Saturday, August 10, 2013

Trip to Olon

Grab this related post Widget!
Cynthia and I went to Olon, located a few minutes north of Montanita on the coast, last weekend for several days.

Ecuador is a small country, only about the size of Colorado. The major highways are honestly better than many we’ve ridden on in the States.

But getting from here to there, especially when you live in the highlands like we do, is problematic because of geography. The Andes run like a spine from north to south. Going west to the coast requires winding through the Cajas mountains to Guayaquil, then generally heading north (in other words, following both sides of a triangle instead of the shorter hypotenuse).

Traveling north or south is even worse because you are constantly zigzagging through the mountains. How much worse? A flight to Quito takes 45 minutes. The drive takes eight hours. Ouch.

We tried the new express bus service to Guayaquil this morning. In the past we usually used a van service which takes three hours and costs $12/person. But the bus companies and airlines have been complaining for years about these improperly licensed operators, and this time it appears their opposition may finally shut them down.

Police roadblocks have resulted in over 100 impounded vehicles with passengers left on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere to fend for themselves. No thanks.

We discovered the “modern” express buses, as they were described, were—not so much. Granted they were clean and comfortable with a bathroom in the back, but no air conditioning? It has been so damned chilly in Cuenca that this didn’t matter on the way over, but Guayaquil’s heat and humidity made the first part of the return trip very uncomfortable. Never thought I’d look forward to reaching the Cajas mountains, but the cooler air was a great relief.

The ride costs only $8 per person and takes about 45 minutes longer than the vans, which was fine because the ride was smooth and we didn’t get slammed around on the many curves. Plus we were treated to free entertainment--a dreadful old Robin Williams movie called Jumanji and straight-to-video “Sniper.” Both were in Spanish, of course (with Spanish subtitles just for spite). I have to admit watching both, and they did make the trip seem shorter.

We made our traditional lunch stop at McDonald’s (going and coming) in the Guayaquil terminal’s food court. I highly recommend the McBacon burger. Hey. If you’re gonna do fast food, why hold back?

The buses run by CLP between Guayaquil and Olon are really nice—super-comfortable seats and, yes, air conditioned. The just-shy-of 3 hour ride costs $6 and goes by quickly, especially when the north route starts running along the coastline about halfway through.

Olon’s beachfront is occupied by a line of about 30 seafood shacks (that all seem to serve exactly the same menu), so accommodations are close by but not right on the ocean. Our modest room less than a minute from the sand set us back a whopping $25 per night.

So let’s add up the cost of transportation and lodging for 4 days and 3 nights:

Transportation: Cuenca to Guayaquil & back (4 tickets @ $8) $32
Guayaquil to Olon & back (4 tickets @ $6) 24

Lodging: Three nights @ $25/night 75

Total $131

Eating abundant seafood and drinking a lot of beer maybe ran $30/day, so throw in another $120 for food and we were all in for around $250. That ain’t bad!

We had been warned the weather at the beach was much the same as Cuenca’s during this time of year. Yes and no. The skies were overcast like here but it was much warmer. I was comfortable walking around in shorts and even went bodysurfing in the renowned waves of this part of the coast. Our getaway was more for business than pleasure so the climate wasn’t a primary concern anyway.

Nearby Montanita is---well, Montanita. What else can you say? A minor league version of New Orleans, Times Square, and Vegas all rolled into one, on the weekends the streets are teeming with people, drinks are flowing, music is blaring, and video screens are flashing.

One of the streets is lined on both sides with around 40 portable bars where your $2.50 Pina Colada is made from a fresh pineapple sliced right in front of you. Street performers share their space with stray dogs that happily wander around but never bother anyone.

It’s a place unlike any other I know of in Ecuador. You either like it or you don’t. I happen to like it very much—in limited doses.

Wouldn’t you know it, thirty minutes before we boarded the bus to return to Guayaquil, the sun burst through and cloud cover gave way to brilliant blue skies. Wow, we came close to staying, but the tickets were paid for and our bags were packed, so we reluctantly took our seats and enjoyed the scenery out the window.

It’s OK. There will be many other times.

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