The time was upon us to pick up Matt’s parents who were embarking on their third visit to Latin America, this time to the equator and south. We were thrilled to see them again, and with plans for time in the big city of Quito followed by some beach time in Canoa, we had a lot to be excited for.With almost a full day of free time before their flight arrived, we had the pleasure of meeting up with Paulina, an old friend of Karl’s (previous owner of Koru), who lives in Quito. We met at a wonderful restaurant and immediately hit it off and conversed for hours. Our experience with her was unforgettable and her kindness unmatched for the short time we spent together. Months later we still chat regularly. We checked into the apartment Scott and Deb had rented to unpack and clean the van before making the trip to the airport. After a successful retrieval, we had a great time catching up and enjoying some Crema Andino (Ecuadorian liqueur) that Paulina had gifted us earlier in the day.Quito is the highest capital city in the world at 9,350 ft and is surrounded by striking volcanic mountains. It also boasts a large central park that rises above the rest of the city providing great vistas. We had the pleasure of staying within walking distance of the park, so we made quick work of exploring it with beautiful blue skies and views of the picturesque city. There were even resident llamas!Also nearby was a museum dedicated to Guayasamin, Ecuador’s most famous artist with a life story full of inspiration. His work was as visually striking as it was meaningful. A dedicated humanitarian, he focused on discrimination and the sorrows and oppression it brings throughout the world. With an indigenous background, he became an outspoken proponent of indigenous peoples’ rights and thoroughly used his artistic clout to send heartfelt messages far and wide. The following day, we enjoyed the teleferico (aerial tram) up to the Pichincha volcano to enjoy some stunning views and crisp clean air.Blue skies graced our presence first thing in the morning on a Monday, and we had run of the place for a few hours. Our short hike just scratched the surface of the beautifully big backyard Quito has to offer. With our outdoor spirits filled, we descended back to the city to explore more of the capital.We filled the afternoon with a free city walking tour of downtown Quito. Our smart and informative guide gave us a good synopsis of the history of Quito and some big events and their effects in Ecuador like dollarization that occurred in 2000. Along with our history lesson, we explored the local market drinking fresh juice served from some very sweet ladies and admired all of the varieties of fruit offered. The city was beautiful and as we discovered more, we realized it would take many days to explore the historical sites and architecture. One experience that would’ve gone unnoticed had it not been for our tour guide was the sight of a traditional soup made with bull testicles. This lady couldn’t have made us giggle more by showing us her delicious soup and its ingredients, hand gestures and all.Exhausted after a long day, we enjoyed some Canelazo, a typical Ecuadorian alcoholic fruit drink enjoyed warm and usually with empanadas. After a good nights rest, our last day in the Quito area led us an hour north to the town of Otovalo, where the most famous textile market of South America happens every day. Everyone had a great time taking in the colors and talking with the friendly vendors. This really made Scott and Deb’s day as they were able to score some unique items for Christmas presents this year. One more restful night in the apartment was thoroughly enjoyed before the big drive to the coast. Up early, we were all excited to visit the Mitad del Mundo (middle of the earth, equator) as a pit stop along the way. We had a lot of fun fooling around with the line in the beautiful setting. They even had a brew pub where we enjoyed beers while writing some postcards to friends and family.Back in Koru, we descended from high arid mountains to secondary and primary rain forest with many farms throughout, and finally to the coast. It was a treat to have family witness the amazing ecological diversity these countries can provide in very short distances.We arrived just after dark to a nice beach side condo with access to some fun waves to play in. The small town of Canoa was within walking distance on the beach where we enjoyed some delicious seafood and cocktails.The time spent with each other was very enjoyable and the days slipped by effortlessly and stress-free. Matt and Scott even enjoyed removing their cold weather beards for a few days.On top of relaxing and some small chores around the van, we explored mangroves on a boat tour around Isla Corazon. Unfortunately, the mangroves are suffering greatly due to deforestation and shrimp farming. The villagers protecting the area informed us that the water depth of the river near the mangroves has shrunk an astounding 45 meters in the last couple of generations, and is now only 7 meters in the deepest area. An abundance of wildlife including dolphins have left the area in the last 50 years and of many other populations continue to decline. Local fisherman still get by, but life is more difficult than that of their parents or grandparents. Afterwards we visited the nearby town of Bahia which is still recovering from a large earthquake that had struck just over a year ago, decimating most coastal towns nearby including Canoa. Despite the painfully obvious destruction, people seemed in good spirits and life was continuing as normally as it could. As our time together with Matt’s parents was nearing it’s end, our plans simply included food, drink and good times before they made their way back home. Looking back on our time together in Quito and the beach was great, but as always we desired to keep on truckin’ south, so we dropped them off at the nearby airport with hearts filled and smiles big. The next leg of our journey kept us on the coast for a couple of weeks. Despite the daily gloomy skies, the coastline was gorgeous with diverse flora and fauna.The small beach and town with surf named San Mateo (Saint Matthew) was on our way, so without hesitation we paid quick homage despite the lack of waves on this particular day.As we continued on, the coastline kept providing stunning beauty around every corner. Our next stop was the beach and town of San Lorenzo which is home to thousands of sea turtles who nest here every year. The beautiful cliffs and white sand made for great walks and kite flying.Ecuador has famous surf and wildlife along it’s coast including the Galapagos Islands which are likely the most famous natural wildlife sanctuary on the planet, but unfortunately they were not on the itinerary. However, Puerto Lopez was in route where popular Isla de la Plata tours depart from. It is known among the backpacking world as the poor man’s Galapagos and did not disappoint!
The tour turned out to be spectacular beginning with the witnessing of humpback whales jumping out of the water on our boat ride. On the island we hiked among a plethora of the goofy Blue-Footed Boobies and Frigate birds.Last on the itinerary, we snorkeled from the boat and had the pleasure of swimming with turtles, vibrant starfish and even a giant stingray. Back to the mainland we stayed another night to explore the charming town with great food and friendly people with a brief window of blue skies!The next morning we went for one last beach stroll. This time we stumbled upon a rehabilitation center for turtles and birds such as pelicans, boobies and a rare Galapagos Albatross.An unfortunate truth to the fishing culture of Latin America is the loss of sea turtles by accident, and more often than not, deliberate harm caused by the fisherman. The locals at the center offered us a small tour of the facilities after gathering a large bag of trash from the beach.What we saw was a combination of heart-warming and heart-wrenching, with some animals very close to full health and reintroduction, while others were perilously close to death.A handful of locals have managed to start the center by their own means while continuing to ask for help from the government unsuccessfully. They keep afloat from small donations from locals and tourists with hopes of continuing to grow, educate and provide an important service to the animals of the coast.Descending southward again, we happily explored the surf towns of Ayampe, Olon, and Montanita. We met a very nice local from Olon who invited us to stay at his house for a few days while we surfed and explored the nightlife of Montanita.Great times were had thanks to Mario who provided more amazing Ecuadorian hospitality and an unexpected break from the van.Even though we could have stayed here for at least another week, we wanted to keep moving so we could visit the historic city of Cuenca, more high mountain villages, and get our hands back on some rock. Our time at the coast was special for many reasons, but one that surprised us was the amazing delicious food. We will never forget Viche de Pescado mmmmmm mmmm!