In my last blog post, I alluded to the fact that I had an upcoming adventure I’d be reporting about. No doubt the highlight of any year for me is when someone from “back home” comes for a visit. On my first birthday after moving to Ecuador, my good friend Deanna and her friend Kristy, blessed me with a visit for just 3 days, so I would have some “home folks” to celebrate with me. The following year, my long-time and dearest friends, Amy and Melanie, left behind their families and comfort zones, to come for 5 days and get a taste of my life here. Then a few years later, my good friends, Dana and Mike, decided to visit me for a full 10 days. But this year, I had my first repeat guest! Well, sort of…
Most of you know the story of my friends, Gail & Jefferson, who flew with me when I first moved here, to help with the travel and transition. Their presence was an invaluable blessing to me! But I was in such a state of shock and overload, not to mention experiencing everything the first time myself, that I had nothing to offer in the way of showing them around. So I was THRILLED when Gail decided to save up her airline points to come back for a chance to get to see and experience the life I’ve made here. (Her husband, Milton, decided to stay behind to hold down the fort and tend to the cats, but we hope he’ll join us for the next visit!) When we began planning the dates, I told her she had to give me at least 10 full days, (not counting travel) to get the full overview tour. I’ve actually gotten rather good at guest visit itinerary planning, so it wasn’t hard to work out a good, balanced schedule for us:
DAY 1: All flights in from the usual travel route come later at night, and then it’s a 3 hour car ride from the airport. Gail’s flight was even later than expected and due to that, as well as a few other “technical difficulties” (aka taxi flat tire), we didn’t get home until around 2:00 a.m. So the first day is always planned as a “rest and recover” day. This included fixing her a scrumptious and filling breakfast, followed by a pedicure “en casa” (courtesy my regular pedicure lady, Monica). Then shortly afterwards, a brief and easy stroll up the beach to a special spot, for a scheduled hour-long massage to work out all the travel kinks, while listening to the ocean waves. ☺️
DAY 2: After our rest up day, this day was one of our “full on” excursions. We were outside waiting for the bus at 6:30 a.m.! 😮 But this was strategically timed to arrive in Manta at my favorite French bakery just before they opened. We practically had our noses pressed to the glass when the owner showed up with all his pastries to open the shop. 😂
Following breakfast, we boarded the city bus that took us the perfect route through town for me to narrate the “Manta highlights” tour. We exited on the opposite end of town from where we got on, at the relatively new bus terminal. Here, I showed Gail just how far we’ve come from the terminal I bused to my first four years (although she never got to see the original to really appreciate the contrast). After a brief walk through of the mall area, we grabbed a taxi and headed to the nearby town of Montecristi.
I love this town for several reasons, and have taken every previous visitor there to experience it (so view those blogs listed above for more details). We had a great English speaking guide for a visit to the museum area, and I learned even more about some of the specific history and culture of Ecuador (Montecristi is the birth and now burial place of one of Ecuador’s most famous and influential presidents). We then went down into the town for a light lunch at one of my favorite cafe restaurants, followed by a stroll through the shopping area for purchasing all the wonderful handmade, indigenous items available in Ecuador. Most specifically, Gail wanted to buy Milton an authentic Panama hat. The name Panama hat is a misnomer, because the original and authentic Panama hats (worn by the workers on the Panama Canal) are painstakingly handmade right here in Montecristi. We received a good orientation about the history and quality of this incredible wearable art, and Gail found the perfect hat for Milton’s head.
After shopping, we returned by taxi the short 15 minute ride to the Manta bus terminal, and then repeated our route on the city bus, stopping off at our new mall. I again wanted to show Gail the incredible progress that’s been made since I first arrived (although as I said, she didn’t get to come to Manta on her first trip). It was also the perfect place for her to buy some Ecuadorian chocolate and tea to take home.
After our mall excursion, we grabbed a taxi and headed to our chosen dinner spot. Gail at first questioned why I was taking her to a hotel for dinner. That is, until she saw the view and tasted the food! The Poseidon Hotel is no doubt one of the best places for food in Manta, but the view is second to none!
After dinner, my friend Edwin and his lovely wife Mercy, picked us up for taxi service home. You might remember that we helped Edwin purchase a new vehicle following the earthquake, so he could continue his business and support his family. Since then, a mechanic friend of his wanted to take on the challenge of restoring his crushed vehicle. Edwin told him to “knock himself out” and in his spare time over many months, this man fully brought Edwin’s car back to life! He still has and uses both vehicles, but we rode home in the original car that was damaged, which is now good as new! (I’m so sorry we didn’t get a photo for you. 😔)
Believe it or not, we asked Edwin to stop (because it was right on our way) back at the French bakery, for us to pick up some desserts to take home. He was more than happy to oblige. So not only did the owner get to see us first thing in the morning, but also last thing before he closed. 😂
DAY 3: We slept until whenever and then had coffee up on my deck in my hammocks, spending a leisurely morning just chatting and visiting. Around noon, I called a taxi to take us in to Puerto Cayo for lunch at one of my favorite beach restaurants. Then we strolled back into the town and met up with my friend Teresa for introductions and a visit. We ended up walking around just a bit and then sitting in the covered sport court area of the town square. Positioned here, we got to observe the local “day-to-day life” activities all around us, and much to my delight, a never before seen vendor of “pan de yucca” (bread made from yucca/cassava root flour) came up with his little portable oven cart. This is always one of the bucket list food items I want people to try while they are here, and we got some giant, yummy rolls hot out of the oven (4 for $1).
Eventually we walked the old route I used to travel back to my rental property, stopping briefly at Teresa’s front gate to drop her off. Her husband, Terry, arrived home from fishing just as we were saying goodbye, and Gail got to meet him as well. We then walked a short distance down to the home of my friend Sam, who lives just across from the house I first rented when I moved here. Gail had met Sam back then, and it was neat that they got to see each other again 5 years later. We took a walk through his gardens and up the hill behind his home, for easily one of the most breathtaking views in Puerto Cayo.
Afterwards, we walked back down the road past various friends’ houses (including my second rental), and cut over from there onto the beach, where we strolled the rest of the way back to my house, catching a sunset view just as we arrived.
DAY 4: We were again out fairly early to catch the bus a little after 8:00 a.m. This time we were headed the opposite direction (south) to my favorite hang out town of Puerto Lopez. We had actually been taken there during Gail’s first visit, and I was surprised how much of it she remembered and was able to recognize the progress and improvements. We started at one end of the “malecon” (boardwalk/road along the beach) and walked all the way down to the pier on the opposite end, taking in the sites and food along the way.
We started viewing the sites around the beautiful hostel at one end of the malecon called Mandala. It has cabins nestled inside exquisite gardens, and is quite a peaceful spot. We then made our way to our next destination, breakfast at Hostel Victor Hugo. We wanted to eat light, so shared a traditional breakfast of scrambled egg and “bolon de queso,” which is a ball made out of mashed plantains, cheese and spices that is lightly fried. We then wandered our way along, stopping in my favorite local specialty items shops, and eventually got to the pier, where we enjoyed the peace of watching the boats and hearing the water – and not much else.
Finally, we retraced our steps not quite halfway, to my favorite place for ceviche, Cabaña D’Chuky. The owner, Diego, and his wife make absolutely the best ceviche in Ecuador and arguably the whole world (Gail definitely agreed).
After a quick stop into town to pay my internet bill, we grabbed a taxi and were headed for our afternoon outing to Agua Blanca. This is another spot I love and like to take my guests for various reasons – it’s now a preserved national park and ongoing archeological excavation, but is also the home of an indigenous community of people that have lived here for centuries. After the museum, archeological and nature walk tour, we indulged in the natural mud skin treatment and therapeutic spring fed sulfur pond – it’s really quite a refreshing way to spend an afternoon! Afterwards, we met our taxi, who then brought us all the way back to my house.
DAY 5: Today was another take it easy and visiting day. We tried to catch a bus, but he intentionally passed us right by. 😤 Oh well, I needed for Gail to be able to enjoy the obligatory back of the truck ride with my favorite taxi guy, Olimpio (it’s a guest right of passage). He came for us in a flash and a short 10 minute ride later, we were at the home of my good friends Bill & Elaine, and my goddog Tag. Gail had met them both her last time as well, because just a few weeks before I arrived they had rented the upstairs unit where I first rented downstairs. She knew immediately when she met them back then that she was leaving me in good hands. ☺️ It was great for her to get to see them again, as well as their completed (at least stage one) home, and meet Tag as well.
After a few hours of visiting, we strolled through their community to the restaurant I love to frequent there, South of Zero Cafe, owned by Tom & Karen, more friends of ours. We enjoyed meeting up with more friends and having lunch. Then we all moseyed over to the small pool in our friend Rick’s area, where we joined even more friends, and spent the rest of the afternoon floating and visiting (and in Gail’s case, napping as well). Around 5:00 p.m., one of our friends kindly offered to drive Gail and me back home, so we didn’t have to call a cab (see, there is a reason that bus passed us by – Gail HAD to have a chance to ride with Olimpio!)
So that sums up the first half of Gail’s visit. But stay tuned for my next post with lots more of our fun adventures to come!