[060606; 1503 UTC,
[Bahía de Caráquez, Manabí, Ecuador
S 00 degrees 36.61 / W 080 degrees 25.26’]
Greetings from Bahía de Caraquez, Ecuador! As you have probably noticed from our latitude and longitude coordinates, we are in the southern hemisphere. Flush the toilet here and the water turns counter-clockwise due to the Coriolis Effect (i.e. generated from the earth turning on its axis). Flush the toilet where you are (i.e. in the northern hemisphere) and watch which way the water turns.
Life is "easy" here in Bahía de Caraquez (so named because the Caras tribe of people lived here and prospered before the Europeans arrived). The town sits on the end of a sandy peninsula (about 1/2 mile long) beneath sandy hills at the mouth of the Rio Chone in the province of Manabí. (We are actually anchored in the Rio Chone.) The climate is dry tropical jungle where distinct rainy and dry seasons bring profound changes to the visual landscape. We are in the dry season now and the hills are a dull green since it hasn't rained in weeks.
High rise luxury condominiums dot the skyline of the tip of the sandy point interrupted by one gutted earthquake-damaged, abandoned one and some in need of repair. A large blocky blue edifice near the waterfront houses an impressive museum ($1 includes an English speaking guide). Otherwise, neatly swept streets crisscross the downtown lined with two or three story buildings of concrete or corrugated aluminum. Homes cascading down the slopes towards town are elevated and constructed of distinctly striped flattened bamboo: the bamboo is often set at a 45 degree angle to add a bit of design to these humble homes. There are touches of Spanish architecture downtown with shuttered full-length windows one level above the street, but most buildings are poorly maintained and unimpressive. Many streets have medians of palm, tropical plants and flowers that brighten the otherwise drab ambient colors.
The town is progressive by Ecuadorian standards, but extremely poor, as the most significant social problem is unemployment. Self-proclaimed ecocuidad (eco- city), human powered tricycle pedi-cabs are abundant and used by all (50 cents for a trip anywhere in town). The poverty here does not seem to bring theft or vandalism as the people are warm and open and our boat and our belongings are not threatened as they have been in other places (read Costa Rica). Out of prudence and habit, we still pull up our dinghy up with a halyard (line) each night but there have been no reports of any thefts from any boats before or since we've arrived. We also climb stairs through the barrios on our walks and receive "buenas" from nearly everyone we pass. Maye at Puerto Amistad, a tall beautiful Colombian woman, noted one day she goes walking with her dog alone and unafraid even late at night..
Food is also abundant and very inexpensive and an active public market operates daily but springs to an especially frenetic pace on Thursdays and Saturdays when truckloads of sandia (watermelon), plantanos (plantains and bananas), papas (potatoes), cebollas (onions), maracuya (passion fruit), etc. arrive at the market from the surrounding region. Sellers of everything from fish to clothing to kitchen implements line the sidewalks nearby to the mercado building and call out as you stroll past.
Last market day, Thursday, we were suddenly approached on an adjacent street corner by two men with bloody fistfuls of meat and dollar bills in their hands. The meat was for sale; the dollars were for making change. We didn't buy; "no, gracias, señor". One section of the market is specifically designed for the pescaderos (fishermen) with tiled counters and drains where you find buckets of camarones (shrimp) and seemingly dozens of varieties of fish of all sizes and in all states of dissection. Sellers of seafood in particular are anxious to sell their perishable wares and will show you at close range a sample of their seafood. Still, they are reluctant to reduce their prices, especially for a very wealthy gringo. In their minds, all gringos are wealthy. Regardless, we bargain gently for we know these folks sometimes live hand to mouth.
Though unemployment is a problem and people are poor, the market flourishes as crops are abundant on the fertile coastal Ecuadorian plain. We are able to buy incredibly beautiful and massive heads of broccoli for 35 centavos (35 cents), 25 juice oranges (fresh-squeezed OJ!) for one dollar, and 3 lovely pineapples for one dollar. Strawberries are now just beginning to appear, oh joy! Mostly we pick and choose bits and pieces...cebollas (onions), frijoles tierno (long thin beans you may call Chinese string beans), pimientos dulce (sweet, red peppers) and papas (potatoes) and come away with a heavy bag full having only spent a few dollars.
Almuerzo (lunch) is an important meal here. Kids are released from school to go home (most walk past in groups identically clad in their uniforms of plaid or brown or grey) and join their families, and many businesses close for the siesta. We have sampled almuerzo in a number of establishments, including Comedor Rosita where we were advised the best gallina criolla (Criole hen) could be had (it was rich and yummy) and Hugo's (pronounced OO-goes). The latter restaurant is not evident (there are no signs) but for the tablecloth covered table sitting street side as you walk up Calle Rio Frio (Cold River Street) away from the water. Hugo serves whatever his wife is cooking that day. You sit down and get soup (our day was cream of tomato) and then lunch (we had a piece of chicken, fluffy rice and a small salad of lettuce and cucumbers) served with passion fruit juice (Philip was given two glasses). The ambience is neighborhood: kids from nearby homes ride by on bicycles, Hugo's nietos (grandchildren) arrive from school and wander in an out and locals come in with empty Tupperware containers for take out food. When we asked for our la cuenta (check) we were told we owed only $3.25 for BOTH of us. Hugo is a bit of a character; when we told him his grandchildren were handsome, he grinned and replied "Como la abuela" - essentially "they are beautiful because of their grandmother".
Also important in this town is a former resident of the Galapagos Islands, a tortoise called Miguelito. In 1920 youthful Miguelito, about 30 centimeters long at that time, was captured and put aboard a ship in his native Galapagos and brought to Bahía de Caraquez which was the most important port in Ecuador at that time. He was a pet of a local family but as he grew and grew oblivious of garden boundaries, he became unwelcome and homeless, surfing the public market each day begging watermelon and other fruits important to his diet. About 30 years ago he was adopted by the Escuela Fiscal de Niños Miguel Valverde, a school for the poorest of the Bahía's children (thus his name Miguelito, meaning little Miguel). Now at least two generations of children have grown up with this tortoise in their midst and have learned valuable lessons about stewardship of wildlife. (Oh, we should mention that there were concerns that the schoolyard was not a suitable home for Miguelito so at one time he was sent to a wildlife preserve. The effect of the move was nearly tragic as Miguelito stopped moving or eating until he was restored to his home amongst the 250 active children.) Blind and enormous, this intelligent creature indicates through his movements when he needs water or food and retires to a straw covered area beside the school when the school bell rings at days end. During school holidays children still come and visit and care for Miguelito, who at 99 years old is expected to out live most of the children who attend to his needs.
A couple of weeks back we made an expedition with a handful of others east across the Rio Chone by ferry (no cost for walk-ons) to San Vicente on a vintage US surplus landing craft where we caught a bus (35 cents, about 30 minutes) up the coast to Canoa, a "surfer" town north of here. In the shadow of Cabo Passado, the wide flat beach hosts long wave rides for surfers and great strolling for the rest of us. A funky Hotel Bambú (Spanish spelling) offers rooms but also almuerzo (or lunch) for anyone. The rugged tables sit on sand at the edge of the beach where we looked out to the impressive surf, cabanas of bright nylon fluttering in the constant wind and ponies with rough saddles for hire for beach rides.
While strolling along just taking in the sea air, we stumbled upon a burro tethered to something with a thin line of polypropylene. As we slowly approached, the burro suddenly set its hooves, raised its head and brayed and brayed. Brian of "Icarian" and Philip approached him and Brian reached out and began rubbing the burro's forehead generating a gentle bobbing of his head that caused his long ears to undulate. It seemed that attention was all he wanted.
Other than this expedition, we've only traveled down the coast to Manta, a port that has a maritime tradition going back to about 500 AD. The one and a half hour trip to Manta is on a winding pot-holed road that in one spot diverges suddenly west and up through a gravel pit that represents the spoils of a flood that took out the road. It's not a fun trip though the scenery is interesting through the seacoast towns like Corre Agua (water runs), Santa Teresa and Charapoto where coastal plains of bamboo shacks have been irrigated and rice, onions, peppers, yuca, papas, beans, etc. are grown and, in some areas, shrimp farms prosper. Manta's Tarqui Beach is the home of an active wooden ship building industry where behemoth ribs of boats under construction line the sand of the playa (beach). Nearby the beach is filled each morning with fishermen selling their catch in the open air. Feluccas, spectacular but rustic wooden sailing fishing boats of Portuguese design with bamboo booms of 30 feet or more, still actively fish off Manta. One sailed across the bar here at Bahía de Caraquez, underwent repairs while careened at low tides and calmly sailed out the torturous path across the bar and disappeared over the horizon. We were (oh so) lucky to be nearby when they finally replaced their rudder and hoisted their huge cotton sail and were able to capture an indelible image in our minds (and a digital photo for our website). What a historical treasure to behold (we're sailors you must remember)!
We are certainly enjoying the weather in Ecuador. Most mornings dawn slowly with a heavy overcast sky, mild breeze and cool temperatures—low 70s. As the morning mist and clouds burn off we may suffer a bit of humidity but this is generally brief and is interrupted by the onset of afternoon onshore SW winds that sweep across the low sandy peninsula and into the anchorage. Warmer clothes that have been buried deep for two and a half years are being unearthed and put back into use.
Other than our own glee at getting settled into our stay here in Ecuador, we are actively planning and training for a trip into Peru where we will join a trek to hike the Inca Trail into Machu Picchu. We consider this a trip of a lifetime and are actively walking and climbing the surrounding hills in an attempt to train ourselves for the four day hike at almost 14,000 feet. What's amazing is how we are simply having trouble wearing shoes (!) after almost three years of not having worn them. At that elevation too, temperatures will dip to freezing, so we are digging deep to find our winter wear, stuffed deep into the crevasses of the boat, not having been worn since leaving Washington state..
Ecuador was also, until last weekend, a contender in the World Cup Soccer (or fútbol) competition. They did very well against formidable opponents. We were fortunate to witness the glee and pride of the people of this small country as they chanted "si se puede" or "yes, you can" while convoys of trucks, cars and motorcycles bearing lemon-yellow clad fans rode up and down the street honking for their team. It's been fun to share the however-brief exhilaration of the locals in our friendly, albeit temporary summer home
Sus amigos del velero, Carina
Philip and Leslie with el gato gordito, Jake
Bahia de Caráquez, Manabí, Ecuador