Machilla National Park is a preserve in the Ecuadorian Manabi Province, it incorporates beaches, a cloud forest, a dry forest, small islands and two larger islands; Salango and Isla de la Plata, the latter named for a legendary hoard of silver left by Sir Francis Drake. Wildlife is diverse and abundant here, animals range from the strange but interesting armadillos, to the typical hooting of monkeys, and to an unfathomable number of bird species. Many of the large mammals in Machalilla National Park are regionally and locally endangered, however, the Park is the only habitat outside of the Galapogos Islands where one can find the waved albatross. The ocean regions of the park are also fantastically rich providing a spectacular breeding ground for humpback whales and other marine sealife. Vegetation here includes the opuntia cactus, palo santo trees, kapok trees, and the algaroba tree.
The town thrives off the booty of the sea. Every morning dozens of small wooden sciffs, hand-built on the beach, and painted in the traditional colors of navy blue or turqoise green, juggle for a landing place on the beach to deliver their freshest catch to the trucks waiting nearby. The small trucks are also custom built with wooden-boxed bed frames for handling the fish. Some are ornately built while others are simple in fashion.
The butchering of the pescado is marvelous in technique and precision. Animals of all sorts are brought out from the little sciffs, ranging from the great and colorful dorados, to the fiersome swords, to the sticky tentacles of octopi and squid, and of course there are dozens of sizes of fresh camaron. The bigger fish, (6-8ft.) are slaughtered on the spot with modified machetes whose tips have been blunted so as not to strike the sand and dull the blade. The fins are held tight and whacked off, next the tail, and finally the head. It takes a strong man to finish the job but an experienced laborer gets the task done within minutes. The guts are entrailed, the meat weighed, and off goes the cargo to nearby villages and larger cities up and down the coast. This scene is the cause for an endless and uncountable number of birds that circle the town and beach from sun-up to sun-down.
There are three main types of birds here, one a carrion, is a black and unfriendly foe, a vulture type of bird that accounts for maybe ten percent of the total bird population. Another bird accounting for less in number than the carrions, is a type of gull, a white and pleasant looking bird who stays at sea waiting for scraps of fish to float by. The third type of bird is similar to a hawk, it has a black chest and back and a white head. This bird is easily identified by two, long tail feathers, a sharp beak and an aerodynimic body; swift and fast in the air, it is this bird that becomes impossible to count. As the boats line the beach to sell their catch the hawks begin to form a large line in the sky and as one man at a time delivers a box full of fish from sciff to truck each bird has it´s chance to swoop down and attempt a steal from the tuppaware that balances on the shoulder of a working fisherman. The workers run from beach to truck trying to accomplish the task fast for fear of spoil and of course from the relentless attacks of the hawks.
The town is very quiet apart from the small cabanas lining the beach. Each one looks the same, smells the same, sells the same lime-downed coctails, the same zesty ceviches, and of course plays the same popular American songs over and over again. At about 9 or 10 in the evening however these little huts shut down, and if you´re lucky sometimes on a Friday or Saturday they might stay open til midnight.
I´ve seen as much pain here as I´ve seen happiness and it all happens on the beach. As for the pain, yesterday, during twilight, I watched as a group of vultures struggled to tear at the flesh of a dead turtle. The work was tough, painful to watch but nonetheless capturing at the same time. A week or so ago, early on a morning walk, I came upon a litter of kittens left out to burn under the hot sun, slung asleu the beach like a shovel full of feces. I saw one or two bob a head and as I almost retched onto my own feet I couldn´t do anything but walk the other way and try to forget about what I had just seen. I watched a dog die a few days ago, not dead but in the act of dying. I was studying Spanish on the beach and this dog about 20m from me kept circling near the surf. For twenty minutes I watched him pant and whimper, limp and circle again, til he finally lied down. When I came back the next day, the vultures too had claimed another victim of the hot and relentless beach.
The locals are very lively and always appear to be in a well-spirited mood. They make maybe a few dollars a day, whether they be fisherman, hostel owners, tienda owners, or sellers at the market. Not much money is needed to live a simple life and it is apparent that they don´t ask for or need more. A simple life is a happy life here, none aim too high for education, to sit and ponder heavy thoughts would be a watse of time, a game of volleyball and a little fun in the sea is just enough.
The open market in the center of town is busy everyday. Just as the beach is a craze of motion so are the open alleys under the warm tents. The mornings are the best time to go. For a dollar one can buy five bananas, two tomatoes, one potato, one onion, two carrots, a clove of garlic, and a handful of cilantro. The fruits and vegetables are literally dirt cheap, on the other hand a jar of peanut-butter here may cost as much as four or five dollars.
I´ve been here about three weeks now and I have slowly immersed myself into the culture. I speak a little more Spanish everyday. About a week ago I moved out of the Sol Inn, a hostel where I had been allowed to set up my tent for three dollars a night, and so for now I have retired to sleeping on the beach. I´ve been waiting around here the last few days to see if I might begin teaching English lessons to a group of locals, only three people have signed up though and it´s not worth my time to stay if a few more don´t join. If I can get seven to eight students by Wednesday I´ll stay and teach for a month, three times a week, for an hour and half at a time. If I don´t get enough students though, I´ll leave before the week is through and I´ll work my way north up the coast to Conoa to meet back up with Stef and Ehren whom I haven´t seen in almost a month.
Cheers and love to family and friends