We solved our beach challenges (see Atacames: Tourist beach town) in two ways:
- We hopped a 10-minute, 30-cent bus to a Súa, a sleepy fishing village with a lovely, quiet bay that is protected from the waves and perfect for swimming. There is a malecón wall at the top of the beach, and from the beach side, it is carved out, providing a safe place to stash our stuff, unseeable by passers by. The water was warm and we had the beach almost to ourselves.
- In Atacames, we tried the rent-a-chair option ($4 for two, though they tried to charge $5) and enjoyed a few hours of splashing in the waves with our towels, flip flops, and even our kobos still there on our return.
Party weekends/quiet weekdays
We stayed in Atacamas over two weekends and really experienced two different towns and two different beach cultures. During the week, the beach is very quiet. The tents are there permanently, but only a few have chairs for rent. A few bars are open, but they are empty. Beach-area shops and restaurants have flexible hours. And then Friday hits, and the music in the bars can be bopping until 2:30 a.m., the beaches fill up with families and other groups building sand castles and frolicking in the surf, casual soccer (futbol) games are played all along the beach at the water’s edge, carts and walking vendors sell fresh fruit, beer, massages and hair braiding. It’s fun and joyful, but not the place to be if you want peace and quiet. Even though Sunday is a “dry” day in Ecuador, it doesn’t seem to cool down the revelry (chair renters sell beer to their patrons and you can see folks quaffing cervezas everywhere).
Batidos, or fruit smoothies (with or without milk) are wonderful. We tried two flavours–mora (blackberry) and mango–and both were refreshing and delicious. Giant one for two, $2.50.
Candied coconut strips are sold by a few restaurants along the beach. Little cups with crunchy-sugary-coated fresh coconut pieces are like tropical candy. Naughty but oh, so good. $1.50 for a small plastic dish full.
Many beach-area vendors sell all sorts of sweet treats wrapped on little trays. We didn’t look closely or try anything, but if you have a sweet tooth you might want to check them out.
Our last night in Atacames was tough because of the smoke in the air. It had been bad all day, but the sea breezes at the beach, where we spent a lot of the day, kept it manageable. At night, though, our room smelled like a campfire, and with no windows to close, there was no way to protect ourselves. Our host explained, shaking her head in frustration, that the smoke is from land-clearing fires–which are prohibited–but that the laws are not enforced.
The following day, we took a taxi to Esmeraldas, about 40 minutes away, for a short flight to Quito. My eyes burned in the open-window car and I breathed shallowly, unsuccessfully trying to avoid inhaling the fumes.
Just a short note on Esmeraldas: We had read and been told that it wasn’t a place worth visiting. Based on our drive through it, we completely agree, though we didn’t get right to the beach area. It was highly industrial with refineries, factories, and energy plants right in town. Flaring and dirt roads added to the smoky haze, making it very unattractive. In contrast, on the other side of the city to the east is a very modern and clean airport.
On a completely different note, I’ve been wanting to mention the lack of strollers in Ecuador. I noticed it right away, and it hasn’t changed throughout the country. Strollers are rare. Babies, and even up to toddlers if they are sleepy, are carried everywhere. I have been awed by the strength and confidence of the parents I have seen riding jerky buses, doing their shopping, and even breast-feeding while mobile, carrying their wee (and not-so-wee) offspring in their arms or on their hips, often partially covered in a colorful fleece blanket.
Home sweet home?
Though we are fully committed to living nomadically, we have also said that if some location strikes us as a place we’d like to live, who knows? Just because a city or town isn’t “home sweet home” doesn’t mean we didn’t enjoy our time there, just that it isn’t the kind of place we feel we could settle down in.
Is Atacames that place? Atacames is fun, has reasonable access to fresh food in the small markets, a good-size supermarket, decent access to fish and shrimp, and cheap beer ($1.50 for the large 600ml bottles). It’s by the water, but the beach isn’t really a swimming beach, at least the way we like to enjoy the ocean. We’re bothered by the risks of thefts. Since it’s a tourist town, it’s a bit too noisy on the weekends for long-term stays, and we definitely do not want to deal with the smoky air, even if it’s infrequent.