This summer we did something different. We are used to island-hopping in Greece. But we’ve seen 35 islands (!) and thought it was time to move on.
Last winter was our first trip to Ecuador. We’ve written about Baños, the beautiful mountain town full of art and culture. Now we want to fill you in on another find: Salinas, a small town on the Pacific Ocean, two hours from the major port and largest city in Ecuador, Guayaquil.
When we visited Salinas in January, we rented a condo from June 15 to August 15. We had been walking along the ocean, all four kilometers of it, admiring the condos in San Lorenzo near the centre of town. We asked a group of picnickers if they knew of a condo for rent in the low season. Norman, who lives in Guayaquil, promptly answered, “I just bought that condo (pointing upwards) and I’m willing to rent it.”
We were stunned as we entered the sixth-floor home. It was incredibly spacious. From the living room, balcony stretched the width of the condo. We could see, hear and breathe the waves. After a minute or two of negotiation, we agreed on $1,200 a month for two months. We paid a deposit of $400 U.S. and Norman drafted a handwritten agreement.
We returned to Canada thinking: “What have we done?” We didn’t know Norman and he didn’t know us. We loved the place but what would it be like to be in one small town for our entire summer?
The answer: fabulous!
The condo was pure luxury with, its master bedroom facing the ocean and its art bar—actually a bar for booze that we converted to a space where I could draw and we could eat overlooking the waves. We grew accustomed to the sound of the waves, whether sleeping, eating, reading or drawing, the waves became our constant companions.
The place was fully equipped, down to the dishes and sheets. There was a TV in every room. We just had to know how to work them, which took a while.
The doormen were helpful, especially when we left our only key in the house one evening. The doorman called the locksmith who apparently hangs out on the street in the area. He came and jiggled the lock open and then made a key the old fashioned way, whittling it down to shape, all for $20. We never left our key in the condo again.
Our friend Daniele accompanied us for the first two weeks and fell in love with the condo, so much so that she had a hard time leaving in the morning when the three of us would set out along the beach toward the town. We spent hours at the art bar trying out the new medium I had picked up in Baños in the winter from a Canadian artist who lives there: coloured pencils.
We had visited the Guayasamin Museum in Quito and were electrified by Ecuador’s most famous artist, Oswaldo Guayasamin. I began to do takeoffs on his work. He guided me through the drawings and the compositions and the colours: the blues and the oranges, the flowers, the haunting mask-like faces and hands, the villages. Soon I began to combine my own instinctive obsession with Middle Eastern architecture with his style.
I have been painting since I was 11, beginning with oils and moving on to acrylics. But I can take coloured pencils anywhere! And I did—to restaurants, the beach, cafés where I could play with the colours and compositions as they came to me.
I was in love with Salinas. Ritzy condos line the oceanfront but these are a kilometre from the town. One street back, the roads are all dirt. What made our stay so enjoyable was the access to easy living: We would take our laundry to the village and for $1 to $3 receive it back the same or next day, folded, colours separated, a beautiful pile to put in our walk-in closet.
The village supermarket, Mi Comiseriato, was right behind the beach, a block from the Lavandaria. There we could stock up on just about everything! Every few days we would go to the local market and pick up fresh strawberries (the best ever!) mora, a kind of blackberry, and veggies, and of course avocado. We would sometimes have lunch at the market, a $2.25 affair including soup, main course and drink. We took a $5 taxi ride twice to the bigger town of Libertad and shopped and ate at the huge market there.
Twice a week, our cleaning lady, Felicita, grandmother of 30, would come. We paid her what Norman told us to: $20. Later we found out this is above the norm, no pun intended, but Felicita needs the money—five or six of her grandchildren live with her. We learned to keep the sand and the mosquitos out by closing the sliding doors at night.
It’s important to know some Spanish. That said, many of the ex-pats speak little or no Spanish. Oh, those Americans! What are they thinking, living in a place where they can’t speak the language! My Spanish improved mightily in the two months we stayed.
We heard that medical care is good in Ecuador, although we fortunately had no need to try it out. We did meet one American who was recovering from major back surgery
Our usual day consisted of walking to town along the beach after eating breakfast at home or stopping at Shari’s Common Grounds, a stomping ground for ex-pats and weekenders alike, where we paid Canadian prices for a Canadian-style breakfast. Or we would walk all the way to Chipipe, the beach on the other side of the malacon (boardwalk) to enjoy the vast expanse of white sand and swimmable waters, envying the condo owners behind us.
Most of these condos were empty because it was the low season. In our building on the other side of the village, there were one or two that were inhabited. The rest? Empty.
We would usually lunch at Luvin’ Oven, our favourite restaurant right in front of the local beach. We got to know the cook, Laura, an Argentinian woman of 21, who was touring South America with her boyfriend, Nawel. We became fast friends. We would order tenderloin steak ($10), exquisite seafood soup ($8) or fried shrimp or squid, which Laura would coat for us in coconut flour (since we don’t eat flour). On several occasions, we would walk to another restaurant and have a whole fried fish ($6) with salad.
We dined at home in the evenings, sometimes inviting Laura and Nawel to join us. They would help cook or cook the entire meal for us and afterward we would walk to the
artisan ice cream parlour, where Irwin and I would have the sugarless ice cream, which I still miss. We would treat the youngsters to banana splits on the two-for-one
banana-split day on Thursday, and on Tuesday, two-for-one milkshakes. The clerks got used to us ordering the banana splits sans banana, sans salsa chocolat, and sans crema.
The weather in Salinas was perfect. It was temperate, never hot, never chilly, except at night when we needed a sweater some of the time. Every day was swimmable, but we were told that this is not the case every year. The entire beach in front of the village is dotted with chairs you can rent along with umbrellas.
The beach itself is a scene. Hundreds of vendors parade along the sand hawking … and here’s the list: dresses slung over the backs; fresh coconut which they cut open, give you a straw to drink the water inside and then return 10 minutes later to chop up the coconut meat; ice cream; all manner of ceviche and empanadas from the restos; sunglasses and more sunglasses; hair braiders (especially popular with the little girls); fresh pineapple; costume jewellery; wooden folding tables; children’s beach toys; wooden carvings of The Last Supper; wooden replicas of boats.
Most of the beach crowd were either locals or from Guayaquil, two hours away by cab. There is a great communal cab service in the village that we reserved for $10 U.S. a
person to Guayaquil when we had to take Daniele to the airport and when we stayed overnight before we flew to the Galapagos.
Ah Salinas! The ocean! The fresh fish! The strawberries! The doorman, who takes the garbage right out of your hands as you step off the elevator! The cabbies, who take whatever you give them within reason! My hairdresser from Colombia! My manicurists! My pedicurists! The Jazz Café where we had our $1 coffees just across from Amygo, owned by Amy Prisco, real estate agent, Spanish teacher, ex-pat New Yorker, vendor of coconut flour, travel agent and our new friend! The locals, the expats, the Ecuadorian day-trippers, the Argentinian year-trippers, all helpful, friendly, and welcoming. We felt at home in this wonderful little town and we will return this winter for 10 days.
We have rented an efficiency closer to the centre of the village but on the ocean for $60 a night. It won’t be as luxurious as Norman’s with our Jacuzzis and our swimming pool on the ocean and our hammock and art bar, but it will be high season and have a more hectic, electric kind of vibe. We can’t wait!