Despite the fact that Ecuador is a much smaller country then Colombia, it would still have been over a 7 hour drive to the coast. We decided to break things up with a trip to the village of Mindo on the way. We spent the morning sorting out a sim card for Lee which seemed to be a complicated process, before heading north out of the capital and into the countryside.
The last time we had passed the Equator had been a bit of a non-event, but it was a pretty big achievement for our little van and we decided to stop at the Middle of the World Monument. The area that surrounds the monument is not exactly nice. It has a kind of a slightly ruined shanty town vibe and I would probably not choose to stop there normally. In the midst of rubble and shacks is a nice new shiny car park, which you get to pay $3 for. Then you get to pay another $5 each to go inside and see the monument. Honestly, it was not worth the money.
While it is incredibly cool to pass the equator, that’s something we do multiple times on our trip to Mindo. The monument sits in a little ‘town’ which is just a mix of overpriced restaurants and gift shops. Apparently the monument itself is not actually built on 0 degrees latitude either, they got it slightly wrong.
You can climb up the tower on the inside, where you can get a really good view of the derelict surroundings.
It’s one of those things where you pay to see if because you think you should, but really I was just as happy stopping at this marker in the town nearby for free.
After ticking that off the list, we continued on to the town of Mindo. We only planned to stop for a night, as we were meeting Christof on the coast in Canoa but we had barely arrived when we fell in love with the town and decided we would come back and do it properly when we returned to Quito.
We spent our night camped up for free by this lovely, if very cold, river.
The next day we climbed back out of the valley and continued to head to the coast. We were somewhat delayed as Lizzie had taken it upon herself to run off into the jungle for several hours. After getting rather annoyed I hacked my way in with a machete to where she nonchalantly lay under a huge spikey bush, and retrieved her. She seemed to have hit those teenage years and as soon as she saw the pop top roof going down she was gone.
Now with a rather later start than planned, we didn’t really have time to make it Canoa. Still the roads here were better and we drove on through dusk. With only half an hour to reach the coast, we made it into the town of Perdenales in the dark and camped up on the sea front. It had been nearly a year since we had been on the Pacific Coast, and this was not the place to enjoy it once again. Rubbish blew around us before collecting in piles around the base of an abandoned shack to our left. Someone came begging for money. We went inside, locked our doors and decided tomorrow would be the day we truly arrived. Even despite the less than pretty location, it was still nice to fall asleep to the sound of the waves once again.
The next day, we drove the remainder of the way to Canoa down the coast road. For once, it was an easy drive. A good road, a mostly level concrete highway which was neither a strain on our brakes or engine. Ruby cruised along effortlessly on her new tyres. Occasionally, catching them on the wheel arches when we went over small bumps. Back in Quito, she would be raised properly, the front too this time.
Canoa is clearly a tourist destination. We drove down the sandy, lumpy beach road with people trying to sell us things from all directions.
At the end, we parked up next to the palm trees and hammocks. Someone came over to tell us it was $1 a day to park and we could stay at night for $2. No problem. We headed down to enjoy some sun on the beach.
At around 6pm, the place quietened down. The hammocks came down out of the trees and the sun loungers were packed away. The bar next to us, opened. Still, we weren’t too bothered as he didn’t have any customers. Nevertheless, he turned up his music full blast. At around 10pm, a few people arrived. They had staggered off by 12am and the place was empty again. Good, we thought, finally he’s going to close. But no. He stayed open until 3am, drinking his own supply with a friend and getting increasingly shit faced. We could have moved, but that would have meant getting out of bed, packing it away and everything else. We kept lying thinking, just another half an hour, it’ll stop. Famous last words.
At 3am, the two of them finally decided to close up. They ratcheted the music up just a few more decibels and then spent 10 minutes flicking between songs until they got to ‘that really good one’. Then they began to pack away painfully slowly. This was made more difficult by how completely wasted they were. As I couldn’t sleep, I watched them out of the window. One guy inside tried to put empty beer bottles in a crate, many of them didn’t make it. The guy outside, tried to pass the bar stools in through the window. Only, he was so drunk he couldn’t judge how long the legs were. Every time he tried to lift them up over the counter the legs got caught on the bar, causing him to lose his balance and nearly fall on his face on top of bar stool. On another day, this would probably have been hilarious but instead I sat there hunched in the window watching their efforts and growing increasingly angry. Finally, we got some sleep for a couple of hours.
Needless to say, the next day we didn’t do a lot expect move well away from that spot. We drove on a few hundred metres and decided we would try our luck there, despite the no camping sign that had put us off the day before. Luck was on our side now, and we had a very peaceful night that evening.
We spent a few days here, doing not a lot.
Canoa is a bit of an odd town. When the tourists of the weekend had gone it turned into something of a ghost town. it seemed that tourism was the only thing here, and without it the place was empty. A few locals lay around, waiting for the next weekend I presumed. Most of the restaurants shut down. Most campsites were shut too. I was glad I had taken the opportunity for a shower when it was available because it looked like that wasn’t coming around till next weekend either. Despite the fact that the seafood here is pretty cheap, the local supermarkets were extortionate. $20 would buy you a meagre handful of items, even the basics like flour were several dollars for a small bag. The cocktails however weren’t too bad!
After a few days of relaxing as we planned, we still hadn’t managed to motivate ourselves to get the surfboards down. To be fair, the waves weren’t great and the sea a touch on the chilly side. We told ourselves we could always surf later.
It wasn’t all relaxing though. I was waiting for this quiet spell to fit our new inverter. With its integrated cables and different size, it there was going to be a little more to it that a straight swap. A few days in, I summoned the motivation and we got cracking. We took everything out of the back of the van as I needed access not only to the electrics cupboard but also to the engine bay. The day before, in preparation for this I had tidied and rewired our rear electrics cupboard which had got a bit spaghetti-ish over the years. Now at least I wouldn’t be wrestling stray cables to remove our old on and it would be easier to see any adaptations needed to fit the new one.
I set about taking out the old one, not too difficult, but there was one hairy moment when the ‘on’ button got knocked and it started smoking again. A fire waiting to happen, I was glad to see it safely out on the floor. In comparison, the new inverter was a bit of a monster. Although apparently rated for only 1200w rather than 1500w, it was bigger and far heavier than its predecessor. I didn’t think it was going to fit. Also, the cables were on the other end, meaning that the now didn’t quite reach the batteries. When I tried a test fit though, I was happy to be wrong. Our new inverter slid into place, with a matter of millimetres to spare. As soon as we had removed the bolts which held the old one into place, it fitted so perfectly it was quite satisfying. Rather than butcher any existing cabling, we opted to run it along the top of the engine bay as it was. Without the extra length needed to route them down into the engine bay, the cables were now long enough to fit nicely onto the battery. We just needed to drill a hole for them…but the drill was dead. To charge the drill, you need an inverter. I bodged it together enough to charge the drill, made the hole and fitted everything permanently into place. That was a good job done, now morning coffee was easy again.
The only bad thing about the inverter replacement was that in the downtime of me rewiring some of the system, the battery monitor had reset. With the relentless cloudy skies, we had not been doing great for power and now we would have no idea how charged our batteries were until it synced again at 100%, something that was unlikely to happen off solar alone. We drove around to a few places that offered camping, most were closed and the only one that was open was very expensive. Then Lee had a bright idea, unsurprisingly, it involved a microbrewery. It was only a short drive from the town and once there we could apparently enjoy a swimming pool, wifi, beers and also we hoped, electric hook up. It seemed like the perfect solution and so we set off, hoping the road wasn’t too bad. Since the Colombian death road, parts of Ruby were decidedly more rattley. We knew this was something we needed to look at, along with fixing more of the ever invading rust. Partly the reason of our little coast break was that we just couldn’t face another garage again so soon. Once we left the sea, that would be the next stop. In the meantime, we tried to drive nicely. Fortunately for us, the road was one of the smoothest dirt roads we’ve probably seen and so we had no trouble pottering out into the mountains to find the terribly named, Beer Kingo.
Initally, they offered us camping outside on a big empty parking lot. Normally, not a problem but we really needed some power. Then, before we could ask if there was an alternative, they told us to come in the back and park inside the compound near the cabanas. Once there, they showed us to the water tap, plug socket and the pool. Then the important question, did we want to try the beer now, or later?
Moments later at the bar, we were presented with a higgledy piggledy assortment of glasses to try their four available drinks. Three beers and a cider. The beer which ranged from 9%-12%, were nice, but I decided that at 2pm it was safer to have the cider, at 5.5%. I was pleasantly surprised, not just to find out that it was $2.5 a glass, but that it was actually a rather nice cider, despite being a fruity one which I normally hate. We sipped our drinks around the pool and enjoyed a bit of sun, the weather it seemed was a little better directly off the sea. In the background, hummingbirds dotted from flower to flower and the banana plantations swayed in the breeze. A gentle trickle of water from the stream that fed the pool set off the scene. We could definitely stay a day or two here, we thought.
Now that the van was all charged back again, we had no particular reason to stay but we were enjoying it so much we did. It was also the weekend again, and while camping further down the beach was quieter, here the place was empty. I wondered how they kept going, it never seemed to be busy, not that I was complaining. After several lovely days, we got a message that Christof was in Canoa. It was probably time we stopped enjoying their beer and moved on anyway, so we headed back to meet him. Back in our free spot we cooked up dinner for the three of us before chatting about our plans.
He has just come from Mompiche, where we had initially wanted to go. Apparently there were curfews in place in the state though, due to bombings in Playa Esmerelda and so we had avoided the area. Apparently, despite this supposedly being the whole state, the sleepy little town of Mompiche was untroubled by it and so we decided to head up the coast and visit anyway. Christof would be heading south out of the country soon, as his visa was about to expire. We also really needed a proper supermarket, the ridiculous prices of Canoa and lack of cash point was leaving us with little choice but too leave anyway and so the next day we packed up and headed in our separate directions. Us, back north to Perdenales for the supermarket and cashpoint, before continuing north down new roads to Mompiche and him south, Peru bound.