Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Favorite Hotels in Ecuador

First - for an update on our progress selling Sea Biscuit - see the Sea Biscuit For Sale page. 

A few more posts on Ecuador - This one on hotels. 
Of the different hotels we stayed in, we had two favorites that deserve mention in a blog post. The first was Cantaelmar(A) near Puerto Lopez along the coast and the second hotel was the Canoa Beach Hotel (B), just outside of Canoa, north of Bahia de Caraquez, also on the coast. 
Cantaelmar - used to be the called the Andaluz and recently changed its name under new owners. It is an eco-hotel with excellent food prepared from their farm at Cantalepiedra, which is located inland near the National Park Machalilla.  

View from the balcony 

The gardens surrounding the hotel buildings

The garden area near the pool
Canoa Beach Hotel 

We visited the Canoa Beach Hotel three different times for short stays.The owner, Greg, treated us and all the other hotel guests like old friends. He is from Tennessee and has that classic southern hospitality. Greg lives and works as an architect in Quito. His hotel manager, Maureen, also made us feel very welcome and provided advice on places to eat and things to do. We hope she hasn't had any more surfing accidents. She had cut her head surfing before we came and had been forbidden by her doctor to get back in the water until the stitches had healed. 

No, we didn't take any surfing lessons. It looked a bit rough, not like the best place for beginners. 

Kyle leaping from the rum pot. 

Kyle and some new friends - Greg's kids

Garden, pool, and beach 

Another view of the pool 
View looking south along the beach

Honorable Mention goes to the Hosteria Farallon Dillon near Ballenita (about 9 km north of Salinas, due east of Guayaquil on the coast). The museum with the relics of the sunken Spanish Galleon "Capitan" and other antiquities collected over 30 yrs was worth a visit. Captain Dillon was at the hotel when we visited, he had been doing his morning Tai Chi. He is of Irish descent, but seems to be full Ecuadorian and had served in the Ecuadorian navy.  

The light house 

Birds on the beach - we didn't see a lot, unfortunately

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Hacienda Uzhupud and Horses

While we were in Ecuador during Carnival week (in February - still catching up on the blog) we decided to book a few days in a hotel up in the hills, far away from the hustle and bustle and water throwing in the bigger cities. Ken found Hacienda Uzhupud on the internet and it came with good reviews. Google maps said it should take about 40 minutes to get from Cuenca to Uzhupud. Little did we know that everyone in Cuenca would be driving to Gualaceo for Carnival celebrations on that same day and Uzhupud was on the way to Gualaceo. So the trip took around 1 ½ hour, not to mention the time we spent being lost looking for Hacienda Uzhupud. The signage to this hotel was a bit limited until you got off the main highway, then there were ample signs to show us where to turn. 

The rest of the hotel guests seemed to have the same idea we had – stay somewhere quiet without the chaos of Carnival. We met a wonderful family from Quito who we became friends with. They had a 9 yr old daughter who Kyle had fun playing with. We regret not travelling to Quito to visit them.  

The highlight of the stay in Uzhupud for Kyle was getting a chance to ride one of the horses. The hotel had half a dozen horses available for riding around the grounds. Unfortunately, the first horse Kyle got on was quite unhappy and would not walk quietly. It had a sore under its girth and was constantly reaching back trying to figure out what was giving it so much pain and to try to alleviate the sore. When he wasn’t doing that he was trying to buck and run. After just a few minutes Kyle was begging to get off and get another horse.

The unhappy horse
Kyle got a turn on a calmer horse and loved having some time riding around. He hadn't ridden a horse for a couple years, since visiting our friends Lee and Candie to ride Weed in Nambe or visiting Joey and his girlfriend to ride their horses in Albuquerque. 

At this same time we were in the middle of reading the book Sea Biscuit to Kyle, so it was good timing to have a horseback ride. Before we left for Ecuador, Kyle took "Sea Biscuit" as his nickname and every where we went in Ecuador he would gallop around, whipping an imaginary steed, and ask if we wanted to race him.    

Blackie (as we called her) - the calmer mount

The horse trainer who was supervising all the riding decided to ride the unhappy horse, as if he would work off some of his oats. The trainer promptly fell off at the first corner, in part because the saddle wasn’t on tight enough and it slid off! 

The unhappy horse after its saddle fell off  

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Driving in Ecuador

We read horror stories about driving Ecuador, but Ken, being the overconfident traveler, wanted to rent a car anyway. After driving a lot in Mexico he thought he could handle Ecuador. As it turns out, the driving wasn't bad - except in Guayaquil.  

We rented a $30/day car from Avis. It was the tiniest thing imaginable, it's in the micro-car category. 

Chevy Spark 
We managed to stuff all of our luggage and ourselves into the car many times. It was great to have the car. It meant we could go anywhere we wanted without trying to drag all of our stuff onto a bus with a plan for where to stop. We found our best places to stay because we drove around and could stop anywhere that looked interesting.

We found the roads to be excellent. Ecuador has definitely spent a lot of money recently on improving the roads. The signage was also very good. Someone said if you can drive in Guayaquil you can drive anywhere. Driving in Guayaquil was the most stressful part of the whole trip, at least for me (Christina). At the end of our trip we found ourselves stuck in traffic for more than an hour on our way to the airport. It should have taken 15 minutes.

Sharing the road

Like many other travelers, we are now complete converts to computer assisted navigation. We used Ecuador GPS, created by Kaart Data ($9.99) to find our way throughout Ecuador. Ecuador GPS is an iPad app with maps and navigation features. It helped us find our way through all but the smallest towns in Ecuador. Without it, we would have been miserable. 

It was nice to be able to tell where you were on the map and whether you had missed your turn or that your turn was still ahead. In addition, the ability to navigate without requiring a wireless connection was a huge plus - the program relies on the iPad’s GPS to determine your location.

Screenshot from Ecuador GPS 
Ecuador GPS excelled at showing us where we were on the map and where the next intersection was, but it does not excel on the map annotation side. For example, it would be nice if you could figure out what city you are approaching by glancing at the map. Instead you had to find the city symbol, often in the midst of many other symbols, and click on it. Nonetheless, we recommend Ecuador GPS (it also seemed to be the only Ecuador iPad driving app available). 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

More thoughts on Ecuador - Climate and Food

Beach sunshades in Canoa on Carnival weekend

We found the climate in Ecuador to be excellent. Not too hot on the coast and trips inland could provide cool escapes to interesting cities and ecological areas. At its hottest, Ecuador was still pleasant in the towns we visited. In the coastal cities people told us that February and March were the hottest months. While we were there, we would turn on the air conditioner in the evenings to keep our hotel room comfortable, but it was nowhere near as hot as we have found La Cruz/Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to be in May (not to mention June, July, August, September, October, and November). The temperatures in Ecuador's coastal towns were warm enough to swim in the ocean, but not so hot we had to hide inside during the daytime. 

Ecuadorianos enjoying the beach in Canoa

We wrote in an earlier post about comida tipico - fried fish, beef, or chicken with rice and menestra (or beans) or a small salad. Menestra is lentil stew. It is the typical Ecuadoran lunch. Encebollado is a soup, usually with a chunk of chicken in it. This is also popular. We had these lunches many times. The comida tipico was inexpensive, ranging in price from $4 each on the beach to $3.50 total for the three of us in the market in Cuenca. Bottles of beer were usually about $1.50.

We grew tired of comida tipico and found that it was mostly what is available. There were only a few places where we found anything else to eat. When we did find something else the price would typically be close to US prices. Our best meal was at the Puerto Amistad restaurant in Bahia de Caraquez. The dinner we had at Puerto Amistad was reasonably priced with entrees for less than $10. A burger was $5.  

Puerto Amistad's mooring balls and the new bridge in Bahia de Caraquez

Simply for a change, we ate at Pizza Hut in Guayaquil on our last night in Ecuador. It wasn’t that good and was US prices- maybe higher. The place was packed. I guess Ecuadorianos get tired of comida tipico too. 

In all the beach communities there are about 20 beach side restaurants and several others off the beach selling comida tipico. They all seem to sell the same thing at the same price. We wondered how they could all make a living. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Thoughts on Ecuador

Before writing about Ecuador, a quick update:

After keeping the boat in Barra de Navidad in the marina for two months, we spent a few days in Tenacatita and on March 31, 2013, Easter Sunday, we left Tenacatita Bay at 9AM. Arrived back in La Cruz, near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico on Monday morning, April 1st, about 9:30AM. We had enough wind to motorsail at between 4 and 6 knots the whole time and conditions were excellent. 

We are happy to have Sea Biscuit tied up snugly in the La Cruz marina and glad to see old friends again.  

Kyle at the helm - he now tells everyone that he drives the boat. 
We are glad to be back in Mexico. This blog post is to catch you up on what we are doing and what happened with Ecuador. Many of you have seen that we are trying to sell Sea Biscuit and are wondering if we found a new home in Ecuador. The quick answer is – No, no finca in Cuenca for us (no farm in Cuenca). We do not want to discourage anyone from exploring Ecuador or moving to Ecuador with this post, but for what we were looking for, we didn’t find Ecuador to be a good fit. Perhaps we can explain some of our reasons why we came to that conclusion in this post and a few more to come.

First some background info - We traveled to Ecuador thinking we wanted to spend at least a year there, perhaps longer. Originally we had planned to sail there and keep Sea Biscuit on a mooring ball in Bahia de Caraquez. Instead of sailing, we ultimately decided to fly (see earlier post for details). The idea was, we would fly down, scope it out and then return to that town in Ecuador that we liked best.

We booked a six week trip to Ecuador for February through mid-March, thinking we would need that much time to get to know some of the towns and schools and find a good match. We envisioned finding a house to rent with a view of the ocean. For a number of reasons we were leaning toward the coast instead of the cities in the highlands, so we focused our search on towns between Salinas/La Libertad and Bahia de Caraquez. 

After three weeks we were ready to return to Sea Biscuit. We just couldn’t envision living in Ecuador and didn’t feel like seeing more of it would change our minds. 

What were the reasons? I'll followup with more detail in a couple later blog posts, but to sum it up - the food was too bland and the cities on the coast just didn't have the combination of a bilingual school, the neighborhoods we had hoped to find, and that certain je ne sais quois that we were looking for. 

Guayaquil in some ways appeared to have most of our wishlist items – schools close to nice neighborhoods, a larger variety of restaurants, larger supermarkets. Although it’s not on the coast, the Guayas river runs through Guayaquil and gives it a marine-culture. The lack of ocean and the sheer size of Guayaquil, with more than 2 million people, just didn’t make it seem like a place we’d want to live in, not to mention the crime statistics. 

We were nearly convinced by an American couple to visit Vilcabamba and if all they said about it was true, it might have been a contender. Vilcabamba is near Loja in southern Ecuador at about 4,500 feet. They described the climate there as always mild and comfortable. The couple decided to buy land after traveling to Ecuador and spending a week in Vilcabamba and after 8 yrs they still love it. They regularly get massages for $15 and delicious $100 meals for only $12, prepared by a master chef from NY who now lives in Vilcabamba. They have a little farm outside of town with fruit trees and horses. However, they did say though that other expat families with younger kids wished the choices for schools in Vilcabamba were better.   

We regret not taking the time to visit Vilcabamba, but we had already driven inland to see Cuenca early in our trip and another big roadtrip inland would have put us over the edge.