A Tale of Two Hotels

Rita and I just returned from another road trip here in Ecuador, so once again, sorry about the length of time since the last post. I always take a laptop along and mean to put in updates, but you know what they say about the best laid plans. Or is it the best planned lays? Whatever.

Anyway, it was a great trip, and once again we really enjoyed getting out and seeing Ecuador at our own pace. We had no problems anywhere we drove (yes, we rented a car and drove ourselves again), and we saw a lot of beautiful places that I will be writing about in days to come.

For now, I just had to mention one of our hotel experiences.

This was a 7 day trip, and we originally planned to stay in a different city each night. This worked fine our first night in Ayampe, but we ran into a bit of a snag our second night in Puerto Cayo. There are some pretty stiff slander and libel laws in Ecuador, so let’s just call this place “The Hotel”. I made the arrangements via booking.com, which described a lovely little beachfront hotel, a room with a balcony, hot showers, Wifi, and a restaurant for $60/night.

The first problem we encountered: there was no sign for The Hotel. Puerto Cayo is not a big place, especially if the hotel is on the beach, but we drove through town looking carefully and did not find a single sign. A few miles out of town, we got out the reservation and a map, and through a couple of clues, dead reckoning, and the process of elimination, we were able to narrow the probable location down to about a block.

We found the building that looked most likely to be the one we wanted, but again, no sign. I rang the bell at the gate, and although I could hear nothing, I hoped fervently that somewhere inside a bell was ringing.

I was about to give up and walk around the beach side to see if I could get in that way, when a couple approached on a motorcycle, beeping their horn and flashing their lights. This is actually pretty normal behavior in Ecuador for any vehicle, but in this case, I was in luck.

“Señor Santos?”, the man asked? “Si”, I replied. Although he and his wife spoke almost no English, we were able to communicate well enough in Spanish to understand they were here to welcome us to The Hotel.

They opened the gate, and we drove in and parked in a beautiful courtyard.

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We went into a small office room to check in. I began to suspect things were not quite what they seemed when they asked how much the website said the room would cost? I showed them the reservation, and they asked for the $60 in cash.

The cash part is not unusual – many hotels in Ecuador are not setup for charge cards. What was unusual, was they did not add any tax or other charges to that. Or write up a receipt. But we go with the flow in Ecuador, so we went ahead and took our stuff up in the main building to our room on the second floor. Again, there was a very attractive public area and dining room on the open-air patio, with a terrific view of the ocean.

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We were asked to choose from a dinner menu so they could prepare our meals, and to choose our breakfast as well, along with what time we would like it served. This is great, we were thinking. What a wonderful place! Especially since it looked like we were the only guests.

The turds started floating to the top of the punchbowl however when Rita asked if we had “duchas caliente”, or hot showers. “Oh no” was the reply, “no tenemos agua caliente ahora” – we don’t have hot water now. At first it was implied maybe a bit later, but when pressed, we found there would be no hot water for at least a week. Still determined to go with it, and also partly because the rest of Puerto Cayo looked like a ghost town, we soldiered on.

And discovered another surprise about our upcoming cold showers. There was not a shower head.

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Apparently there had been one at one time, there was still some plumbers tape wrapped around the pipe, but we would be basically showering under a wall-mounted garden hose.

Oh well, it was only going to be one night, and the view was great! We could sit in the hot tub and watch the sunset! Of course there was no water in the hot tub, just a little sand, but still!

We explored the beach and took some pictures while our hosts prepared our dinner, chicken in a milk sauce with rice and a salad. The meal on the patio was great, and the view of the sunset was spectacular (pictured above). As we took the last few photos and turned around, I saw that our hosts were also enjoying the sunset. They were standing there, arms around each other, taking pictures as well.

At that point, I began to suspect what was going on. I believe the hotel was not really open for business, probably closed for the low season to make repairs, but when the caretakers saw the reservation come in they figured, what the heck – cash is cash! We’ll take a night off from the kids and enjoy a night at the beach as well. I became sure this was the case, as we soon discovered that the advertised Wifi was “down in this moment”, and that whenever we ran water into the bathroom sink, it leaked out of the plastic accordion hose that connected the drain to the wall, forming a nice puddle on the floor.

In the morning, breakfast was served as scheduled, and was delicious. They asked for $24 (cash again, of course) for the total for our dinner and breakfast, and told us they had to be leaving soon. We got the hint (we had to get on the road anyway), so we hosed ourselves off once again in the shower, and went on our way.

Our next night happened to be at the Hotel Perla Spondylus in Manta. The contrast was immediately obvious. I don’t think we opened a door (other than our room) the whole time we were there. The staff was incredibly attentive. When we checked in (using Amex), we were told they were giving us a courtesy upgrade to a suite. It was a wonderful room, very comfortable bed, a balcony with a view of the Tuna on a Stick, free breakfast, and most wonderful of all – a hot shower! With a shower head!

There was also a small plastic clothes hamper, so we dumped our dirty clothes in it, just so they could air our a bit, and at least stop stinking up our suitcases. When we came back from exploring for the day and found that the staff had taken that as a sign we wanted them to take those clothes, wash and dry them, fold them, and leave them on our bed, we immediately formulated a new hotel plan for the remainder of our trip.

We decided we were home for the next three nights, and we would use this wonderful room as our base and make day trips. Yes there would be a little more driving, yes we may miss out on more rustic experiences like cold showers and sand jacuzzis – but we decided to make that sacrifice.

I don’t mean to paint the picture that we are total wimps, or even that the stay at The Hotel was really all that bad. We could live without Wifi for a day, and you would be surprised how quickly you can get used to a cold shower. The location was truly beautiful, the building was charming, food delicious, and our entrepreneurial hosts were very nice indeed. But the differences between the two places are very much what life in Ecuador is like. Many think of Ecuador as a third-world country, and that is not the case. It is a developing or emerging country, so these kinds of contrasts between rustic and modern, primitive and luxury, and the rule rather than the exception.

For us, this contrast is just part of the charm of living in this sometimes frustrating, but never boring, country of Ecuador.

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