Home > Ecuador > Touring some coastal haciendas of Ecuador, Part one

Touring some coastal haciendas of Ecuador, Part one

February 4, 2012

The skyline of Guayaquil’s high-rise buildings begins to disappear behind one of the hills which surround the city to the west, as we enter the eight-lane motorway leading from Ecuador’s largest city and main seaport, towards the Pacific beaches and towns.  The view is now replaced by new, American-style, low-rise but elegant, private and gardened condos and housing projects, as the city continues to grow to the north and west.
Samuel drives the comfortable air-conditioned vehicle while Giovanni, our host, enthusiastically tells us about his project to convert his mango, cocoa and coffee producing hacienda into a tourist facility.  That is exactly what Veronica and I are going to see.  We go past the entrance to the Cerro Blanco Protected Forest Reserve and, to the opposite side of the road, the last waterways of the mangrove-framed Puerto Hondo estuary.  Some 30 minutes from the city centre, we leave the main highway and head on towards Giovanni’s farm.  First we go right through the heart of the extremely picturesque village of Chongon, teeming with activity on this Friday market-day.  The local inhabitants are the coastal “montubios”, a mix between the ancestral indigenous peoples who used to live on the inland plains of Ecuador’s Pacific coast and the European conquerors.  Noisy, colorfully dressed and friendly, they wave at visitors like us who bear the unmistakable looks of “tourists”.
As we ride the muddy secondary road, we start seeing vast extensions covered with banana plantations, coffee, cocoa and mangoes, the main products of the area.  In spite of the extensive farming, the zone is also dotted with patches of primary coastal forests, where the kapok trees dominate the scene. It just takes us an extra 15 minutes to reach Giovanni’s property.  There is no farm-house, but he intends to build a small and ecologically oriented country inn, capable of lodging a small number of visitors.  We rapidly put on rubber boots (it had rained heavily the previous night) and start a loop trail traversing the estate.  A quick attention catcher is the intense sound of myriads of birds singing on the dense vegetation around the plantations.  First he shows us the mango plantation and, with the help of one his aides, he passes on two samples of a truly unique and different type of mango: lean texture, a perfect flavor, not too sweet not tasteless, a real delicacy…. Not being myself a big mango-fan, this one qualifies for “the best tasting and texture” of a mango I have tried anywhere.  We continue our tour along the large banana plantations and we learn a host of interesting facts about farming and rural life in coastal Ecuador.
We reach a large, thatch-roofed hut which is meant to serve as a semi-open dining area to serve snacks for day-visitors. A small sanitary battery with one ladies and one gents’ room has been built alongside.  The area borders the Chongon River and is a good place to observe more birds.  Finishing the loop trail, the owner invites us to follow him on a short but steep hike, across a fascinating patch of dry tropical forest, to the top of a hill, which provides a fantastic view of the southernmost tip of the Chongon’s coastal cordillera and the vast flatlands of Daular.  More interesting vegetation and more bird life come into view as we can also observe the immensity of the banana, cocoa, coffee and mango plantations which ply the area. A fascinating mix of rural life, agro-tourism and pure nature combine here to become an interesting tourism product.  We say good-bye to Giovanni and we continue on westwards, some 30 more minutes, to Hacienda El Castillo, magnificently set at the top of another hill, with spectacular views of vast cocoa and banana plantations.  This Hacienda has a splendid farmhouse, complete with paintings, furniture and ornaments dating from colonial days, which belonged to the ancestors of the current owners.  They show us around the house with its splendid terraces and panoramic decks; the elegant interiors and the plantations around.  Getting close to midday, we are treated with delicious “patacones”, crisp and crunchy plantain patties, served with a superb cheese sauce.  The refreshment is totally unique: pure cocoa juice, with a small shot of rum, a truly delicious treat… Then we are offered a tour of the small cocoa processing plant, where we can see from the plant`s seed being dried, grinded, crushed and melted to emerge as the powder which will serve to produce some of the best chocolate in the world.  As we exit the plant, we are offered a tray of homemade bonbons, the perfect complement to yet one more amazing experience.  And the story continues on the next edition……

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