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Bus to Puerto Lopez

We were up a bit earlier today as we wanted to check mail before heading on to Puerto Lopez. We had mailed Travelbag yesterday to see if they could help with our flights out of Quito - no joy, we are at the mercy of American Airlines.

It was lunchtime before we were ready to move on. As usual we struggled to get information on buses to get us there, the receptionist at our hotel seems particularly not with it. We headed to Libertad in a taxi hoping for a connection. Libertad is a small, dusty town with a small but chaotic Terminal Terrestre, central bus station. There are people selling fruit and drinks and generally lots of people milling around.

When our taxi stopped were were mobbed. People came from everywhere to "help" us. We were told which bus went up the coast but Stef went to check if there were other companies to while I kept watch on our bags. There was only the one bus. It was a chicken bus - the nickname we have given to the clapped out buses used by the locals who usually have live chickens on board with them. Goozing is another new word, invented when the blister on my face in Riobamba was oozing goo!

As we are on the Ruta del Sol, the main coast road, people are again surprised that we are not stopping at Montanita. One guy, with a t-shirt implying he was from a tour company, was particularly pushy and we were suspicious of him. We could not work out which people were from the bus company and which were not. Our bags were locked away, we got on board and were then told, by the tourist guide guy, to get off again to buy tickets. We were both wary and I stayed by the bus fully expecting it to drive off with our bags on board. It did not and for some reason Stef could not buy the tickets at the terminal anyway. We bought them on board having checked with some of the other passengers what the fare should be so that we knew how much Gringo Tax to expect.

We were told by one person that the trip was ninety minutes, another said two hours. In fact it was closer to three hours. For most of the trip we were in view of the pacific. The beaches here are narrow and either the sand is grey or, as in Salinas, they are suffering from pollution on the beaches. When we were walking along the beach in Salinas and the tide was coming in I had to hop onto some dark grey sand. When I walked on I had a lump of oily tar stuck to the bottom of my foot.

Even though we are near the coast the area is still tropical forest. Lush vegetation, with poor people living in bamboo shacks. We passed tiny villages along the way, too small for either Stef's map of Ecuador or for the maps in Lonely Planet. When we passed Montanita we were both glad we had not stayed there. It did look like a typical small fishing village but too typical. It looked very stage managed for the tourists.

Puerto Lopez was slightly bigger but not much. The bus slammed to a halt at the junction near the market and we hopped off. Tourist guide guy was actually helpful here and got us a moto taxi, motorbike rickshaw, to take us to our hotel. From the look on his face the $3 we were charged had a hefty gringo tax included. Our hotel, Hosteria Mandala, was just north of town along the dirt track road along the beach and past the fish market. It is run by a rather strange Swiss (her) and Italian (him) couple who both look like 1970's hippies who have never made it home.

In the jungle (hotel gardens)

It was a bit like Madre Tierra in Vilcabamba and Yacutinga Lodge in Argentina. A main lodge full of wood and rustic charm is the heart of the hotel. They have lush gardens and in those are set a number of bungalows, pretty basic but comfy and functional. The hotel restaurant, which gets good reviews in Lonely Planet, is closed so we knew we would go into the village for dinner. They only have a room for one night and they helped us to make a reservation at the Hotel Pacifico for tomorrow.

We are certainly in the tropics here. It is humid rather than hot. We headed into town along the beach as we need to pay a deposit to secure our room for tomorrow. The beach here has sand that is almost brown. Its quite wide but suffers from the national problem of litter, not much but enough to be noticeable. Crabs scuttle away back into their holes as we walk by.

The Pacifico initially tell us they are full for tomorrow but a different lady came along who knew about our reservation. While we were sorting the room a young Dutch couple came in. They are not staying here but have arrived with little cash not realising there is no cash point in town. They were trying to find somewhere to get a cash advance, they have no travelers cheques either, not that that would have helped here. We helped them out and exchanged some dollars for euros - our good deed for the day! It may also help us in Canada as there are a couple of small islands off the coast that are French so we may need Euros there.

We wrote diaries for a while, Stef won again at cribbage and then we ambled down the bay to find somewhere to eat. Our Lonely Planet first choice, Restaurant Carmita, was full - not sure if this was due to the quality of the food or the fact that it is in the book - so we carried on to the Picanteria Rey Hojas. Here we had a very simply meal, a beer and some water all for the stunning price of $9. Before we left home we have been joking about the cost of an average meal in Ecuador. This one was cheap but it brings the average down to around our expected £10.