Posted by: ghostdawg2 | July 6, 2009

Highlights on the Ecuador Coast: Ecuadorian Food and Ecuador Beaches by Linda McFarlin / June 28th 2009

Ecuador (Image: Flickr)Ecuador (Image: Flickr)

Here are highlights of our remaining tour of the Ecuador coast with Ruy Quevedo.  Having surfed, hiked and explored this region for much of his life, our guide Ruy was able to easily steer us away from the boring, the dangerous and the unpalatable side of the southwest coast of Ecuador.

North of Ayampe there’s a small port town called Salango.  Just off the coast is an island that is considered sacred.

  The Presley Norton archaeological museum is worth a visit, housing archeological finds.  But lunch turned out to be the highlight of our stop in Salango.

Restaurant Delfin Magico - Salango

I’ll be talking about the extraordinary meal I had there for years to come!
I’ve eaten snails, snakes and euphemistically named mountain oysters, but never have I seen or tasted anything like the dish called percebez, served to us at Restaurant Delfin Magico.  Ruy told us that this delicacy costs $80 Euros or $100 U.S. per kilo in Spain. At $10 a plate in Ecuador, it was still a pretty expensive treat.

Piles of percebez, also spelled percebes, filled the serving bowl brought to our table.  Looking like part of some underwater sea monster or a metallic octopus, each piece consisted of about 20 long tentacles encased in what had the look and texture of metal chain mail worn by knights of old.  At the end of each tentacle was a two-piece shell of pink and green, resembling a bear claw or shark tooth.  Very beautiful. Dixie and I saved the smelly shells to make jewelry.  I’ve got a stunning necklace in mind.

Ruy showed us the trick to reaching the 1-inch tasty morsel inside the barnacle:  grab the shell with the thumb and first finger of one hand and hold the tentacle with the thumb and first finger of the other hand.

Twist in opposite directions with each hand, then twist again in the other direction, and pull.  We dipped the flesh in lemon juice and cilantro sauce.  Delicious!

Percebez, or goose barnacles are harvested by hand at low tide, which is very dangerous work. Harvesters have to time the ins and outs of the tide or risk being thrown into the rocks or the very barnacles they are trying to cut loose.

And watch out!  While you are eating them, the barnacles may spray you with liquid, so wear a bib and pay attention.  This means the ones you are eating are fresh.  Use another napkin to dry off the people nearby who get squirted.

Another warning:  Don’t eat the plankton filter that sometimes comes out at the end of the flesh when you pull it out of the tentacle.

Here’s a comment from L.A. Times’ writer Anthony Capella:  “The shell itself contains only the sex organs, and they’re not usually eaten, although anyone adventurous enough to devour a plateful of mollusc feet is unlikely to be put off by its genitalia.”

Goose neck barnacles were not the only new taste sensation I experienced at Restaurant Delfin Magico.  We also dined on grilled snook and spondylus with lime.

Spondylus is another rare dish from the sea, a bivalve mollusk also known as a spiny oyster.  I’ve heard that divers must plunge way down deep to recover the orange and purple shells that are turned into jewelry and art objects.  Ecuador’s coast provides much of the spondylus used in the Andes for jewelry.

Hosteria Mandala – Puerto Lopez

Puerto Lopez rests in a great setting—a beautiful blue bay with sandy beach.  Deck chairs, hammocks, volley ball and juice bars help to distract you from the fact that there was lots of trash along the road and in town as we entered.

Beaches on the north side of town are cleaner, away from all the fishing boats in the bay. The specialty of the region is called corviche caliente, which is a pastry made of bananas and flour stuffed with fish.
Our destination was not the beach.

We headed for Hosteria Mandala and a tour of the rooms and grounds with Jill, the hosteria manager.

Owned by Aurelio, an Italian artist whose work was evident throughout the hosteria and Maja, his Swiss wife, the buildings and gardens are a lush wonderland.

Aurelio designed the main building and small bungalows, each tucked privately into its own dense garden at the end of a path.  I thought I was in a fairy village.  Plants and trees of every kind grow in dense profusion.  There are endemic plants and flowers and many exotics.

The main building has a music room on the second floor, a cactus garden on the third floor and roof gardens with flowers, herbs and pools, artfully built on the roof of the carport.  The long roof garden takes you to steps that descend into the magic of the garden area, cared for by 3 gardeners.

The cabanas have no television.  Built about ten years ago, the hosteria has twenty rooms, some for families and others for couples.

Alandaluz – south of Puerto Lopez

Alandaluz is a remarkable place.  When we walked into the main structure, with its towering beamed ceilings made of gigantic bamboo, I knew we were in an unusual environment.

Built in 1987, with 20 rooms and 9 bungalows, and a large swimming pool, Alandaluz is known as the most complete ecotourism development in Ecuador and has won numerous national and international awards. Most of the employees are locals.

“Those of us in the Alandaluz family feel that we are part of Mother Earth; that she is our only home and a beautiful garden where our children should play. Therefore, together with the communities of southern Manabí, Alándaluz has built a place that is more humane, fair, fraternal, and beautiful.”

Situated just behind the beach, this hotel and ecolodge focuses on maintaining a sustainable and healthy environment, both on their grounds and within the local community. Ecological solutions include recycling and compost toilets in the rooms. The hotel runs a volunteer program and also operate a wildlife sanctuary at Cantalpiedra.

There are plenty of birds on the hotel’s extensive grounds—frigate birds over the ocean and numerous bright-colored birds flitting among the palms and exotic trees.  The bamboo main buildings are very interesting architecturally, as is the newly-built open-air meeting room in another part of the compound.

The Hosteria will arrange a number of activities, including scuba diving, horse-back riding, whale watching and boat tours to Isla de la Plata.

If you want to support meaningful, sustainable, socially and culturally responsible eco tourism, make Alandaluz your destination.  They are proving that sustainable long-term projects are more productive than short-term ones that damage the environment.

Check with the management regarding swim conditions at the hostel’s beach.  There is a strong undertow. While we didn’t go to the Machalilla National Park, the beach at Los Frailes is excellent and usually quiet deserted, so you can enjoy swimming and a picnic.

Hosteria Islamar – near Puerto Lopez toward Ayampe

There is a tall hill, or a small mountain, 9 kms south of Puerto Lopez on the ocean side.  A Swiss man owns most of the hill and he has the romantic-looking Hosteria Islamar, on top with a rounded white tower.  There is a restaurant/bar with fresh fish and seafood with an international menu.

The hosteria consists of 5 modern bungalows with tile roofs, private patios and modern furnishings.
Further up the road at the very top is a lookout with a lovely view in every direction from the wooden lookout tower.  Be careful of missing wooden boards on the floor of the tower.  We made a small donation to the volunteers who patrol.

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