Ecuador 4: Trip to the coast into the Cayapas Mataje Ecological Reserve & Tulcan

A trip with Hans from Finca Sommerwind to the coast provided a welcome change from driving with our own vehicle and taking an old train track into the jungle was full of surprises.

Mal einen Abstecher an die Küste machen und mit einer selbst gebauten Draisine in den Urwald fahren? Diese Chance liessen wir uns nicht entgehen und fuhren mit Hans von Sommerwind an die Küste in die höchsten Mangroven und anschliessend in den Urwald. Die Weiterfahrt nach Kolumbien führte über Tulcan mit seinem einzigartigen Friedhof – ein etwas aussergewöhnliches Ziel.

Following some house keeping chores like washing laundry, cleaning the vehicle etc. we booked with Hans from Finca Sommerwind his “special” tour to the coast. Special in the sense that he is the only operator promising a train ride into the jungle along this disused railway line starting at the gold diggers town of Alto Tambo. Furthermore the trip promised to take us in what could be the worlds tallest red mangrove forests.
So we set off, Hans, Bernd, Marion, Karin and myself together with Dagmar Thum. This meant not all of us fitted into the Chevvy double cabin,a clapped-out bakkie and a heavy scale had to be delivered in San Lorenzo on the coast as well, a vibrant but poor community of African descent.

Nevertheless the ride was enjoyable and we reached San Lorenzo (via Salinas) -where, while visiting the harbour front, the police wanted to see our passports and entry papers which none of us brought along.

Some negotiations followed before we were allowed to proceed to Las Peñas, where we stopped at the La Enramada, a favourite eating place of Hans and had a huge seafood platter before going down to the hotel Playa Arena Cabañas where we were booked in.

Pool and airconditioning – pure luxury compared to our mobile abode. The warm weather on the coast was a real treat and so was the dip into the warm Pacific ocean.

(Note: La Enramada restaurant also allows camping on the beach side -they have recently added toilets to make this possible).

Next day we drove to Borbón, a harbour on the estuary of the confluence of the Rios Santiago and Cayapas.

From here we were taken by boat first to the island of La Tolita where we were amazed at the pottery shards visible on the beach of the old Tolita culture. A visit to the museum allowed insights into this pre-Inca culture from 500BC to 1500AD.

Lorenzo, the boat captain then took us deep into the red mangroves, trees approximately 20m in height, inhabited by brightly coloured crabs.

From here we rode to Limones(Valdéz) for a local type lunch.

This area of Ecuador is mainly inhabited by ex slaves from Africa who have formed their own cultural community.The community is poor and buildings look delapidated also due to the tropical conditions and high rain fall. Sometimes members of the only 5000 Cayapas indians can be seen in the town selling their crafts and acquiring goods.

Next stop were imbibing some freshly picked coconuts on an island along the way.

On our return journey to Borbón, Lorenzo took us to his manufacturing of canela pura from sugar cane juice, the ingredient that is later used to make cocada, a type of sweets when refined with peanut, coconut etc. A by-product of the process is the making of charcoal.

After a pleasant supper, too many cocktails and a good night’s sleep at our hotel in Las Peñas, Hans took us to a cacao plantation where the process of growing, harvesting and drying of cacao beans was explained. The flesh of the fruit is delicious, however is unsuitable for human consumption as it dissolves the calcium of the bone and would lead to loss of teeth.

En route Hans showed us Balsa trees, endemic to Ecuador as well as a similar looking tree, the teak.

Next stop was Alto Tambo,a gold digger town, at which the long awaited train journey began with self constructed draisines running on truck rims helping to stay on the very uneven track which has not seen any maintenance for a long time.

Amidst rain we made our way into the jungle for about 10 kilometres at which point the vehicle was centre pivoted on a jack and turned around by hand. On the way back we stopped at a waterfall for a refreshing swim, but had to negotiate a muddy and slippery path to get there.

By evening we were safely back in Ibarra at Finca Sommerwind despite rain along the way.

We said our goodbyes to other overlanders (some bigger than others…) at the customary weekend braai and left for Tulcan.

In Tulcan an unusual cemetery can be visited, famous for its finely cut hedges and trees depicting cultural figures of the past.

Before we left Karin could not resist trying fake ice cream we have seen often in this area – a sweet marshmellow-like cream with fruit taste -jummy?

This post covers the period 4th to 9th September 2016 before crossing to Colombia.

Author: Dieter

A passionate traveller and photographer with an urge to share the beauty of our planet.

2 thoughts on “Ecuador 4: Trip to the coast into the Cayapas Mataje Ecological Reserve & Tulcan”

    1. Hi Laima, the lack of regular internet access slowed us down -but we have added more especially about Colombia. Soon we reach down to Chile where we met.

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