Our principal reason for going to Mancora was to try surfing Peru and that we were invited to stay for free in exchange for reviewing a nice hostel there. But the gorgeous beach, chill accommodations, and cheap food quickly convinced us to stay even longer then we had planned. So we spent Christmas on the beach, exchanging small gifts of jewelry and treats (hello REESES!).
The day after Christmas, however, proved to be even more awesome, as we were offered a free surf lesson by Pilar, the hostel owner. So we headed to the beach, did a few stretches and practiced popping up (“Do less! Do less!” Anyone get that?), then paddled out into the ocean. I was scared, having been knocked down by a couple big waves when we were swimming earlier. The lesson wasn’t really much of a lesson either, as it seems the best way to learn to surf is just to do it. So Zach and I took turns having Pilar (who swam out with us in flippers) point us in the right direction, pick our waves for us, push us off and yell at us to stand up. Zach stood up for a few seconds right away, but I kept getting up and losing my balance half a second later. There was no reason for me to be scared though, because the “beginner” waves we were taking weren’t big enough to pummel us when we fell. The really hard part was paddling out. I have NO upper body strength so proppeling myself and a big heavy surf board out to sea against the waves was HARD. Now I know why surfers are so buff. It was an amazing workout; Zach and I both actually felt totally unable to do any more by the end of the hour. A few times as we were paddling out, really big waves would start to crash in and Pilar would yell for us to roll off our boards and go underwater, beneath the breakers. That was kinda thrilling. Floating over the waves as you go out was fun too, kinda like a roller coaster!
Finally, we had one last chance, Pilar announced. One more wave to make it happen. Zach went first and got up for just a second, but he had already ridden one. “This is it,” I told myself, “Gotta do it!” “Paddle, paddle, paddle, stand up!” yelled Pilar, as the wave took me. I stood up, too slowly of course, but I made sure I was properly balanced in the middle this time. “Bend your knees!” she yelled. And all of a sudden I was UP and STAYING UP! I was doing it! Surfing!!!!! I rode that wave, perfectly balanced, until I got too close to the beach and had to jump off. The feeling was extraordinary; the victory of that first wave was worth all the soreness from paddling that came the next day. In that one moment, standing on top of the ocean hurtling to shore, I grinned super big and felt invincible. I can’t wait to go again. Surfing Peru!!!
In getting from Ecuador to Peru, our goal was to avoid spending a night in Guayaquil altogether, as we had heard it was just a big dirty city. Instead of staying in Guayaquil, we stopped for the night in Puerto Lopez, about one hour north of Montañita. This was our last night in Ecuador and we wished we had more time to explore Puerto Lopez because we really enjoyed the town during the few hours we explored. But we decided to go to bed early, and after a good nights sleep we woke at six a.m. and embarked on what was to be the most difficult day of our trip thus far. We headed for Peru and the Huaquillas Ecuador border crossing.
After hauling all our stuff to the main drag in town, we found a bus headed to Guayaquil, but it was first going through Jipijapa (pronounced “Hippy-Hoppa”), a town with nothing but a great name that was back in the northern direction. The bus driver assured us it would only take four hours–a little longer than traversing directly down the coast, but he gave us a good price so we were on board. After about five hot hours we were in the Guayaquil bus terminal, which resembles a United States shopping mall, minus Starbucks which we (shockingly) have yet to find in South America. We quickly were on the next bus to the edge, the Huaquillas Ecuador border crossing into Peru. Another hot and sweaty trip during which we spent five hours staring at millions and millions of banana trees and taking detours off the highway to stop every tiny village along the way. It was just about as boring as driving through the cornfields of the midwestern United States, only our ears were blessed with Latin beats not only from the bus stereo but also from two other passengers who had not yet discovered the magic of headphones.
In Ecuador, usually every time a bus slows to let off a passenger, someone climbs on selling stuff to eat. They bring on anything imaginable and to write the list of foods we have bought from these people would take up a whole blog entry in itself. Since the bus never stops for very long, the only way to eat is to buy whatever cheap amazing nonsense is hauled aboard (or pack something, which would just ruin the fun of the whole thing). This bus, however was the most crowded long distance bus we have taken yet. The aisle was packed full so that some people stood for over 3 hours. This unfortunate bus-stuffage meant the food vendors could not squeeze onto the bus, leaving us ravenous. We are not nice or happy people when hunger sets in…being hungry inevitably leads to being “hangry” (props to whoever coined that term) and speaking nicely to one another and our fellow passengers becomes more and more difficult. Finally we were able to throw some coins out the window at a man who passed us some ice cream sent straight from heaven.
We thought we would never make it to the border but out of nowhere, before we reached the last town in Ecuador, the bus driver yelled for us and told us this was were we needed to get our exit stamps. So we got off the bus, the agents stamped our passports and yelled “Ciao!”. We knew from our guidebook that it was 2km to the actual border, so we grabbed a taxi which dropped us off in a huge mess of confusion. The driver pointed to a ditch full of burning trash, telling us that that was the border and what we needed to do was walk across the bridge, on top of which people seemed to be having some kind of a country fair, and we would be in Peru.
There was no fence here at the Huaquillas Ecuador border crossing, no men with machine guns, no customs with stupid questions; you just walk across the bridge. There were such a crowd and everyone was bumping us and we we worried about warding off pickpockets and such. New Peruvian taxi drivers were following us telling us it was 3km farther to the Peruvian immigration office where we had to get our entrance stamps. We never like to go with the first guy who bugs us so we followed the second driver, who seemed more polite, through the mess to his car. The guidebook said to only take “official” taxis in Peru but none of the taxis looked very official so we just let him drive us to the immigration office. The entrance process was the same as entering Ecuador: write all your information on a form, then the officials type it in a computer and pass out stamps as fast as they can, no questions asked.
Our eager-beaver taxi driver was still there waiting to take us to the bus station in Tumbes (which we thought was close) so we changed what little American money we had left for Peruvian Soles. The money changers tried to rip us off the first time, giving us a horrible exchange rate, but as soon as we questioned them they gave us the proper amount. We threw our stuff back in the taxi/guy’s car and asked how much it was going to be to take us to the bus station. “20 dollars,” he said “Because it’s 40km away and there are no buses from here, no other way. Come with me and we will ask the police if there is another way. They will tell you the same thing!” The police were all his friends so of course they told us the same thing, but it was getting dark and we needed to get a move on; we didn’t know who to trust and didn’t have time to investigate before the sun set. (Border towns are not good places to be after dark, we’ve heard.) So after we acted like we were going to leave, Eager Beaver told us he would take us for $10 if his policeman-friend’s son could ride with us also. We passed busses headed to Tumbes from the border that “didn’t exist” according to the taxi driver and the Policia, but we were just happy to finally be away from the hectic border and on our way to the last bus of the day.
It was just two more hours to beach paradise, Máncora, where we would spend Christmas. But of course, this wasn’t the end of the fiasco. After what seemed like a lot less than 40km we entered Tumbes and the taxi driver stopped, directing us across the street to his friend’s van that was filling up to go to Máncora. We expected a nice cheap ride for say six Soles ($1= almost 3 Soles) but this van was super classy and wanted 40 SOLES EACH!!! Of course. Now we were stuck, exhausted; the sun was setting and we had no idea where to go but were refusing to pay almost $15 for a two hour ride. Eventually, after looking lost for a minute, a nice lady told us that since it was the holidays it might be hard to catch a bus at this late hour, but we would surley be able to find a cheaper van. This we did, for 25 Soles each and they even said they would drop us off right at our hostel. They actually dropped us off nowhere near our hostel and we had to take a mototaxi (motorcycle with an attached rear bench for two people) but WE MADE IT!!! The relief of finally being there was almost as strong as our frustration with all the scammers of the day. We already missed Ecuador. Not exactly happy with our first impression of Peru, we resolved to enjoy the beach for a few days and hoped for better luck in our next travel experience!
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In the United States if you have, say, a $100 bill, and you go to the grocery store and buy $25 worth of goods, they will have the other $75 to make the hundred. But most ATMs give you only $20s which are nice, easy bills to use.
In Colombia we didn’t really have a problem with change because there seemed to be a proper supply of it to go around. In Ecuador they also use United States Dollars and the ATMs also kick out $20 bills. However, when most vendors don’t even have $20 total in their pocket, this becomes a problem. The average monetary exchange goes something like this:
Hello how are you? Good? I’ll take one of those, how much is it? $2? Ok, do you have change for $20? (Angry face from vendor…) You don’t? Well that’s all I have so what are we going to do about it? Oh, you do have change, great!
At this point the vendor usually leaves his shop to go to another shop to beg them for all their coins, brings them back, gives us change and everyone is happy. The change shortage in Ecuador seems to have a couple causes: one, the government just doesn’t make very much of it, and two, when people do get change they save it at home for when they need to take a taxi or something. Sometimes vendors really don’t have change and it is frustrating, but usually one of their fellow vendors helps them out.
In Peru the change situation is every worse. The ATMs give out 200 Soles at a time, which is close to $70. This is more money than a lot of people make in a whole week. It’s not a problem when buying two 80 Sole bus tickets, but when you want to buy supplies at the biggest grocery store in town (where you would assume they have the most change in town) you have a problem. When we did this, they actually did find change for our 200 Soles, but it took 10 minutes and afterwards they literally had only a few Soles left in the cash register and had drained the pockets of the owner and two employees.
Yes, we could go to the bank and ask for smaller bills, but bank lines are almost always WAY out the door and usually it takes at least an hour to see a teller. So we just try to always be prepared and ask in advance if we can pay with a big bill. If we tell a waiter before ordering food that we’re going to have to pay with 200 Soles, usually by the time we are done eating they have had the chance to run all over town collecting smaller bills. It’s just one more everyday problem that you would never think about in a first world nation.
When we talked to people about going to the beach in Ecuador we would always ask “Where should we go?” People would generally say Montañita and other such places with large sections in the guidebook, but another town also always seemed to come up — Canoa Ecuador. “It’s the quieter and more up-and-coming beach” was the common opinion. So we made the long trip north from the more southerly beaches, almost back to the equator, and were dropped off in a very small, very quiet beach town.
An overcast day on Canoa´s beach
In Canoa Ecuador, all the roads are still made of sand and the people, foreigners and locals alike, all have a very laid back attitude. The houses are built with thin walls to bring in the sea breeze, as the weather is perfect for minimalist construction. I remember saying how nice it was that we could hear only one blasting stereo at a time; that’s craziness in Ecuador! We had three very relaxing days in Canoa Ecuador, eating cheaply and camping just a block away from the beach. I think it would be a great place to open up a restaurant or bar now, but in five years it will probably be packed and loud, with plastic and glass bottles strewn everywhere. Even if it’s destined to turn into all the other places, it was nice to catch something beautiful before to world comes to ruin it.
When we searched for Couchsurfing hosts along Ecuador’s central coast, we only found people in one place–Manta! “So, let’s go there!” we decided. Manta Ecuador is the largest city along the coast, with a huge port and prosperous fishing industry. The highlight of our time in Manta was definitely having fun with our CS host. As soon as we arrived, we headed out for a fun night! It was also very interesting, as our first stop was a gay karaoke bar! Although homosexuality is not anywhere near as accepted as it is becoming in the U.S., of course these places still exist. So we had a great time listening to drunks sing Spanish karaoke and we even saw an Ecuadorian drag queen! The next day we hit the beach! Although not as beautiful or pristine as Montañita’s beach, Manta’s was still pretty nice for such a big city. We enjoyed some ceviche in a beach-front restaurant, then swam, walked, and watched many kitesurfers do crazy tricks!
In general, the impression that I got from Manta Ecuador was that of a upscale, wealthier Ecuadorian city where everyone likes to have a good time! Definitely not a bad place to stop for a couple days!