Exploring Ecuador’s Coast – Our Trip to Manta, Part I

Now that I’ve retired from my job as a Network Engineer, I took a position with International Living Magazine as their Ecuador Coastal Correspondent. This is great, because it gives me a chance to do some more writing, which I really enjoy, as well as the excuse to travel around Ecuador, which my wife Rita and I both wanted to do anyway.

Partly in celebration, but mostly to gather information for an assigned article and some future ones, we planned a little trip up to Manta in the Manabî province of Ecuador. We would spend three nights in Manta, and rent a car for two days to take day trips to some of the coastal towns in the area.

We do not have a car in Ecuador, since we can walk to most places in our home town of Salinas, and for places outside of a couple of miles of home, buses and cabs are easy to use and very cheap. Most places where we would need a cab costs us $2-3, and you can get all the way to the other side of the peninsula for $5. I can ride the buses for 30 cents, Rita for 15 since she is “tercer edad” – “third age” in English, meaning over 65.

For longer travel, there is an excellent inter-provincial bus system with a station in Ballenita. Fares tend to be roughly $2 for every hour the trip takes, and again, Rita rides for half-fare.

So we each packed a soft gym-type bag, and I also brought a small backpack with camera and sundries, made arrangements to have the damn dog watched, and took a $4 cab to the bus terminal.

Now we had scouted this out, and we knew the buses to Manta had a coastal route, and a route through the mountains that stopped at one of my favorite city names – Jipijapa (pronounced hippee-HOPpa). In Ecuador the buses all run by Cooperativas, so it is not like you can go to a ticket window, give your destination and buy a ticket. Instead the windows are grouped by Cooperativa and their particular destinations, so you have to walk around until you find the lines going where you want to go.

As soon as you get close to a window, there are beaters who try to get you to use their bus. They will often try to get you on it without buying a ticket, so they can just take the cash on the bus, and no doubt forget to record the transaction.

So as soon as we entered the Red Zone, someone is out asking where we are going.

“Manta”, I said in my bad Spanish, “via coastalarna”, asking for the coastal route.

“Si, si” he said as he started leading us out the door to get on a waiting bus.

“Esta es coastalarna? No Jipijapa”, I said, verifying that we would take the coastal road all the way up.

“Si, si, no problema!”, he said, and so feeling smugly that I had verified things quite well in another language, we got on the bus, which left within minutes.

We took off up the Ruta del Sol, and everything looked great. When the driver’s helper came by for our fare, we again gave our destination as Manta, and I pointed out my wife got the reduced rate. He told us our combined fare was $10.50.

Sweet! Pretty cheap for a four hour bus ride! In just about two hours, we were at the Puerto Lopez terminal, a little more than half way to Manta, with a ten-minute bathroom break.

That’s where some doubt began to cross my mind. I couldn’t help but notice that when the bus pulled in, he stopped in a bay with a sign that said “Jipijapa”. Also, when we got back in the bus after a much-needed trip to the baños, several men standing around said “Jipijapa, Jipijapa”. I saw the driver, pointed at the bus and said “Manta?”.

“Si, si!’

Okay. We get back in the bus, it takes off, and sure enough, as soon as we passed Puerto Cayo, we took a suspicious turn up into the mountains. My GPS soon confirmed, yes, we are on our way that famed town of Jipijapa.

Fair enough, if you look at the map, the coastal road and the road through Jipijapa both go to Manta, and it is about the same distance either way. We reached Jipijapa, which by the way, is a pretty good-sized mountain town we might want to visit again sometime, like on purpose though. Anyway, the bus let some people off but didn’t tarry, just got back on the road. We were happy to see Manta listed on the road signs as in the direction we were headed.

So we’re feeling pretty good about things, especially when we went through a small town that seemed to specialize in Pan de Yuca and Tortilla de Maiz. All of the homes and tiendas along the road had little five or six-drawer ovens sitting outside, attached to a propane tank by a rubber hose, and cranking out the rolls. When the bus slowed down for a speed bump, a local jumped on with a tray of them, and came down the aisle selling three for $1.

We bought one of the yuca and two of the maiz. One bite of the yuca, and we were sorry we didn’t get six of them instead. They were warm, soft and delicious, with melted cheese in the center. The tortilla de maiz were good too, but a little crunchy and dry.

After that, we were thinking the detour through the mountains wasn’t a bad thing at all. We got to see some new places, had a great little snack, and we would only be another half hour or so on the road.

But then I noticed we came to a fork and did not take the one pointing to Manta. I looked at our trusty GPS again, and saw that while we had passed up a direct route, a few miles further down the road we were on was a T intersection, and turning left there would take us direct to Manta. Perhaps they were just going this way to pick up and drop off more locals.

Alas, we came to the T and the bus turned right, headed for Portoviejo and away from Manta. After a few miles, we stopped for gas. I went up front to ask the driver again what was going on, and as soon as he saw me, he started saying Portoviejo first, and then Manta.

Okay, maybe we were going to do like Jipijapa, run through the Portoviejo station, and right back out to Manta.

No, in fact we got to the Portoviejo terminal, the bus parked in a bay, and everyone got out but us.

We went up front to see if they were just changing drivers, but no, the driver now told us we had to go over to another bus. His helper walked us across the yard and through a hallway, out to another bus that was just about to pull out.

We got on, the driver telling us “Manta, Manta!”. Of course, we had heard that before, but in for a penny, in for a pound. This bus was not as nice as the other one, my seat for example was loose, and tended to slip forward if I leaned back. But as it rumbled out of the station, it did at least head in a Manta-like direction.

This bus was an additional $1.50 for the two of us, but about a half hour later, after a little over five and a half hours, we arrived at the Terminal Terreste in Manta. Then the easy part – just a $1.50 cab ride to our home for the next three nights, the Hotel Perla Spondylus.

to be continued ….