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Taking the road less traveled Spending a year in five continents to embrace my "inner turtle", to live simply, and to avoid being shark bait!

Hasta la vista, Puerto Lopez!

ECUADOR | Saturday, 11 August 2012 | Views [2061]

During one week, the weather held up to have three consecutive days of beautiful sunset. I couldn't resist to snap photos every time.

During one week, the weather held up to have three consecutive days of beautiful sunset. I couldn't resist to snap photos every time.

I'm not entirely surprised by how quickly 2 months flew by in Puerto Lopez, but it still takes me by surprise when time came for me to pack up.  One of the things I enjoyed the most about this project, besides the work itself, is living in Puerto Lopez.  I felt very much like a local: shopping for groceries, eating local snacks from the street vendors, having meals at "hole in the wall" places with locals, and hanging out in the plazita after dark.  There was comfort in having routines again, after not having any for most of the year.  That may be why I became a bit lazy in updating my journal; because things and events became comfortable and not so "extraordinary", I didn't think it'd be interesting to share, although some of the experiences may be considered different, even weird, to many back home.  Guess life on the road is now normal for me.

Working with Equilibrio Azul in Puerto Lopez was certainly an eye-opening experience, literally.  Never have I gotten so close to turtles (glad they were alive) and sharks and rays (upset they were dead).  The small number of volunteers offered me more opportunities to be involved, another plus.  And to top it all, the local staff were wonderful to work with, despite some with language differences.  We had fun during working hours and after-hours too; I doubt I would meet a better free-diver, fisherman, and boat captain elsewhere!

Similar to my stint in Tofo, here's the wrap-up on my Puerto Lopez experience.
  • Really thought I'd have a better grasp of the Spanish language, but no.  Despite hearing it every waking moment for 8 weeks, it is still very difficult for me to understand conversations, let alone speak it.  Many tried to converse with me, but I kept asking them to repeat, then staring at them with huge blanks.
  • Wish I could have dived more.  Enough said.
  • Had a fantastic time learning to make local dishes, some passable (bolones, Quaker, menestra, pudding de arroz, arroz colorada), rest not so much (empañadas, corviches). I am determined to find plantains and queso fresca back home so I can continue to cook these delicious foods.  It's really a shame I cannot take home with me Señora from across the street, who makes the best corviches and empañadas!
  • Loved taking siestas in the hammock on the upstairs balcony.
  • Perhaps I should have bought a mask in the beginning of my scuba diving life, back in Thailand early in the year.  I balked at the price then, and later found no seller online who could ship to Hong Kong quickly and within budget.  Having a mask that is well-fitted, well-cared for, free-of-stranger's-spit would have made all of my dives and snorkeling gone smoother.  Seemed the number one issue every time was water seeping in or the lenses fogging up.
  • First time in my life that I went to sleep hearing bats doing who knows what in the attic.  Sometimes it sounded like they were rolling a can around, other times like they were busy chatting, making very annoying squeaky noises.  Once a bat actually got out and landed on the mosquito net over my bed; it was small, slightly bigger than my hand.  Not a pleasant sight, and one I wish never to happen again.
  • Not sure if this is worse than bat noises: woken up by roosters crowing at 3 AM.  Whoever said roosters only crow at sunrise was very wrong!
  • And definitely the worst noise heard in the middle of the night, what I named my "Silence of the Lambs" moment:  a dog attacked a chicken in the neighbor's yard in the middle of the night.  The chicken was tied to a table in the yard with a rope around its feet.  When a dog attacked it, I heard the most awful sound an animal could make, one of great pain and suffering, and it lasted for minutes.  Next morning, the chicken was gone; I never found out if it was eaten, rescued by the owner, or taken away by the dog.
  • Of all the countries I've visited this year, Ecuador has been the worst for me in the attack of the mosquitoes.  They somehow seemed bigger and angrier at me here.  It's bad when strangers would see the bites and scars on my legs and didn't hesitate to ask "Que paso?", some even with fear in their eyes as though I would infect them!
  • Three things I haven't had or done all year, yet am completely used to not having: television (although would have been nice to have during Wimbledon and the Olympics), microwave, and driving (don't think I've mentioned that all year).  It has been nice to either walk, take the bus, or hail a motor taxi; hitchhiking was an even better experience.

And my favorite part! What I will miss about Puerto Lopez:

  • Friendliness of the locals; didn't matter that I could not converse with them, they still tried every time, from the fishermen (one offered to make me a necklace if I found shells that I liked) to the owner of the lavandaria (where I only patronized once but he would wave every time I walked by his shop).  And if I didn't have change to pay for a $1.50 bottle of beer at the bar?  No problem, just pay next time.
  • Discovering new fruits and vegetables at the open-air mercado.  Mamey is a new favorite fruit.
  • Need few more vegetables while cooking?  Just walk to the mercado few blocks away.  Want fresh juice with the meal?  Just go next door to the tienda.  No more sliced bread for breakfast?  Just go to the panderia half a block away.  Don't know what to cook for dinner?  Let's get a roast chicken (a block away) or better yet, corviches (across the street)!  You get the idea:  this town is small and super convenient to buy daily, common things.
  • Like Tofo, things are cheap!  $0.40 for the best fish corviche, $0.15 for a greasy yet satisfying empañada de verde, $0.25 for a pan de yuca right out of the oven at the beach, $0.50 for pan de helado (large scoop of freshly made soft serve ice-cream in a bun), $1 for a pineapple, $2 for a fresh calamari (and that's the "gringo" price), $0.50 for a fresh fish.  I will have sticker shock; even prices in Quito aren't this cheap, let alone North America.
And won't miss:
  • Music, music, and more music, all day long, all the time.  I enjoy music, but not nearly as much as Ecuadorians.  They BLAST their music at all hours and everywhere: in the bus, at home, at restaurants, and of course at the cantinas.  What's worse than loud music at 8 am on a Sunday morning?  The SAME SONG repeated countless times. It would be less painful to poke a pencil in my eye than to hear the same songs with words like corazón and amor.
  • Sand, dirt, and more sand.  Should have known I wasn't done with sand once I left Tofo; Puerto Lopez was worse.  The roads were mostly unpaved, and the sand from the beach were blown all over town.  Paved roads were often dug up, thus more dirt.  Numerous motor taxis sped down the roads constantly, driving up more dust.  The trees in front of my house were so dusty, the leaves actually looked brown.  We were at the beach daily, thus brought sand into the house every time.
  • Washing by hand.  Still don't like it, never will.
  • Jellyfish, they weren't exclusive to Puerto Lopez but I had the worst encounter here.  On my very last snorkel, I opted to not wear a wetsuit (water was passably warm and putting on a wetsuit was just too darn difficult), and consequently was attacked by dozens, maybe even hundreds, of tiny jellyfish.  I was stung all over my arms and legs, so in addition to the mosquito bites, my appendages were completely "mugged", full of red and brown spots as though I had the chicken pox.  Luckily the jellyfish stings were not itchy, must be used to the mosquito bites.  What a parting gift from Puerto Lopez.  If there's a seafood the Chinese should eat more of, it should be jellyfish, not shark fins.
  • Squeaky floors, stairs, and walls not all the way up to the ceiling.  Compared to other houses in town, the volunteer house may be considered "luxurious":  huge top and bottom floors, upstairs balcony large enough to hang three hammocks plus furniture, a front courtyard large enough to fit a speedboat with room for kids to play, flush toilets, even a hot shower.  But the house could be better maintained: the wooden floors creaked all over, some boards have such large cracks I could look into the kitchen through my bedroom's floor boards, and random piles of wood dust on the floor where termites exist.  C'mon landlady, splurge a little!
So what's next?  Three more weeks in Ecuador to travel around!  Glad to have the time to see more of the country, and with two friends from back home too.  Best part is a week at the Galapagos Islands!  Even though Lonesome George could not hang on until I arrive, I cannot wait to visit this most magnificent place that inspired Darwin's theory of evolution.  Diving is not on the agenda, but if the chance presents itself, I am all over it.

Tags: bolon, calamari, corviche, empanada, jellyfish, miss list, puerto lopez, quaker, shark, turtle



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