Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Packed and Ready to Go

Our lease is up on July 7th and we are to fly out on the 13th of the month, so I am feeling some urgency about getting all my belongings organized. I had a huge pile on one side of my bedroom and today I decided to devote all my energies to that pile and not leave the house until I had mastered it. I gave Maya a list of violin tasks to do while I dove in. And I focused and persevered and by noon the pile was gone. Except that the pile on the left side of the room was much larger. The left side holds everything that I plan to put into the four suitcases Maya and I are allowed to fly with.

Our major outing of the day was to go by Ecovia to the Mariscal to purchase another suitcase. Eric had directed me to Amazonas next to the Coffee Tree, where I found an expandable bag on wheels. It can be small and it can be enormous. I am not sure about the quality, but it will do for the journey to Baltimore.

Orchestra and violin lessons took over the late afternoon and evening, but I was able to pack up the four bags and get them out of my room into the hallway. The children of a friend of mine from Paris were due to arrive at 7PM, and Maya and I decided that they would sleep in the big room with the double bed, while we shared the twin bed in Maya's room. They were delayed out of Panama city and when they finally got to Caracas, they missed their flight to Quito and had to stay overnight near the airport and catch another flight tomorrow.

I was relieved that I had made so much progress with my bags, I feel far more prepared to leave and am reassured that I do not have too much to bring. I am leaving several large boxes of books and papers in Ecuador, mostly because they are too heavy and not essential. I am not sure I will ever have use for them, but I cannot throw them away or give them away, at least not yet.

The house is looking good, I am almost packed and ready to go, but of course I am not ready to leave. I am going through the motions and accomplishing what must be accomplished but I would rather not go at all. Perhaps if I go through all the motions, I will start getting excited about returning to my life, a life that feels so far away and so foreign.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Archeology Day

Along the Pacific

We woke up to mist and rain again today, thankful that we had stayed on the beach all day yesterday. It was our final day at 'Mantaraya', so it was our last opportunity to visit the archeological remains in the area. The Machalilla Park is the site of several significant ancient cultures. The Valdivians, the Chorrerra, the Machalilla, the Bahia and the Manteños all settled in the area and left their mark, and there is evidence of Inca remains as well. A local indigenous group developed their pueblo into a tourist site after archeologists excavated some graves and discovered evidence of a large community of over 5000 inhabitants of the Manteño culture (800 to 1500 AD). Agua Blanca is part of the Machalilla Park, and one enters into the community through a gate to arrive at a museum filled with Manteño artifacts. Our guide was 'Klever' and he led us through the museum and the gravesites and the whole community. He realized very soon that we were interested in birds, so he took his bird book with him and identified every bird we saw.

Ready for an Expedition

Funerary Urn

Manteño Chair

Manteño Head


Foundations of Buildings

There was a group of large urns nearby, filled with skeletons in the fetal position, and we were led to the site to see the urns in situ. The Manteño people were buried near their homes and the archeologists presume that there are many more urns and burial sites nearby. We walked through the agricultural area of the community, where bananas and papayas and cotton and many more crops are grown for the group of 280 individuals who live in Agua Blanca. Maya was thrilled to see baby pigs and goats and horses and took copious pictures. We saw vultures and owls and motmots and a brilliant red 'vermilion flycatcher' followed us wherever we went.

Birding Expedition

Iguana in a Tree


Vermilion Flycatcher



We walked through the 'dry tropical forest' typical of the Machalilla park area, but we saw cloud forest a little higher where we were told we could find monkeys and anteaters and other larger mammals. The dry forest looks dead and brown, but is lush and green during the winter months when rain is more substantial. Birds were everywhere, making lots of noise and not at all timid.

Foundation stones suggesting large structures of the Manteño civilization had been partly excavated, but until there is more funding, all exploration is halted. The local community is making an effort to maintain what has already been excavated, and is hoping that one day the archeologists will return and uncover the much more extensive ruins that are suggested by what has already been found. Certainly what we saw was impressive. It has been proposed that this particular spot was one of the major ceremonial centres of the Manteño people.

We visited a volcanic 'laguna', filled with mud that is reputed to have healing properties. The pool smelled sulfuric, and we were urged to put our feet in the water (most tourists come to swim in the water, which is tepid and an eerie blue grey colour). An egret came by to visit, and we saw more motmots and our little red bird came back to watch us.


I would have loved to see more archeological collections. Unfortunately, very little is well excavated or properly displayed. There is a small museum in Salango, about six kilometers away from Puerto Lopez, but we did not have a chance to see it. Much of what was excavated in the area are in museums in other countries. There is either no money to put together the projects necessary to excavate remains, or perhaps there is not adequate interest.

Maya Lost her Tooth!

We had a flight back to Quito from Manta at 7:30 PM, and a bus was to leave Puerto Lopez at 2 and at 4. We could probably have made it to Manta on time with the 4 PM ride, but I was nervous about being late for the flight, so we rushed to catch the earlier bus, and arrived in Manta with enough time to visit the Malecon, eat yummy shrimp in a restaurant with the view of the beach and wander up and down on the sand. Manta is a modern and well kept city, thriving and energetic and certainly well worth another visit. We arrived at the airport in good time and were home and ready for bed before 9.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Beach Day!

Los Frailes Beach

Rain or shine, today was to be a beach day, and so it was, and an absolutely marvelous one. We took a 'motortaxi', which is a motorcycle which has been attached to a two wheeled buggy. The contraption hardly looks safe, and is loud and slow, but is the premiere mode of transport throughout the town of Puerto Lopez, and up and down the road that follows the shore. We arrived at Los Frailes beach before 10, established our space a little to the left of the entrance, and explored in both directions. Maya was in her bathing suit in minutes, despite the lack of sun and threatening rain. We followed the pelicans diving into the water to the left of us. They were busy fishing and ignored us. There were tide pools with crabs and sea urchins and sea stars, so Maya was scrambling all over the rocks. Two small very inviting enclosed beaches on the other side of the rocks beckoned, but there was no dry sand to sit on, so we did not move our 'spot'.

Sea Star

Fishing Pelican

A Beach of her Own

I settled in to read a book that has been difficult to get into, while Maya took her time gradually wading into deeper and deeper water. The surf was strong and she was battered about a bit by the waves. I was hoping to get warm before I made the plunge, but at one point, I felt compelled to join her in the water. It was warmer than expected and became warmer and warmer the more I splashed about. I could hardly fight the current, and was swept under a few times, so I was surprised that Maya could remain standing.

Watching Pelicans

Watching Crabs

We were the only ones on the beach for a time. A group of children joined us for a while and we felt a bit safer with so many more people in the water. Later, we took a walk toward the cliffs to the right and climbed to the top of a 'Mirador' with views in all directions, and by now there must have been some sun peeking out through the clouds, so we could see more clearly. I never put any sunscreen on either of us, which was not too wise, since both of us burned a little by the end of the day.

Malecon Puerto Lopez

Our original plan was to visit an archeological site for the afternoon, but we were enjoying the beach too much and did not want to move. It was peaceful and quiet and relaxing listening to the surf and reading and walking and body surfing and swimming. We waited until closing time (the beach is part of Machalilla park, which closes early, at 4 PM) to find a motortaxi and visit Puerto Lopez for a while, before going back to the hotel. We were both red and shining and feeling wonderful after our first true 'beach day"!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Mist, Rain and Whales

It was a grey, misty, rainy, warm day without a glimpse of sun. We joined an Argentinian couple and a group of giddy Guayaquileños for a day long trip to Isla de la Plata, the 'poor man's Galapagos', where blue and red footed boobies, frigate birds and albatrosses can be found. We drove to Puerto Lopez and walked along the beach, where all the fishing boats were pulled up on shore. It was Sunday, so it was a day of rest and the fishermen were on their beached boats fixing their fishing nets. We had to hitch up our pants and wade out to our boat, where I insisted on climbing to the front so I could look out for whales. The waves were huge and I soon became soaked from the spray. Maya and the rest of the young women moved to the protected area of the boat but I continued to sit and get wet. There was an American fellow with his Ecuadorian girlfriend who became seasick and entertained the group as he vomited off the end of the boat.

We were far out to sea and near the island when we saw our first whales, a group of humpbacks coming up for air and breathing out of their blowholes. We followed them about and saw one jumping out of the water some distance away. This was a circumstance where having my good camera would have been marvelous. Instead, I had not charged the batteries and I tried instead to catch these incredible creatures with my point and shoot, but it is delayed a few seconds and so I missed every great shot! After a while, I gave up on the camera and simply enjoyed watching these massive creatures move about. One came close to the boat, delicately rolling around, floating belly up and moving its surprisingly delicate flippers carelessly. I was in awe!

I guess we were following the whales around for a couple of hours, which felt like no time at all. We headed for the island, called 'Isla de la Plate' because apparently Sir Francis Drake had to rid himself of his less valuable cargo one trip and left all his silver on the island, hidden, never to be found again. The other less intriguing story is that the guano on the cliffs (bird poop) shone in the moonlight looking like silver.

The whale watching was so incredibly amazing, there was no way that anything else could compare. Isla de la Plata is not a volcanic island like Galapagos, it was once attached to the mainland. The vegetation is the same as on shore; dry tropical forest which currently looks dead but isn't. Brown, stunted, leafless for now, but in the (winter) rainy season, everything is green and lush (hard to envisage currently). Blue footed boobies and frigate birds were plentiful; there were fewer red footed boobies, but we did see a few from afar. The albatross colony was on the other side of the island, so we missed them. We saw mockingbirds and tropicbirds and lovely views of craggy shorelines. We walked and walked and walked and covered half the island.

There was an opportunity to snorkel as we motored away from the island. The fish were colourful and hungry and swarmed around the boat scrounging for scraps, and we obliged. Maya and I were the only snorkelers, which we did for a short while. The water was surprisingly comfortable and the bay protected, so despite the grey skies and misty rain, for a short time, it felt like a beach vacation.

We drove back to Puerto Lopez in a straight line, as quickly as possible. I saw some whales far away in the distance, but we were back on shore in record time. Hot chocolate and cookies were waiting for us when we arrived at the lodge, along with a crackling fire. We warmed up with the Argentinian couple who were from Mendoza, high up in the Andes, and I found that I had no difficulty understanding them or having a freeflowing conversation, which felt great.