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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Trip - Playas (General Villamil)

After getting my car out of the repair shop (for the umpteenth time) I was itching to go for a long drive.  When my friends and I (me and my friends?) took the big circle-trip around Ecuador in March, we had intended to spend a night at the beach town of Playas on the way back to Cuenca.  But, we chose to forego it and headed directly home.  So, I have had Playas on my mind.

In Spanish, 'Playas' translates to 'beaches'.  However, there is a town commonly refered to as 'Playas' even though it's formal name is 'Playas General Villamil'.   So, if you aren't clear, you could be misunderstood as simply going to the beach versus going to the TOWN of Playas.  Comprende?

I pointed my car to the Cajas for yet another trip up to 13,000 feet and down the other side to Guayaquil (GYE).   I made it in 3 hours...a record.   Another hour and I was in Playas.  

The highway from GYE is a nice, wide, smooth, mostly flat, mostly straight, 4-lane that one can easily cruise at 120 kph.   I fully expected the road between the main highway and Playas to be crappy because Playas is such a small town.  But, I was surprised to find it, too, was a 4-lane separated by a wide median and I was able to zip into Playas in no time at all.

Playas is the get-away place for GYE'ers.  It's packed on weekends and holidays.   Knowing this, I made this trip on Sunday since most people would be leaving and returning home.  This also made it easier to get a hotel room on the fly.

Upon arriving in Playas, I was not impressed.  In Salinas, another popular beach town, you arrive to highrise condos lining the bay in what looks like a mini-Miami Beach.   I wrote blog entries on the Salinas area back in August if you want to look back in my blog archives.  Back to Playas.   The primary streets were paved, whereas most of the side streets were dirt.  Both were riddled with potholes, some enormous.  I asked myself 'what is the draw?'.  Like Salinas, the areas away from the beach are pretty dismal, but AT the beach things improve immensely.  

Playas has a nice wide arterial with lots of parking along the beach.  It was hot and humid, but the humidity was tolerable.  There were some arts/crafts vendors along the sidewalk, but not very many and not very interesting.   The beach is wide and long at Playas.   Between the street and the water, one traverses a long wooden walkway across a semi-sandy, semi-grassy area before hitting the sandy area of the beach itself.    Several large, round huts house casual restaurants.  Hawkers yell out their schpiel about their food at anyone who happens to walk by in an effort to entice them into their restaurant...a mini competition of sorts between rivals next door to one another.  Of course, there were the usual assortment of vendors pacing up and down the beach selling their wares to those plunked down in their beach chairs underneath rented umbrellas.

There are only a few high-rise structures at the extreme end of the beach.  Otherwise, the malecon is lined with low-rise buildings, mostly hostals (hotels) and several abandoned buildings and empty lots.  I spotted one 4-story hotel that looked tidy and clean...the Nathalie.   I stopped and inquired of availability and cost.   I took a 2nd floor room, on the beach side, double bed, private bath, AC, TV, balcony,and secure parking...for $20 a night (tax included).

In the evening, I walked to an outdoor restaurant and enjoyed a plate of camarones (shrimp) and a couple or three large beers.  Instead of seeing a lot of dogs, this place had a lot of kitty cats running around, but none would say 'hola' to me.

The next morning, I decided to not hang around.   The beach was very quiet as most people left town the night before.   I knew I would be bored out of my mind.  Playas is a one-thing town...the beach.   Outside of that, I could not see anything else worthy of doing.

On the road again!!  Back to GYE, through it, but stopping for lunch at the cleanest most modern McDonalds I've ever seen, then out the other side of the chaotic city and into the countryside.  This time, however, I chose to take a different route home to Cuenca.  I headed for Machala, a medium-sized city, then I would take the back way up to Cuenca.

The drive to Machala was interesting.  The highway, albeit mostly 2-lane, was flat and followed along the base of beautiful steep hills and through endless banana plantations.

Once I arrived in Machala I looked for signs to point me towards Cuenca.   I saw ONE.   But, I had to dive into the city, find my way through it, then come out the other side somewhere in order to get on the final road to Cuenca.   There was NO help in the form of signs to follow.  Downtown Machala was a mess of streets under construction and congested traffic.  I saw a really neat church I wanted to get close to and take a photo of, but it was a challenge to navigate through the tangled traffic to get there.  After about a half-hour of this, I finally asked for directions OUT of Machala to the road to Cuenca.  More pothole riddled streets and detours and I finally found what I was looking for.

The trip between GYE and Machala was new to me and I thoroughly enjoyed the scenery along the way.   The route between Machala and Cuenca was NOT new to me, as Kathleen and I had travelled it last July when we were taking an alternate route back to Cuenca from Loja.   However, that time was totally in the dark and saw nothing.   Wow, she missed out on some tremendous scenery that I now got to see.

As opposed to the usual, and shorter, route from GYE to Cuenca where you have to climb, climb, climb to 13,000 feet then descend to 8,000 feet, the route between Machala and Cuenca circumvents all the dizzying winding and climbing elements.    The climb is so gradual you almost don't notice it.   The road follows beautiful river gorges and slices through quaint little towns.  Though prettier and easier to drive, the road is not in the greatest condition.   Lots of patched holes and plenty of holes waiting to be patched.   Lines would be nice, too.

Last time I travelled this route was with Kathleen and we experienced the adventure of a lifetime when we encountered a bizarre detour due to (unbeknownst to us beforehand) a large slide that wiped out the road the year before.  In pitch black, we were routed onto what could only be described as a one-lane logging road for several kilometers with us asking ourselves 'is this REALLY the way to Cuenca?'.   If you want, you can read all the exciting details by looking in my archive postings for last July and selecting 'Day Trip - Loja'.  THIS time a new bypass had been constructed....though I use the term 'new' loosely.   Yes, it was a different route, it was paved (sorta), but it is still not the permanent fix almost 2 years after the slide occured.

After I completed the bypass, I was back in familiar territory just an hour away from Cuenca.  But, uh-oh....FOG.   THICK FOG.    I had to poke along at 20 mph trying to keep up with the car in front of me so I could follow his movements.  If he went off a cliff, so would I.  This went on until I was 15 minutes outside of Cuenca where I was able to wing my way home.

A whopping day and a half trip consisting of 800 kilometers of driving, another adventure marked off the list.

Enjoy the photos.

Dano

Playas, malecon and restaurant huts.

Playas, looking to the left.

Playas, looking to the right.

Modified motorcycles act as taxis in Playas, versus the traditional cars.

Park in the center of Playas.


A teeny tiny chapel along the beach road in Playas.

A church on a hill overlooking the town of Progresso on the way into Playas.
(No, I didn't find any soup processing plant)

Gajillions of banana trees on the way to Machala.  Notice the clusters that are wrapped.

Beautiful symetrical canopy trees 50 - 75 feet wide.


Monument at a roundabout on the way to Machala.


Farmer with burros monument upon entering Machala.

Church in Machala.

On the way back to Cuenca from Machala.
Notice the road up ahead, just to the right of the cross.  Gives you an idea of the scale of the surrounding hills.  The rock outcrop on the right reminded me of a nose.


On the way back to Cuenca from Machala.

On the way back to Cuenca from Machala.
Notice the size of the yellow truck cross the bridge, in relation to the surroundings.

On the way back to Cuenca from Machala.

On the way back to Cuenca from Machala.

6 comments:

  1. Hi Dan, your report is great. I don't need to go visit anymore :)...probably saved myself from mosquito attacks !? Keep up the good work. Mitri

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dan, great report as always! Question, why do the farmers rap the bananas with plastic bags when the fruit are large? Is it to protect them from insects or some other eating thing or bird?

    Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  3. If you are in to hiking, near Playas is El Morro. You can take a boat ride to see the dolphins or do a nature/eco hike. We did the boat ride and it was great. Also ate at Juan Ostras which was very good.

    Laurie/Minnesota

    ReplyDelete
  4. Regarding the banana plastic wrap question...I did a little Googling and found a consistent answer. commercial banana growers use bunch covers (plastic bags open at both ends that they slip over the bunch and tie at the top) to protect bananas from diseases, insects, sunburn and marauders.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Book'em Dano! Nice pix and in the field reporting. I look forward to your next expedition!
    journeyman jack/
    kweeh-toe

    ReplyDelete
  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete

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Cuenca, Azuay, Ecuador
This is all about my transition from an American lifestyle and culture to my newest adventure, life in Cuenca and greater Ecuador. I'll be recapping some of my day-to-day experiences (and mishaps) to highlight what it's like to live here.

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