We returned from Banos just in time to enjoy the start of the five year anniversary since the start of the Comuna de Rhiannon. The setting was unreal, an outside stage in the mountains, clear skies, bright stars and happy people. Ed was the first act to play and naturally wowed the community with his guitar, beat boxing and singing combination. He played several times over the weekend and was accompanied by an acroyoga performance which was just as astounding. Imagine yoga but two people, one lifting the other, involving various positions I couldn’t conceive doing on the ground. The night continued with more music, drinking and dancing and was a fine way to commence the festival.
Over the duration of the weekend we were treated to delicious meals, more music, of course more drinking and great company. The festival came to an end with a traditional ceremony at the building site. I should explain a little more about the farm and why I was there. Rob, a very good friend from England, left Birmingham around the same time as me to return to the farm where he had spent close to a year before. The first time he was there he built a house, generally when I have asked how he knew how, he replies with ‘I just googled it’. Knowing Rob I believe him and with the house still standing he did enough to impress Helen and Nicky, the owners, who have asked him to manage the construction of a new building at the farm. The farm is working towards becoming completely sustainable, growing their own foods, buying local produce where necessary, making their own compost and generating their electricity through solar panels amongst many other initiatives. Ed and I stopped at the farm for a few more days and helped out on the building site which at the moment is mainly filling bags with soil and some cement. We left the farm for a day or two to visit Otavalo, a market town not far from the farm. We embraced the culture and got our haggling hats on, buying several bits and bobs. Otavalo was a nice town although we didn’t spend a great deal of time there. Just outside Otavalo was Cascada de Peguche, a waterfall set in picturesque surroundings with some great view points. We also took a mini-tour through some old caves that were apparently used for Shamanic ceremonies. None of us were totally convinced by the guide but it was a fun little trip nonetheless.
After returning to the farm we took a day to explore the mountains around the farm with Rob and a few others. Great day, great views and great people but eventually it was time for us to move on. We took the bus back to Quito and then tried to work out how to get to Canoa. We had missed the morning bus and the night bus wasn’t for hours so after an hour or two of trying to get to the right bus station we headed towards Santo Domingo.
It was getting late as we arrived into Santo Domingo although there was still an outside chance of us making it to Canoa that night. We spoke to a man who told us the way we could do it, I thought he was lying and that he just wanted us to buy tickets from his company but we risked it anyway. It was no surprise when we arrived into the town of Chone to find there was no bus to Canoa that night. We didn’t have much choice but to spend the night in Chone so we eventually found a hostel. I can’t say a great deal about Chone but I think Ed summarised it perfectly by saying it would be like a tourist visiting England and staying the night in Slough. It did have an interesting market which I took a walk around and witnessed the last moments for several chickens and fish still jumping around on some stalls. Everybody was so blasé about it although it was a little shocking at times. After two more buses which took us completely through the middle of nowhere, we arrived into Canoa amid sunshine. Canoa is a small beach town and we immediately liked it. We picked the first restaurant we saw and ate like kings for $3. Shrimp soup and fresh fish with rice and salad and a glass of delicious juice. Almuerzo is the typical lunch and generally doesn’t cost more than $3-$4. We’re becoming a little obsessed with it and have started a league table. ‘Rate my Almuerzo’ could be the next big thing to hit the internet…
The hostel we were staying at, The Sundown Inn, was a couple of kilometres out of town which meant it was a bit of a pain walking back into Canoa. On the plus side we basically had a private beach. The hostel was fantastic, hammocks, outside eating areas, kitchen and a table tennis table where we spent far too much time. We had four days of Spanish lessons with a break on Wednesday which was Christmas Day. Naturally, we went out on Christmas Eve which turned out to be the first of many nights out in what has to be, my favourite place in Ecuador. We decided to extend our stay into the New Year and what a great decision it was. New Year’s Eve was a great night, we drank, danced, sat on the beach, enjoyed some of the many bars that reside along the beach and met some great people. The night culminated with a dip in the sea at about 6am and as I stumbled back to the hostel (leaving Ed and Rob asleep on the beach somewhere) I don’t think we could have welcomed 2014 in a better way. I can’t really say we did a lot in Canoa, just what anybody would do at the beach. Swim, sleep, eat, drink, party, repeat. I didn’t even take many photos but here are some from our time there.
Over the next few days Ed, Adam, a guy from Colorado, and I met up with some new Colombian friends we had made. It was great Spanish practice, they were lovely people and it beat just talking to other western tourists. I still don’t understand why so many travellers only talk to other tourists but each to their own I guess. Anyway, we made some good friends in Canoa which made it that little bit harder to leave. Eventually though, after over two weeks in paradise costing $8 a night, we packed our bags, said our goodbyes and left for Puerto Lopez. Typically, we chose a Sunday to do this and didn’t leave until early afternoon. After a few hours of not getting particularly far we cut our losses and stayed the night in a hostel in Portoviejo. We sat outside the hostel watching the cars go by and the dirty polluted streets and it felt a million miles from the idyllic scene we had just left. Still, another place that’s not on the general tourist trail and a bit more of real Ecuador. The next morning we were on to Puerto Lopez, another beach town which is where tours run to Isla de la Plata, also known as the poor man’s Galapagos. Another beach town! Although not as nice as Canoa, Puerto Lopez was a nice small town. We got a tour arranged for early the following day and spent the evening relaxing in hammocks.
The tour to Isla de la Plata has to be the worst tour I’ve been on in South America, probably ever. We had asked to go early which in hindsight was a big mistake. Rather than the swish looking boat that took the other tourists out, we were ushered into more of a fisherman’s boat with just one other person who it turned out, wasn’t paying anything for the trip. We were excited to see some great wildlife like the infamous blue footed boobies and turtles. To our disappointment we didn’t get very close to the birds and didn’t see any turtles at all. We arrived at Isla de la Plata and the ‘tour guide’ gave us some snorkels and left us to our own devices. It wasn’t awful but it was definitely the worst snorkelling I’ve ever done. The lunch and kayaks we had been promised didn’t appear and after a quick trip to the beach where we watched a group of birds eating the carcass of another bird we returned to shore. If you ever go to Puerto Lopez, don’t trust a man called Rolando and definitely don’t go on a tour which he sells you. After tracking down Rolando and negotiating some ‘free’ food we left Puerto Lopez for Manta and then to return to Banos on a night bus. Ed’s guitar was ready so we were off to collect it before continuing our journey south and eventually on to Peru.