As we completed our 3rd and final excursion of this program, I decided that the Ecuadorian coast is one of the best places I've ever had the opportunity to visit in my life. We have so far spent the vast majority of our time in the Sierra which tends to be a warm but comfortable climate, the people are nice but quite reserved, and especially here in Quito life is fast-paced (for Ecuador that is) and a little distant.
However the coast is very different. First off, it is incredibly hot. To the point where I think i just didn't stop sweating for a solid week. But what it lacks in reason with regards to the weather, it makes up for a hundred times over in beauty. The coast has beautiful beaches, tropical dry forests, rain forests, and even a coral reef. They told us that it would feel like a whole different country, and I fully agree. I realized that when I really imagined Ecuador, I was imagining the vibrant colors, smiling and welcoming people, fresh and delicious sea food, and absolutely tranquilo or relaxed atmosphere. The other big difference is that coastal Spanish is much harder to understand than Sierra Spanish as it is much faster and they tend to drop important syllables.
This excursion was different from the other two in many ways. We were there for a whole week, moved around to 3 different places, and got to experience our most intense field experiment yet. our directors broke us up into pairs and as we drove down the Via Pacifico, a truly fabulous highway that goes right along the coast, we were dropped off in our pairs in small fishing villages between Manta, a city about 4 hours north of Guyaquil and a little pueblo called Puerto Rico.
My friend Beth and I were the first to be dropped off in the small fishing village of Puerto Cayo. We got off the bus with our backpacks and giant jugs of water and went in search of the house of Oscar Pihuave. Luckily it was just down the road and when we got there Oscar, our host dad for the next 4 days, was waiting outside for us. Oscar happened to be the president of the small little village, and had a wonderful wife named Rosa, a 12 year old daughter named Ginger, and a son named Oscar as well. The family owns a little Cabaña restaurant right on the beach so the food we ate was actually phenomonal.
We spent the 4 days living with the family, sleeping under mosquito nets, taking showers in the dark with a big bucket of water, swimming in the warm Pacific ocean with its varying shades of blue, getting to know the town, and speaking with the people of Puerto Cayo. It was perhaps the most relaxing experience I've had in a very long time. Everywhere we looked was so beautiful that we were giddy with delight most of the time. As the point of this excursion was to practice observing, participating, and interviewing we spend time helping out in the family restaurant, going to meetings with Oscar, and just learning as much as we could in such a short time about Puerto Cayo.
Oscar is truly a great man, very progressive and intelligent. He was very excited to share his stories, ideas, and projects with us. He once went to Malaysia, his first time out of Ecuador, to participate in a conference about conservation as one of 4 representatives from Latin America due to his efforts at creating more sustainable methods for shrimping in his town. As a tour guide he knows a great deal about the area and took us to a friend's farm in the Bosque Semi-humedo, or dry forest, to see Howler monkeys in the trees. We then went to the farm of another friend which has been running 100% organic for 5 years. We also got to enjoy an hour long ride in the back of a pick up truck drinking in the scenery and the much needed breeze as we drove from the forest right back onto the beach.
It was wild how comfortable and happy we felt after only 4 days with this family, and it was very sad to leave them. Hoever Sunday afternoon we took the bus south to the little town of Puerto Rico to meet back up with the rest of the group. It was wonderful to hear about everybody's experiences, as each one was very different. The place we stayed at was an eco-lodge called Alandaluz and was such a contrast to the small and very modest house we had just been living in. It was right upon one of the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen with cliffs on either end and fabulous triangle-shaped islands off in the distance. The lodge was made mostly of bamboo and had composting toilets, hammocks, a fresh water pool, and a really amazing array of tropical plants. We got to swim, play in the sand, compare sunburns, and even had a bamboo bonfire in honor of the equinox complete with a drum circle and night swimming in the ocean. Pure bliss!
From Alandaluz we traveled down south to the biggest city in Ecuador, Guyaquil. That night we got settled into our little hotel rooms, then went out for some delicious Shawarma, and climbed the 444 winding steps up by the board walk flanked by little stores, bars with reggae floating out of the windows and up to the light hosue which is the hightest point in the city, and we had a 360 degree view. The next day, 95 degrees and humid mid day, we went to the Historical Park of Guyaquil and saw a great array of animals from Sloths to monkeys to parrots and even Tapirs. The part also is home to a mangrove forest which excited me more than I can express. Mangroves are truly amazing and are as important as marshlands due to their water and air filtration abilities and because they are natural buffers against storms, and host to a vast diversity of species. We ventured to the Archaeology museum where our director Faba gave us a tour of the pre-colonial societies of Ecuador and their amazing ceramics which were the first in the whole continent.
And then back on the plane and 45 minutes later we landed in the shockingly dry, cool, and busy city of Quito. It was possibly the best weeks I've spent so far here in Ecuador and inspired me to return to the coast for the final month of my program where i will be doing an independent study project living in the beach city of Manta and hopefully working in a sort of half-way house/ rehab center for teen girls. This part is very up in the air as my directors are trying to make contacts and allow me to participate in the organization, so more updates to come soon on my finalized plans. All in all the excursion has definitely been the culmination of the program as we were really given the opportunity to use all of our knowledge so far to experience a new part of the culture on our own. Spending my final month living on the coast and doing a project on my own will be the most challenging but hopefully rewarding experiences I can think of.
Wishing the best to all of you and sending all of my love. Only a little over a month until Mom, Dad and Becca come down which is both exciting and scary how fast time has been flying!