27 August 2012


I had been warned. The road from Santa Elena to Guayaquil was dangerous, overrun with thieves and bandits. There was a great delinquencia said the owner of the hostal in Montanita. To ride into the city of Guayaquil would be to risk everything another man told me at a roadside snack stand. The delinquents of Guayaquil will take your bicycle and I will read about you, gringo, in tomorrow’s papers. Because of these warnings I was seriously considering packing up the bike and gear at Santa Elena and taking a bus into Guayaquil.
But there were no bike shops in Santa Elena where I could get a bike box, and, anyway, I wasn’t enthusiastic about packing up the bike for just a 150km bus ride. My map indicated a large road that became a toll road as it entered the city. It was the major road between Guayaquil and the coast and there were only a few small pueblos indicated. Where did these delinquents live, I wondered. I checked on the internet and found a couple other riders who had made the trip and had written nothing of the delinquencia. I had a hard time believing there were grave dangers on such an important transportation route.
I decided in the morning at Santa Elena to make the ride. I figured I could do it over three days, riding 50km a day, and make Guayaquil early in the morning of the third day of riding before the criminals and delinquents had awakened. I packed and got on the road just after 7am.
It was cool and wet and soon it began to rain lightly. I put on my rain jacket and bootees and rode the wide shoulder of the well-paved highway. It was mostly flat country with few trees and some banana plantations. In the distance there was a range of low mountains. Trucks and cars passed. There were no houses or pueblos and it was easy, smooth riding on the good pavement. After a couple hours I stopped for a juice at a little roadside stand operated by an old man and woman.
I mentioned where I was going and they did not warn me of delinquents. I then asked about hotels or hostels nearby where I might stay the night. The old woman said there was nothing until Guayaquil, nowhere to stay. I realized I had to do the entire 150km in one day. There was no way around it. I thanked the elderly couple for the information and got back on the road.
I hadn’t ridden over 100km in over a year and I had no idea if my knee could hold out. I also wanted to make sure I made Guayaquil before evening. I had no map of the city and the last thing I wanted was to get lost after nightfall. I also didn’t know what kind of neighborhoods I would need to ride through to get to the city center.
The rolling country began at 75km into the day and with it the sun broke through the clouds and it became very hot. My knee felt good but I could feel myself weakening on the bike. The rollers were killing me and I began stopping at any roadside stand for a short break and a bottle of Coke or juice. The short breaks and simple sugars were just enough to keep off my collapsing and I continued on through pueblos that were gradually larger as I neared Guayaquil.
Then there was a long ride through the outskirts of the city. There were none of the impoverished barrios I had been warned about but instead wealthy, newly constructed gated condo buildings. The shoulder disappeared on the road and I was riding through the rush hour traffic of trucks and cars and school buses. It was brutally hot and polluted and I was gassed and trying hard to concentrate on not getting hit.
I made the city center finally and found the Parque Centenario and from there found the hotel I had written down to stay at. I could hardly communicate with the man at reception. When he finally realized where I had come from he didn’t believe it. I told him again that I had ridden all the way from the coast just today, more than 150km. I could hardly believe it myself.

26 August 2012

Santa Elena

Saturday night at Montanita was very noisy. I wore my ear buds and from my computer played on continuous repeat a 57 minute minimalist work by Charlemagne Palestine. The repetitive and slowly developing piano did well to drown out the loud music and the drunken yelling in the streets. But later mosquitoes came in through the cracks in the board walls of the room and I was forced to construct my tent upon the bed and to sleep inside it as a kind of mosquito net. It had all the excitement of camping with the comfort of a mattress and I slept well after that, the piano repetitions putting me into a deep sleep.
It was cool and overcast when I awoke and I packed and was back on the road at 10am. E15 passed through little, dirty, poor pueblos along the ocean and I stopped at one and an old woman made me a desayuno of a fried egg atop a plateful of rice with two rolls. Then the road moved inland and there were rolling hills.
I stopped to take a break and a cyclist on a racing bike passed by and greeted me. It was the first cyclist I had seen in Ecuador. He was slow in ascending the hills and I was able to catch back up to him. I asked him if his gears were not working. No, he said, his gears worked, only he was very tired. His name was Victor and he lived in San Pablo, a town north of Santa Elena. He was returning from Montanita on his Sunday ride.
We rode side by side on the wide shoulder and talked. He was a civil engineer and spoke good English and insisted that we speak English so that he might practice.
“Do you see the new cars on the road?” he asked.
“There are many.”
“They are all bought with credit. Ecuador is all credit now. Dollars come into the country all the time.”
“I see property for sale everywhere.”
“Everyone is selling and buying and the banks are lending for houses and cars and things. The banks are full of money now. There are capital controls that keep the money inside the country. All the banks can do is lend it in Ecuador.”
“It is a dangerous way to go,” I said. “Debt growth without productivity is a dangerous combination. Capital controls only make this credit growth more severe.”
“Yes. And the Ecuadorian can be convinced to buy anything. The new car is an important status symbol to the Ecuadorian. Also the clothing with the fashion designer name on it.”
“And this is bought with credit?”
“The Ecuadorian does not understand credit. The Ecuadorian does not understand the prices of things. He will pay anything for anything if he sees other have it. He will pay anything because he wants it. The Ecuadorian is uneducated in this. You can make a great business in Ecuador selling things you buy off Amazon.com to these people.”
It was true. I had seen great variability in pricing sometimes even in stores on the same block. It hadn’t made any sense to me.
“You are the first Ecuadorian cyclist I have seen.”
“We are not a cycling people. And also it is socially not acceptable for my class.”
“You are from the upper class?”
“Yes. An Ecuadorian must not do anything alone. Those I work with must not know that I cycle alone. But even cycling is a not acceptable activity for my class. In the upper class I must dress a certain way and talk a certain way. In Europe I learned cycling. Europe changed me for many things but I cannot live in this way in Ecuador. This not acceptable.”
“You must play the game.”
“Yes, to play the game. I do not like to play the game. But it is a great time in Ecuador for me. There are great opportunities for me because the dollars come into the country and are captured here.”
“Then you like Correa?”
“Very much I like Correa. I am doing real estate and he makes a great bubble. It is a great time for me here now. What do you do?”
I gave Victor a short history of my last decade and he was particularly keen on the trading part. He had himself done some trading though unsuccessfully and he understood both bonds and futures contracts. Before real estate, he explained, he had been a trader in bananas for two years. Before that he had gone to Germany to earn an MBA and then worked in Holland and even for a short time in New York. Victor was the most impressive Ecuadorian I had met. I wondered why there were not others like him, others willing to go and to do whatever it took, legally or illegally, to improve themselves.
“But why do poor Ecuadorians not turn to cocaine and marijuana production? They have a climate and land similar to Colombia. Many poor and uneducated Colombians have improved their lives from the drug trade. Colombia‘s economy has also grown very much because of it.”
“Ecuadorians do not like risk. Ecuadorians do not do anything that scares them.”
“Ecuadorians lack the criminal nerve.”
“Ecuadorians are lazy. Ecuadorians do not like to work. Ecuadorians are without education.
I remembered how nearly every Colombian I met, even the poor, were studying something. Ecuador neighbored Colombia, but the national character was entirely different.
“Are you married?” Victor asked.
“If you want an Ecuadorian wife you must go to the universities. You will be unable to live with an Ecuadorian woman without education.” Victor pointed towards a pretty teenager walking in the dust along the road. “You will die of boredom by her.”
Victor was married and expecting his first child with an educated Ecuadorian woman who was also part German. He was able to speak German with her and she also had blond hair which pleased him greatly. At San Pablo we shook hands and said goodbye and wished each other much luck and Victor turned off and I continued on towards Santa Elena. The road turned inland from the ocean and the country was dry and yellow brown and the sun was now very hot. After some sweaty climbing over the hills I entered the dusty, beat up town of Santa Elena. I found a room near the center plaza for $7, showered, bought some fruit, bread and water at a nearby tienda, and went to bed.

25 August 2012

Ecuadorian Skill

What the Ecuadorian lacks in other areas he makes up for with one significant and impressive skill. Whistling. Ecuadorians are the most skillful whistlers I have yet experienced. Both men and women whistle with equal facility, a noisy and piercing whistle that brings one instantly to attention. I believe they must start the whistling training very early because I have heard small children, both little boys and little girls, whistle brilliantly. It is a skill distributed widely throughout the country, practiced with equal proficiency by the people of the mountains as the people of the coast.

For the Ecuadorian whistling takes the place of other methods of communication. Instead of approaching and asking a customer in a restaurant if he is prepared to order, the Ecuadorian server whistles at him from the bar. A shopkeeper instead of beckoning you into his shop with a smile and a bienvenidos will whistle repeatedly for your attention. The ticket tout at the bus terminal brings the customers to him with his forceful whistle. The boy selling bootleg DVDs on the malecon need not ever speak. He needs only to whistle at the gringos sitting at the outdoor tables and hold his DVDs out at them.

But often it is not clear what the whistler is whistling about. I have seen fat men drive by on motorcycles whistling for no reason at all. Perhaps in such cases it was only for practice, or to show off a particularly powerful and penetrating whistle.

23 August 2012


I tired quickly of Puerto Lopez and had to leave. The town was overrun with gringos. It is the tourist jump-off for whale watching and Isla de la Plata. My room was also filled with mosquitoes and I was forced to stay in bed under the mosquito net whenever I was inside. Just going to the bathroom meant collecting a couple of bites. There was, however, a little Colombian restaurant owned by Calenos that served real coffee--coffee made from ground beans. Coffee in Ecuador is without exception served as a hot cup of water or milk and a jar of powdered coffee. I stayed one more day just to drink another cup of the good, Colombian coffee.
Puerto Lopez from above
It was cold and raining when I packed up the bike. My plan was to go 15km south to the town of Puerto Rico where there was a campground on some sort of ecotourism land.
The climbing began just outside Puerto Lopez. All of my riding days on this part of the coast have begun with climbs back up from sea level into the mountains. I pulled over after the climb and put on my rain jacket and neoprene bootees. The rain was really coming down now and I also wanted my bright yellow rain jacket to make me more visible to drivers.
I passed through the town of Salango and then arrived in Puerto Rico. The ecotourism place was a western styled monstrosity. There were a couple of young gringo backpackers standing out on the road. I rode past without even asking about the camping. I would ride for Montanita. I hadn’t planned to but that was where I was going now.
The road turned further inland and started ascending. I smelled the brakes on a truck coming down and knew I was in for a long and steep climb. But it was the perfect temperature for climbing in the rain and it felt wonderful to ride higher up into the mist, up into the green and lush mountains, the rain streaming down my face. I climbed for probably two hours and my knee felt excellent. I believe my cycling shape is returning and perhaps the knee ligament that caused me so much pain is strengthening.
The road dropped out of the mountains on a long descent back to the coast and a string of wealthy towns along the ocean. I arrived in Montanita soaked through and covered in mud. Montanita is a town of hippie backpackers, bead sellers and street jugglers. The dread-locked and tattooed and pierced young people stared at me as I rode through town.
I took a room at a hostal on the quiet end of town for $10 a night and showered and changed into dry clothes. I hung up my wet clothes on a clothes line I make from my bungee cords and went out and ate a shrimp ceviche on the main street in town. My plan is to rest one or two days before heading on down the coast.

21 August 2012

Puerto Lopez

On the road to Puerto Lopez I met another touring cyclist heading north. I waved at him and he pulled over and we talked. His name was Javier and he was from Rosario, Argentina. I hadn’t placed his accent at first but then began to remember it. The Argentine accent seemed so foreign to me now. Javier was coming from Ushuaia and he asked if that was where I was going. I explained I had been there last year and would not be going that far again. Javier was going as far as Mexico. Visa restrictions on Argentines made it difficult for him to enter the US or Canada. Otherwise he would have liked to ridden from the furthest point south to north of the Americas. We exchanged information on the roads and I told him there was good camping on the beach at Puerto Cayo. This was good news to Javier, as Argentines love to camp.

Soon after I stopped for lunch. It was a good almuerzo of meat and rice with a fish soup and glass of pineapple juice. The old man and women who ran the little lunch shack were clearly religious. They sat transfixed watching a television program of a man singing religious songs. The songs they knew they would sing along to. On the bamboo walls of the shack were numerous religious posters and confessions of faith. One was called “Los Dos Caminos,” or “The Two Roads,” and while I ate I used the poster to evaluate my life and where I was headed and what I should expect. I concluded that other than the occasional nightclub and discoteca I seemed to be doing pretty good and I was headed on a path that would lead me to a golden city and a rainbow.
 Los Dos Caminos
In the afternoon the sun came out and it was hot and the road climbed out of the town and away from the ocean. Then there was a descent under a canopy of trees that led back down to coast and to Puerto Lopez. It is a dusty, beat up town with fishing boats tied up at the southern end. I took a room at the Hotel Malachilla and went out looking for food.

20 August 2012

Puerto Cayo

It was overcast and blowing when I left San Lorenzo. The wind picked up the crashing surf and filled the air with mist and I rode up the muddy malecon and back onto E15. The road followed along the coast through little collections of wooden houses and there was little traffic.
Then up ahead I saw at least twenty wild dogs laying about on both sides of the road. I didn’t like it at all. There was a steep embankment inland and beyond the area where the dogs were it dropped off to the sea. There wasn’t any way around them. They’d be sure to get me if I tried to ride through them.
I pulled over and began to look for some good sized rocks on the roadside. There were too many dogs for rocks, but if I got the pack leader good I hoped to turn the rest of them. I took out my knife from my rear pannier. Just in case, I thought, but if it comes to fighting twenty dogs with a knife I’m in real trouble.
As I was selecting rocks I heard the dogs barking and looking up saw them coming running down the road for me. Oh man. I didn’t even have time to select some good rocks so I quickly grabbed what I could before they had me surrounded, barking and salivating, teeth baring, totally surrounded. And there were more dogs coming too from off the roadside. There were a lot more than twenty of them, all around me now, but none of them coming for me yet.
The big white one with the pink lips looked to be one of the leaders and I started to push the bike down the road slowly, all the while keeping my eye on him. He came closer than the others, barking wild-eyed and vicious. I stared him down and spoke gently to him. I wasn’t letting him out of my sight. I would get him with a rock if he came any closer.
I spoke quietly and calmly to the dogs and carefully pushed the bike down the road. They didn’t come any closer and stayed out of my way, but all the while barking. Then the big white dog with the pink mouth turned away and trotted off, and with that the pack lost interest. The dogs stopped barking and dispersed. I continued to push the bike down the road, keeping my eye on them behind me. I didn’t want to get on the bike and have them get excited all over again seeing my feet going in the pedals. I pushed the bike another 200 meters until I had passed around the bend and was out of sight.
I rode with a handful of rocks for awhile but it is difficult changing gears and carrying rocks and I finally tossed them aside as the road left the coast and climbed up into the hills. There was a long and steep, lowest-gear climb to reach the height of the land and though it was wet and cool and windy, sweat poured off me. From there the road fell and climbed without losing much altitude through lush, green forest.

The country turned arid and treeless with tall thin cactus and the sun burned away the clouds and it was hot. I was riding atop a plateau that looked down to the ocean. Then the road dropped and wound down towards the water. I coasted through a small pueblo and then came out at sea level at Puerto Cayo. I turned off E15 and headed into town.

I found a small hosteria and took a room for $7 and then walked to a nearby restaurant for a shrimp ceviche. I was now eating ceviches every day for lunch and shrimp had been my current favorite for a couple weeks now. Then I walked down to the beach and went for a swim in the ocean. There were big waves crashing and a tremendous undertow that scared me enough to stay near the shore. Later I ate a camaron al ajillo which is a steamed shrimp in a garlic and herb sauce. It is the other dish I really enjoy. With my cycling appetite returning I am beginning to feel hungry all the time.

19 August 2012

San Lorenzo

I left Manta on a bypass around the city that reconnected with E15 westward along the coast. The Ecuadorian “revolution of the roads” had yet to reach this area and the road was dirt and sand and broken asphalt. The sky darkened and by afternoon it turned cold and began to rain. I wore my rain jacket and the road continued along the coast, rising and falling in the rain over the cliffs and then turning inland the road climbed up into the hills. The climb was long and wet and at the top there was a very busy restaurant and I stopped and was recited a long lunch menu by the proprietor. There was duck on the menu and I ordered it. There were ducks wandering around the property and indeed the duck was good and very fresh. Along with the lunch I was served a complimentary cup of hot apple cider and a shot of white rum. If only lunches were like this across Ecuador, I thought.


There was more riding in the wet and rain and I descended to a desolate stretch of beach at San Lorenzo. The town was a long dirt road that had been turned to mud and there was a single hotel charging $25 a night. I considered camping on the beach but I didn’t see any hidden spot and, not knowing how safe the town was, I returned to the hotel and took a room.

I had never paid so much for a room in Ecuador but there was no choice if I was to remain under my 50km limit for the day. What was most interesting about the room was the poster of a Balthus painting on the wall over the bed. Erotic modern art was not something I expected to find in the hotel of a tiny pueblo on the Ecuadorian coast.
"La Chambre" by Balthus

14 August 2012


Ceiba trees

Boat building yard at Manta

07 August 2012

Crucita 2

The door to the restaurant was open and I started up the stairs. I had walked the length of the malecon and this was the only Italian restaurant. But it was not the name I had been given by Hugo, the hotel owner in Santo Domingo.

A man with an Italian accent greeted me from behind the bar and explained the restaurant was closed and would open at 5 pm. I asked to look at a menu and as I looked at all the spaghettis and fettucinis and lasagnas and was becoming even more hungry, he offered to make me a spaghetti Bolognese.

I took a seat at a table looking out over the beach and the ocean and I ordered a glass of red wine. With the wine he brought a small loaf of freshly baked bread and a bowl of olive oil. The bread dipped in the olive oil was delicious. I had forgotten what good bread tasted like.

“Is there another Italian restaurant in the town?” I asked him.


“Your name is Domenico?

“I am Fiore.”

“Do you know Domenico?”

“There is no Domenico.”

I frowned. “No importa. It doesn’t matter.”

Then I said, “Do you know Hugo?”

“There is no Hugo.” He looked confused.

I explained that Hugo was the owner of the Hotel Azteca in Santo Domingo and that his good friend Domenico was supposed to own an Italian restaurant in Crucita. It seemed another instance of my being sent off somewhere wrongly by an Ecuadorian. And Hugo had seemed so knowledgeable too.

“I am here 17 years. There is no Domenico. There is no Hugo.”

“Was there ever an other Italian restaurant?”

Fiore shook his head. “There is never an other Italian restaurant. Where do you come from?”

I told him the most recent places. New York and Miami and Chicago.

“New York is the capital of the world,” said Fiore brightly.

I nodded and smiled. I could see he was happy to stop talking about Domenico and Hugo and the rival Italian restaurant.

“Paris is the capital of light and Rio is the capital of fun, but Roma is the capital of everything,” he laughed.

“You are from Roma?”

“I am from Napoli.”

“Of what is Napoli the capital?”

“Nothing. Would you like some more bread?”


Later Fiore brought out the Bolognese and it was very good and the pasta was homemade and al dente. It changed my whole outlook to know I could avoid rice and plantains when I wanted to.

I thanked Fiore and told him I would return and then I went looking for a bank. Each person I asked sent me to a street where there was no evidence of any bank. I walked around awhile longer and then gave up and returned to the Hostal Voladores. The owner said there hadn’t been any banks in Crucita since the crisis in 2003.

06 August 2012


Images from the ride from San Alepo to Crucita

05 August 2012

San Alepo 2

After Bahia I rode to San Alepo. It is one of three tiny fishing villages on a long stretch of beach on the Pacific. The malecon is paved and dusty roads run back from it into the scrub where there are old wooden houses and blue painted fishing boats. The wind blows and the waves crash onto the beach and the dust blows through the village.

The mornings were cloudy and cool and I would walk down the malecon towards the centro, to the fisherman’s monument, where there was a little store, and at one of the cleaner restaurants I would eat a desayuno of scrambled eggs, bread, freshly squeezed juice and powdered coffee in hot milk.

Each morning while I was eating there was a midget who would come down the malecon singing. He had a beautiful tenor and wore a bowler hat and rocked from side to side on account of the deformity of his legs, singing songs of lost love. Most mornings he noticed me in the empty restaurant and he would stop and stare at me as if he was seeing me for the first time and I was the odd one. I stared back at him and the midget continued to sing as he stared at me.

When I finished breakfast I take a seat on the rocks above the beach and watch the fisherman bringing in the nets. A number of men pulled the rope nets in slowly towards the sand and pelicans gathered along the net line in the water looking for fish. Frigate birds circled above and when the net reached the shore the fisherman shook out the small fish that had collected in it and the black, long-winged frigate birds dove and swooped, catching the little fish out of the air or off the sand.

It was enjoyable to watch the frigate birds and their agility in the air and sometimes one got a hold of a long fish he couldn’t swallow quickly and the other birds would give chase in the air, trying to get the long fish from his beak. One would steal it away and then another would steal it from him and then another lost it in the air and the silver fish would drop towards the sea only to be picked out of the air by another bird. It was like watching a dog fight between fighter planes and I sat watching until all the nets were brought in and rolled up.

If I was lucky when I was walking back to the hostal I would catch the pickup truck with fresh fruit coming up the malecon. I would wave the old man down and buy some fresh bananas and apples and maybe some tomatoes if he had them. If you didn’t catch the fruit truck there wasn’t anywhere else to get it in the town.

Back in my room I would do some writing before returning to the beach to workout, performing my calisthenic routine in the sand. During the week the beaches were entirely empty except for old Raul, who was known as “Gato,” and his wife. They were from Cuenca and would wave to me while I worked out and Gato would come over to talk with me when I finished. Then I would swim for awhile, diving into the big surf that broke in the wind and riding waves back in to the shore. Then I would return to my room and clean up for lunch.

I took my lunches at the restaurant of the Hotel San Jacinto. It was a luxury hotel and large and meals were more expensive there but of better quality and the daily lunch menu was more varied. The owner was from Mallorca in Spain and the girls who worked as waitresses were friendly and when I finished eating I could sit for hours, unbothered,  over a coffee writing. Sometimes I stayed so long I ordered the dinner menu called the merienda, but usually I returned to my room for a siesta before heading back out again to another restaurant near my hostal which served a fine shrimp ceviche. It was good in San Alepo, but after awhile even the good things aren’t as good as they once were. And so when I tired of San Alepo I left for Crucita, the next coastal town South.

02 August 2012

San Alepo

Images from the ride from Bahia de Caraquez to San Alepo

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