, the sky got dark as we passed through the clouds. We landed in a horrid stop-over city ironically named “Esmeraldas” (Emeralds) where we waited over an hour to board the final bus to Mompiche. It took a total of about 11 hours and we got there just as night fell. Getting to a destination before dark is always a good strategy.
Also, the trip was not without drama. At some point, we came to a stop and within seconds a guy yelled out, “Mi mochila!” (My backpack!). He came running forward and grabbed his backpack out of the hands of someone who tried to steal it. Fortunately, the thief didn’t get away with the goods and, although I couldn’t see everything, it appeared they held him upfront by the bus entrance for a short while. The woman across the aisle from me was vociferous in wanting the bus employees to call the police but the victim had gone back to his seat in apparent resignation and the thief walked away. Perhaps theft is so common and/or no one wanted to hold up the passengers progress.
Although most people there were friendly, Mompiche was the first place we traveled that I would describe as having a down-beat vibe. They just completed a newly paved road in 2012 and perhaps not all the residents were keen on all the new traffic and visitors. We did, however, find a restaurant on the beach that had the best ceviche of anywhere we ever visited.
We took a tour of the mangroves and commercial shrimp farms, but first…..
A cultural disconnect…?
Exiting Mompiche was the start of what could best be described as a strange chapter in our travels. We were running out of cash and since Mompiche and Canoa (our next destination) did not have an ATM, we had to stop in Pedernales for cash. It would not easy as it would involve several bus transfers. We were describing our situation to the restaurateur at our favorite ceviche haunt and he immediately introduced us to a guy who was heading in our direction and offered us a ride to Pedernales. What great luck! However, two days later at our scheduled meeting time and place, our ride was a no-call and no-show. (I saw this kind of behavior in Colombia, too. I had set up a few Spanish-English language interchange sessions with locals in Medellin, but they were often late or might not even show up. This was consistent with their reputations and could be very frustrating for people who are not accustomed to this way of life.)
By now, it was questionable if we’d make it to Canoa by dark. We hustled to take a taxi to the bus stop at the main road and the driver pulled a trick I hadn’t seen in a while. He explained that the $1 fare he quoted me before we got in was for one person not two and that I owed him another $1. Well, OK, you got me this time.
At the bus stop we met a group of 6 young people who were hitchhiking together. Interestingly, they got a ride in the back of pickup truck before the bus picked us up. (Though, we met up with them in Canoa and found out we arrived at about the same time.) This was getting more interesting.
Just before we hit the town of Chamanga, the Perdanales-bound bus was going out of town while ours was going in, so they both stopped on the fly to exchange passengers. Later, as we pulled into Pedernales, the bursar for a departing Canoa-bound bus was hawking tickets. I explained that I needed to stop at an ATM and he assured me there was one in Canoa. This was against all I read and heard so I confirmed with him at least twice that that was a fact. My gut told me this wasn’t right but we got on anyway and when we got to Canoa I asked where the ATM was located. He pointed in one direction, then the other, and then scurried back on the bus. Spanish was sure coming in handy but in the end there was no ATM and I got smoked anyway.
Canoa was another fishing village turned tourist-town, though, larger and with a far more advanced infrastructure for tourism–except for not having an ATM, of course.
Like Mompiche, I found most people in Canoa very friendly but a remarkable number of those who were not so. Perhaps they had enough of outsiders, or perhaps they just didn’t like the changes that had occurred in their town. Someone suggested they didn’t like people who came for a long time and didn’t bother to learn Spanish. I can understand how those things might frustrate some native residents.