My finals schedule was a little bit strange as I had one on December 11th and another on December 22nd. I was able to use this to my advantage: I had a whole week to travel.
Since my friends had a different schedule, I decided to try some solo travel. The first leg of my journey was in Manta, a mid-sized city on the coast of Ecuador. This meant taking a night bus from Quito to Manta. As soon as I arrived at 6 AM, I took a taxi to my hostel. The market was just getting set up when I arrived. It was gigantic and right in the middle of the street, unlike the markets in Quito. They were selling fruit, meat, dry goods, and LOTS of seafood. After all, Manta is known as the “tuna capital of the world.” After eating some fried fish and rice, a typical breakfast, I went back with my camera to take pictures. The people in Manta were the friendliest I have encountered in any city in Ecuador. All of the seafood vendors wanted me to take their pictures with the fish.
Afterwards I went to Playa Tarqui, the beach closer to my hotel. It is known as the less nice beach in the city. I can see why as cars are allowed on it, there is more industrial activity, and sometimes it smells. The best part about that beach is the abundance of seafood restaurants with great food and prices. My first day I ate Arroz Marinero, a rice dish with many types of seafood, for dinner. I then went to the nicer beach, Playa Murcielago, to relax. While drinking from a coconut, a man approached me and told me that they were offering $3 boat rides to see blue-footed boobies and the big ships in the port. With nothing else to do, I went for it. Later on I walked around the town and went to the cultural museum. This museum had an exhibit on the Manteño culture, one of the indigenous cultures of the coast. They traded with the Inca and used shells for money. It was really interesting learning about them because most people don’t think of the advanced civilizations on the coast.
The next day I ended up going to the same restaurant to get fried albacore for breakfast. While waiting for my delicious meal, an unfortunate twist of fate happened when I dropped my camera in the sand, rendering it useless for the rest of my trip. After breakfast, I decided to take a trip to the small town of Montecristi. This little town is just a 20 minute bus ride inland from Manta and has three claims to fame. First, it is the place where Panama Hats originate from (neither Panama nor Cuenca, Ecuador as many people believe). Second, it is home to a beautiful church that is a famous site for pilgrims in Ecuador for it’s statue of the Virgin Mary. Third, it was the birthplace of Eloy Alfaro,one of Ecaudor’s most famous and beloved historical presidents who led the liberal revolution, built the railroad between the two largest cities in Ecuador (Guayaquil and Quito), and initiated separation of church and state. I decided to visit the church, which was beautiful and far different from the churches in Quito. I also went to the Eloy Alfaro Museum up on the hill to learn more about the history of Ecuador and the region. At the museum they had an artisans market with some really nice products. I ended up buying a toucan carving out of tagua nut and calling Montecristi the Otavalo of the coast.
Time got away from me, and by the time I got back to the hotel in Manta it was 2PM. I was supposed to check out at 12, but the man running the hostel who was very friendly and helpful didn’t mind that I got back late. After checking out and a quick lunch, I left for Puerto Lopez for the next part of my adventure. I really enjoyed Manta. It had a little bit industrial feeling, it was a bit smelly, and a bit crowded in some places, but it was an authentic sort of a place with friendly people, great food, and a nice beach.