If you're as big a fan of archaeology and anthropology as GB and I are, you will want to put your boat in Marina Puerto Lucia and visit some of the nearby archaeological sites. Downtown La Libertad itself - right along the malecon - has a pre-Inca cemetery that was excavated in the 1950s (but is closed for protection/restoration as of now). There are other sites sprinkled around Ecuador's coastal countryside within an easy day trip of La Libertad. You can take a bus or charter a taxi/van to drive you east out of town along the Ruta del Sol, aka the Ruta del Spondylus* - the highway is popular with Ecuadorean vacationers and is similar to stretches of California's Highway 1, with sandy cliffs, broad beaches and surf. A true adventurer will rent a car and compete for road space with the kamikaze-like average Ecuadorean driver. True cowards like us ride along in the back seat of a car rented and driven by close personal friends. Seat belts securely cinched.
* The Pacific thorny oyster, Spondylus princeps, is a bivalve commonly found throughout Pacific coastal waters from Mexico's Sea of Cortez in the north, all the way south to Peru. Its two shells, which can grow to the size of salad plates, figured very heavily in pre-columbian jewelry and art. The outside of the shells are beautifully spiny. The inner edges as well as occasionally the exterior of the shells naturally develop shades of red-orange, pink, violet and pearly white - perfect material for the skilled artisan. Visit any archaeological museum in Ecuador and you will see samples of both the shells and the artifacts made from them. In present-day Ecuador these seashells are still popular; still made into jewelry; and the shells are sold near the shores where they are found, in roadside stands along the coastal highway - "the Spondylus route."
So much for background info. The point of this post is that the crew of s/v Impala, whose vessel was then residing in Puerto Lucia's boat yard, had a rental car and one fine October day they invited us on a road trip up the coast for a bit of turismo. As we drove east out of La Libertad the flat, scrubby coastline gradually turned into rolling coastal hills, and then to cliffs with rocky reefs and long stretches of sandy beaches (see preceding photos). We drove through a succession of small towns, some with no apparent names. The countryside became hillier with more vegetation. We passed a couple of small churches with unusual, Tyrolean or Russian Orthodox-style wooden towers with onion-shaped domes. Sadly we did not stop to investigate these anomalies further, because we had bigger fish to fry:
The town of Valdivia.
All of Valdivia is built upon ancient sand dunes and the village extends right down to the beach itself. It is very old, as was confirmed after an enormous flash flood struck Valdivia in the early 1950s. The rush of water cut a deep channel through the middle of the town, and exposed layer upon layer of pre-Inca ceramics and other artifacts. Archaeologists soon got word of the discovery and arrived to investigate. Valdivia's little archaeological museum tells the story of the excavation's findings, dating from 8000 BC to the present. The museum is built right on top of the archaeological site, which is a pretty clever way of putting a roof over the area and preserving what's still buried in the sand. Purists may complain that the museum is crude and amateurish, but we feel it's unfair to compare this little village museum to larger, better-financed national museums such as in Quito and Cuenca - where Valdivia's significant artifacts were spirited away. Valdivia's village museum is well worth a day trip from La Libertad. We found the collections fairly extensive and well organized, and if you speak Spanish you'll find the museum docent very informative. Tip her well after she gives her talk; she has a little girl to support.
But wait. That's not all...
[Part II soon coming]