The alarm goes off Sunday at 6 AM and I lay in the dark listening. It is raining--again. This is our first April in Cuenca and so far it has seemed that the old rhyme about "April showers----" originated here. I'm not sure if there has been a dry day all month, and the usually gentle Tomebamba River has sometimes looked like a raging torrent of chocolate milk.
Facing yet another day of gray skies could have been depressing, and waking up in the dark is rarely an occasion for celebration in the Staton household, but this particular morning I quietly smile, because we are leaving stormy weather behind for a warm, sunny week on the coast.
Cynthia and I love the beach and thought for years we would retire to some oceanfront location. Yet we recently realized just the two of us haven't taken a trip alone like this since an anniversary celebration in Cancun maybe 10 years ago.
Our getaway destination is Bahia (Ba-EE-uh), Ecuador's only "eco-city" and what appears on the Internet to be a lovely resort town and Bahia was devastated by an earthquake some years back and has since been completely rebuilt. We'll be staying at a converted home/boutique hotel called CasaGrande.
We are going to Bahia and the surrounding area not only to enjoy ourselves but to help our dear friend Juan Heredia develop a travel package for his tour company TerraDiversa. Several of our friends have taken beach trips with varying degrees of satisfaction, and the prospect of planning and executing excursions on your own in a foreign country is daunting. So we're pretty much putting ourselves "out there" as guinea pigs (cuy?).
I sometimes expound on how we've changed living here. So it is with sheer amazement that I report Cynthia managed to pack everything for a week-long trip into a backpack! Her packing has always evoked images from "Out of Africa" with a conga line of foot locker toting porters, thus I was duly impressed with this awe inspiring display of downsizing.
I love it when we leave on time, which we did, and when a cab appears as soon as we unlock the gate, which it did. Our van to Guayaquil departed right on schedule too, and I knew the stars were aligning.
The drive to Guayaquil takes three hours and I always tell myself I'll sleep on the trip. There's one very large obstacle to that plan I continue to overlook--the Cajas mountains. This part of the journey is like trying to nap during an hour-long ride on the Scream Machine at Six Flags. Having made the trip several times I have to say it's amazing what you can used to. This morning featured the usual suspects that once terrified me--rain, dense fog, llamas in the road, boulders, passing on blind curves. Today because of all the precipitation we got bonus obstacles of waterfalls and landslides. In spite of several delays caused by all of the above, our driver was an excellent combination of aggressive yet safe so we arrived right on time.
Once out of the van and on the streets of Guayaquil, however,we had entered no-man's land with only a vague idea of how to proceed. Yet our good luck continued as we immediately hailed a taxi that took us to the bus terminal which turned out to be only a short distance away. But this wasn't just a "bus terminal"--we entered what appeared to be a 3-story mall from which buses happened to leave.
Outside there were buses and cabs everyhere! Inside was complete bedlam--shops and people everywhere! And in the midst of all this stood two clueless gringos trying to figure out how to buy tickets and board a bus to Bahia.
We ask a lady who says to go upstairs. There we learn this is where you get on the bus, but first we're told we have to go back downstairs and to the left to buy our tickets. We find the correct corridor, and it's lined with booths selling tickets to what seems like any place in Ecuador--except Bahia. Finally we locate the right window. More mayhem--people are pushing and talking fast and loud. Now I'm in the front. "Bahia," I say. "Passaportes," the cashier says. Crap. They're buried somewhere in Cynthia's backpack. Out of line. Find them. Back in line. The lady gives me 2 tickets for 50 cents. 50 cents? What's going on?
This official looking guy in a white shirt now signals us to follow him. Cynthia's asking, "Where are we going? What are we doing?" I say, "I have absolutely no idea. But it looks this guy is helping us so we're going with him."
It's 11:30 and we thought our bus left at 1. All of a sudden our helper person is leading us through the turnstiles (that's what the 25 cents each was for) and to the buses. Cynthia says, "Hey, we gotta eat!" I reply, "There are booths here. I'll grab something. Looks like we're leaving right now!"
Our new friend turns out to be the driver and climbs into his seat. We later discover that ours were the last two seats on the 11:30 bus. I pay $7 each for our tickets and rush back to one of the booths while Cynthia finds our seatas. $3 and 3 big chicken empanadas later we're boarded and on our way!
The six hour trip we had expected turned out to be only 5 and actually passed pretty quickly. The scenery in this part of the country was somewhat unremarkable, but we napped and chatted to pass the time. Once we stopped for gas and everyone got off the bus. Well, everyone but mi esposa. She had set up camp around her seat and was totally unprepared for this unexpected departure. Just as she got reorganized and had made her way to the front of the bus the driver signaled for everyone to get back on board. (Sigh)
When we got to the Bahia terminal it sure didn't look like any Internet pictures we had seen. This building seemed to be pretty much in the middle of nowhere. But the sign said "Bahia," so we got off, collected our backpacks, and grabbed the last taxi. Maybe 10 minutes later we found ourselves downtown in front of CasaGrande.
The place is lavishly landscaped
and filled with original paintings by important Ecuadorian artists.
Our room is lovely and spacious,
and our hosts are extremely kind. We were taken on a brief tour of the town and then to a lookout point above the city
for some excellent views.
A long day ended with a nice meal and a hot shower. Tomorrow we go to Canoa for some body surfing. Yeah!