We arrived in San Alejo, late last Sunday afternoon, by bus from Guayaquil with a ticket to San Clemente ($8.50), as we were advised by our host. The San Clemente stop was an almost-deserted intersection. From there we had no instructions for getting to our accommodation for the next two weeks, The Cottages by the Sea. I talked to a couple of people (everyone who was on the street at the moment) and learned that the address I had in San Alejo was back a ways, not far, but too far to walk with our suitcases. We pondered our predicament, having no way to contact a cab, when miraculously one appeared and we flagged it down. $2 to San Alejo, which turns out to be a tiny fishing village between two other small fishing villages: San Clemente and San Jacinto.
Our hosts saw us arrive and welcomed us with a beer and a daiquiri as five people madly completed the cleaning and prepping of our room. We have been here a week now, and have yet to check in or register. We’ll have to be sure to do that before we check out a week or so from now. Life is very relaxed here!
We are now living on a dirt/sand road, which we walk across for daily strolls on the beach and swims in the warm Pacific. The Cottages is a little oasis of lush gardens, a pool, English (!), and friendly people.
From here, we walk to San Jacinto (1km) or San Clemente (2km) for groceries (I suspect that The Cottages is the only thing in San Alejo). At the beginning of the week, we wandered past gated and shuttered homes and shops, what appeared to be abandoned two- and three-story condos and hotels, and few people driving or walking. Even when we arrived in los centros of both neighboring villages, they were almost completely unoccupied. The beach area, several kilometres long, was equally empty, except when the colorful fishing boats were heading out or returning, laden with their daily catches.
We knew that this area had been affected by April’s damaging earthquake and wondered if that was the cause of what seemed to be a mass exodus. Or perhaps it was the oil-and-gas-damaged economy. Back at The Cottages, we asked Hamed, a Persian refugee/PhD/veterinary surgeon-cum-hospitality provider here, and he told us the quiet was because it wasn’t the weekend.
We had arrived at the beginning of a holiday week of celebrations (for Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead), the longest holiday period of the year for Ecuadorians. In addition to fishing, this area is also a local tourist destination, so it comes alive on weekends, and even more so with holiday celebrations. On Wednesday, restaurants and shops started to open up as vehicles arrived and parked along the ocean-side roadway. By Thursday, abandoned sun shelters, webbed with dangling string hammocks filled with families cooking, laughing, and frolicking in the surf and tide pools. Food and souvenir kiosks appeared along the roadside. Pickup trucks operated like buses with payloads of passengers crowded into the back and motorcycles operated like cars with riders 3 and even 4 deep. The beachside road, known as the malecon, became “the strip” as partiers, families, and performers passed noisily in front of our little paradise.
In the villages, streets were closed down with large speaker systems blasting tunes, soccer pitches marked off with logs and pylons, and for the evening chairs set out in rows for celebrations of dance, music, and film.
It is Sunday now, and much quieter again. Though this afternoon our quiet little enclave became party central, hosting as a neighbor expats birthday party. Canadians, Americans, and a few Ecuadorians arrived to celebrate, giving us a chance to learn a lot about the expat and local cultures.
All of the guests have gone now, both at The Cottages, and in our three villages. Tomorrow when we walk, we expect we’ll find the towns napping again, at least until Thursday, when the cycle of activity, though perhaps a bit more subdued than on this vibrant holiday week, will begin again.