North By Northwest

DSCF1005_1920_1440After several days at a beach resort, it was plainly clear that I needed a change. This change took form in another beach resort further up the coast, near the border with Ecuador. The small town of Mancora is well known to younger Peruvians who flock there during national holidays to surf and sunbathe and fortunately I was not there at one of these times. It’s quite tough to find much of a range of accommodation online for Mancora (hitherto being the best way to arrive in a place with a reserved bed in a nice hostel), so I plumped for the highest rated place in town; a hostel called Loki.

For anyone who has travelled in South America before, this name should set alarm bells ringing as a place to avoid since it is mostly beloved by the species Commonus Dickheadea. This creature finds itself in its late twenties or early thirties and has an incurable sorrow for its lost youth and an equally insatiable desire for younger girls. They like loud environments, sleeveless vests and are fuelled entirely by alcohol. This was not ideal. What’s worse is that despite the online lack of properties, the town itself is full of hostels and other accommodation options, so it was that I had to move to one of these fairly sharpish. The town itself is a small congregation of touristy shops and restaurants, a few of which were actually really good. Special mention to Green Eggs and Ham on the beach – their battered fries and sweet potato wedges were divine.

With perfect weather for the duration, I did a spot of SCUBA diving. The visibility was fairly poor for the most part, but getting my Advanced Open Water qualification was the aim of the game and so I now consider myself qualified. One dive in particular took us down to 30 metres below an abandoned Oil Platform. Swimming in and around the submerged steel structure was a very surreal experience and the fauna of the area was beautiful. Turtles lazily wandered by, Moray Eels gaped from their caves, Sea Lions investigated us and all manner of tropical fish swam around.DCIM101GOPRO

This was the end of my time in Peru, a country with a great deal more to see than I did – one could spend a long time here and plenty of people do just this. I headed north from here to the border with Ecuador and to the peculiar situation of using US dollars for a while. Since their economy nearly collapsed a few years ago, Ecuador has used the US dollar as their native currency alongside nationally minted coins. This has the side effect of making things a little more expensive than other countries I’ve been to, but not to an unmanageable degree. Travel in Ecuador is very cheap; bus rides are typically a dollar an hour on average.

The first port of call was to the southerly city of Guayaquil, a stop much like Lima, I’d been dreading. I had to stop here to shop around for Galapagos cruises, so it was a necessary evil. Similarly to Lima however, I found myself being pleasantly surprised. It’s not a city I’d race to recommend that people visit, but huge credit should go to the city authorities who have created a beautiful promenade along the river called the Malecon. Here people can walk and enjoy the river and many cafes and restaurants alongside without fear of the crime that normally pervades port cities such as this. I never felt anything but completely safe… and a little bored. There’s not a whole lot to do here. What’s more annoying is the lack of travel agencies – a vast majority of these exist in Quito so it began to look like my visit was unwarranted. This became complete when I found the most desirable Galapagos package online. Three wasted days in a city I didn’t need or want to visit. How annoying.

The coast of Ecuador is well worth a visit, but you should really consider your reasons for going there depending on the time of year. From June to November is the cloudy season. It is unlikely you will see much sun, so if you are looking for surf paradise in Montanita for example, you will likely be disappointed. Like I was. Of course, true surfers don’t care about the weather. I am not yet it seems, a true surfer. Montanita is a resort town that has grown far faster than it can handle. There are many, many restaurants and hostels, but very little charm. Not a fan. Further up the coast is the town of Puerto Lopez, which is also the gateway to the nearby Isla de la Plata. Often referred to as the “poor man’s Galapagos”, it offers very similar fauna as can be found on the aforementioned islands. If you want to see Magnificent Frigate Birds, Boobies and the various aquatic animals without spending a small fortune, then this is well worth your time. Time was something I hadn’t much of, so there was only time to do one thing, and that was SCUBA! I was very glad I chose to do this as the wealth of life around the islands is incredible. Dozens of turtles swam around us, and we were greeted by several absolutely massive Manta Rays – so big and close that they blocked out the sun. I wish I had a photo of this enormous phantom drifting out of the darkness – it remains one of, if not the most, amazing things I have ever seen. We were also very fortunate to see Humpback Whales breaching near the shoreline. My photography skills lacked timing and focus – literally, as all I have to show is a very blurred whale. Instead, here is a pelican.DSCF0335_1920_1440Other than the island and the whales, Puerto Lopez doesn’t have much to offer, so if the weather is on your side while you are in Ecuador, head to the coast for the sun-drenched beaches. If you visit in June and July, pack the rain coat and go whale watching!

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