Dancing whales, walking with bodyguards and coconut stew
The benefits of having air conditioning in the bus with tropical temperatures may be clear, the down side is that at some point you´ll have to get off again, and that after the slap in your face you´ll need about half an hour to re-acclimatize again. After having spent two hours in the bus from Daule in my jumper, I´m now gasping for breath in the oppressive heat on the main square of Súa. Without bothering about finding out where I am and where I need to go at all, I step into a moto-taxi while I mention the name of the hostel. Even if I would have known that it was just two hundred meters down the road, I´d probably have been happy to pay fifty cents for the one minute ride, just to save me the walk with all my stuff.
The hotel ends where the sea starts (or the other way around?), and for ten dollars I get a triple room with an ocean view, a fan and a cold shower. “Whales,” says the friendly owner, “sure, sometimes you can see them from the coast, but boats leave just from the bay here. Wait.” He whistles at the boy that´s apparently in charge of organizing the boats. The boy says that he won´t have enough people to fill a boat this afternoon, but tomorrow morning won´t be a problem.
I take a dive in the lukewarm sea and then I want to stroll around the tiny town, but I don´t get far: about ten meters outside the hotel, Dario the boat boy and his uncle are sitting on a bench and watching the water. We have a chat until suddenly a family appears who wants to go to the whales. Today. “Come on,” says Dario enthusiastically, “now we´re with enough!” When everyone has put their lifejacket on, the two engines start and before I know it we´re grazing the waves towards the open sea. When we´re far enough from the coast, Dario climbs on the edge of the boat and stares over the shed to the horizon while he steers with his right big toe. “There!” he suddenly shouts, and we go full speed again until we also see what he had seen. Every now and then a whale comes out of the water and lets herself fall back again with a big splash. And there´s a little one with her too. We´re just too late to see her dancing from as close as we can get, but we can follow them for about ten minutes while they slowly come up to the surface now and then. Wow. There are times that I wish I was organized enough to bring my camera even if I´m leaving in a rush. Needless to say now I do.
We make a round around the island with a colony of blue footed sea birds, and then the turbo switches on again to take us along the high rocky cliffs to Same, a village with white houses and palm trees along a nice beach and an actual boulevard (which is rare here). “Para los ricos,” says Dario, and it isn´t hard to imagine that. On our way back we pass by the “Caves of love” that are (at least partly) filled with water during high tide, but when the water is low you can walk to them along the beach. It´s a variant of the “island of love” in Cojimies (see my previous story), with the difference that they don´t talk about breeding birds here, and with the similarity that they do say here too that: “you go there with two and you come back with three.” Not very original indeed, but given the amount of young mothers and little children around, there´s probably some truth in it.
It´s close to sunset already, and as usual the whole town is going for a swim at that time, while I make myself comfortable with a ceviche de camaron and a book at the terrace. What was that Dutch saying again? “After hard work it´s good resting”, or something like that? What a luxury. Another hour of playing the guitar under the starry sky upon the outlook point of the hotel, and my eyes close automatically after all the sun, wind and water of today.
When I open them again, the tide is so low that “suddenly” there´s about twenty five meters of beach between the water and the village. When I´ve finished both my breakfast and my book, I ask if it´s possible to walk to Atacames along the beach. “Sure! Just ask a guardia to walk with you,” says the hotel owner, “since you´re alone, you know.” The man who´s painting the terrace has heard us: “I can go with her, no problem!” Just to get passed the rocks, not because it´s dangerous or anything, but just “por precaución”. Gheghe, right. Diplomacy. My companion takes his job very serious, repeating every few seconds: “Nothing will happen when I´m with you” and “I´m your bodyguard”. I smile when I think of how innocent that rock formation in the sun looks comparted to the San Roque market in Quito after four o´clock. I don´t have a bodyguard there. But then, I can also guess what the reason has been for so much precaution, and in that context it doesn´t even seem to be that exaggerated at all.
When we´ve reached the beach on the other side of the rocks five minutes later, the mission of my bodyguard is completed and he can go back to his paint work. For me the coast is literally clear to walk to Atacames, a small city where mainly Ecuadorian tourists come to spend their holiday. The hundreds of people on the beach and in the sea offer an amusing sight with beach balls, nude kids, mud baths and tropical cocktails, and colorful paragliders and inflatable bananas behind the speedboats. Finally I can order my so long awaited shrimp coconut stew before I take the bus back to Súa where I switch between “floating in the sea” and “hanging in a hammock” for an hour or two. When I enter a cyber, I´m surprised to read that there´s been an earthquake in Quito, with several deaths and destroyed houses. Hmmm, let´s hope my room´s still where I left it.
The next day the whales don´t feel like jumping when I have my camera ready (naturally :P), but I´m more than satisfied anyway when I leave Súa behind. I´m going to Mompiche, because several people told me how beautiful it is. And indeed, the bay is very pretty and the town looks friendly… but there´s a strange ambiance, although I can´t really put my finger on it. Besides, the few rooms that are still available are dark humid sheds with such a depressive view that I wouldn´t have stayed there even if they´d have given me the eight dollars per night. And I´m really not picky. Nope, it just all doesn´t feel right. And so I head back to the main road by moto taxi, where the bus to the south passes in the middle of nowhere again. “Yo te acompaño,” says the driver, and as promised he waits with me until there´s more people at the stop. When they all step into the truck of a friend just a little later, the man who dropped one of them off takes a seat on the bench until the bus appears around the corner. He nods and I smile and I wave before I get in.
Travelling alone is often less alone than travelling together.
And it´s always less alone than you may think.
It´s been a pleasure meeting you, province of Esmeraldas.
Hopefully we meet again someday.