Today was a classic mix of the kinds of ups and downs that come with travel. You simply cannot avoid these downs, and, quite frankly, I wouldn’t change them. We checked out of our hotel, all of us bleary-eyed from not much sleep, to make our way back down south, through Guayaquil to our ultimate destination rest stop of Machala. The positives of this day: Joaquin is an amazing driver; his playlist of tunes TOTALLY rocks (everything from Johnny Cash to Simple Minds to Stan Getz, a total eclectic blend!); we stopped for lunch right alongside the ocean — who can ask for anything better; the scenery was ever-changing as we moved away from the Dry Forest and into banana, coffee and rice plantation territory full of gorgeous peaks, valleys and lush greenery. The downside of this day: it was a very long drive — about 6.5 hours and it took us awhile to find suitable accommodation; also, Alvi kind of got short-changed in the Father’s Day department (insert sad face right here… no homemade cards this year…. kind of snuck up on us. Alvi: you’re the best Daddy in the world and those daughters are your greatest life accomplishment).
As the day wore on, I truly felt that we were becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy: one unit of family gong show in a race against time as Sam’s level of hunger increased exponentially. (For those of you who know me, hunger and I do NOT get along. Like, at all.) Now, Machala is not a tiny town. In fact, it’s got a population of circa 500,000 people. But when you’re dealing within the confines of a budget and different tastes, it gets tricky! At that point I would have eaten the arse end of a skunk, but we eventually settled on a random little mall that had a “Chifa” restaurant (Ecuador’s version of Chinese food) and a burger/dog joint. We loaded up on some grub — not enough to satisfy but enough to continue the gong show search of a hotel with clearer minds.
There were several options available for overnighting. Have I mentioned that we DO have a budget? We have prioritized fun and experiences (i.e. whale watching) over a fancy place to sleep or five-course meals. Having said that, there are some driving values that help define our accommodation choices. In order of importance these would be:
3. Affordability (i.e. trying to stick below $60/night if we can)
7. Hot water
As you can see, the first three are most important. We have not had hot water everywhere and were rather getting used to the refreshing feeling of a cool shower in this super hot climate. So on our quest for a hotel, the first place we stopped at was extremely SKETCH and looked literally like it might be the kind of operation where one might find some ongoing “nightly business”. Though Joaquin went in to inquire, it was going to be a hard NO for me — and also it was in a very loud area of town. The next place was going to charge us $29/person which seemed totally ridiculous for how it looked.
Right when I was about to give up hope, we found the Hostal Bananaria lol or something like this. The name alone had me intrigued. It was so interesting, because Joaquin had to “buzz” them to open the wrought-iron gate, and it looked like he was about to enter a random apartment building through a secret, nondescript door. I tagged along to give it the old maternal A-OK, and at $25/night it was a major score!!!! The room was no Taj Mahal, but it had three single beds, AC, and….. wait for it….. HOT WATER!!!! High-fives and air-guitar kicks!! We schlepped all of our gear up to the third floor and hunkered down for the night. What a day… Tomorrow we head to Loja, both the province and the specific town I’ve been waiting to see for a long time. It sits at 2,000M above sea level and offers up the best coffee and chocolate in Ecuador along with much cooler temperatures. Nightily night, neighbour!