La Playa – the Beach!

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My favorite way to spend a day is enjoying the beach, so this trip would have been hard to beat.

Our overnight bus had left Quito late the night before and spilled us a few miles from Salinas – a coastal town perched on the Santa Elena peninsula that juts into the warm Pacific Ocean a few miles from the equator. We board a city bus that will take us to the heart of town, where a swarm of locals trying to sell us everything imaginable greets us enthusiastically. Twenty dollars. No, we will give it to you for fifteen! Ten! I am not even sure what they are selling us. Strolling onward along the beach, we rest our heavy packs and sip from fresh coconuts that we bought from a man on a bike. A thin film of overcast grays out the sky, but does not block the heat. Warmth rises from the sand. Gentle waves wash upon the shore, where sandpipers scurry excitedly back and forth. In the small harbor, swarms of terns and Blue-footed Boobies flutter up before diving straight into the emerald water. They usually pop up with a fish squirming between their beak. The salty spray and soft sand seems to invite us out of town and onto the beach, where we continue trekking towards the middle of the city hoping to find somewhere to stay. Aside from mobs of vendors it seems surprisingly quiet. Tomorrow night we would discover where everyone was, but for now we book a room overlooking the harbor and ditch our packs so that we can explore town.

While our two other friends nap, Adrian and I head to a salt ponds searching for flamingos. We find them, hundreds of them, awkwardly sweeping their funny-shaped beaks through the water sifting for something to eat. The sun sets quickly over the Salinas skyline of resort-like hotels. By the time we arrive back to the heart of town, city lights have been turned on and the beach becomes lively with music and people escaping their homes and hotels to enjoy the warm evening. Tall palm trees cast fuzzy shadows in the sand while lights pattern the glassy crescent-shaped harbor with florescent green and white reflections. For dinner, the four of us find a pizza place, where I try tasting the Maqueño special – banana pizza. I decide that my taste buds might not appreciate my adventurousness, so we wander to the malecón – waterfront – to enjoy the softly washing waves and order ice cream cones.

I am awake early the next morning, in the lobby of the hotel. We are locked in. I ring the service bell but no one answers. Adrian and I look at each other simultaneously and head for the backyard, where we start scaling a fence. When we drop across the fence into a neighbor’s yard, a woman comes out and starts yammering at us. We explain our situation before bolting, already a few minutes late if we want to reach La Chocolatera, the western tip of South America, by sunrise. At La Chocolatera thousands of sea birds, Blue-footed Boobies and terns stream past flying in all different directions. On the horizon I spy a Waved Albatross, a species that nests only on the Galapagos Islands, and watch Humpback Whales breaking the surface of the turquoise seas. A light salty wind whips in from the Gulf of Guayaquil, cooling us off from the clingy heat.

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That evening Saturday night we catch another two hour bus ride to Montañita – the crazy party beach town populated by hippies. It is overwhelmingly busy as we step off the bus. Reggae music blares loudly, replacing the usual shouting of street vendors. Crowded streets, the music, and the open-air shops with palm-thatched roofs stretching all the way to the beach makes the town lively and exciting. The first hotel tries ripping us off but at our second hostel, we get a good deal and tell them okay, eager to leave our packs and explore town.

That night we sip beers and sit along the malecón watching the stars and the waves, and the lights from fishing boats out at sea, while the music beats loudly.

It is eleven when we awake. I stand on the balcony that is half the height of two palm trees squeezed against the building, observing the streets below. Town is slowly waking up from whatever situation the party left them. My host mom has gotten be addicted to coffee, which I order to go with my blackberry juice, toast, and eggs. We spend the day on the beach and wandering town. We are sad to board the bus home but our adventures have made us excited for what is to come.

It is another sleepy overnight bus ride. The moon is full and when I wake up a few times during the night I can see dark banana and coffee plantations as we wind our way into the mountains toward Quito. By the time we are home, the sun is rising.

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