Saturday, June 12, 2010

La Costa

Moorish Designs in La Compañia

Last night, Maya and I had an invitation to a private concert at 'La Compania', which of course we could not refuse. I was more interested in simply being in the church, marveling at all the gold around me and the wonderful feel of the place. Usually it is a tourist attraction, with a guide and an entrance fee and 'no photographs allowed'. It is an entirely different experience as a church, or as a concert venue. I hardly paid attention to the music, or if I did, it was as part of the awe of the experience. It is always wonderful to be in the Centro Historico at any time, but with the lights and the mist of the evening, it is even more special. Eric drove us down, and the traffic was intense. The Plaza Grande was full of riot police, and we learned later that there had been a big protest, which intensified the traffic, so being late was not a problem (of course, this is Ecuador!) and the concert started a half hour later. Maya's conductor is the concertmaster and her violin instructor is the principal violist. Her conductor from Julliard was there too, so there were many familiar faces, and several people to talk to. I was surprised that so few of her orchestra classmates had chosen to attend.

Main Altar La Compañia

We all got to bed later than planned, and when my alarm sang at 3:30, it was painful to get up, but we did not bother Maya. I set up a bed for her in the truck and buckled her in and we were off in the dark of night. I was surprised that there was anyone on the road at that time, but traffic was light as we took the 'Oriental' to the south and even after we took the turnoff at Aloag towards Santo Domingo de los Tsachilas. I was relieved that it was dark and I did not really see much, only that it was a treacherous ride as we ascended and then descended over the Andes to the western slopes toward the sea. There were many trucks going in the direction of Quito, and often trucks and buses were passing other trucks and buses when there was only one and a half lanes, the road having eroded out in several sections when we had heavy rains in the past few months. There was construction happening everywhere, with 'Peligro' signs aplenty and fear for our lives whenever I opened my eyes.

Driving over the Andes in the Dark

Santo Domingo is a dirty unkempt city. We stayed on the outskirts and it was grey and rainy and not very attractive, so we kept driving on to El Carmen, and then to Chone. The western lowlands have been devastated with 90% deforestation, so it was depressing to see the hills and valleys denuded and likely never to recover. Banana fields cover much of the former forests, but mostly just grass covers everything. With the rain and the destruction, I felt sad and overwhelmed, because it did not appear that anything was being done to help these vast areas to recover, although there were billboards announcing the importance of reforestation along the road. The other shocking sight were the vultures hanging out on the side of the road watching for carrion, or digging into roadkill along the way. I have never seen so many buzzards flying around!
Cows on the Road

Once at Chone, we reached the marshlands near the ocean and took a few wrong turns until we found a very bumpy road with massive potholes for miles and miles until we reached Canoa. I had chosen Canoa without any reason except that it appeared to be far away from civilization and presumably quiet and peaceful. Which it was when we arrived. It is clearly out of season, with most of the beach empty and devoid of tourists, but there was also no sun either, perhaps the reason for its emptiness. We managed to choose a hotel full of gringos! We were simply too tired to look further. We stopped, we asked for a room, it was acceptable, so we took it and sat down for breakfast. Maya found a young girl to play with immediately and was off to look for crabs in the tide pools and I got into my bathing suit for a rest on the sand. The Pacific was warm and there were waves for surfers (Canoa is known as a surfing beach). The afternoon lingered on, Maya was happy to have a playmate, Eric and the children went bodysurfing, I watched the surfers in the water, the sun never shone, but it was restful and we were happy.

Beach at Canoa

Surfer Dude

I discovered that Eric had not brought any cash or his ATM card, which is a problem anywhere in Ecuador. No one ever seems to take credit cards, especially so far away from the major cities. Our short vacation would have to be cut short, which put a damper on things. Anticipating a return to Quito tomorrow after driving an exhausting eight hours to get to our destination was disappointing. We shared a $5 meal of 'pollo con arroz' for lunch while watching the world cup match between USA and England. Somehow we found ourselves watching more and more world cup soccer as the afternoon progressed.

We walked along the beach in both directions. Cliffs beckoned to our right, where we encountered egrets, buzzards and frigate birds, as well as tiny 'Man o War' jellyfish and more and more garbage (the buzzards were very happy). Maya danced and explored and looked for small creatures. The other direction brought us to the fishermen dragging their boats to shore and children playing soccer. The beach is lined with bars and eating establishments, all empty and waiting for tourists.

Maya Dancing

More Dancing

Art on the Beach

Grey on Grey

Action on the Beach

It is curious that Canoa has developed a reputation of being a mecca for gringos. Why Canoa, where there are dozens of little towns up and down the coast. The place has a relaxed and welcoming feel, and once established in our room at the Hotel Bambu, we felt at home and could have stayed for days.

Egret Stare


Waiting for Fish


Egrets Fishing


Scary Catydid

We were told that only the 'Casa Flor' took credit cards, so we walked a few blocks in the sand to have dinner there, but were informed that no one took credit cards in town, that there were no ATM's or banks and we would have to drive back to San Vicente some 20 kms away to find an ATM, which made no difference since we had no ATM cards anyway. The waitress was very kind and generous and we shared a shrimp dish for all of us with some water, which was satisfying and very yummy. We were surprised to see Lauren Hutton and her family come in for dinner. How in the world did they find this place so far away from the world? We made an effort not to stare!

Our hotel was hopping when we walked home. It appeared that we were staying at the 'happening' place and that tourists and locals and their families were all at the Hotel Bambu for the evening. Maya found her friend to play with and Eric worked on his computer in the melee and I found myself asleep by 7 after a very long day that began at 3:30 AM. I did not want to think about driving all the way back to Quito tomorrow.

Fishermen Bringing in their Boats

Beauty on the Beach

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