Home > Ecuador > Manabi Beaches and Archaeology, (Part 2)

Manabi Beaches and Archaeology, (Part 2)

The morning sunlight finds us driving along Ecuador’s coastal highway, with a southerly direction. We have left San Lorenzo and we run parallel to the Pacific Ocean, softly pounding onto miles and miles of pristine open beaches.  Along certain areas though, the waves are high, riding over underwater shoals and providing great locations for surfing, Guido explains to us… Eddie, Christian and I, we all have some surfing story ready to tell…

To our left, instead, is the last important tropical dry forest left in the Americas.  We are entering the territory of Machalilla National Park, a sanctuary of unique vegetation and animal life, together with some of Ecuador’s oldest and most remarkable archaeological sites. We admire the strangely twisted kapok trees, some of them already blooming….. They used to provide the raw material for soft mattresses and pillows. Nowadays, it is a protected species. Other fine woods can be seen, while the yellow flower “muyuyo” bushes adorn and line the roadside. We are reaching Puerto Cayo and we can see the extremely long and wide sandy beaches of this well known surfing haven with its high waves rushing from the north.

We are headed directly to Los Frailes Beach, considered Ecuador’s coast most beautiful one. The beach is part of the protected Machalilla National Park and we must stop at a gateway, the only land entrance to the beach, to check-in with the Park’s wardens, fill in information forms and pay the mandatory entrance fee to the Park.  Once we clear the control, a short ride takes us to a large parking area where vehicles have to be left and from there, continue on foot, a short walk along a sandy trail, towards the famous beach. Once we arrive, the scene which unfolds before our eyes is indeed pure beauty: a long and considerably large, semi crescent-shaped bay of light blue and turquoise-color water, is the backdrop for a sparkling white coralline beach, a good mile and a half long, flanked by two verdant hills which reach the coastline.  The beach is wonderfully pristine and lone, as if it had been especially reserved just for us.  We decide to walk all the way to the southern tip of the beach, where a rocky reef provides a great location for snorkeling, which we do, fascinated by schools of tropical fishes, including many rainbow wrasses….

Back from the ocean adventure, bottles or cold water brought by Guido in a cooler quench our thirst as the temperature is on the rise.  We dry our bodies, and we must continue to our next stop, the small town of Salango, quiet and picturesque…. Here, the highlight is the small but well conceived and organized, seaside museum, which houses collections of admirable objects from the ancient cultures that inhabited this area thousands of years ago… Ceramics, pottery, ornaments, garments, small scale samples of the famous “Manteño” balsa wood ocean rafts together with shell, gold and silver jewelry… Across from the town, a short distance away is the slightly hilly island of Salango, the same name as the village and name of a millenary “Señorio”, (a kind of “Lordship”) which the Manteño culture had on their political and social organization. The island was a ceremonial and sacred venue to adore (and trade) some of the most startling samples of the magnificent “Spondylus” shells…..

Having had an early breakfast and reaching now the noon hours under a scorching sun and hot temperature, it is time to go for lunch, which we do at the most famous restaurant in town, relatively small and of rustic style, yet renowned for its seafood delicacies. Here we feast on a delicious “Spondylus” conch shell ceviche and later a true banquet of lobster tails and percebes, a rare crustacean, considered a unique delicacy; all served in the traditional Manabi style, with hot “ajì” pepper sauce, bowl of steamed rice and the delicious “patacones”, plantain patties. The occasion certainly deserves the company of very cold and always great tasting Ecuadorian beer…

The afternoon is dedicated to explore the nearby “Agua Blanca” archaeological site; where ongoing studies are conducted to bring more light around the life of the Manteño culture, one of the most important of Ecuador’s coast. Highlight of this visit is the display of two, hand-carved, grey stone “Power Chairs”, a sort of signature characteristic of the Manteño Lordships  which populated these land, thousands of years ago…. The local community runs the site-museum and the visitors’ center, in an effort to involve the local people with productive activities, consistent with the concepts of sustainable tourism; cultural and natural management…. Later in the afternoon we take the return one hour ride, back to San Lorenzo for our second night on the fascinating realms of Ecuador’s central coast, a great combination of nature, culture, fantastic pristine beaches, friendly people and delicious cuisine……

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