Left Marina Puerto Lucia 9.Dec.2010 at 0845. Destination: Panama. Current position is S00deg.06'/W081deg.25', about 65 mi. off Ecuador's north coast, heading north. Overnight breeze was SW to S, 10-16, w/ SW choppy rolly swells. Gradually decreased this a.m. to now, SW 7-12kt., SW swell reduced somewhat. Partly cloudy; warm; MS has bronchitis w/ sinusitis & is queasy from sea swells & Rx's, but all's well. Very few birds, & only small schools of flying fish, seen so far; but lots of freighters, pangas & fishing nets to avoid, even 60+ mi.offshore.
In the town of Valdivia, around the corner from the archaeological museum and a couple yards back up a side street, is a modest-appearing artisan's shop. These are the premises of Juan Esteban Orrala, sculptor.
This gentleman's workshop - like many throughout Latin America - is at the front of his and his family's house. Sr. Orrala makes and sells reproductions of pre-columbian and pre-Incan ceramics. He specializes in the pottery whistles that are characteristic of antiquities in the area around his home. His wife runs the cash-flow and negotiation sides of the business.
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."
Downtown La Libertad, Ecuador, has the most extensive fish market open to the regular fish-buying public that we've seen since Ensenada, Mexico. Whatever's running offshore, will quickly find its way into the fishing fleet's nets and thence to the Mercado de Mariscos. Any local taxicab can take you there, no problemo.
Have you ever been to the Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle? The atmosphere at the Mercado de Mariscos is similar: well-controlled chaos but without the fish-tossing. Which Ecuadoreans find unseemly. Anyway, all the people (mostly men) selling their fish at the Mercado de Mariscos are shouting out what they're selling, and their prices, to everyone who walks in. I have enough trouble understanding one voice speaking Spanish to me; 5 voices hollering all at once about names of fish I don't recognize, is more than I can manage. On the other hand, a place like this is GB's Disneyland.
Marina Puerto Lucia sees a lot of snowy egrets - wading birds who in this environment have actually taught themselves to (clumsily) dive for fish. There are the other usual suspects: great egrets, cormorants, the occasional brown and masked boobies, and terns. Early mornings, the sandpipers (or are they plovers?) graze along the breakwater in pairs. Sometimes, when the anchovettas are running all the long-legged birds crowd along the dock and on boats' mooring lines (andfenders) for the best fishing spot.
I like Puerto Lucia. There's always something going on in the marina itself most of the year, though it's generally fairly low-key until about November, when "the season" starts and people start either prepping their boats for cruising east to Central America, or gearing up for the local sailing season with its warmer, sunnier weather and southwesterly winds.
The marina hosts a sailing club, which has sailing courses especially for children and teenagers. They have dinghy races most weekends during June through September, which start at the launch ramp right in front of the med-moored sailboats. Hang out on your own deck and watch them try to sail along the fairway in too-light wind, eventually giving up and getting towed outside the breakwater by grabbing on to the back of the committee power-dinghy. There are a few larger sailboats with adults aboard, that sail on weekends out of Marina Puerto Lucia and the nearby Marina Salinas; I think there may some mild rivalry between the two yacht clubs but I haven't eavesdropped on the conversations enough to know for sure. And, of course there are always small sportfishing boats for hire.
Ecuador's top two destinations for cruising boats are Bahia de Caraquez along the coast toward the Colombian border; and Puerto Lucia, the marina nestled between the towns of La Libertad and Salinas and just east of Punta Santa Elena, South America's westernmost point. Find the Galapagos Islands on a map and draw a line due east toward the Ecuadorean mainland and look for a pointy pice of land sticking out to the west: that's about where Punta Santa Elena and Puerto Lucia are.
We have not (yet) visited Bahia de Caraquez so I can only report that the folks we've met who have been there have said they've generally enjoyed it, and felt their boats were safe enough at anchor or on a mooring (Bahia's only two options for now) to travel away from them for weeks at a time. They say there's a fellow in Bahia you can hire to watch your boat, and they've said their boats have all been fine upon their return. We hear the official Ecuadorean entry/exit paperwork in Bahia is totally do-it-yourself; I don't know what the fees are but they're undoubtedly much cheaper than using an agent like we were required to do when we entered at Puerto Lucia. It seems that more cruisers who sail to Ecuador stop at Bahia rather than Puerto Lucia - I'm guessing because it's cheaper. So, why then did we choose to travel 120 miles further southand west, and pay larger coin, to stay for 5-1/2 months at Puerto Lucia?
Because we intended to do a lot of inland travel and wanted a secure place to leave our boat, plus quick and easy access to long-range transportation. Puerto Lucia has all that: it's a gated resort/marina with 24/7 security and lots of amenities; plus, it's only a 2-1/2 hour, first-class, $3.50 bus ride from La Libertad to Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest city. Guayaquil's an excellent bus and airport hub for getting to the rest of Ecuador, South America and beyond. Buses leave La Libertad for Guayaquil every 8 minutes during the day, and there are many taxi/charter van options if for whatever reason you can't take a bus. Puerto Lucia also boasts Ecuador's only boat yard so if something goes kerflooey on your boat between Panama and the Galapagos, you'll be putting in here whether you want to or not.
Following are other pluses and minuses of having a boat at Puerto Lucia. First, the minuses:
Underway - halfway to Ecuador
The 1st 2 days from Costa Rica to Ecuador were fine - 6/5 was glorious all day & nite - max. 15 kt., broad reach; partly cloudy day, starry night. Then a low pressure system nobody forecast, arose on 6/6. Life got breezy & very bouncy - max.25kt. from S/SSW, max. 9'-10' SSW seas. We detoured SSE & successfully skimmed the low's leading edge. Now on 6/7 forecast is for lumpy seas & 20s wind for next 48 hrs. Also? Big thunderstorm activity expanding W from Colombia. We're squeezed betw. that & the low system we spent 6/6 dodging. Seas are still uncomfortable but all's well. Haven't run engine much but now we're @ 02.56N/081.12W, & motorsailing due S. The faster we close SW w/ mainland Ecuador, the easier our ride - in theory. m
Underway - Costa Rica to Ecuador
5.June, 1500Z position (0900, Central time): 06deg.44'N/082deg.50'W - about 110 mi. south of Costa Rica/Panama border. Entering the InterTropical Convergence Zone. West wind 5-9 kt., seas 5'-7' w/ 1'-2' chop, skies overcast w/ intermittent squalls, cabin temp=85F. Meaning, hot, muggy, rolly. But all's well & the sailing's easy. Dodging freighters all night. Haven't yet gotten rained on very much.