15 Jan Six days in Ecuador 🇪🇨
Three days in the city of Guayaquil then off to the coastal towns of Salinas | Montanita | Olon | Los Frailes
This past winter as I was prepared to go to Barbados again for a brief escape from the cold in New York City, I thought about other destinations. I tend to go someplace new when I travel, so I started to spin the globe in my head. I thought about a place where I know someone locally that can show us around. This was Sunday morning, I was planning on leaving Thursday and Javier popped into my head. While laying in bed, I tapped on WhatsApp and hit him up in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Javier is my ex-bro-in-law, whom I haven’t seen in over 24 years. We stayed in touch throughout that time and I always have fond memories of the laughs and fun we had together years past. I told him “I want Ecuadorian Ceviche in Ecuador” hinting that I’m thinking of coming down for a visit. Immediately he thought I was full of BS, but as I kept peppering him with questions and his excitement grew, I was committed.
Javier is one of many Ecuadorians that I grew up with in New York. He’s a school teacher in Guayaquil, remarried to a lovely woman with two great kids and lots of family there. I grew up in a big apartment building in Queens NY. Queens is truly the melting pot of the world, I have always taken pride in that. I had many diverse friends from all over the globe. One day after school I could be over my friends Willie’s house whose family is from Cuba or Phililippe’s house who’s from Haiti or more often my close friend and big brother David’s house whose family is also from Ecuador. That’s where my main Ecuadorian connection began. David was really like a big brother we did everything together. Although he’s older than me he embraced me. I would be in his house for various celebrations with his big beautiful Ecuadorian family, we were all close. I would never forget the delicious homemade ceviche his mother would make for everyone. My sister was dating Javier and they gave me my first nephew Jonathan, that’s how we stayed in touch.
Mr. “No Problem”
Our timing was ideal. Although we’ve traveled throughout many countries with my phone GPS and the help of many strangers on the side of the road to guide me, having someone local was absolutely a travel treat! Javier’s friendly and cool stepson Bryan who’s 17 years old was in between high school and college at the time. He was not only available but eager to make new friends and show us around. Well, not make new friends but more like meet the new family. He called me his Tio, and I was fine with that. Bryan was so impressive in many ways. This young man with a big smile and a big heart is smart, fun and fearless. He stood with us the whole 6 days and we went everywhere together, I never needed my GPS. Of course, I wanted to see as much as I could while there and he was always down. So I gave him the nickname “Mr. No Problem”.
I arrived in town two days ahead of my family which gave me the opportunity to explore the typical tourist places, snap lots of pics and get a feel for the city with Bryan’s help. Upon my arrival, I was greeted at the airport by Javier and Bryan then went over to a café to meet with Rose, Javier’s lovely and friendly wife. We spoke on the phone during the days prior to my arrival and it was nice to meet in person. I was so happy to learn that they had just closed on the purchase of a new large home close to the school where they work. Rose is the Principal at this prestigious school regarded as the best in the city https://www.mariscalsucre.edu.ec/. They were slowly moving in and renovating. There was plenty of room for us and again the timing was ideal, the house was empty. They even gave us one of their cars to use while in town. How nice was that?
The next morning (day1) Bryan and I went for a local breakfast called “Trigillo” which is a mashup of plantains, chicken, pork, cheese, and shrimp. I enjoyed it and I enjoyed going to the kitchen meeting Veronica and her staff at this local restaurant that’s been there for over 25 years. Then Bryan took me to the local zoo, historic park and the Museo del Cacao y Chocolate which is all connected and was cool. It was a weekday with no crowds, I enjoyed myself and glad I got that out of the way because my 14-year-old daughter arriving the next day would have been bored. On our way to the riverfront area called the “El Malecon” that has other attractions, we took a slight detour to drive up to a modern area lined with new subdivisions and shopping centers along a wide boulevard that had a real suburban Miami feel.
The afternoon was planned to buzz in & out of as many spots on my list with the goal of ending up at “Las Penas” for sunset views. Las Penas is a small mountain with homes, galleries, shops, restaurants, and bars all throughout. The top of Las Penas has a small church and a lighthouse with panoramic views of all Guayaquil. Until it was time to climb up to the top of Las Penas, we wandered around downtown. I wanted to see local art, fortunately, we got into El Museo Nahim to see a collection of colonial artwork from the 16th & 19th centuries as well as modern exhibits. Then we wandered into the historic and beautiful Catedral Metropolitana De Guayaquil and said a prayer of gratitude. Directly in front of the cathedral is El Parque Seminario full of tourist and lazy iguana’s everywhere. These iguanas were like a bunch of spoiled models chilling backstage at a fashion show. Taking selfies with everyone who asked.
As the sun was setting, we walked and walked (I don’t mind walking everywhere) over to Las Penas. We hiked up to the top and caught the sunset and the vibrant colors of the painted homes that hug the side of the mountain. Afterward, we enjoyed a well-deserved bucket of Pilsner and Club beer at a cool bar in this historic town.
The next day (day2) Bryan’s friend invited us to go to a private shooting range up in the hills about an hour away from home. Along the way, Bryan stopped at a local supermarket so we could grab a few things. Again I was impressed, this store was super modern, bright and well stocked like a Target store in the states. In the back there’s a small café style restaurant, we sat down to have a bite. That’s when he introduced me to “humitas” a very popular native dish made from corn meal stuffed with various fillings similar to a tamale. I really enjoyed this traditional delight and sought it out throughout my trip. As we drove up to the shooting range I was just taking in the scenery. The colors of the greenery contrasting the reflections coming from the lakes with the occasionally cows walking by was a nice change from my urban city life. We arrived at this very secluded member only gun-club. It was just the three of us and an instructor that gave us some tips. We had a blast blasting Glock 9mm shots and simulating a hostage rescue. This was something different, something unexpected, I appreciated that experience a lot!
The next day my family arrived (day 3) we spent the first day exploring the city snapping pics everywhere and we all went to a nice local authentic Ecuadorian dinner together. Then (day4) I suggested checking out the “Central Park” of Guayaquil so we spent a very hot afternoon wandering around “Parque Samanes”. Much to my surprise, it was huge, modern with lots to offer. Did I mention it was hot? We watched kids play basketball, soccer, and volleyball. I did mention I have lots of Ecuadorian friends from childhood and I recently hosted an “ecuavoley” volleyball tournament. Ecuavoley is a big big deal. I saw it for myself when I hosted an event at the gym in The Boys & Girls Club in Astoria, it was packed with fans. This park is the birthplace of Ecuavoley so it was very cool to enjoy an afternoon there watching the players while having ice-cream together. Growing up in the pre-cell-phone era, I was a typical kid riding his bike everywhere, Flushing Meadow Park and Central Park were my backyards, therefore naturally I have an affinity for parks. The rest of the day was spent hanging out at the Club Nacional de Guayaquil. Bryan and his family are members and spend a lot of time here at this club. We had a nice tour of the tennis facility and spa and got a lite workout in before a nice swim in the clubs pool. When I go back to Guayaquil, I hope to spend more time at this club doing all of that, gym, tennis, swim and chill.
A spontaneous detour
Obviously, I had enough of exploring the city and was excited to get some vitamin D and sand between my toes. The next morning (day4) we headed to the coast for a few days with Bryan. Javier has a house in Salinas, the popular beach town I’ve always heard about. That morning we packed the car and headed off to the coast (a four-hour ride), snacks, and music ready. While driving towards the coast, I put out the idea of going horseback riding. There’s a nice ranch with lodging, restaurants and horse stables right along the way. Everyone said yeah sure and I was especially happy to because my daughter had only gone riding once before a few months earlier and she enjoyed it. So Finca La Gloria here we come! We pulled in, changed into riding appropriate gear and set out onto the trail with cameras in hand. This spontaneous detour was certainly a highlight for us. For only $48US the four of us went horseback riding in the hills of Guayaquil Ecuador. When we got back I asked the guys in the stable if I could take a quick ride alone, he said sure. While showing off, I whipped that horse and he jetted down the path (see video below). I had to make a sharp turn to get back and I almost wiped out, I was scared. Thankfully I held on and galloped back to my squad that was impressed how this city boy handled that horse going so fast.
As I’m posting pictures on social media sharing my experiences, various friends kept mentioning we have to check out the other popular beach town of Montanita, so naturally, that’s where I wanted to be. Montanita is a party town with a bohemian vibe that attracts top international DJ’s to play at the local nightclubs. We got lucky, I found a beautiful house in a small town called La Curia next to the beach town of Olon, the town next door to Montanita on AirBnb. This place was special, a two-bedroom bamboo house for $80US a night across the street from the beach, elevated with ocean views, just 5 mins from the party town of Montanita – are you kidding me? Beats and beach that’s perfect! We spent the day in Salinas with a stop at La Chocolatera, the westernmost point of Ecuador reaching into the Pacific Ocean. The ocean views are nice, and the souvenir shops are cute. Then we enjoyed a couple hours on the beach and headed to our next home for the next couple days.
We arrived at our house rental in Olon late on a Saturday night. I was excited to go check out the nightlife and dance scene in Montanitas that night but since I did all the driving and didn’t get much rest during the previous days – I just could not move. A big disappointment since I was right there but I had no energy to shake my butt that night. The next morning (day5) fresh and ready to go, we went over to a local grocery store to get fresh juice and eggs to cook breakfast at our place then spend the day at the beach. Olon beach was a perfect choice. Although it was a cloudy day, just being there away from tourist, away from the crowds was a pleasant enjoyable experience. Considering, I’m in the restaurant and bar business here in New York City, whenever I can learn from my travels, I go for it. I embrace the little things while traveling from getting a cocktail at the private bar in the Casino Royale in Monte-Carlo or a tiny family-style restaurant in Olon Ecuador, its all a treat for me. A personal highlight for me was getting into the kitchen of a popular beachfront restaurant. I watched how with precision and finesse at least eight people worked in sync to prep, cook and serve various native dishes, mostly seafood of course. I will always remember how I (I’m sure a Gringo in their eyes) was welcomed into that busy kitchen in this casual beachside restaurant. We made friends with the young waiters who kept checking out my daughter, we thought it was cute and proceeded to get our drinks on.
We decide to stay there another night, so I contacted my Airbnb host who’s actually in Hawaii and struck a deal. That night we set off to hang out in Montanita, thinking that this party town was 24/7 and we could find a club or lounge or some fun, but nope. We arrived around 7 pm Sunday night and things were sort of quiet. We had dinner at Tiki Limbo, a hotel restaurant with a nice décor and vibe. After that, we went bars hopping and found one called “Rock & Food” that was playing house music and allowed us to set our own playlist. We had a blast!
The final day a great day
The next and final day (day6) was packed with travel adventures good planning and luck. In a search for the nicest beach in the area, we set out to spend some time at Playa Los Frailes. This beach is tucked away in an exclusive setting within the Machalilla National Park, which is an hour in the opposite direction. We were already four hours away from getting back to the airport in Guayaquil to catch our flight back to the states that night. It was well worth it, we enjoyed our ride along the coast seeing the small towns along the way. The good luck for us was upon our return back to Guayaquil we stopped back at Montanita – at sunset. We grabbed a few more souvenirs but none more special than the pictures of us on the beach as the sun was setting. One word – spectacular! Then we hit the road and made it in time to meet Javier and Rosie at the airport grab some hugs, snap some group pictures and thank them endlessly for making our trip so special.
We’ve traveled “blind” in many foreign places just armed with my google research and friend suggestions to guide our agendas in the true Ralphie go-with-the-flow style and have had wonderful experiences getting lost. However, it was such a delight to spend so much time with Bryan, a cool teenager who was a gracious guide who’s now family. I can’t thank Javier & Rosie and especially Bryan enough for showing me and my family – Ecuador.