Ecuador 2 – The South Coast – Guayaquil and Bosque Protector Cerro Blanco, Salango and the Isla de la Plata in the Parque Nacional Machalilla.

21st – 24th August – Located on the Pacific coast, Guayaquil is capital of the Guayas province and the largest and most populated city in Ecuador, as well as being the main port.  The city has an interesting history and was named after an indigenous chief, ‘Guayas’ and his wife, ‘Quil’.  Both of them chose to die rather than surrendering themselves to the Spaniards.

We are staying at the Bosque Protector Cerro Blanco about 15km west of the city, one of the few remaining areas of tropical, dry forest left in the country.

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We would never have found out about this beautiful reserve (which has an area for camping), had it not been for an introduction to Jose from Xavier Mendieta who works for Autec, the Land Rover dealer in Guayaquil.  Although Jose has an incredibly busy job, he made many phone calls to Cerro Blanco to let them know of our expected arrival and then checked with them that we had made it there safely.  Many thanks Jose, we really appreciate your kindness and concern and the fact that you know this park well and guessed we would enjoy it too.  The visitors centre in the park is also extremely helpful in providing information and making sure that we have everything we need.

We are the only people here and have an ideal camping place amongst the trees next to a lovely bamboo cabana with table and chairs on the little balcony and an outside plug for electricity. Showers are cold but it is very warm here, in fact our thermometer very quickly rose to 35 degrees today, so we don’t think this will be a problem!

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This morning we have a squirrel feeding from a ripe papaya just a short distance away and another also finding something very tasty to eat at the base of a tree.

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This reserve has monkeys, deer, racoons, anteaters and the elusive jaguar amongst its wildlife, as well as many types of birds.  There are areas of dry forest with huge and very spectacular ceiba trees, as well as many more tree species and several trails take you through this amazing landscape.

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We take a number of these trails during our stay here and are really fortunate in seeing a female, white-tailed deer with two young ones looking like real ‘bambis’ with their white spots……..

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……an Oso Termitero investigating a termite nest up in a tree……

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….a very attractive and well camouflaged lizard….

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……and these amazing land iguanas!   Tania in the visitors centre is thrilled to share our photos.

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It is really nice to meet up with Jose when he comes to visit us one morning and fascinating to hear about his hobby of restoring old MG cars, which when completed, are then sold all over the world.  The ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos are quite amazing and brought back many nostalgic memories, especially as we used to own an MGB.

A group of students from Guayaquil University arrive in the camping area.  They are doing a study about Cerro Blanco and ask if we can be interviewed and give reasons why people should be encouraged to visit this reserve.  This is not difficult as we are both so impressed with what we have seen. We have to do the interview a second time however, as one of their mobile phones is not working properly to record the pictures!  They are really apologetic but are such a nice crowd.

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We will be very sorry to leave here.  Cerro Blanco has been an idyllic place to camp, except for the tiny, tiny, biting insects that are so so small, they have no problem in finding their way through our mosquito netting, particularly in the evening when we need to put on a light.  The cold showers have been almost enjoyable as it has been so hot here and we can get wifi by sitting on the steps of the visitors centre.  We have discovered a wonderful panaderia nearby for bread, chicken,egg and asparagus pie and delicious pastries and the local pineapples continue to be sweet and juicy.

Thanks again to Colon and Xavier, we have also been able to get a number of spares for our Land Rover at Autec,  where the enormous American Kenworth trucks, complete with sleeping compartments, are quite amazing!

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25th August – As well as providing us with a contact with Jose once we arrived in Guayaquil, Xavier also put us in touch with Jorge Marcet, another very busy guy who very kindly invited us to join him on his boat in Salinas to see the whales, which are now off the southern coast of Ecuador and one of the reasons that we have come to this area. Unfortunately, although we drive to Salinas, this meeting doesn’t take place due to lack of communications once we had left Cerro Blanco.  Our apologies Jorge and we only hope we did not spoil your weekend. However, we have also learned a lesson that without phone or internet connection, we must establish a definite time and place to meet people before we leave from where ever we are staying.

As we don’t know of camping anywhere in Salinas, we decide to continue north on the road that hugs the coast, fishing boats pulled up on the sandy beaches and wonderful aromas of fish cooking!  At Salango there is camping at Swiss run Hosteria Islamar, situated high up on cliff tops with spectacular views out to sea and the Isla de Salango and across sheltered bays to the town of Salango.  We hope that we may also have sightings of whales from here.

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26th – 29th August – We drive into Puerto Lopez and book a day trip with one of the many tour companies, to whale watch and visit the Isla de la Plata.

Parque Nacional Machalilla is Ecuador’s only coastal national park, created in 1979 to preserve what is now, a rapidly vanishing coastal habitat.  The park protects tropical, dry forest, cloud forest, beaches and ocean, including offshore islands.  Isla de la Plata (Silver Island) is considered the most important of these.  There are a couple of theories for the island’s name.  One is that it was named after Sir Francis Drake took treasures from Spanish ships and hid them on the island.  According to the legend, much of the treasure was never claimed and is still hidden there.  Another theory for the name could be the guano-covered cliffs that shine in the moonlight, as the island is home to nesting colonies of sea birds, such as blue-footed boobies, frigate birds, red-footed boobies, pelicans, masked boobies and the Albatross, as well as many gulls and terns.   The island is also surrounded by coral reefs, bringing a variety of colourful marine life.  The Isla de la Plata is often called the ‘poor man’s Galapagos’ .

The big attraction though, between June and late September, is the arrival of the humpback whales which have left Antarctica for these warmer waters to mate and calve.

We are looking forward to our trip although the morning is heavy with mist and cloud.  We are collected and taken to Puerto Lopez soon after 9am by a guy who speaks very good English and loves our landy, as he used to own one himself.  In the office of Aventuras La Plata we are given life jackets and meet up with the rest of our group which numbers about 12 plus two guides (one of which collected us and also appears to be the owner of the company). His wife and 2 year old daughter are also accompanying us.

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It’s a tough boat journey of well over an hour, as although the sea is not rough, the swells are enormous and we continually rise up these and smack down hard in the troughs.  The worst part strangely enough, is stopping in the swells to watch the whales but it is fantastic to see them and they give us a wonderful display, leaping out of the water, lifting and smacking their enormous pectoral fins back into the water and simply having a wonderful time!

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And a great photo sent to us from Jorge after his weekend whale watching………shame we missed you!

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As we reach the calmer waters around the Isla de la Plata, the whales are still there and huge turtles in the water too……wonderful to see.

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We are glad to get on dry land and ease our churning stomachs and have a wonderful few hours walking and climbing on the island.  Our guide is not only passionate about the whales but also about the wildlife on the island and points out many things that we might otherwise have missed, like the bird hiding under a sheltered ledge and some of the smaller birds amongst the bushes.

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So many amazing, blue-footed boobies with their staring, yellow eyes, most with their mates as this is when their courtships take place and eggs are laid on the ground.  The air is full of their courting sounds.

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The red-footed boobies we are told, are difficult to see, as they tend to hide inland amongst the scrubby, dry bush and keeping to the paths is strictly adhered to.  The side of the island where the albatross are nesting, is also closed to visitors to try and protect them during this important time.

We climb to an area where frigate birds fill the air and sit in the trees, the males attracting a mate by puffing out their red chests.

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The beautiful masked boobies already have their babies which are covered in soft, white, downy feathers.

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There are amazing sea views but June to November is the dry season on the island and everywhere looks very brown, as most trees, except for a few, lose their leaves.

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We see more whales on our return journey and light is fading when we finally arrive back at Puerto Lopez. It has been a great day and we would certainly recommend Aventuras La Plata for this trip.

Before leaving Salango and Hosteria Islamar, we visit the fish market on the beach at Puerto Lopez and have an excellent fish lunch at  Del Fin Magico, recommended by Jose.

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30th August – We drive approx. 10km further north, still in the Parque Nacional Machalilla, where a dry and dusty track takes us to the very popular, curving, sandy stretch of Los Frailes Beach.

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No camping allowed here however but our guide book recommends Hosteria Alandaluz (now called Hosteria Cantaelmar), between Puerto Rico and Las Tunas and it certainly is a special hideaway.  Just a couple of minutes walk through the tropical gardens where we are camping, brings us to a long and completely deserted stretch of sandy beach, although the sea is pretty wild!

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The thatched buildings are made from rock and bamboo and many have high vaulted ceilings using huge bamboo poles.

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It’s a very relaxing place to stay and the little white bat that has been there for many years, obviously thinks so too!

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31st August – 7th September – We are returning to Guayaquil as Bill has discovered a split in the rubber on one of the track rod end ball joints, so we will stay once again at Cerro Blanco and make another visit to Autec.

We leave Hosteria Cantaelmar through a green and tropical landscape, the sun is out and the sea a beautiful colour, with crested waves rolling along the shore

Once back in Guayaquil, we catch up on many jobs, obtain our new spare part from Autec and visit the large and very modern Rio Centro shopping mall, where we are transported to a completely different world of luxury shopping – clothes, shoes, handbags, jewellery, sports clothes etc.  The car park is full of huge 4x4s with armed guards patrolling from roof platforms…..interesting!

Returning to Cerro Blanco one day, a car pulls up alongside us and a woman shouts across to us that she is Jorge’s wife and waves for us to pull in. She has obviously recognised our Land Rover and invites us to follow her  back to their house, as Jorge will shortly be home from work.  What an amazing twist of fate that we should both be driving along the same stretch of road at the same time!  It will also be great to finally meet up with Jorge.

Matilde and Jorge kindly invite us to sample octopus with them for lunch in their lovely house which reflects a mixture of Spanish and modern living in a beautiful lakeside setting.   We meet Cristian who loves music and art, and plays the harmonica, didgeridoo and guitar.  We are delighted when he presents us with a CD of his music, the cover of which, he designed himself.  We look forward to listening to it tonight. One of Jorge’s passions is his immaculate and well-equipped Land Rover….we are very impressed!  Like Jose, Jorge also has a love of nature, adventure and travel, so we have a lot in common!

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We return the next day for another visit and a lovely surprise lunch of typical Ecuadorian food….. thank you again Jorge and Matilde for your kind hospitality.

8th September – We both feel quite sad about leaving Cerro Blanco.  We have so enjoyed the sun and warmth here and It has been much like home next to our bamboo cabana amongst the trees, birds and many other animals that we know are out there.  It has also been incredibly peaceful, the only sounds being the birds and huge dry leaves and seeds dropping from the trees.  It is like autumn here in the UK, the ground being covered with a carpet of brown, crunchy leaves.  The iguanas are draped over the branches of a tall tree again as we leave and take Ruta 25 northeast to Yaguachi and then Babahoyo.

There is a lot of surface water and the emerald fields are full of rice. Wooden houses are built on stilts, hammocks on the verandahs, lines of washing in the yards, music blaring, whilst pigs and chickens look for food underneath in the shade.  Some houses are actually in the water.  White egret and hawk-type birds sit motionless on sticks at the water’s edge……just waiting and hoping for a meal to appear.  There are tropical fruits such as cacao, mango, papaya and banana.  A couple pass us on a small motorbike with a very pink, trussed up pig strapped behind them, his snout tied shut.

Enormous hills disappearing into the clouds, appear after Babahoyo.  We have left people behind in the valley, cooling off in the huge Aquatic Club and now in a short space of time, we are in misty rain at nearly 2500m and people have coats on……that’s just how quickly the weather can change here!

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Now in the department of Bolivar and heading for Guaranda in the Central Highlands.  From here, a narrow dirt road climbs to just over 4000m to the Panamericana highway which will take us into Riobamba.

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