Even though the weather along the coastline was cloudy most of the time, we decided to continue north via the small dusty town of Puertoviejo onto Bahia de Caraquez. We opted to by-pass the main town of Manta due to its reputation as a fairly industrious and seedy port town with the sole tourist attraction – to buy an authentic Panama hat. So after changing buses at Puertoviejo, we arrived 2hrs later in Bahia, as the locals called it. Bahia became an Ecocity in 1999 and had a reputation for being a clean and tidy place positioned on a sandy peninsular and a key destination for vacationing Ecuadorians from Guayaquil and Quito. Pulling into the bus station a few kms out, the lack of litter on the streets was clearly evident and following the main road into town by taxi, the cites position on the Rio Chrone dotted with sailing boats, high-rises and a connection to San Vicente via the largest bridge in Ecuador, gave the impression it was popular with the wealthy crowd.
We had found “Coco Bongo” on the web, a small hostel run by an Australian women in her mid 60s and thought it looked like a nice place to stop for a few nights and find out a little more about an organic farm stay situated out of Canoa. Without a prior booking, we jumped out of the cab expecting a room wouldn’t be a problem but instead was greeted by a table of American retirees. “She hasn’t got aaany rooooms…” a lady with a perfect white haired bob, dark sunglasses, red lipstick screeched to us in her twanging southern accent. And that was already obvious to us from the blackboard we were standing right in front of reading “No habitations hoy”. Another bloke, her husband, greeted us with a friendly smile and a cerveza and said “Where y’all from then?..we’re staying at some guesthouse around the corner….Sherl, what the name of it again?.”I don’t know” she twanged back. “But its just around the corner, just follow the beach….”. His directions were ridiculously confusing. Then another Australian female pensioner piped in to give us another lot of exceptionally blurred directions to a few hostels in the area but all we got was “to follow the road we were on” as she looked cross-eyed at us through her glass of beer.
So we left the hostel and wondered up a little further. The place looked pretty small to which you could cover the main sights in 20 minutes or so and there didn’t seem to be many places for foreigners to stay. The Australian lady running the hostel told us Canoa, the main little surf town popular with backpackers, was only 17kms further north and an $8 cab ride. Due to it being late afternoon we hailed the next taxi, jumped in and traveled over the bridge, through San Vincente and up to Canoa.
We told the taxi driver to drop us off at Hostel Bambu, one of the only hostels recommended by LP and with its location right on the beach, seemingly a good spot. The hostel was great and had availability so we bagged a room with shared bathroom for $20 a night and decided to try out the restaurant located right on the beach. Hostel Bambu had been around for 10 years and was built by a European and Ecuadorian couple. Probably one of the first that landed on the small fishing village it presumably was fairly key on bringing in the surfers from around the world and building the towns tourist infrastructure. But it was the best place to stay with its manicured sandy grounds, hammocks and fluro green lizards eating the bright tropical flowers for breakfast.
Canoa was a fairly laid back fishing village popular with travelers, a good spot to learn how to surf with constant small waves and not yet overrun by tourists – maybe a tiny version of Montanita on the weekends. The beach was long and broad, with off-white and grey colored sand and a craggy coastline looking similar to Victoria’s. Paragliding was run by an American company and a few circled the sky with their mini motors pushing them along and landing on the beach. A couple of bamboo bars perfect for cocktails lined the beach and positioned right out front was the traveling hippies, camping for free on the beach and practicing their juggling acts, guitars and working on their natty dreads. They seemed to travel with their hounds who continued to bark at everything and everyone on the beach, one black Labrador attacking a guy that looked incredibly like Big Kev.
The first night we landed in Canoa, we found the agency to book some time on Rio Manchacho organic farm, so we did that for a few days and returned to Canoa for a few more before heading on to Quito. Painstakingly, we discovered that Canoa had no ATMs and credit cards were not accepted. Not having any problems so far we had only assumed that we wouldn’t have a problem. But instead we found ourselves on two occasions making a trip back to San Vicente and Bahia to get more cash.
With the cloud setting in on our second last day we headed back into Bahia to pick up some money and thought we would pay a second visit to Coco Bongo for lunch. We meet the Australian owner again who asked us for the second time in her calming, alternative lifestyle manner, “Where are you from?”. Suzanne had traveled from the east-coast of Australia after her husband died aged 54 and landed in Ecuador to see a bit more of the world. Seven years on she was still in the country, deciding to set up her own hostel a street back from the esplanade and had attracted the older traveler which explained the drunken retirees the first time. Suzanne was lovely and we had a great conversation with her about how she got to where she was – on the other side of the world and not really wanting to return back home. She had been contacted by Australian government who suggested she needed to come back to the country if she wanted to continuing receiving the pension, but she wasn’t ready for the change and was looking into the possibilities of selling up and moving on to another part of Ecuador to open a coffee shop. Suzanne was 65 and with a love for the country and traveling, she wasn’t ready to return back to what she felt was a fairly prescribed life back in Australia.
Back in Canoa we spent a few days on the beach and chilling out around the hostel planning our next leg and looking forward to the flight out in a week to Columbia, a country with a tarnished reputation still clinging on from 10 years ago but, what every traveler we had meet said was their favorite. Not including a American girl we had eavesdropped on over breakfast who had just come from the country and crossing from Panama to Columbia’s northern Caribbean coast via catamaran. A break in the hull of the Austrian owned boat made it sink 45 nautical miles off the coast of Cartagena. Five Australians, three Germans, three Americans, two Norwegians, one Panamanian, one Dutch and one Polish lost everything, but were rescued by the Colombian Navy and transported back with their lives to Cartagena. Thank god we opted out of the 6 day sea voyage and decided to fly over the Darian Gap!