Atacames: Tourist beach town

Atacames is a local-tourist beach town among several beach towns on the northern coast of Ecuador. Thanks to a tidal river, the main parts of town are divided with the beach and town sides of the river joined by bridges. We stayed on the beach (or playa) side at the Casa Chill Inn (aka Hostel Chill Inn, and our first hostel … ever).

The playa side is populated by thatched-roof, open beach bars, ice cream kiosks, and restaurants along the main street, and shops displaying beach-themed goods (inflatables, flip flops, swimsuits and other clothing) up the side streets. Along the beach there is also a large red-roofed area with many tables. Each table is a ceviche vendor and member of a co-op of cevicherias, and includes a food prep area, and a narrow bench on at least two sides for customers. We had a delicious pescado (fish) ceviche here, served with a bowl of popcorn and plantain chips, quite typically priced at $7.

A block or so from our hostel is a foot bridge to the centro side, where there are numerous small shops of every variety, a Tia (chain supermarket), professional services, a fish market in the mornings, a park plaza, and a central intersection where buses pass by and moto taxis wait for fares.

Moto taxis are the primary way to get around within town, with regular taxis almost non-existent.

The town side is also the center of social and cultural activity, it seems. Last Friday afternoon and last Monday morning we happened upon parades along the main street (no phones left for spontaneous picture taking so no parade pics).

Beach casual dress is the norm in Atacames–everyone is in shorts and T-shirts or summery tops (sometimes short, snug-fitting dresses for the women) and flip-flops or sandals. Regardless of body type, women wear everything tight: short shorts, tops, leggings, dresses.

Safety and security

Though we feel really comfortable here, we have been warned about a few things:

  • When you go to the beach (a block away), don’t turn left to walk, only right. Q: Why, what could happen? A: They could come at you with a knife or a broken beer bottle to rob you.
  • Don’t take the yellow bridge that you can see from the park in town. Never go over that bridge.
  • Q: Is the best thing to do at the beach to rent chairs? Would our things be safe there? A: I can’t tell you that they would be. You can see if there is a person there all the time, ask if your things will be secure. And ask for his or her name.

The lack of security on the beach makes it harder for us to enjoy it. The water itself has variable waves and swells, so better for wading and playing in the surf than for swimming on some days, but the beach is beautiful–long, deep, all sand. But how do you go swimming when your things–even just a towel and flip flops–might not be there when you get back? We have gone to the beach to swim without towels and in bare feet (me with a pair of shorts over my suit). It worked, but isn’t as nice as hanging out to read, relax, and swim when you want to. We may try the chair approach next ($2/chair for the day) as this would give us shade and a place to put things, though often the person renting the chairs doesn’t stay around to watch them, we’ve noticed.

Medical care (part 2)

Our second encounter with the Ecuadorian medical system was a trip to a lab for a blood test that Ken required after about 3 months on new meds. Our host directed us to the lab that she uses. Following her instructions, we walked “over the foot bridge, left and then the second right” to find San Patricio Servicios Médicos, which turned out to be a one-technologist laboratory behind a locked glass door on the back wall of a typical shop-sized area. The lab shared the space with two doctors (single wooden doors on the right wall), an information desk (glass enclosure on the left wall) and a few rows of chairs for waiting patients. Patricio, the lab tech, talked to us our requirements, but wanted Ken to have fasted overnight before the test. We agreed to return the next morning at 7:00, opening time according to Patricio.

At 7:30, we walked up to the office to find it completely shuttered. We had mentioned the 7:00 opening to our host, who laughed and warned us that she had to wait until 8:00 once, so we weren’t too surprised to find the office closed. Soon, one of the doctors rode up on his motorcycle, sporting jeans and a T-shirt, and opened up the office. Patricio arrived around 7:45 and called us in immediately. A few minutes later, Ken’s blood letting was complete and we left, results to be available by 1:00. At 3:00, we walked in and Patricio printed up the results, reviewed them with us (todo bien), took our $15USD, folded and stamped the results and handed them over in a small envelope.

Despite the Ecuadorian clock, this experience was relaxed, friendly, and inexpensive.

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