In Ecuador (voluntarily)

Getting There

It was a long trip from Caraz to Quito. Firstly, we made a fascinating 9 hour trip on a packed local bus down the dusty dirt road winding through the Cañon del Pata, with its 30 odd tunnels cut through the walls of a canyon so narrow, that at times you felt you could touch the other side. This brought us out to Chimbote on the coast, home to one of Peru's largest fishing fleet, where we caught a cama bus for another 21 hours across the coastal desert of northern Peru to cross into Ecuador and reach Guayaquil.

A brief overnight stop in Ecuador's crime capital and we were on our way to Cuenca, 4 hours away by bus and arguably Ecuador's most beautiful colonial city. It was a good place to take a 2-day break and explore the colonial heritage of this city, founded over 400 years ago and built on the ruins of the Inca Empire's northern capital.

Cathedral viewed from the Main Plaza

The cathedral doors

Different architectural styles of Cuenca

One of many beautiful colonial churches

The river flowing through Cuenca

Domes of the cathedral

Cuenca streetscape

6310m Chimborazu - furthest point from the centre of the earth

However, our goal was Quito, where we were to spend a week brushing up on our Spanish before heading back to the Ecuadorean Coast and Puerto López and eight weeks of voluntary work, so we caught another bus to travel up from Cuenca along the valley of the volcanos.

The week in Quito passed quickly; we studied, visited the World Heritage listed colonial part of the city and played party tricks with Corioli's forces on the line of the equator just to the north of the city.

The imposing presence of 5897m Cotopaxi above the skyline of Quito

Central plaza of old Quito

Old Quito streetscape

One of several smaller plazas

Colonial building and cathedral

The elegance of colonial Spanish architecture

Nello with one foot in each hemisphere at
Mitad de Mundo?

..... actually not - the real equator is a couple
of hundred metres to the north

After another day on a bus we arrived in the small fishing village of Puerto López, feeling reasonably happy with our Spanish only to discover that the locals spoke Puertolopeze; the curious language of coastal Ecuador, which uses all the Spanish dictionary and grammar, but is spoken at twice the speed and without pronouncing many of the "s", "n" and other letters normally associated with these words. Our confidence suddenly evaporated and remained under a state of seige for the entire time we were there. We did, however, stay with a wonderful Ecuadorean family and got to experience life as lived in a small fishing village in this part of the world.

Puerto Lopez

La familia Navarrete Pionce - with a couple of gringo ring-ins

As this is primarily a trekking website, I won't go into details about our voluntary work, with all the emotional highs and lows that such endeavours invariable provide, except to say that the fair Nello taught English at a local school while I developed the English pages for the local tourist industry website (click the link if you want to see what they look like). The region's main push towards diversifying a fishing-based economy is into ecotourism, based on seasonal whale-watching and the natural beauty of the nearby Machalilla National Park. The following page has a brief description of four short walks/rides that give an idea of the landscapes of this part of coastal Ecuador (in doing so I will plagiarise the webpages that I wrote).

In conclusion, a list of some of the things we will miss about Puerto López:
• Sipping our evening beer at a beachside bar watching the local chicos playing volleyball or a wine on the deck of the Whale Cafe watching pelicans diving for fish and the whale-watching boats come in
• The cloud of frigates and vultures wheeling above the fishing boats as they returned to port
• Carmen's wonderful sopas de cangrejo (crab) and camarrones (prawns)
• The friendly voices of kids calling out "hola profe" (or "hello - how are you" as English lessons progressed) as we wandered around town
• Riding around town or to a neighbouring village in a 3-wheeler taximoto
• the hypnotic beat of salsa music played by neighbours for the benefit of everyone within a kilometre radius (except at 3am)

Frigates and pelicans waiting for the catch

Carmen's wonderful Sopa de Jaiba

Ronald picks up a couple of chicas gringas in his taximoto

and a few things that we won't miss about Puerto López:
• the Humboldt current and the endless days of grey overcast sky that it brings for several months (although the fair Nello says she will miss my whinging about it even less)
• the slick mud that forms on the roads on a drizzly day (giving the town its alternate name of Puerto Lodo)
• drum band practice (or at least when goes on for 4 consecutive weeks)
• the vultures that eyed us off every morning at breakfast from the power poles across the road
• the litter that is so characteristic of rural villages throughout this part of South America

The bleak colours of the Humboldt current - though it does bring the whales!

Good morning gringos!

Finally, just a few images of various aspects that we found memorable;
....... the wildlife ....

....... the different landscapes and seascapes ....

Marshlands at Rio Ayampe

The break at Ayampe

Ecotone of evergreen and deciduous forest at Agua Blanca

Coastline north of Salango

...... the people and the town.

Main street of Puerto Lopez

Lunch at Las Tejas

Escuela Choferes at the big parade

Thanks Carmen, Alicia, Diana, Mike, Alex, Ronald, Rigo and Papy for making us feel a part of the family while we stayed with you and Marianne for being there for a chat and support when needed. We miss you all - que les vaya bien!!