Our third week of the travelling classroom was at the Surpacifico Spanish School in Manta. As Chris has been busy sorting through his many photos from the jungle and the Galapagos, it’s Alex back again with an update this time.
Our guide book has just one paragraph about the coastal city of Manta, basically telling you to steer clear as there’s nothing to do. We weren’t expecting much from the week, so have been really pleased as we had a great time.
The city is pretty much as described by the Rough Guide, not much to look at or do in the centre. It’s a major fishing port so lots of boats and some very tasty seafood. The weather was nice, very warm and sunny but not too humid. There is however a lingering smell of sewage (especially on the south side of the city where we were staying), which doesn’t help the place.
However, the Spanish school was excellent and the activities organised, as part of the travelling classroom course we were on, were great fun. The school is run by Manuel, who also owns Montañita school (our 4th and final week on the travelling classroom). He and his wife Rosi were really lovely and welcoming. The school is above their home and we spent the week in and out of the school and relaxing in their garden by the pool.
We were in a homestay again this week and were collected from the airport on Sunday then dropped off with Gloria, our host for the week. She lives in a large complex with a confusing layout of several flats in annexes spread over a few buildings within a large walled plot. The whole place is within a gated community, with permanent (and very friendly) security at the entrance. We had our own separately accessed suite with living room, bedroom and bathroom, so we could come and go as we liked. Our bathroom was the only downside, being very dated, smelly, and with an electric “death shower” complete with dubious wiring and all in need of a good scrub. However, Gloria was very welcoming and seemed to already know Chris was a veggie (and double checked what he ate!), plus what time and where we needed to be for school on Monday. She made us feel at home and we ate dinner with her before going back to our room to chill out on the sofa and watch a film (our first TV in weeks).
We were given a lift to school on the Monday (which was really nice as it was a 30 minute walk and we were due at 8am). We were shown round by Manuel and met Laura, a Dutch intern with the school for 5 months. We then started our class with Jenny, our teacher for the week. She was fantastic and really dynamic. We spent a lot of the week chatting and laughing, and she was great at explaining things. It was a really good way to learn, and just reminded us that the right teacher really does make a huge difference!
We had several activities planned for the week, the first day there was a cooking class and welcome meal with Manuel and Rosi. We had a few hours to kill before the meal so we walked into the city centre with another two girls who had just joined the travelling classroom starting in Manta. There wasn’t much to see in the city but it was good to chat to Jacqueline, a Dutch medical student and Stephanie, a Swiss accountant. We got along really well, although at times they struggled to understand us (well, mostly just Chris he’s trying to slow down!), especially Stephanie whose English wasn’t as good. It must be exhausting to be learning Spanish and then trying to communicate in another foreign language all day, we find it hard enough just learning Spanish and then speaking our own language!
We managed to find a nice park in the centre of town and sat for a rest in the shade. We were just relaxing when a very large iguana threw itself out of the tree above our heads! We looked up and saw a few more hiding in the trees. Apparently there was also a sloth in the park but we never saw it (we think it was a sloth, it was described to us in Spanish as being like a “lazy bear”). We walked a bit further and went to a fairground which was pretty deserted and closed in the afternoon, and a local clothes market mainly filled with tat. We still had time before dinner so we went to a fake Starbucks for an ice-cream and smoothie before heading back to school to chill out by the pool.
During the cooking class we learnt how to make Encocado de Camaron, a very tasty dish with coconut and prawns. This was served with salads and rice and a vegetarian ceviche made with palm hearts. We all sat around drinking beers and talking to Manuel, Rosi and Laura. It was great to be able to have a good conversation with them in simple Spanish.
On Tuesday we had a planned afternoon of parapiente (paragliding). I was quite nervous about this, not being known for my willingness to try adventure sports! But I decided just to bite the bullet and do it. Having said that I wasn’t quite prepared when we got out of the car to be told I should go immediately to the launch point! I chickened out and Jacqueline went first, followed by Chris. They went soaring up into the air and out over the ocean up and down the coast. Each trip was about 20 minutes. Then came my turn, I was strapped into the harness, attached so I would be sitting in the lap of the instructor when we lifted off. They sorted out the big parachute behind us and then we stood up and ran towards the cliff edge. This was probably the most scary moment, when you’re not quite sure if the parachute has got you and you’ve just run off a cliff over the ocean! We caught the wind and glided up and over the coast. You could see for miles, it was an incredible view over the ocean and back along the coast, we could see pelicans diving for fish below us. The instructor was very good, I’d explained I was nervous and he reminded me to stop gripping the straps quite so tightly! I even managed a wave when we flew down close to the others for photos. It was really amazing, very peaceful and slow moving up in the air. It was an unforgettable experience, so I’m glad I went for it.
We went for a nice lunch on the coast at Crucita afterwards and I had a very good ceviche. We then went to a tagua nut workshop and shop. We saw them cutting the tagua nut (which comes from a palm tree) using very large rotating saw blades and other powertools. It’s an amazing material and can be used to make some beautiful jewellery and ornaments. We had fun in the shop choosing some nice bits and pieces.
Wednesday was a free day but we decided to join in with the optional activity of a trip to the nearby humid Forest of Pacoche. We saw lots of different wildlife and plants. The guide was very keen, pointing out plants and insects and even picking up a dead tarantula to show us, even dead it’s still creepy! We also saw another Equis snake (the really poisonous one from the jungle), this time the guide grabbed a stick and started poking it to check it was asleep. This seemed a strange method of making sure we didn’t get bitten, but the snake remarkably stayed asleep! It was a fun afternoon and amazing to find such a different climate so close to the beach.
For Thursday’s activity we went to a Panama hat school, apparently the Panama hat actually originated in Ecuador. We saw lots of students at various stages of hat making. The process takes several months of work involving spending hours bent in an uncomfortable position over the hat as it is balanced on a stool. It all seemed a bit mad for a hat that they’ll sell at a loss for $70, but the government must see it as the only way to keep the tradition alive.
We then visited a museum about a man called José Eloy Alfaro, who was leader of a revolution in Ecuador in the 19th century, became president twice, staged a coup in an attempt to become president for a third time, but was eventually killed by an angry mob. We didn’t actually learn this at the museum though as the tour was conducted in extremely rapid and complex Spanish! It was however a pretty interesting display and featured an impressive mausoleum for his ashes. The tour finished in a random train carriage, apparently Alfaro also brought trains to Ecuador!
Friday was another free afternoon followed by dinner and drinks near the school. We found a restaurant with a huge choice of food, including veggie options. We had some tasty pizza and pasta dishes then headed to a nearby bar. The bar staff were playing random YouTube music videos on the TV, including a few with Spanish subtitles. It was great to hear something other than reggaeton for a change! It was a fun evening and we piled five of us into a taxi and dropped everyone back to their houses on our way home.
On the Saturday we were up early for a day trip to Isla de la Plata. This is also known as the poor man’s Galápagos because of the species of birds you can see there. We had forgotten to tell Gloria we’d be off early but she knew the itinerary so was up and had breakfast ready for us, a very good start! We headed to the school and then in the car winding along the coast for about an hour and a half to the town of Puerto Lopez. Once there we checked in with the tour company and were taken to our boat. I was nervous as I’ve been feeling really carsick over here and we had been warned that the one hour boat ride could be quot rough. We set off and somehow I managed to be sitting right near the front, which is where the ride is most bumpy! It was definitely choppy and every few waves we’d come crashing down, I was clinging on to Chris and it took me a while to relax, but I realised I wasn’t feeling sick and started to enjoy it.
When we reached the island we were given a banana and a very tasty piece of banana cake. We saw turtles and some clown fish close to the surface by the boat. On the island we were put into a group with a Danish couple and taken on a 2 1/2 hour walk round the island. We saw two types of Booby (a type of bird): Blue-footed and Nazca or Masked, plus Frigate birds too. The island was looking very dry and dead, apparently it completely changes and is all green in the summer season. We’d visited at a good time though as the Boobies were nesting and some had chicks. We were able to walk right up to them, you only had to keep 2m away, they have no natural land predators so just nest on open ground. It was a really good tour and a nice warm up for our trip to the Galapagos (planned for a week from 9th November).
After the walk we went snorkelling. Well Chris went snorkelling, and I attempted to but I kept breathing in sea water and getting stung by small jellyfish so I headed back to the boat. Turns out I’m not very comfortable in the sea (could be interesting for our surfing lessons in Montañita, followed by a week with snorkelling in the Galapagos!). Chris tried out the GoPro underwater and got some pretty good shots though.
The boat trip back was even more bumpy, I think the captain wanted to get home and had decided we all had strong stomachs so he’d just go for it. We were bouncing around and holding on tight while the little kids opposite us were somehow fast asleep! We were met at the dock by our lift back to Manta and got back in good time, although still feeling like we were moving most of the evening thanks to the boat. We spent our last night in Manta just chilling out and packing up, ready to leave early the next day. It was Halloween that night but we hadn’t really thought about it or made any plans, which surprised Gloria who was off out to karaoke until 3am! Apparently Halloween is pretty big here, but we were saving ourselves for our next destination, Montañita. Montañita was our final week on the travelling classroom and is a very small coastal town famous for surfing and partying, particularly as we were visiting over a national holiday. But that’s for another post…
Here are a few more photos from our week in Manta: