After Isla de la Plata and whale-watching adventures the previous day, I decided today would be a much more relaxing experience. Relaxation isn’t always a word I’m familiar with, normally choosing a non-stop itinerary than allowing time to sit around and watch the world go by. On this occasion, I happily gave in to my girlfriends demands to enjoy what critics suggest is Ecuador’s best beach; Los Frailes.
When you think of days spent bathing in the sea and resting on golden sands, you normally picture blue skies and blazing sun. Imagine my disappointment of waking to yet more gloomy grey skies. Even taking an early morning run along Puerto Lopez’s beach and trying to escape the crazed homeless dogs that continuously chased me into the sea, did little to raise excitement levels. This was until the return leg of my run, where on the last time I was chased into the water, I found a floating $5 note. Maybe this was a message that a spot of relaxation might have its benefits after all!
Los Frailes is located to the north of Puerto Lopez, and, as it’s located inside Machalilla National Park, a ticket ($25) is needed to enter. If you don’t have the energy for the 10km walk, then it would be wise to take advantage of one of the many mototaxi’s instead ($10 return). There is no better way to enjoy the huge potholes than relaxing on the back of these revamped motorbikes. Hailing one down from the main road in Puerto Lopez, it reminded me of India as the yellow and red colours raced past as fast as their 40cc engines could take them. Within twenty minutes my feet were touching the smooth sands of Los Frailes beach. Spanning a kilometre in length, I was delighted to see only a couple of other people around.
With the clouds showing no signs of parting my immediate thoughts concerned the important notion of how a whole day was to be spent here. Luckily I had forgotten all about my love of paddling and frolicking through the powerful waves, some of which were a good 4ft in height and powerful enough to sweep me off my feet. My joy and happiness came to an abrupt end though after wading out a little too far out and coming into contact with something I can only describe as small and squeegee, no doubt a jelly fish, which left me with some nasty stings.
Scared of receiving more red rashes I decided to discover what else Los Frailes had to offer. Quite a lot if I have to be honest. As well as a number of marked trails that can be taken through the surrounding dry forests, Los Frailes also has another two beaches to offer its clients. Playa Tortuguita is a short walk past the north end of the beach, but after seeing the rotting corpse of a sea turtle littering the beach, maybe it should be renamed Playa Muerto Totuguita. Following this was Playa Playita, probably the tiniest beach I have ever seen and only worthy of a mention due to its differing black volcanic sands.
Although the dry forests that surround the beaches are now protected by its National Park status, it’s hard to believe that once upon a time the whole of the Ecuadorian shoreline was covered by this unimaginative depressing looking vegetation. Over ninety percent has now been lost to deforestation, which is an unbelievable amount.
By the time the taxi driver returned to meet us at the beach, there was no one else around, which was starting to feel slightly eerie considering the weather and darkening conditions. It reminded me of the scene in films where you know a knife wielding maniac is going to jump out of the bushes and confront you at any moment. The few people that I’d come into contact with during my day spent at Los Frailes were virtually the same tourists I’d spent all day with whale watching during my previous twenty-four hours. This of course led to an awkward moment where you didn’t know if you should or shouldn’t acknowledge them, especially when spotting the annoying English girls.
I made it back to Puerto Lopez after surviving numerous suicide attempts by the motortaxi driver who thought nothing better than to drive on the opposite side of the road for no apparent reason. The buses who were about to meet us head on were forced to swerve out of the way and onto the side of the road that we should have been on. Maybe he was English! After reaching the town unscathed there was still just enough time to sit back and watch the sun set, with the last fish action terminating for the day. A chuffed looking man rode away from the beach with a giant swordfish balancing over his handle bars.
Once dusk set in over Puerto Lopez’s promenade, groups of men crept out of the surrounding darkened streets to huddle on the breezy Malecon. Here they swigged down large quantities of illicit looking alcohol. This was followed by a lot of vocal goading to whom could pull the longest wheelie on a child’s BMX they had come across. This was the highlight of the night time entertainment, and something I would have happily tried, if I wasn’t sampling another of the coasts traditional foods. This time it was spondylus, an oyster like creature. I was hoping to try a different restaurant, but after looking around it was only Carmita (Malecón Julio Izurieta y General Córdova; accepts major credit cards) again that was thriving with satisfied looking customers.
My mouth was wet with anticipation of what this strange looking creature would taste like, but after having a mouthful of the cooked creature, served with rice in a peanut sauce, I wasn’t quite sure what all the fuss was about as it tasted just like oyster to me. Maybe it had some sort of aphrodisiac properties? I surely hope so, as I don’t think it was worth being the most expensive item on the menu. You have to try everything once though!
The evening atmosphere wound down very quickly, and by the time my girlfriend and I had finished our meals, the seafront Malecon was ghostly quiet. Only the odd Gringo walking back to their accommodation could be seen. It was only 10pm, and with nothing else to do, an early retreat to our hotel room was the only option left available.