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Visiting Unexplored Corners of Ecuador’s South

The small turbo-prop Beechcraft aircraft swiftly pierces the thin layer of white clouds and shows me the ground some 10.000 feet below us: we are flying over the south western banks of the huge Gulf of Guayaquil. The entire coastline looks like an immense patchwork of rectangular and quadrangular soccer-field sized shrimp farms.  No wonder Ecuador is now one of the world’s leading producers and exporters of top quality farmed shrimps. The open cockpit allows me to see, as the plane takes on a steep 45º angle descent, the runway ahead of us, oriented on a northeast-southwest position.  We land at the brand-new Santa Rosa airport, in the heart of El Oro, Ecuador’s southern most coastal Province.  The airport is modern, ample and is meant to become an important hub for Regional flights between Ecuador and Peru, as the zone is very close to the two countries’ common border.

Susi is waiting for me at the Arrivals Hall and kindly takes me to the air-conditioned Van which is waiting for us.  Freddy greets me with the well known hospitality of the people from this frontier area of Ecuador.  Soon we are driving along a good paved road, several portions of it a four-lane modern auto-route. As the sun becomes brightly ruby-red and begins plunging into the Pacific Ocean, somewhere across the marine border between Ecuador and Peru, the road takes us past endless and large banana plantations.  The name “El Oro” which this province bears is a reference to the “Gold” (“oro”) value of the bananas, of which Ecuador is the leading producer and exporter in the world.  Susi and I are engaged in lively chat about the wonders of this off-the-beaten-path zone, out of most tourist circuits.  However, the area is highly visited by Peruvian tourists who take advantage of the proximity.

Some forty minutes later we reach Machala, the provincial capital, a city which has grown and modernized in the last decade, transforming into a modern city with huge shopping malls, wide avenues, parks, monuments, play land zones and glittering lights sending out a rainbow of colors into the darkening sky.  A short stop at an extremely posh and comfortable Hotel, just gives me the chance to change into an appropriate evening outfit, since we are off to an evening event, as the city is celebrating its annual festivities.  Freddy takes us across the busy streets and soon we enter the main Coliseum, where Susi, her three young daughters and I will attend a beauty pageant and fashion show.  This is the occasion to realize the proverbial beauty of the local women, most of them cute, slim and tan-skinned, contrasting with green eyes… A memory flashback brings me for a few seconds to a popular pop-jazz song of the early eighties, “green-eyed lady”….

The evening goes by between music, artistic presentations, traditional coastal dances and young models gracefully parading up and down the catwalk, as we sip a local cocktail concocted with mango and passion fruit juices and cinnamon sprinkle while munching on delicate plantain and shrimp canapés. Time to return to the Hotel after a lively evening shared with the warm and hospitable people of Ecuador’s southern coast.

The following morning starts with delicious tasting and smelling brewed coffee, another feature of the area, combined with tropical fruits, freshly baked breads, raspberry juice and the ever-present “patacon” plantain patties. My hosts, Susi, accompanied today by her husband Fernando and twenty-some year old son, equally called Fernando, come to pick me up for a day of touring Machala, the bustling capital of El Oro; its busy adjoining seaport of Puerto Bolivar, teeming with activity while huge cargo ships load tons and tons of perfectly wrapped boxes full of bananas, coffee, cocoa and frozen shrimps, headed for as far as Russia, Alaska, Europe or Japan.  The commercial activity is intense and the temperature rises steadily as the sun gets higher over our heads and provides the unique luminosity that only the Equatorial lands can provide…… It is time for lunch and we head for the popular and locally famous Puerto Jeli fishing port town, slightly south of Machala and Puerto Bolivar, for a bountiful and delicious seafood luncheon, featuring the local classic: braised conch shells with a light sauce; a magnificent seafood rice, complete with fresh crayfish and crab meat; chunks of delicious lobster and local jumbo shrimps…. It all deserves a toast with the always refreshing, ice-cold and great tasting Ecuadorian beer….. And, as there is more to tell about his trip, the story will continue on the next edition…..

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