Book! Pack! Go Travel! by Robbie Mamo

Canoa, Ecuador and the Pacific Coast

Canoa, Ecuador and the Pacific Coast

To get to Canoa you need to first get to Bahia de Caraquez and then transfer a short distance to Canoa on another bus or taxi. After checking out of the hotel I got a taxi to the Reina del Campo bus terminal located in the Mariscal district which is a short distance away from Plaza Foch. This taxi was $2 and took about 10 minutes. From Quito to Bahia de Caraquez it takes roughly 8 hours.

 

 

The Reina Del Campo bus terminal in Quito.

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There are two services with two scheduled daily departures. The executive class bus leaves at 12:50 pm and 11:45pm each day with the regular services leaving at 10:30 am and 11:30 pm. I took the regular service because it left earlier and this costed 10$ with an additional 2$ for my surfboard to ride along. All bags were tagged and I was only allowed a small personal bag on the bus for security reasons. This bus had televisions and AC and like usual this made for an extremely cold ride so make sure you bring a sweater and I also suggest wearing pants.

If you are hungry before you head out on the bus there is a very good and cheap restaurant across the road from the terminal.  I had rice with black clams served with tomato, plantain and avocado. This was $3 and hit the spot before the long ride I had ahead of me on the bus. Make sure you only order what you can eat because they will take your food and store it at the front of the bus which in most cases means you won’t want to eat it after depending on the length of your journey.

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Once we got moving and out of the city we embarked on what was the most scenic and treacherous bus ride I’ve ever been on! Ive never been on winding mountain roads at such a high elevation and there were times when looking over the edge gave me butterflies! This also meant that we weren’t doing any passing which was fine with me and between this and the shape of the road it was slow going for the first 3 hours of the journey.

A few pictures I took from the bus ride through the mountains.

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We stopped once mid way through the trip to eat at another bus terminal while we picked up more passengers and dropped some off. This is always nice to stretch out and this was fine as the bus had a restroom. One thing I always make sure of is to bring whatever personal bags I have with me at all times. There are always a few people that don’t get off the bus and it’s not worth coming back to your bags missing or being pilfered through just to save carrying them with you. Also make sure you bring some money to pay to use the restroom at the bus stations. There are always people accepting money outside the entrance and they provide you with toilet paper. I always have my own with me anyways which I learnt the hard way many years ago in Peru but that’s a whole other story!

One of the food stands at a stop we made on the highway.

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I chose some stewed fish, shrimp in a spicy coconut sauce, rice and coleslaw. All for under $2

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Once in Bahia I connected onto the local bus which ran between here and Canoa and this costed $1. I could have also taken a taxi for $10 or less. This took about half an hour to reach Canoa and it dropped me off on the main street of this very small beachside fishing community.

If you are planning to go to Canoa or any of these beach towns other than Montanita which is the most popular make sure you bring enough cash for your stay as many of them including Canoa don’t have bank machines and in some cases if a small town does have only one bank machine you run the risk of your card not being accepted or the machine being out of money and then you are in a bad predicament.

If you do find yourself needing money near Canoa you can get cash in San Vicente which is a 20 minute drive from Canoa. This is either $4 each way by taxi or a .50 bus ride if you don’t mind it taking an hour each way and working around the bus schedule.

Canoa

Canoa is a small fishing village that has also become a hot spot for tourists and people wanting a beautiful beach and lots of options for watersports. Aside from the beach and eating at the various restaurants if you weren’t in the water or getting a tan while having some drinks there wasn’t a whole lot to do.  Since I like to eat, drink, hang out on the beach and surf this gave me lots to do in Canoa.

Where to stay…

Based on a recommendation from a friend that is living in Canoa I stayed at Hotel Pais Libre. This was $15 per night for my own room which had hot water showers. This is owned by a cool local surfer named Favio who was lived here and surfed here his whole life. The hotel also has a bar and club on the main floor as well as an upper lounge that overlooks the dance floor. From the looks of it this hotel has had its share of epic nights being a popular hangout during surf competitions and when high season here is in full swing.

It’s located only a short walk to the beach and because it’s local owned it is less likely that someone is going to break into your room because the locals respect the owner. That being said it’s not uncommon for thefts like most areas in Ecuador and as always use common sense and you will be fine.

Hotel Pais Libre as seen from the beach.

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My room at Hotel Pais Libre.

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My private little corner room had a great hammock to chill in!

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The short walk to the beach from my hotel.

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The town…

Canoa is a small fishing village that has also become a hot spot for tourists.  People come here for the beautiful beach and lots of options for water sports. Aside from hanging out on the beach, eating and drinking and water sports there wasn’t a whole lot to do. Since I like to eat, drink, hang out on the beach and surf this gave me lots to do in Canoa.

The town has a small strip on the main road that leads into town along the coast from San Vicente but most of the action is lined up along the beach, catering to tourists from other areas of Ecuador and all over the world. There are basic stores but not a whole lot to buy and during the hot days there wasn’t a lot of action on the road. It’s apparent that other than the basics the locals are going to San Vicente or other larger neighbouring towns to do any real shopping.

The main strip in Canoa.

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It was common to see horses tied up in town.

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Most businesses line the beach in Canoa.

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The Beach…

The beach in Canoa is really long and wide at all tides allowing you to walk all the way down to San Vicente which is the next town over. I liked to walk the beach every day at low tide and spent each sunset having a few beers on the beach at the many beachfront stands that sell a variety of food and beverages. Most of these weren’t opened up until the weekend but the whole beach was lined with them so you were never too far from a place that was open regardless of what day it was.

Some photos of the beach in Canoa. It is one of the longest and widest I have ever seen.

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There was a surf competition the weekend I was there and the sponsors and out of town vendors all set up stands and canopies claiming their piece of the beach!

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Fishing boats line the far end of the beach and they are out before daybreak catching the daily catch of fresh fish and seafood.

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The far end of the beach past the river mouth is met by huge sand hills and if you venture further there are caves that can be further explored.

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The beach is set up with little beach chairs under canopies for shade. They rent these out and they make a great home base for a day at the beach and the vendors are always coming around selling cold drinks, treats and food.

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A lifeguard stand on the beach is a welcome sight to anyone with children who are playing in the water.

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Where to eat…

There are lots of choices for good food here and once again I indulged in fresh fish and seafood. Saboreme restaurant is considered one of the best local restaurants and everywhere you look you see another location of theirs.

On one occasion I ordered the whole fish with a creamy green chilli sauce. This costed $4

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On another occasion at Saboreme I ordered the Encocado which was a whole fish served with a creamy coconut sauce. This is very common in Ecuador and I ate this quite a few times while visiting the country. This costed $6.

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Another really good restaurant in town was Jixsy. I ordered the fried fish with rice, beans and coleslaw one day and was really impressed. This costed $4

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Another day I tried the fried whole fish and prawns from Jixsy restaurant and that was also quite good. This costed $6

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Being so close to Peru the ceviche is very popular here. Ecuadorian ceviche is totally different than what you would find in Peru and this was most commonly served with black clams or “conchas negras”  which I hadn’t tried before this trip. This was first shelled fresh on the spot by first tapping the closed shell with a knife and then shucking it open and cutting out the bloody meat and dropping it all into a bowl. This was then mixed with a nice blend of tomato, onion, avocado, cilantro, lime juice and plenty of salt. Next ketchup and mustard were added and it was blended together but not too much to keep the avocado from being too pureed. Served nice and cold on a  hot day this was a refreshing and great way to enjoy some seafood in a unique style. I liked this served best with nachos but it is also common to be served with fried plantain chips. I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy this as there was a large amount of blood mixed throughout but you didn’t notice it once it was blended and the flavour was wonderful.

The main ingredient of most ceviche in Ecuador was black clams. They were shucked from the shell and put in whole with the blood.

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The finished ceviche ready to be spooned onto plantain chips or fresh nachos!

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One of the traditional foods here is called a Ballone. It is made from a puree of yucca that is then mixed with any combination of meat or vegetables depending on where you go. It is then deep fried and is similar to a fritter. I had the ballone with chicharones which in this case did mean fried pork belly, as chicharones usually is used to describe anything that is battered and fried.  I ate mine with the house salsa but most locals top their ball ones with ketchup, mustard and/or mayonnaise which I noticed they put on most foods in generous quantities!

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A friend of mine Janna who I first met when I used to own my clothing store has been coming to Canoa for 5 years now and runs an all girls SUP(stand up paddle board) and surf camp here called Love Life Adventures. More recently for this season Janna and her boyfriend Carlos have opened a beachfront, all vegetarian/vegan restaurant and cafe called Adicto Surf and SUP Cafe. They have a great location and a nice patio style setup, as well as a small eating area inside the main building. Most people eat and drink on the patio enjoying the sound of the waves and the nice shaded area. They also rent boards and give private lessons for both surfing and SUP.

Adicto Surf and SUP Cafe!

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I decided to try their guacamole which they make fresh to order and it was excellent. Making it even better was the freshly baked tortilla bowl that it was served in! Another thing that stood out was the quality of the local avocados! The menu has lots of choices and anyone can find something they like. I don’t eat lots of vegetarian meals but their food really hit the spot. It was always light and refreshing on a hot day which is also key to making sure you don’t have too much food in your stomach when you are out in the water early in the day and beyond.

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One thing you can always count on is finding a pizzeria wherever you travel to. Finding a good one on the other hand is often a challenge. Being Maltese I’m very picky about pizza and have had my share of good and bad over the years since I started travelling. I decided to get pizza one night from a small place on the corner a block away from the beach called Il Capriccio. This was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had in my life and that is saying a lot as anyone that knows me can tell you that I love to eat pizza!

My favourite pizza is Hawaiian with ham/bacon and pineapple. I like the crust to be on the thinner side, I don’t like too much cheese and the sauce can make or break my opinion of what a good pizza tastes like. I told the owner how much I liked his pizza and we started talking. The owner is a young Italian guy that had moved to Germany for chef school. While he was in school he went out for pizza one night and had the best pizza he had ever ate in his life…in Germany! He was so impressed with this pizza that he asked to apprentice under the owner  who was an old Sicialian guy and after 2 years wanted to move somewhere down South to open his own place.  He said it took about 3 months to dial in the proper blend for the dough with the water, flour and other ingredients that were locally available but whatever he did he nailed it with this pizza. Making it even better was the fresh pineapple.

Maybe I should apprentice under this guy and learn how to make pizza this good and do the same thing as there is always a market for pizza and life could be a lot worse! Typically in these countries the biggest issue is sourcing the cheese as the climate isn’t always ideal for raising dairy cattle.

Il Capriccio and one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had in my life!

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Street food and festivities in Canoa.

There was a festival going on all weekend and this always excites me because I know that the street food will be out in full force and this was definitely true for Canoa! This was simply named the Festival de Canoa. The build up for the weekend was incredible and my excitement started with a bamboo party tent being built mid week which would house the music and dancing that would ensue. Another thing that had me excited was the guarantee that there would be lots of different street foods and other traditions that I would get to experience.

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Once the festival got underway there was a parade of local school marching bands and cheerleaders that marched through from the beach up and around the main streets. This was very entertaining and the childrens marching band was amazing.

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Another highlight for most of the young men was the constant flow of cheerleaders showing off their moves with their skirts and batons. I didn’t know what most of the locals were yelling out at the girls as they marched by but I have no doubt it was as close to cat calling as one could imagine!

The local cowboys in town for the festival

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Once the nightly festivities got under way it was a street food enthusiasts dream come true! There were so many food stands many of them competing to sell you the same food and jockeying for position throughout the night. Also a few arguments broke out depending on which way the wind was blowing and how much smoke was coming off the grills and blowing into the other vendors faces. It wasn’t common to see vendors moving their stands from one area to another, some had wheels others were more makeshift. It was also common to have the vendors calling out to you trying to entice you to buy from them which is common with any type of vendor in these countries.

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One of the foods I tried first was the bbq corn. This came out on a stick with butter, grated cheese and mayonnaise. Not having tried much bbq corn in the past and especially not with these toppings I thought it was something I had to experience. I really enjoyed it and after trying it I looked at the possibilities of corn a lot differently having only previously had boiled corn with butter. I will try some of my own creations this summer after realizing that there are lots of alternative ways to enjoy this simple treat!

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Other popular items were from the grill were sausages, chicken and beef. Usually these were mixed together on one skewer and most stands also sold separate skewers with chicken wings or chickens feet which were often chopped up and arranged on the stick in smaller pieces.

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One stand was selling sandwiches with shaved roasted ham topped with pickled vegetables, cabbage, red onion and lettuce.

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For alcohol there was lots of beer but what seemed more popular was a home brewed moonshine that was boiled down with fruit as well as spices such as cinnamon and cloves. This was served warm in old beer bottles which was then placed in a brown paper bag. With each bottle of moonshine were little plastic shot glasses to pour it into and drink up that way. I tried some and it was strong enough to make my eyes water! I’m not too fond about warm alcohol but after drinking a bottle of this stuff I wasn’t too worried about what else I drank and I was feeling no pain to say the least! Im not sure of what percentage of alcohol this stuff had but it was definitely strong and at least 40%. One beer bottle full of the home brew was more than enough for me! This was $1.50 per bottle and there were more than 20 stands set up selling the beverage.

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Candy apples seemed to be the most popular item for those with a sweet tooth! These had sprinkles or candies on them and from the look of the table they were a big seller.

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There was also a guy selling shawarma out of a converted VW van. These were amazing shawarmas and the garlic sauce was some of the best I’ve tasted anywhere. So good that I ate two at a time the one night. These were $3 each and were hard to pass on whenever he was in town.

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The wind was relentless the whole time I was in Canoa and even though I went out to surf a few times the conditions were blown out and choppy. The vibe in the water was easy going and it was mostly locals out surfing and body boarding most times I was out. I found the locals very friendly in and out of the water here and felt a good vibe from the people in this region.

Not lucking out with the conditions in the water I still had lots to do here in Canoa. I loved hanging out on the beach, eating all the good food and enjoying my surroundings. I would go back regardless of whether I was into surfing or not and it was a great first few days on Ecuador’s Pacific Coast.

Gone on a whim…