I have to admit, I was a little nervous about renting a car again. It had been three years since I drove in Ecuador, and that experience was very limited. We just drove to a hotel in Playas, the next day drove to a hotel in Salinas, and didn’t get in it again until it was time to leave. And even then, we had an Ecuadorian riding with us to give me directions to the airport.
Rita and I both have our Ecuadorian Drivers Licenses (that is a story or two in itself), but since we did the license exchange route, it did not involve any driving time, just passing some tests.
We rent a car whenever we visit the states, and I’ve driven before in DC, NYC, Paris, Florence – so it is not that I’m not comfortable driving in cities or foreign countries. The thing is, driving in Ecuador is a little special.
First, very few streets have names, or if they do, they are not displayed. The country also saves a great deal of expense by not bothering to mark exit or entrance ramps in any particular way, so sometimes it is hard to tell which is which. Similarly, they save money by not putting stop signs at a lot of intersections. So if you don’t see a stop sign (a PARE sign, of course), you can’t just assume that you have the right of way.
Second, and the biggest factor, is the Ecuadorian drivers themselves. The people of this land are some of the friendliest, most helpful, most calm and relaxed people on the planet. Until you put them behind a wheel. Then there is a transformation, and they become impatient, aggressive, and downright maniacal. It’s like the whole country learned to drive playing Mario Cart. Signs and lights be damned, and lane markers are merely suggestions. Just because there are only two lanes doesn’t mean you can’t fit 3 cars, a bus and a motorcycle.
Fortunately, once we got the car, I found that driving in Ecuador is just as easy as falling off a log. Provided the log is in heavy traffic that is moving at high rates of speed in random directions.
Really, it was not that bad. Driving here is a lot like sitting in with a jazz band. We all know the rules, we know the basic structure of what we are trying to do, but beyond that, let’s just jump in and see where we go! If the bass player for instance decides to change lanes for no apparent reason, the drummer will either slow down or speed up or move over to make it possible. On the other hand, he may just honk incessantly until the bass player gets back in his lane, but that’s all just part of the music, baby! Sure, the piano player also just decided he should make a left hand turn from the right lane but just think of it as a counter-melody!
Having the car did let us cruise around Manta and get good look at the city. I’m happy to report that it looked very nice. In fact, if we had looked at the northern end of Ruta del Sol on the coast of Ecuador first, we might have ended up in Manta rather than Salinas. The city is big enough to have a good infrastructure and plenty of shopping and restaurants, but still small enough that you don’t feel intimidated.
There were open-air mercados, and of course, fish markets. When the cruise ships are in port, there are indigenous artisanal markets. We visited the El Paseo Mall, and checked out the construction on the new Mall de Pacifico. There are beaches, parks, and plenty of locations within an hour or two for interesting day trips. We also met some expats there, who tell us there are somewhere between 400-600 North Americans living in Manta now.
We’re planning on going back soon to spend some more time in town and the surrounding areas. If you’re in Ecuador, or thinking of visiting, it is a great area to check into.