Salinas and Puerto Lopez

Trip Start Aug 23, 2006
Trip End Apr 15, 2007

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Saturday, December 9, 2006

After a night in Riobamba, we headed for Salinas, a small mountain town where the indigenous people have developed a nationally famous cheese and chocolate industry.
The ride there took us through the usual breathtaking Andean countryside, a verdant green and rich brown patchwork of family farms reaching from valley floor to mountain peaks. We shared the bus with the usual cast of characters, a mix of mestizo and European descendants in western clothing, and a dozen or so indigenous farmers and families in traditional clothing including their ever present short brimmed wool hats.
We arrived in the somewhat unspectacular Guaranda, our halfway point, looking to transfer to a Salinas bound bus. After bumming around the bus terminal for an hour waiting for the posted 12:00 bus to appear (it didn't), we found ourselves stranded until 6:00 the next morning. A bit dejected at the thought that our planned chocolate binge would have to wait another day, we tried to make the most of it. We found cheap but incredibly nice lodging at the hostel Balcon Cuencano, and the best food in Ecuador right next door at the Restaurant Chifa Hong Kong (on Sucre across from the church). I had done the usual and played it safe with steak and chips, while Karen, whose Spanish vocabulary makes mine look extensive, did her usual culinary adventuring and ordered whatever sounded most phonetically interesting. Sometimes this works well, sometimes not (a bowl of mondongo soup in Costa Rica comes to mind), but today it worked and now we can identify stir fried beef and veggies in a Spanish menu. According to Karen, the look of disappointment on my face when I compared my meal to hers was priceless. Kind of like the look on her face when she realized what's in mondongo soup...
Our day started before dawn, at stupid o'clock to be precise, but we were rewarded on the bus with sunrise views of Volcan Chimborzo and by arriving in the perfect little town of Salinas just in time to see the inhabitants of the surrounding hillside villages bringing fresh milk down via donkey. The milk is delivered to the town's chocolate and cheese producers, which as it happens is why we were there. We signed up for a tour of the local industries and were pleasantly surprised to find cheese and chocolate weren't the only things they make! They make everything from Christmas tat to wool and textiles, and most surprising of all, volleyballs. This is all the more extraordinary when you realize Salinas isn't on the way to anywhere, it's pretty much the final destination at the end of a long and bumpy dirt road, at 3550 meters altitude in the Andes.
We really enjoyed our stay in Salinas, and would have stayed longer than two days if it weren't for the rain. You knew it was lunchtime when it started pelting it down. This was a bit frustrating as it's such a great place for hiking in the midst of some really striking scenery, what with all the trails and dirt roads leading to remote mountain villages. We did manage a couple of great hikes while we were there, but eventually the thin air and constantly damp clothes chased us away.
We ended up heading east, to Puerto Lopez, a small fishing village on the Pacific coast. Set on a large fishhook bay, it's what San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua must have been like 20 years ago, but with friendly people and decent food. We've spent our time on long walks along deserted beaches littered with sand dollars, playing David Attenborough in tide pools full of starfish and shrimp, and watching flights of albatross pluck fish from the waves. Also, Karen has found endless amusement in terrorizing the local sand crab population. It's not quite cheetah vs. gazelle, but it's nearly as entertaining.
Its back to the mountains next, as were bound for Cuenca.
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