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Lonesome George

Well, his time has come and I am glad I got to see him before he went…
I even have a picture to prove it :).

ESL/TEFL in Ecuador

It seems that people keep coming across the blog and I am being asked about schools in Ecuador/Loja :)… Maybe no wonder ..:)
I always felt the blog was not finished and this was actually meant to be an article about the ESL/TEFL industry in Ecuador. But since things ended rather abruptly and I never got to do any interviews and more research this will be just an overview of my experience with schools in Ecuador.

And maybe I should have started with the beginning, i.e. how do you get to be a teacher in Ecuador…? Well, there are many choices out there, it all depends on what you want to do/can do: volunteer and stay on, like I did, or just go visit and stay on, or get a job through one of the ESL websites, or.. or..
You should also be aware of the types of visas there are available, as depending on the type will/will not be allowed to legally work in Ecuador. Choices are work visa, where you pay full tax, student visa, where you need to organise some paperwork, but you are getting paid cash; there is also the “intercambio” visa. We had one with EIL Ecuador, we paid tax on the salary and everything, so the status for this type was a bit wishy-washy for me…Anyway, check out all options and make sure you choose what suits you. It’s Ecuador, but still, you never know, better to have all the paperwork in order.

Then, also VERY IMPORTANT, I can’t stress this enough, do not negotiate anything verbally!!!!! Words mean nothing over there, you need to have a signed contract or agreement or something like that BEFORE you start working.. Unless you are willing to do the Ecuadorian thing and hope for the best while you are getting screwed..Sorry for the language.

Ok, now…
Unfortunately I never had the chance to work in a university, which, according to all the people I know there who have done it, is a lot better than teaching in a private or state school/college. Not necessarily because the hours are better, nor the salary, but because of the English level, the discipline and the overall organisation.
I only got an offer to work for a university in Loja earlier this year and the salary would have been around 700 dollars for 40 hours a week. Not a fortune…

My first experience teaching was in Quito, in 2011, about a year ago. Looking for a place to work wasn’t very difficult, as there is a lot of information available online. Also, if ever in doubt, visit Mark’s bookshop in the Mariscal. So many people are passing through there and maybe timing might be just right and he may be able to give you a tip on a school that is looking for teachers or just to tell you which ones ar the better ones to apply for.

I was lucky to get into Southern Cross, which, I must admit after looking back on a year of teaching in Ecuador, has been the best place I have worked in. Very well organised, paying a good hourly rate (it was 10 dollars before tax), nice staff and a diverse curriculum. Most of the students were motivated adults too, which made for a very nice teaching environment.
The reasons I left there after a short time were personal and had nothing to do with the school. Definitely a place I would recommend.

Another language school I have worked for in Quito was Connection (if memory serves, don’t take my word for it). They are located off Mariana de Jesus. They were paying very little, only 4 bucks an hour, it was really not worth it travelling all they way there from the Mariscal, also, they always paid late. I wasn’t there long enough to geta good feeling of the place, but still, would not recommend it. Maybe things have changed in a year though.

Then I stumbled over EIL Ecuador and it all looked good on paper. That is how I met Ryan too. I taught a few classes at their headquarter in Quito, I actually liked it there. An hour’s work was paid with 8 dollars, they had very different types of classes, it felt good. Big surprise after we got our first contract in Machala. We worked in Del Pacifico, a privately owned college, corrupt place (changing grades and breaking copyright laws), again, problems with our payment for the extra hours, a quite rude and inflexible coordinator, some little wars going on with one of their English teachers providers, American English (who I believe lost their contract with the school in the meantime) etc. So it went from ok to bad to worse to quitting. EIL were so kind as to leave us without work for four months (due to the different start times of the school year on the coast and in the highlands), so in the meantime we made some money on “the black market” with Canadian House. Again, this one is touch and go.. The good thing is they had put up the pay from 5 dollars to 6 dollars for teachers who had been with them for 6 months. But they offered volunteer visas, so probably a big accounting scheme going on there, as volunteers cannot get paid; but they paid on time and teachers had complete liberty and authority in the classroom.
Then, in September EIL finally got us the job in Loja. I already spent too much time and energy writing about that, if you are new to the blog look up stories on this one.
Not so keen on EIL either by the end, as it turned out they themselves got involved and informed the school about my writing, after I had already reported everything to them. No support whatsoever, no real support during our “employment” with them, they changed stories on the health insurance making it compulsory after it was optional, we always had to ring them and make sure we were getting the whole salary and even then things never really worked..Pretty messy, it seemed to be a money-making machine at the expense of others.

Ryan is now working in CEDEI in Cuenca and he is quite happy there. Ryan, if you read this you might bring a contribution to the blog and tell people about how you are getting on (?)…

Like I said before, my teaching experience has not been a very happy one, but I know people who actually extended their stay to keep on teaching in Ecuador. I would encourage anyone who has had some sort of teaching experience in Ecuador and comes across this to please share. Tara, you might be one of the lucky ones, if you ever read this, Amy…

Other schools you might want to try, Wall Street, Inlingua (Quito) and Universities in Quito, Guayaquil, Cuenca.

In any case, be prepared and always have a plan B, just in case..If I can think of anything else, I will add it later.
Hope this helps.

The End – Who are we?

I dare be presumptuous and believe that some of you might be wondering what ever happened to the SEI saga…

Well, after having written a report to our employer (EIL Ecuador) back in December, detailing all the things that were wrong in school and they decided not to take any action, the school’s director in turn did, informing me after the first week back, that I was dismissed, as she did not want having people who do not care for the school and are speaking against it in her employment.
As my friend Jaja said, “you were asking for it” 🙂 … Maybe so…

The question is, have I done the right thing? From the administration’s point of view, no, from my point of view, yes. It was all meant to be informative and to give people a glimpse into the Ecuadorian working culture and mentality. Especially since it seems, us foreigners kind of look out for each other and nobody wishes another person to go through the same negative experience(s) they went through themselves.
Therefore, can I recommend this place as a place to work? Definitely not. Can I recommend our institute, (whose apparently sole purpose after we were placed was to collect the money they were being paid for our placement), no.

Also, since the comment came up that a person’s actions defines them and who they are, I believe we are all familiar with the saying “tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are”…
The administration’s “friends” are people who cannot be bothered and find it too tedious to open their mouth to say ‘hello’, little 007-wannabees who report anything to administration (true or not) in order to gain favours, people who sabotage others (the purpose of this probably being a mystery even to themselves), people who change their stories whenever it suits them, just to make others look bad and so on..
My friends are people who have helped and supported me in ways I never expected (moral and financial support, offered accommodation etc.), people who sent me gifts, at the risk of them not arriving at the other end of the world, people who care about me and my wellbeing, dear dear people…
So, I think I know who I am …

RR vs CR

As in, Ryan´s reality vs Christa´s reality.

Having spent a few days “far from the madding crowd” we got to see a different side of life in Ecuador: a more laid-back, apparently care-free and happy-as-Larry existence down on the coast, as opposed to the bustle we had experienced in Loja.

Ever since I have met Ryan, he has been gushing over how cheap everything here is (food, property, transportation etc.), how in the States one could not survive on 20 USD a week, how no one can afford to buy property and so on.
Also, he is convinced that in Ecuador every family can afford to go on holidays, because it is “so cheap” (this based on our last trip to the coast) and that everybody on the coast lives a happy life, without worries or problems, enjoying the beach and the sea day by day, living in a little utopian world full of joy and sunshine. And maybe to some extent it is true, as people generally seem more jovial and friendly.
Though I put this down to living in a different climate, (we all know sunshine makes us happy, lack of depressed and irascible) and not having to deal with the “inner city pressure”.

What he fails to recognize however is that the base/average salary in Ecuador is 228 USD monthly this year, having been raised from 200 USD last year.
This is the minimum required for what they call here “canasta basica”, which is a list of basic items necessary to survive, live and nothing else. Yes, one can survive on 200 USD monthly, I´ve done it myself in Machala, but believe me, it is not how you want to live. Everything has to be planned down to the cent, and if one day you spend 2 bucks more, it will be 2 bucks less to spend the following day.
This means, as confirmed in the link above as well, that assuming two family members are working, they might be earning somewhere in the region of 400 – 600 USD monthly. In June of last year the cost of living (canasta basica only) was 557,43 USD. You do the math.

I doubt any of the families earning this much can afford to go on holidays and splash out 100-200 dollars for a week away (per person). I do agree, on the coast the cost of living probably is lower and people probably don´t even need to “get away” from it all, but is that the perfect lifestyle? Do they live in perpetual bliss? I don´t know… I believe that if you don´t know any different and you don´t know what else is out there, you become content with what you have got and maybe that is the key to happiness…

For Ryan that seems to be enough… He is trying to lead a less complicated existence and doesn´t mind a simple environment (simple to the point of being somewhat lacking, for me) and putting up with a very different mentality as well. Plus, he´s got his dark women here too, so hey, who´s to say what´s right for another… :).

I wouldn´t mind the environment that much, especially since there are plenty of nice cities around Ecuador to choose from, what I am struggling with though is the mentality and the way of doing things, which ultimately puts this country on the map as what we call “third world country”, or, since I have been told by Ryan that the term is now obsolete, let´s call it a developing country.

Like Che put it, “un pueblo que no sabe leer ni escribir, es un pueblo fácilmente manipulable” (a people who cannot read nor write is a people easily manipulated). Now, don´t take it literally, but indoctrination, always bowing one´s head, lack of initiative and always following the herd, can be compared to this, as it pretty much has the same effect. E great emphasis is starting to be put on education and this might hopefully be the key to the transformation of Ecuador.

I feel I am digressing though, point being, there are enough people here who struggle to survive, people who send their kids to work in the streets, selling newspapers or shining shoes or collecting recyclables or whatever else, or doing all of these things themselves… People who belive one must never speak the truth or one´s mind, because it will only bring them prejudice (which unfortunately is true), people who believe God is the answer to everything (and that may be so for them, but it´s not in my world), people who work hard to support their families and put up with the bourgeois system, mentality and injustice for fear of not being able to find another job, people who do not stand up for their rights, people who are desperate and turn to crime or people who just find it easier to turn to crime instead of seeking honest work..

I ask myself then, where in here is the picture of the always-happy-always-prosperous, growing-wiser, blissful Ecuadorian…?

As Lisa said to Homer, just because you say it´s so, doesn´t make it so…

Esmeraldas vs Manabi

We haven´t seen much of the these provinces, except for the small places mentioned in my ealier posts, but I noticed a difference in everything.

Food and board
Both our hostels were nice, (Los Pondos in Tonsupa and El Mirador in San CLemente, although in San Clemente we were right on the beachfront. Both places had good service, however, Snr. Marcia in Tonsupa was probably the best host I have come across so far in Ecuador.
Prices were the same (high season), 17.50 per nigh in Tonsupa with breakfast, 15 per night in San Jacinto without breakfast, this ranging btw. 2.00-3.00 USD.
Food in general was quite expensive, especially seafood, but luckily you can get a set lunch or dinner menu for 2.50-3.00 USD, which makes a difference. Rooms were not equipped with fridge, probably to avoid the extra mess with people bringing in their own food.

The views in both places were breathtaking, but the beach itself was a lot nicer in Manabi: wide, open and the water good for surfing, for who is into that. However, if you are the more quiet type and just enjoy a good swim, the beaches in Esmeraldas seem to better for that. The sea there is a bit more quiet and while you can enjoy nice waves in the afternoon, there is also a time when the sea is quite calm.

Well, I think the one thing you don´t want to do is hang out in Atacames all the time. It seemed a very busy and dodgy town. Tonsupa was relatively quiet, however, we were advised not to walk back from the beach in the evenings, but to take a taxi (would have been a 10-15-minute walk). Didn´t really ask why :).
San Jacinto and San Clemente were the safest and cleanest places I have seen so far in Ecuador, both the towns and the beaches. Locals pride themselves on the security of their places and they should. They organise cleaning actions down the beach themselves, we were told, people who have beachfront property or who work in the hotels all go out together and pick up the trash.
The bus rides were ok too, the only funky places we came across were Chamanga and Pedernales. I am sure there are other ways of getting from Esmeraldas to Manabi, probably going down to Santo Domingo and hopping a ride from there.
From what I´ve heard Manta seems to be a not-so-safe place, but we never made it that far.

Very friendly, very laid-back and helpful. Sharp contrast to Loja. (Generally though, everywhere I have been in Ecuador, people who have less seem to be more inclined to help and are the more humble ones too…).
Very open to everybody, curious about where we were from and what we are doing in Ecuador, etc., genuinely taking an interest in talking to you, even if you are only there for a short while. (I have been in Loja over 4 months and the only people in school who actually asked these kind of questions were our two American colleagues, Mark and Sara and two Ecuadorian people working in school)… Always up to give you information and advice or directions (weird for Ecuador).

If I could go back again, I would definitely want to see more of Manabi.

Tips on Ecuador

There are a lot of things to consider as a foreigner in Ecuador, regardless of whether you live there or are just passing through.
I imagine this is why most of the people go down for, so a few precautions are necessary. First of all travel light; that means a normal-size backpack that would fit a week’s or two worth of clothes. I used to be very particular about everything I used to pack, until I discovered that I was better off wearing a T-shirt two days in a row, than carrying two T-shirts instead of one. Same goes for shoes. Wise to always have a pair of flip-flops on you, even though you are not going to the beach, other than that stick to the one pair that you really really need. A friend of mine (thanks Peter) once told me, Christa, wherever you travel to you need to be able to pack in five minutes flat. A good piece of advice.
Avoid carrying your passport and other important ID documents on you. If you need it somewhere for registration purposes (hotel, hostel) a copy will usually suffice. The same goes for cash cards, credit cards. Don’t carry them on you unless you absolutely need to and if you do, hide them somewhere “where the sun don’t shine”.
Generally, especially if you decide to just stroll around the city, take with you only that which you can bear to lose. Avoid backpacks, bags etc.
Why? Because it’s better to prevent. I have heard a lot of people saying they never got robbed in Ecuador, others that have gotten robbed only when being in a group with other foreigners, others (both locals and foreigners) that have been robbed more than once and a few stories (actually news appearing on TV) where buses travelling by night on certain routes were attacked. Personally, I was robbed twice in a year, more than enough for a life-time.

Connected to travelling, taxis in Ecuador should always be a concern. The industry did not seem to be very well regulated and it was one of the things to be taken into consideration as a hazard. The best tip is to get the locals’ advice on this. They will always know which taxis to take, which to avoid, the fares etc. Make it your business to know the right taxi companies, the route, distance and fare. Always make sure you have change on you (otherwise you might risk an “automatic” overcharge, as they won’t “have” the correct change, or will just take advantage and give you back whatever they see fit.
In Otavalo there was never a problem, it was always safe. The fixed fare was 1 USD anywhere into town (2010), but, as mentioned, most of the times the drivers didn’t have change on them.
In Quito some drivers use the meter, others don’t. If you’re going a long distance you might be better negotiating the fare, as the meter might turn out more expensive. However, make sure you find out beforehand exactly what the maximum cost is and negotiate with the driver before getting in. In 2010 a fare from the airport to the Mariscal was 5-6 USD. As for safety, I never had any trouble and taxis were considered safer than the bus (pick-pocketing always a danger on buses).
In Machala extra care required. Let the locals tell you which companies are safe and avoid taking taxis in the street, if you can. NEVER take a taxi that does not have licence plates or a radio station or just looks plain dodgy. A lot of taxi drivers are connected to robbers and you might get out of a cab, just to get robbed 20 seconds later (which is what happened to me and which isn’t the worst). A lot of times people are just being kidnapped and end up in isolated places, beaten and all their belongings gone. Since we are on the subject, also watch out for people riding bikes, especially black people riding bikes and especially if there are two black people riding a bike (I really am not racist, but it was a reality when I was there). They would just grab your bag and backpack without even stopping and take off.
In Loja I felt the safest, the only danger there being overcharging. One had to be really firm at times and not give in.

Buses within the city were quite cheap (20-25 cents for a ride), but the condition of the vehicles and the quality of the service was accordingly. The best bus I have ridden in Ecuador was from Portoviejo to Guayaquil: very good condition, air conditioning, clean and comfy, as a bus should be. Inter-city fares vary depending on the distance, anywhere from 2-15 USD, which however does not guarantee quality. This one is touch and go and really down to just pure luck. When you travel inter-city you will be asked to give up your big bags/backpacks, which is another good reason to carry just a normal-sized one. Whether you suffer from “backpackers’ anxiety” or you are just fond of your belongings, it is best to be able to take your things with you on the bus, as it is impossible to “keep an eye” on them once you have boarded.

A must for any traveler in Ecuador is sun block! You might think people are exaggerating the importance of putting on sunscreen, but the sun in Ecuador is nothing like the sun in Europe. Especially on the coast, go for a very high protecting factor. Half an hour out in the scorching sun and you will get burned. Don’t forget the tips of your ears (you might laugh, but I am talking from experience; it’s just as bad as getting your ass sunburned

How to deal with altitude
The best cure seems to be (and a lot of people swear to it) mate de coca (coca leaves tea) or just chewing coca leaves. Unfortunately I tried them both and none of them have worked for me.

How to deal with humidity
Ha, I bet you were expecting a clever tip here! No such thing! Just make sure you don’t wear your best clothes in the most humid environments, as the sweat will ruin them and you will end up throwing them out, if you wear them long enough. Trust me, humidity-related sweat is awful and, by the way, while living in Machala I found out about body parts I never knew could sweat, let alone drip…

Overcharging foreigners is a reality in Ecuador. How you will handle it, is up to you, but be prepared to come across it.

Not only for taxis, but generally it’s good to have change on you. Almost in every shop you will be asked “no tiene sueltito”, don’t you have any change? By having it handy you avoid lengthy waits (oh, I need to get the bill changed, oh, I am sending my daughter to change it right now, or sometimes it’s just plain and simple I can’t give you change, so you can’t buy anything here) and grey hairs.

Working (I am referring to teaching here, which is what I have done for a year)
One thing you need to have before you start working is an agreement or a contract that states terms and conditions and more importantly, your salary. I can’t stress this enough, do not start working without having signed something. The thing is (and this has happened throughout my working year in Ecuador and in every institution with one exception, Southern Cross in Quito) that administration will ALWAYS pay you less if you don’t: it will be either a “misunderstanding” on your part, papers will have gotten “lost”, you actually can’t remember what was discussed, or, it’s just not possible to pay you what was promised (!). Keep a personal record of all hours worked, just in case, especially if you are working extra-hours.
As for the visa, normally you should be issued a working visa. But, this means paying taxes, so a lot of institutes have a way around it: an exchange visa, a student visa, a volunteer visa etc. Whichever will be issued for you make sure you know what kind it is, what the implications and costs are and that it suits you. Do not trust anyone with your passport to organize this for you! Even if it means spending extra money and time queuing etc. do it yourself, be present where you need to be.
After this you will have to get your RUC (similar to social security number) and a censo or cedula (ID documentation), depending on the type of visa you have. For instance with an exchange visa one could only get a censo, but not a cedula. Once you leave the country you should close your RUC and see if you are entitled to a tax refund.
Another thing to look out for is the hourly pay (usually teaching jobs are being remunerated by the hour). Anything below 6 USD is a rip-off. A lot of schools paid 5 USD per hour, some even 4 USD. Don’t sell yourself short and if you have the required credentials try universities, which generally pay better.

In the event you are getting robbed (not something anyone wants to experience, but it might happen)
Don’t resist, don’t make them nervous, just give them what they want and you should be o.k. Trying to talk your way out of it is useless and might just make things more difficult for you. Not sure how legal it is, but especially for ladies, you might want to carry a pepper spray on you. Of course, keeping it in your bag, with the cap on is just as good as putting your extra-key on the key chain you use daily or going to the gym without your trainers.

turned out to be a looong trip too. We left San Clemente around lunch-time, after breakfast and a last look at the lovely beach, catching a bus to Portoviejo and from there another one to Guayaquil. The connection to Loja from there was only due in 4 hours time, so Ryan reluctantly agreed to get a bus to Cuenca and the connection to Loja from there. It did save us 3 hours in the end and we arrived home at 2am, wrecked and ready to hit the sack…

But, like I said, it´s not over till it´s over… I had locked my door before leaving (tried out the key too, but with the door open, not closed), only to come back and find the key was useless and it did not work!! Both Ryan and I tried it, over and over again, without success.

Then Ryan tried his “credit card” trick, the “pin trick”, nothing worked. So, rolling up the sleeves it was, going down to serious business: sweating and grunting, trying knives, cards and everything we had at hand in the house (which wasn´t much). One hour passed and I was already picturing the fire brigade kicking the door down. Ryan, as ever the optimist didn´t give up though (fair play Ryan!!!) and we decided to go look from some professional tools like a screwdriver, bradawl, hammer, anything that might help. We did find a couple of screwdrivers, some metal thingies, so, well equipped we went back feeling more hopeful now.. Well, it took Ryan another hour and a half almost to finally get the door knob out and get the door opened.. I actually took a picture of all the things he used to try to get in, will upload it at some point.

So, feeling relieved and happy we didn´t have to call the fire brigade, we went to bed exhausted at about 4.30am, accompanied by the crow of our neighbour´s rooster (he´s like a “clockwork orange”: 11pm, 12pm, 4am, 4.30am, 5.30am, 6am, wonderful!)..

New Year´s in San Clemente

There was a rumour in San Jacinto, that for New Years´s a great dance would be organised in town (hurray), so I wanted to hang around and see what happens.

We went for early dinner and time after that just seemed to drag on.. Little by little the town started to get busy, but no sign of music or dancing. The area was already set up, but everybody was just making their way towards the centre, where all the games and fun was.

After having waited around for over 2 hours (both Ryan and myself bored to death and starting to get tipsy on the beers, Ryan also having tried his dancing moves in the empty dancing area, without success tough) we decided to make our way to San Clemente, the next town, where Ryan had spent the previous evening.

The centre was busy, proceedings, competitions and celebrations already on their way…

We hooked up with the people he had met the previous evening, followed the dance competition and later, at 12 the fireworks and burning of the “monigotes”. It was fun to watch how people put their heart and soul into throwing the different characters into the fire.

We kept dancing until late at night/early morning and made our way home walking down the beach, enjoying the sound of the waves and the cool breeze…

Well, we were told we could take a bus from Tonsupa to Chamanga and from there to Pedernales to make our final journey to San Jacinto.
Oi wei :). Here is the “bus” we took from Chamanga to Pedernales… An open bus, I believe a converted truck, called “chiva”. The good thing is, everybody gets a “window seat”. The downside is, if you have ever seen sardines neatly arranged in a can or jar, keep that picture in mind, because that is exactly how you will end up travelling. Details to follow…

We ended up travelling pretty much the entire day. We left Tonsupa (or tried to) at around 10.30am, waiting for the bus that was to take us to Chamanga. We ended up waiting for over an hour and were happy to finally get on the bus. As always happens when travelling in Ecuador, people will always have different information on the length of the journey. This time was no different: 1 hour, 3 hours, 2 hours, so we just had to wait and see.

The bus was packed, but we were lucky to get seats after about 10 minutes – it turned out to be a commuter bus, with a lot of stops, people getting on and off all the time. So, more relaxed, we were able to finally enjoy the view, as the scenery started to change after about 1 hour. We crossed from a very dry zone to a more humid one, luscious vegetation, green hills and a cool breeze tickling our senses.

The journey turned out to be about 3 hours, if memory serves and Chamanga was in sight. Finally, as for the last half hour we had to both stand, having given up our seats for a couple with 3 children and Ryan was driving everyone crazy with questions (including me), ´where is the terminal´, ´how do we know what bus to take´, ´how long is it to Pedernales´ etc. Coming closer to the town, we couldn´t help but notice it wasn´t a place where you wanted to spend more time than absolutely necessary: located directly on the coast, very poor and run-down looking, giving off a vibe of “get out of here asap”!

Suddenly, in the middle of something that could have been the main road, a bus stop, just the middle of the neighbourhood or the middle of nowhere, the bus stopped and the driver shouted out, “change to Pedernales”!! …Change what, where…!? And there it was, coming along from the opposite direction, the beautiful chiva :). People started to get all agitated, pushing and shoving, looking to get off the bus first. Didn´t understand the rush until we got onto the other bus..

It wasn´t as bad as in this picture, but we were sitting, like I said, neatly arranged, shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip and sometimes other body parts to other body parts (which should never touch with strangers!)! Being a commuter bus as well, we kept stopping every 10-15 minutes, more and more people getting onto the bus!! If my Romanian readers have ever read “Betisorul nazdravan” and know the story of the animals sheltering themselves under the mushroom during the rain, wondering how it was possible for them all to fit under there, well, this one had logic to it: the mushroom kept growing during the rain! the bus stayed the same! So, when room ran out inside, the driver and his “assistant” (I never know what to call the drivers´ little helpers) allowed people on top of the bus, where all the luggage was stored! At this point even the Ecuadorians on board started to worry, protesting and saying that it was actually against the law to take on people on top… There were also 3 German girls behind us on the bus and one of them asked me if I wasn´t worried about our bags… I was indeed, but there was nothing we could do about it… Besides, the only things that could get damaged were shells and sand dollars we had brought from Tonsupa. In Ecuador you just got to go with the flow, especially when travelling.

Again, Ryan started his ´when, how long, how´-question routine, which went on for pretty much the whole hour and a half, till we got to Pedernales.

By the looks of the outskirts of the town it was another place wise to avoid. The “bus terminal” confirmed it (although it must be said, we have never seen the center or much of the town): crammed, muddy, odours that could not even be qualified rising and floating through the stale air, shouting and yelling, pushing and running.. We couldn´t spot a bus to San Jacinto and the next bus stopping in San Jacinto was the bus to Manta, but only in an hours time. We had an opportunity to go to San Vicente and change there again, this bus was due to leave in a few minutes. I did not like the idea of yet another change so I didn´t know what was best. I had to use the bathroom too (not a recommendable experience, memorable, but for all the wrong reasons) so Ryan took advantage of me not being around to bitch and wonder what to do and bought tickets to San Vicente while I was in the bathroom. (San Vicente is North of where we needed to get to and Manta South).

Luckily this ride wasn´t that long and we got to San Vicente just on time to catch the last bus to San Jacinto. Can´t remember exactly what time it was, must have been around 5.30-6 pm.

The last part of our ride was another 2 hours or so, but we were both kept busy admiring the scenery once again. We passed Canoa, another beach resort and were amazed by the beach there. Wide and beautiful, sundown nearing it was thoroughly enjoyable. Thw town itself did not look like much though.

Eventually, having passed the point of desperation because of hunger (only had breakfast in the morning and a couple of apples along the way), we reached San Jacinto at around 7.30pm.
A quiet little place, we quickly found a taxi to take us to the hotel.

I was hoping check-in would be a quick affair, but it turned out differently. The booking was never confirmed by the hotel owner, so they didn´t have rooms prepared for us. First question, why don´t we share a room, would it not be possible to share a room. No, we had booked two rooms and that was what we were expecting.. Oh, so two rooms, one room per person?! Yes!!! After finding the cause of the misunderstanding our host asked us to wait a little bit, one room was available, but they had to clean the other one. Ryan moved in, I waited. After a few minutes it turned out there was no hot water in Ryan´s room and they decided to give him another room too.. So, after about 15 minutes we were settled in, more or less.

I was starving and couldn´t wait to get to a restaurant, but Ryan wanted to settle the bill first, so that took another 5 minutes at least, which seemed like an eternity to me.
We finally got to eat, had a couple of beers and I called it a night. Ryan didn´t….

I was too tired and felt a bit uneasy walking to the neighbouring village to have a drink at the only bar available for a couple of miles. So I went to bed while Ryan ventured out.

The next morning (i.e. after lunch), after I had already gotten sunburnt within the hour and having cursed mother nature for the huge waves that made frolicking in the water impossible, Ryan finally emerged from his room, looking like a zombie, but with a wide grin on his face, which led me to believe his walking-adventure had paid off.
He had met some nice locals and ended up spending the night with them at the bar (I´ll spare you the details) and was looking forward to go back and hang out with them again for New Year´s.

As I mentioned before, Ryan had left for Machala to spend Christmas there and I joined him on Monday.

Pit-stop Machala

It was weird going back after almost 4 months and finding a lot of familiar things there, but also observing the changes that have happened in the meantime: the whole city centre was closed off for road-works (apparently connected to the implementation of potable water) and therefore looked like a war zone.
It was good to catch up with our friend Edward, whose place I ended up staying at, two of my ex-students from Canadian House, Mauricio and Stefania, a couple, and also seeing my old gym instructor and some familiar faces around the city (among them, Wilson, my youngest ex-student in Canadian House, only 6 years old and sweet as a lollipop!).
I was only there for one night and one day and I felt it was enough – enough to see everything and enough to realize I wouldn´t want to go back living there…

Getting to Tonsupa

We really hadn´t planned our trip (being Ecuador and all), but luckily we could get tickets for the evening bus leaving Machala at 9.30pm, to arrive in Tonsupa in the morning, around 8am. The bus was going all the way to Atacames and since Tonsupa is further south it passed through the little village, so we didn´t have to change buses.
I was dreading the 10-hour bus ride, but in the end it turned out more or less ok.

We left late of course, not because of the bus company or driver, but because all of the passengers were travelling with “Kind und Kegel”, i.e. 3-5 kids,babies, grandmothers, boxes, sacks, bags, the only thing probably missing were pets… Debates, discussions, arguments, why should we pay extra for our luggage, no, we need everything, we´ll take it on the bus, it doesn´t matter, so, eventually, after everyone had more or less settled into their seats (on top of sacks and bags and the sort), we left Machala.

I was impressed to see the bus was fitted with air-conditioning (the weather on the coast is always hot and humid), so we weren´t exposed to any sweat-smells. Happiness did not last too long though, as at some point during the night I was hit by a funky-diaper-related smell. Somehow it did not last too long though, so all was well.

There was also a toilet on board, but the guys working on the bus were over-protective of it, as if it were gold and always pulled a face when someone asked to use it.

The funniest moment of the trip was when the driver pulled over for a toilet-break at a bus terminal along the way. All the toilets were locked though, so everyone (I mean men) ended up peeing at the side of the road.. All lined up… Women used the toilet on the bus under the scrutiny and suspicious looks of the “bus assistant”.

The first part of the ride passed terribly slow for me, but it all got better after 4am.
We were glad to see we had come into Santo Domingo, as it was only a few more minutes from there to Tonsupa.

Day 1 – Tonsupa & Atacames

My first impression of the town was “Oh my God, what are we doing here?”.. I am not sure if the place qualifies as a village or town, I noticed there was only one main street and that none of the roads leading to our hotel were paved. Quite dirty too.. I had left the booking of the entire trip up to Ryan and I was starting to regret it at this point.

I calmed down a little bit, when we got to the hotel though and were shown to our rooms. Simple, but clean and spacious enough. The hotel itself was really well kept, nicely decorated and the owner, Snr. Marcia could not have been nicer. Throughout our stay she helped us and accommodated us with every little thing we needed.

We arrived very early and after breakfast we made our way to the beach. If you expect white, sandy beaches you will be disappointed. Although very wide, the fine, white sand was missing. However, the little bars spread along the beachfront made up for it plenty, especially for Ryan :), so his first memorable event on holiday was having his first piña colada ever!! It was all the more exciting for him, since they served it up in a pineapple. 🙂

The beach at that time was really quiet and I was happy to go for a dip and get a little bit of sun, as, the two of us were pretty pasty-looking after almost 3 weeks of rainy Loja.

We decided to spend the afternoon in Atacames, since we only had booked to days in Tonsupa. There are “interplayas” buses that run along the places on the beach and in about 10 minutes we reached Atacames. The beach there was equally large, beachfront looked pretty much the same, all sorts of artisanal shops and bars lined up. The city itself is quite bg, very busy and a bit dodgy, so we decided to spend the afternoon on the beach, browsing around.
We didn´t bring too much money (just in case), according to our calculations just enough for lunch, a drink and the ride back.

After lunch (the worst one yet in Ecuador, our fish tasted like bleach!!!) we checked out the little artisanal stands and I bought myself a little Christmas present, a pair of very nice earrings. Ryan was on the lookout for some swimming trunks and he finally got a pair for 5 dollars. The problem was we now had 0 dollars between the two us, so we had to walk back to Tonsupa.

I didn´t mind it at all, as I love walking along the beach. It must have been around 3pm when we started making our way back. We enjoyed the view between Tonsupa and Sua, the beach and the warm sun. And, as sometimes happens, when all is quiet and nothing unexpected is expected, it did hit us… The tide was starting to come back in and we reached a point where we had no choice but walk through the water.. After assesing the situation for a few seconds (and Ryan damning me for deciding to walk if we had a choice!), we decided to go for it.. How deep could it be?! It only looked knee-deep, so laughing and putting up a good face we dared enter… Well, turned out the water came up all the way to our hips, so we ended up with wet shorts and T-shirts, phones etc. I couldn´t stop laughing, Ryan only giving me looks that could kill.

Anyway, all is well that ends well and although wet and tired we got to the hotel ok. We went for dinner (quite expensive it must be said) and then hit the “malecon” for drinks and fun.. Well, the drinks were there, but not a lot of action going on. It seemed there were more families around that single people.
Anyway, after getting nice and tipsy on piña coladas (me) and beer (Ryan), we made our way back to the hotel.

Day 2 – Sua

Sua is the southernmost place of the places we´ve seen in Esmeraldas (Tonsupa, Atacames and Sua). It is also the smallest of them. There is not much to do, except a lying on the beach, having a drink at one of the beachfront bars or take a boat tour. We did them all. We arrived there before lunch, wanting to do a boat tour, since there was a little island not too far away from the shore where blue footed boobies could be seen (along with pelicans and fragatas).
It took us about 20 minutes to decide which boat we would go with. The price was the same (10 USD per person), but the length of the trip varied from 20-30 minutes. In the end we go the boat guy to take us on a 40 minute tour with a short pit-stop on shore to explore the “Lover´s Cave”…

I think we ended up doing more than 40 minutes (there was another family on the boat with us, so conversation kept going) and our boat guy was pretty savvy about the area and answered pretty much all of our questions. Interesting to find out that Sua is a langoustine fishing area and that one can also spot sharks around, however at about 50 miles into the sea. We had a great time enjoying the views and pushing the boat back into water after our stop.
Lunch followed and we probably had the best fish there and were accompanied for some time by a little girl who seemed fascinated by our camera and wouldn´t let go, taking pictures of anything and everything.

The afternoon was dedicated to the beach (and later to an eagerly expected beer), and I was overly happy to see the tide also brought in awesome waves, so I spent most of the time in the water. I had found a small beach, a little sheltered from the main beach where Ryan was kept himself busy browsing around collecting stones and other interesting findings. After having spent a wonderful day we headed back to Tonsupa for our last night at Los Pondos.

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