Mancora beach

Mancora beach

After well over a month in Peru, it was hard to believe I was finally at my last stop in the country. And it was also one I’d been looking forward to for a while: the beach!

Mancora is known as being the beach to go to for travelers. It has great surfing as well as a reputation for being sunny and warm all year round. Luckily, it lived up to its reputation! After a couple days under gray skies in Huanchaco, I was happy to arrive, already, at 6 in the morning to a bright blue sky and shining sun.

Loki del Mar

Loki del Mar

I stayed at the Loki del Mar hostel in Mancora, which is brand new (actually celebrated it’s first birthday my first night there, with fireworks and everything!) and was built to be a hostel but looks like a resort. The buildings are blindingly white and funky-nice looking, and there’s a big pool with lounge chairs and a poolside bar all right in the center. So we got to feel like we were staying at a resort (minus the bunkbeds and lockers in the room) while paying hostel prices. Very nice!

There I met back up with two Australian girls, Lauren and Kassia, who I’d met in Lima and run into in Huaraz. I split my days between walking and relaxing on the beach and laying by the pool getting a tan. Not a hard life. The hostel itself was kind of a strange crowd, though, and even their big one-year bash wasn’t really that great. I hung out mostly with the Aussie girls and we didn’t really meet a lot of other friendly people (at least, of course, until the day we were leaving!) It was nice to be by the beach and relax, though. Again I still felt that it would have been more fun if I’d been with friends. I was constantly thinking back to great times I’d had on beaches back home, in Southeast Asia, in Australia, etc. with good friends. Mancora just couldn’t live up to those memories!

The upside though was the sea was beautiful, I got a bit tan, and I finally started to feel like I was ready to actually DO something besides being a bit lazy. Though at the same time I wasn’t feel incredibly excited about Ecuador and the next five weeks (which I had quickly come to find was far too long to spend in Ecuador).

But lucky for me, the Australian girls were heading up to Ecuador the same day I was, to Cuenca as well. It’s always nice to have someone to share long (8-9 hour) bus rides and border crossings with.

So a little after noon we were on the Cifa International bus heading toward the border. This was the recommended bus by all the guidebooks, but that far from meant it was nice! First thing I was stuffed into a seat next to a woman with her naked baby, who was kicking me and screaming and breastfeeding all at the same time. Later it turned out that apparently she hadn’t paid for a bus ticket and she had to get up, at which time we discovered the baby had pooped everywhere, and it dripped on my seat as she left. Ugh. Not not NOT a pleasant experience at all — thank goodness Kassia had some baby wipes to lend me to wipe off my seat!

The bus ride was more bearable after the woman and the baby were gone, but it was still really crowded and uncomfortable overall. And then after we crossed the border out of Peru, they still made us switch buses! (The apparent reason for taking Cifa was that you didn’t have to do so.) Luckily the Pullman bus we switched into was much, much nicer and not at all crowded so I could have two seats all to myself. Then it was a matter of crossing the border into Ecuador (where they just print a bunch of numbers and words onto your passport instead of giving a nice stamp!) and another five hours driving up to Cuenca.

Cuenca

Main square in Cuenca

Cuenca is a really lovely city. You would never even know it was the third largest in Ecuador. It feels very small and safe, which we could tell immediately even arriving late at night. We took a taxi to a random hostel out of our guidebook, Hostal Monarca, where they only spoke Spanish so it was lucky I could understand most parts of it (though later one miscommunication about where to leave the room key meant we had to pay an extra $3 which was ridiculous.) The three of us were shown to a gigantic room that had four double beds in it (but room for probably ten!) and we all took a moment to collapse and roll around in our big beds.

Then it was out to see the town a bit and grab some dinner. We headed to a place called Blue Monday, where we had some fairly good (but incredibly filling) Mexican food. Then we grabbed dessert at an infamous hot chocolate place called Cacao & Canela. The guidebook had mentioned they had tons of hot chocolate flavors, including mozzarella. I decided I had to order it and see what it meant, but it turned out to mean they just served you a number of slices of cheese on the side. I even tried tossing a few into my (still incredibly delicious!) hot chocolate, but there wasn’t really much mozzarella flavor going on. It was still really good though.

The next day we decided to explore Cuenca. We visited the tourist information office, had breakfast, and walked around the main square, the markets, and along the river all in just a few hours. All of us were feeling just a bit tired and blah. After laying on the beach for a few days, the long hours of traveling and moving up in altitude were taking their toll on us.

Cinema

Cinema!

Then we discovered the most perfect cure in Kassia’s guidebook: a cinema! And not just any cinema, but a cinema with a food court! Having felt a bit homesick the past few days, this was EXACTLY what I needed. We were so excited, we took a taxi to the place across the river because we couldn’t stand to take the time to walk. The taxi dropped us in front of every long-term-traveler-missing-home’s dream: a mini mall. We immediately grabbed lunch at KFC (which of course was absolutely nothing like the KFC at home, but still “popcorn” chicken and french fries hit the spot!) and bought tickets to see a movie.

We originally went to watch some Scrooge movie with Jim Carey that none of us had ever heard of, but because it was a kid’s movie it was in Spanish so we switched theaters and saw I Love You Man instead, which I had seen but it was a long time ago, in South Carolina, at a drive-in so it was almost like seeing a new movie! We walked out of the cinema an hour and a half later much, much happier and more rejuvenated people. And then on the walk home we ran into a guy we’d met in Mancora (well, actually the girls had originally met him in Argentina) and agreed to meet him for dinner later.

The rest of the day was spent doing more relaxing, and then going for a really delicious dinner at a tapas placed called Cafe Eucalyptus. Overall, it was a really great “breather” day for us all. And Cuenca was the perfect place for it. It was a very beautiful and tranquil town. Not at all stressful or overwhelming, a perfect way to begin our time in Ecuador.

Now I’m in Baños, and I already love it! So far we’ve already had some really amazing food and had a eucalyptus steam bath, which is an interesting but good experience. Now we’re off to see about some whitewater rafting and whatnot.