Category Archives: boondocking

Life by the Sea : South Coast Ecuador

I have a confession to make. So far on this trip we haven’t seen monkeys in the wild. This seems pretty ridiculous given the countries we’ve been through, and it has become a bit of a running joke in the brown bus. We’ve definitely felt their beady eyes on us though, mocking us through the jungle.

Finally, the wildlife viewing stars aligned for us when we stopped in at Sendero Pasaje del Monos, a wildlife reserve on the pacific coast. We were guaranteed monkey sightings and if we were especially lucky, we might even see a sloth. Sloths are particularly hard to spot because they are well camouflaged and as to be expected, don’t move around much. We spent a few sweaty hours in the jungle, grinning from ear to ear and hanging out with a group of cheeky, camera shy monkeys and a very laid-back photogenic sloth.

Monkey 01Sloth 01 Sloth 02

We found a section of private beach near Salango and set up camp for the night, where Mark was able to do a few repairs and adjustments on the van. It was also the perfect place to drink some whiskey around a driftwood fire.

Just as we were settling in for the night, the cops crashed the party. I looked at Mark “shit, we’re in trouble”. We went through the usual routine, the where are you from questions and the checking of passports. Of the three cops, two looked to be about 18 years old and were grinning sheepishly the entire time. I pointed to the fire “una problema?”, no problems there. Our campsite on the beach was fine too.

Turns out, you can’t drink alcohol on Sunday in Ecuador (this was contradicted at the tire repair shop earlier that day, where everyone was wasted before noon). The police pretended to confiscate our whiskey, then returned it promptly saying “para Lunes” (for Monday). Why thank you officers! As my Granny once said, “it’s not a good party unless the police show up at least once”.

Salango 01 Salango 02 Salango 03 Salango 04 Salango 05

As we were back on the coast, it was time to look for waves. We eventually rolled into Playas, which on first impression is a rather uninspiring town. It’s the quiet beaches on the outskirts, that are the draw card here.

Dusty desert landscapes, friendly people, good seafood and great camping about sums it up. There are also a cluster of right-hand point breaks along this stretch of coast, but they were a bit scary for me. If possible I think my surfing got worse. I don’t think I’m ready to graduate from the bunny slopes just yet. 

Playas 02 Playas 03 Playas 04

Nestled between two point breaks, this campsite was one of the best. It was perfect for watching the waves and the sunset.  After two nights here we were told by some locals that robberies are common near this beach. We saw no signs of trouble, but being unable to claim ignorance anymore, we thought we’d do the right thing and move on. 

Playas 05Playas 06Playas 07 Playas 08 Checking out break numero dos.

This other little fishing village seems almost deserted, until you gaze out at the foreshore where over a hundred boats cluster together in organized chaos. It was captivating to watch the fishermen preparing the boats in the morning, and then launching them out to sea.

Men shuffle under the weight of their outboard motors as they lug them on their shoulders down to the beach. The launching process then requires a lot of rhythm and some rolling logs placed under the boats as they are pushed out to sea. They really seem to take a lot of pride in their boats. They are handmade, and painted brightly, usually with biblical names emblazoned along the sides (Jhonny Alberto was our favourite, and one of the few exceptions).

Around 2pm the boats return with their first haul of the day, prawns. We cooked up a delicious feast with some of these tasty suckers for a steep $3.

Playas 09 Playas 10 Playas 10aPlayas 11Playas 13  Playas 15   Playas 16Playas 14Playas 17 Playas 18

This village is also the home of a pretty decent right point break. These photos don’t really do the waves justice, some massive sets were rolling through and the take off was precariously close to the rocks. Mark snapped these pics and it wasn’t long before he had a list of names, and the email addresses of excited locals who wanted copies of their photos.

Playas 19 Playas 20 Playas 21

For one night only, the clouds lifted and the sky was alight with a magical burnt orange sunset. On the coast, this is definitely my favourite time of day.

Playas 22

At night the fishermen return late.  This time with fish, their second haul for the day. We camped right on the point and watched the action. Our new campsite also meant that Mark could hit the water for an early morning/smaller wave session. I went for a run on the beach and caught a fish. With a stick. A pretty tasty fish stew was on the menu that night.

Playas 23 Playas 24 Playas 25 Playas 26

It was time for one last push to the mountains of Ecuador, where we drove up through the clouds to Parque Nacional Cajas.

Cajas 01Cajas 03 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Cajas 05

We finally made it to Cuenca and went out for a delicious meal at Salvia, a newly opened restaurant, owned an operated by an English couple in a restored antique house. The setting was beautiful and we were transported back to the English countryside, where we indulged in a phenomenal three course meal and a bit too much wine.

There was much to celebrate though, Ecuador has been truly amazing. Such friendly people, good surf and awe-inspiring vistas. Oh, and it was pretty easy on the old purse strings too.

Cuenca 01 Cuenca 02

So once again, and hopefully not for the last time we yelled “ECUADOOOOOR”. Next stop, Peru.

Posted from: Lobitos, Peru.

Getting High : Central Ecuador

We arrived after dark at the north entrance to Cotopaxi National Park. It had been a long day of driving.  Crossing the equator at the coast, we had climbed the steep winding roads all the way through the central highlands. To make it worse, we had taken a wrong turn that cost us a couple of hours.

In total darkness we pulled off the dirt road and found a relatively level spot to park for the night. We had started the day at sea level and were now at an elevation of about 3,600m (11,800 ft). After changing into warmer clothes, setting up the stove and popping the top, we were both gasping in the thin air. We were in bed soon after dinner.

Not knowing exactly where we had parked the night before, we opened the window in the morning and stared wide-eyed at the view from our bed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Unfortunately, the cold night and the low oxygen at this altitude gave the van a few troubles in the morning. It just wouldn’t start.  So while I made some EFI adjustments, Bec wandered off to take some photos in the morning light.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

With the van up and running again we headed into the national park and climbed the steep switchbacks up the side of the volcano, finally giving the van a break when we reached the carpark at 4,600m (15,000 ft).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can just see the refuge hut in the mid-left of this photo. The faint blue dot far below it is a car in the carpark. 

From the carpark we hiked up to the edge of the glacier.  I find it so amazing that a glacier can be sustained year round so close to the equator, this volcano is massive. Needless to say, it was cold up there. The edge of the glacier is at about 5,000m (16,400 ft), I think this is the highest we’ve ever been with our feet on solid ground.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe refuge was under construction and these beast of burden were carrying most of the supplies. 

After venturing up to the glacier we were both pretty wiped and had trouble staying awake in the warm sun as we cruised around the park exploring the tangled network of roads and trails. Every track held the promise of leading nowhere.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChoose your own adventure.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACoca leaf tea, supposedly this helps with the effects of altitude. Tastes alright too, kind of like green tea. 

Since arriving in Ecuador we’ve been really happy to get back to van life the way we like it.  By finding isolated campsites in beautiful wild places. This place was a real treat, it just might be the prettiest place that we’ve ever popped the top.

We camped in this hidden gully with only a small campfire and the changing moods of the mountain to entertain us.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The perfect campsite, from any angle. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMorning light in the mountains. Tough to beat. 

From Cotopaxi we headed south and west again, passing through amazingly steep farmland and little indigenous farming villages. We really love the patchwork of the highland fields that look like a huge crumpled quilt lying over the land.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Scoping out the road.  A bit slippery, but Oscar made it without hassle.  

We made it to Laguna Quilotoa in the early afternoon with plenty of time to spare for a wander along the crater rim.  We didn’t get far though, there’s something about this old lake filled volcano that just makes you want to stop and stare a while.

central ecuador 30 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA central ecuador 34 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

With permission from the locals, we slept that night in the carpark at the edge of the crater and had another amazing Ecuadorian meal.  The meals are simple, but almost always come with a delicious hearty soup followed by a meat plate with rice, beans and salad.

Waking up to another chilly morning with another amazing sunrise, we made some brekkie in the van and hit the road once again heading for the coast.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAcentral ecuador 36OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Posted from: Cuenca, Ecuador

A Close Call : The Road to Manizales

It felt good to be out of the city and on the road again.  Waking up to a fresh and foggy morning in the hills and enjoying the view while I make coffee and eggs outside is one of the simple pleasures of van life.

To Manizales01

The drive across Colombia from east to west moves through some amazing mountainous countryside.  The hills are so steep that you can hardly ever see the valley bottoms, and I couldn’t tell you how many times we oohed and ahhed over the scenery as we rounded another bend.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATo Manizales07

The roads are in good condition, but they are narrow and winding with very few places to pull off, so Bec was limited to snapping pics out of the window when something caught her eye.  Like dizzyingly steep green hills and a farmhouse perched atop a ridge,  a roadside haircut session or a fully loaded motorbike hugging the road verge.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATo Manizales03To Manizales02 To Manizales05

It was a beautiful drive, but also long and challenging.  The single lanes meant that we were often stuck behind slower traffic either struggling to climb a steep grade or slowly descending in a low gear.  After many hours of this, we had our first road mishap of the trip.

After many months of driving in Latin America I had adjusted to their driving style. The truck in front flashed his turn signal, indicating that it was a good time to pass, and I had a look before overtaking on a downhill run as we’ve done many times before. There was another car coming the other way, but a fair way off, this was nothing new either. But, he was coming a little faster than usual and I didn’t have a lot of time to get back onto my side of the road, so the back of the van clipped the truck as I swung back into my lane.

To Manizales04To Manizales15

Thankfully, no serious harm was done, just a bit of a dent and a scrape on both vehicles, and some bruised pride.  It was definitely a reminder to be more cautious and patient, and I won’t be making the same mistake again. This delayed us a few hours as we had to follow the truck driver into the next town and find an ATM to pay him for the damage (about $150), then we had to return back along the same road to find the fuel cap which had come off.

A little shaken by the days events and delayed by the mishap, we didn’t make it to Manizales that day. After a few more hours of driving, it was getting dark, cold and rainy as we turned onto a side road heading towards the Los Nevados National Park to find a spot to camp for the night.

Once again, in the light of morning, things didn’t seem so bad.  It had been a really chilly night, the best weather for a good sleep in a cozy sleeping bag.  We woke to find ourselves in a really beautiful spot and started the day with a good hot cuppa and snow on the surrounding mountain peaks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Posted from Manizales, Colombia