The first thing that struck me as I left Esmeraldas airport was the intense greenery everywhere. I had never been in real jungle and here it was all around me. I took a taxi to the small beach town I would be staying in and as we sped along the roads I rested my head against the window and watched the surroundings rush by. I tried to imagine never having seen anything but the UK before, stepping into this luscious humid country. There is something captivating about the idea of Ecuador for me, being home of the Galapagos and the setting of Charles Darwin’s studies. It seems like a country which promises adventure.
At the coast, the intensity of the humidity faded to a perfect warmth. On my first morning I woke, threw on a dress over my swimming costume and headed straight to the beach for a swim. Even the water was the perfect temperature. Pelicans flapped around the beach eyeing the fishermen and their catches. Big vultures did the same. I had never seen a vulture in person and had assumed they would be the ugly violent-looking birds they are so often portrayed as. Instead, they waddled happily along the sand, soft grey heads bobbing.
I spent my first day exploring a town on an island ten minutes from where I was staying. It was small, full of brightly painted houses, and everywhere, flowers bloomed. A horse calmly grazed where the palm trees cast a little shade. Passing him, and moving through the dappled sunlight, I found myself on a broad, pale sandy beach. Here and there were dotted a few people and further along kiosks sold seafood, rice, tostones (crispy fried plantain), and salad. I lived on overly generous portions of delicious and wonderfully cheap food for the entire two weeks (and came back with my clothes fitting just a little less well).
This trip was my first time to Latin America and a small part of me had been nervous travelling alone. I had been wary about staying out late into the evening, but this town formed of little more than a single main road and just a few hostels had a vibrant, friendly nightlife. I quickly met other travellers and we explored the beach bars and wondered onto the sand to watch the stars.
One night, we headed down to the far end of the beach where the waves lapped the rocks at the beginning of a headland. We waded into the warm water, further and further out, until we started to see flashes. Plunging into the water, we were lit with sparkling phosphorescence, mirroring the stars.
In the early hours of the morning, after I was tucked up and asleep, it would often begin to rain. On the nights when I woke or could not sleep, I would lie and listen to the rain from beneath my gauzy mosquito net. I was staying in a traditional bamboo house with no walls. With no wind, there was no risk of rain getting in but if I reached out a hand, I would be able to cup it and collect the rainwater. Along with the rain and rustle of the trees, I would listen to the geckos. Then in the morning, as I enjoyed my Latin American coffee, I would watch the vultures in the trees around spreading their vast wingspan and drying off in the warmth of the sun.
With a constant supply of fresh delicious food and the sea only three minutes away, I’m not sure how I managed to drag myself away after only two weeks but this country is high priority to return to.