DAY 5: Camarones to Esmeraldas
Distance cycled: 15km
The quick pace of our cycle tour means we're on the road at
7.30am each morning and normally don't arrive at our destination
until after 5pm. That leaves enough time to find shelter, food and
lights out by 8.30pm.
I love the physical challenge and the stunning scenery but I
felt like I was missing Ecuador.
So I put it to the vote and you guys agreed I should stay in
Esmeraldas for some beach time and the start of Carnaval. Before I
arrived at the main square I heard a drum beat which turned out to
be these kids below, practicing for carnaval. They bang the sticks
on the ground and hit the hollow bamboo at different heights for
I checked into Trebol Hostal and went for a wander. The big
business here is oil which you are reminded of every time you look
at the horizon, with plenty of tankers sitting off shore. The
buildings and the people are all brightly decorated, most of the
architecture is rundown and the streets are potholed but there's a
lively pulse to the city.
The lads made a bad decision leaving this town early since
Friday evening was the regional Miss Ecuador contest with beautiful
women dancing and prancing onstage for the locals. I enjoyed a big
bag of popcorn and two bottles of water in the sticky heat as I
contemplated what beauty means in different countries.
99.9% of people here are dark skinned with African heritage, yet
the clothing mannequins, beauty magazines and even the cosmetics
models all have white skin. If it was the other way around and the
beauty industry in New Zealand constantly showed me imagery of
black women, what would that do to my own sense of
beauty? It's not like any length of time in a tanning
booth or under a plastic surgeon's knife would have me looking
African. But if anything, the women here seem to be amongst the
most comfortable people in their bodies and skin that I've ever
encountered. Big or small, tall or short they have a sensuality and
wear clothes to accentuate their curves.
There's no point comparing yourself to an American waif on a
billboard or an Irish redhead on a hair dye packet when there's no
way you could ever conform to that idea of beauty. Maybe that's the
secret to beauty confidence - not comparing yourself to anyone
DAY 6: Esmeraldas to Atacames
Distance cycled: 0km (Rest day)
Number of tents on the beach: 128
Number of meals that included bananas: 4
If you enjoy eating dinner for breakfast, you'll love Ecuador.
Sometimes if I'm lucky I can get eggs, sweet bread and a slab of
salty cheese but today all I could find was fish, rice and fried
banana. Good fuel when you're cycling 100km but when you're taking
a rest day it sits a little heavy in your stomach. I was on a
mission to make it to the beach today for a swim and to work on my
embarrassing cycle tan. I spent an hour trying to find a bus and in
the end had to bargain with a taxi driver to take me to Atacames.
He said it would be muy tranquilo (more relaxing) and much
quicker. Well he was right about the speed but I'm pretty sure I
have a few grey hairs after that 20 min cab ride. (The bus takes an
hour to give you an idea!) It was like he invented a 3rd
lane, that went down the centre line, hoping the car on left and
right would give enough space for him to squeeze through. On the
straight stretches which were 60km hour, maybe 80 max he was
hitting 120km. His dusty dash and cracked windscreen testament to
his lack of love for the vehicle, or his life it seemed. He dropped
me off at the town square and I found a lovely little bakery that
sold the Ecuador equivalent to a hawaian sandwich. (ham, cheese,
banana and pineapple) and I walked to the footbridge munching and
watching people swim in the dirty river water. Check out my special
purple friend I found at the beach.
I walk up the beach and I'm offered everything from a boat ride
to hair braids. A girl selling cocoa oil for suntanning walks a few
paces behind me for the whole stretch of beach. I love the way the
kids stare at me here. So bewildered by the white person in front
of them. I ask a honeymooning couple to watch my stuff as I dive
into the tepid water. The sand is fine and dark and it and sticks
everywhere but the sun drying my salty skin feels good as my body
moulds into the beach. I draw a picture and watch a local kid
playing frisbee and he's really giving it socks, diving and
cartwheeling for every catch.
After an hour or so I go in search of real coffee. Weirdly they
export a lot of coffee here but only seem to drink instant. I find
a beach bar with silver stools that seems to specialise in coffee
and icecream. Not content with one of each I decide I want them
mixed, it draws blank looks until one of the guys nods and makes me
most refreshing caffeine fix I could have hoped for.
Kids of all ages are spraying silly string and foam to celebrate
carnaval approaching. I've been hit by a few water bombs and some
people load up the back of their utes with buckets of water and
drive the streets saturating their victims.
I head back to the hotel to freshen up and I hear drums out on
the street. I walk along Bolivar and find a parade in full swing. I
watch the different dance groups twirling, swirling, gyrating and
pulsing to the different beats.
I am really enjoying being in a smaller town for this carnival
celebration, you get to be front row, soaking it up (waterbombs and
all). I'm almost worthy of being in the parade, just as I am, I
draw so many stares from passersby. I meet a clown from Colombia
who kisses my cheek and have a quarter pollo and rice for
dinner before heading to civic square.
I find a possie and watch act after act of traditional music and
dancing from different countries and regions. There's dances and
stories told about colonisation, slavery and I'm sure a lot else
that goes over my head.
I stand next to a guy wearing a bob marley rasta beret and fake
dreads with the cutest son with giant eyes that seem to widen every
time I glance over. After a few songs he breaks and the ice and
introduces himself. My broken Spanish doesn't allow the
conversation to go deep but there's a nice connection. I'm sold a
cerveza by a ten year old, wiggle my hips for another hour and then
hit the hay.
DAY 7: Esmeraldas to Las Palmas
Distance cycled: 10km (Rest day)
Lonely Planet suggested the resort town of Las Palmas was worth
checking out so I jumped on the bike and cycled north about 5km.
There's lots going on here, each beach hut is playing different
reggae tunes and there was a volleyball tournament in full
People hide from the hot midday rays, one guy was even sleeping
inside the luggage compartment of a parked bus. Gotta hope it
doesn't decide to leave in a hurry... not likely in Ecuador. I got
a bit too much equator sun so went back to the hostal and watched
the Christian music channel, the only thing in English. Kinda funny
seeing pop stars trying to be cool and wholesome.
Hot tip for alcoholics: You can't buy beer here on
Unfortunately i found this out after I'd set my heart on the
idea. I tried two supermarkets and two corner stores and the last
one said no, but suggested I try the rowdy group across the street
who had wolf whistled me earlier in the day. I was nervous but
approached them, my need for beer stronger than my sense of danger.
They turned out to be a lovely, slightly loco family and I bought
two bottles. (They put them in a black plastic bag to hide from the
When I got back to the hotel the guy on the front desk walked me
to my room. He was being very friendly and told me he was 60, twice
I politely tried to decipher his questions until he went in for
the kiss... WTF!
I gave him a short sharp NO but I couldn''t get him to leave my
room. Luckily another hotel guest needed his help so he left. I
lock the door and a minute later he is knocking, I say through the
door I'm sleeping which is a blatant lie because he knows I've just
cracked a bottle of beer. Ah the joys of solo female
I'm off to check out the Carnaval celebrations now. Tomorrow the
plan is to catch a 6am bus to Manta and then cycle 60km to
Japijapa. It's pronouced happy-happa and that's where I'll
hopefully meet up with the cycle crew.