The answer is almost always, “Si” no matter how little you just paid for the room. But you learn quickly not to count on it until you pull out your computer, type in the password and watch the little pinwheel of despair turn around and around in a usually fruitless attempt to connect with the outside world.
If by some stroke of luck you do manage to get connected, the Internet in Ecuador operates at the speed of sweat. This is a double-edged sword as you might imagine. While I would have preferred to keep you guys more frequently updated, less time on the computer means more time combing the beach, meeting locals, stumbling upon expats, and buying delicious homemade pastries for ten cents apiece.
Just to quickly catch you up on our progress, here is what has happened since we left Montanita:
We strapped on the backpacks and walked a couple miles to Olan, the next town north. Olan was Utah to Montanita’s Las Vegas. It was quiet, friendly, and clean. Unfortunately, there were no vacancies to speak of, so after lunch we gave up and took a taxi 50 minutes north to Las Tunas.
Once in Las Tunas, our taxi driver went from one beachfront hostal to another and asked the proprietor if there was room for us. It took about four tries, as Ecuador’s Independence Day weekend was still in effect, but finally a very friendly and very small woman (4’8″ maybe) waved us in and showed us her offerings. The grounds were beautiful and the room was great, although it cost $60. Four snotty, entitled young men and women–who although they were Latin American, yet looked nearly Caucasian–were in the room next to ours. I’d read enough to know that this usually means they are from rich, powerful families here. Some combination of selective breeding, expensive clothing and cosmetic enhancement results in a very polished First World look. Unfortunately the wall between our room and theirs was composed of thin wooden slats with gaps in between. They started the drinking game at 11 p.m. At 1:30, the neighbor to their opposite side, politely knocked on their door and asked if they could turn down the music: a banal combination of d-grade pop with English lyrics and almost preferable techno-thump. The music went down, the drinking game and laughing did not, then the music magically crept up again. By 2:30, one young woman with a particularly loud and obnoxious tone was in dire need of strangulation. The neighbor returned, knocked on the door, and the music went down again for a minute. A half hour later, Diana sprung out of bed and nearly put her hand through the wall three times. The music turned off, there was some whispering and tittering, but the drinking game remained at a dull roar after that.
Las Tunas itself was a super quiet little town. Almost too quiet. It was hard to find anything you could call downtown, so we decided to head further north. Having had enough of bus travel for the moment, we asked a woman in the lobby about a taxi. It turned out she spoke perfect English, which is always a rare, but pleasant surprise. When the taxi got there, he was a friend of her family and she went on to negotiate a three-hour ride to San Clemente for $65.
San Clemente had a beautiful beach and a nice downtown. It was also very quiet. Here I watched for a half-hour while a man made Mike a Long Island iced-tea and Diana a pineapple daiquiri. By the time he was done I was getting pretty damn thirsty so I just cut to the chase and ordered a beer. He walked to another building and–ten minutes later–came back with a single bottle of Ecuadorian Pilsener. I handed him a $10 bill and he walked to another building…well, you get the idea. You haven’t been manana’d until you’ve been manana’d by this guy. I’m not convinced he had a pulse.
The rooms in San Clemente were the cheapest yet at $15 for Mike’s and $20 for ours. Yes, it included Internet. No, it didn’t work. We spent a good part of the evening in the home or business–it was hard to tell which–of a 30-year expat originally from New York. We’d just been walking down the main street looking for coffee. “You want coffee?” he asked in English, “Come on in.” We stepped in and he set out the hot water and Nescafe, as usual. Still, it was warm and caffeinated, and the conversation was good. He told us about the small expat community there, on the opposite side of town. He, himself, had been there so long as to be considered a local, having purchased his house for $600 back in the early 80’s. He told us to walk anywhere we want, together or alone, day or night. “Nobody will ever mess with you here,” he assured us, although we hadn’t asked.
San Clemente was nice, with a beautiful beach, but by the next morning we felt we’d seen most of what there was to see, so we decided to take the “chicken bus” to Bahia de Caraquez. When it arrived, we loaded our backpacks in the cargo area stepped onto the first two steps of the bus, and hit an impenetrable wall of people. It seemed the bus was full. Still the conductor was happy to make room for us by hanging halfway out the door as the bus hurtled down the highway at 70 miles per hour. We grabbed onto each other and anything else that seemed fixed in order to avoid starting a domino string when the bus lurched without warning. When the conductor came around asking for our three $1 fares, I was the only one who could physically manage to reach into a pocket, so it was on me.
In Bahia, we found an awesome little hostel called Coco Bongo that only had $6 dormitory accommodations available that night. Mike took them up on it, wanting to check that off his bucket list I guess. Di and I found a great little room in an older building for $40. The fact that I’m writing this post is proof that even the Internet works.
Bahia is super clean, compared to everywhere else we’ve been. I counted twelve garbage cans looking out from the entry of Mike’s hostel, as compared with an average of none in most of the previous towns. Diana and I–like all First World visitors, I’m sure–had talked about what a shame the litter was in Ecuador. I mentioned that as an ad man, I have always believed that the single most effective commercial ever created was the one back in the 70’s where Iron Eyes Cody, an Italian actor who was often cast as an American Indian, watches a car zoom buy and throw garbage out the window, landing at his feet. Then, of course, he turns toward the camera and we see a single tear running down his cheek. After that, we all thought twice about littering. We didn’t want to make the Indian cry. I can’t possibly claim to know enough about this culture to know if it would work, but someone should try making an Amazon Indian cry or something.
We’re staying in Bahia for a second day to look around more. It’s a town of about 24,000 I’m told. A nice size overall. A few more services than the past three towns, but still very quiet and polite.
By the way, that hostel Mike is staying in is for sale. The owner is Australian and is thinking somewhere in the neighborhood of $200,000. Could be worth having a peek at the books.