<Where to go, What to do <Routes
ROUTE guayaquil - portoviejo - manta

The road north from Guayaquil is in good condition and has recently been widened and resurfaced. The landscape changes from flat fields to small hills, from green colours to light browns and greys as you pass through a dry tropical area, passing several small towns, villages selling different snacks and the hat-making centre of Montecristi just south of Manta.

The route out of Guayaquil takes you directly north on the Via Daule. You pass a barracks (Fuerte Militar Huncavilca) and lots of industrial units. Both the cities breweries (AmBev make Brahma and CCN –Compañias Cerveceria Nacionales- a subsidiary of SAB Miller, make Pilsener).

After you pass the prison (la peni) on your right, the buildings start to give way to countryside. At the roadside there are still many shacks, some distribution warehouses and the Unilever factory. A few gated residential communities are under construction. However there are also more trees and you get glimpses down to the wide River Daule on your right as well as cultivated fields and even a golf course (Guayaquil Country Club) on your left.

The road is a dual-carriageway, well paved and marked but the mix of vehicles travelling at different speeds makes it a tricky stretch to drive. If you need a break there are lots of little restaurants at the roadside. The road ploughs straight through the centre of several settlements. Watch out for traffic lights, speed bumps and pedestrians, who could well be drunk and swaying all over the place on a Saturday or Sunday evening.

After 45 km the road forks, NE past Nobol to Daule and NW towards Manabi province. This road is two-lane but still good condition and quite pleasant to drive. Note that, regardless of what the buses do, when the central yellow line is continuous, or double lined, you cannot overtake. The transit police are quite active on these routes. I once got pulled over after I swerved to avoid a bus which stopped suddenly on the brow of a small hill to let a passenger on. Returning the next day I saw the same cop in his leathers and sunglasses cruising the same stretch of road in the dark looking for miscreants.

The road passes through a few more settlements – Isidro Ayora where half the people try to wave you down to buy bags of rice which they sell from little roadside stalls in bags of various sizes, ranging from 1kg to a monster 20kg. Pedro Carbo is the last town in Guayas province. It is big enough to boast a Tia (see Tia test) and a Petrocommercial petrol station and it’s a bit of a montubio centre with the occasional rodeo. Nevertheless it is pretty much a one street town. A turning to the left just before town takes you down a dirt track to the Cordillera Chongon.

Shortly after leaving Pedro Carbo you pass under a statue of three warmongering figures and cross a bridge which marks the border line. The tarmac on the bridge is uneven. This is the first sign that your drive will no longer be as smooth. For years the road from here to Portoviejo and Manta was riddled with pot holes. The present government vowed to sort it out – not for the first time. When I travelled along it in October 2009 almost the entire road was a mess but by November 2010 I noted the road was almost complete with just a few bypass operations to complete. You won´t have to sit in a queue but maybe there will be a little dirt stretch from time to time. Maybe road markings will follow a few years later.

Along the way you have a few opportunities to stop. If you’re really hungry, La Cadena has a few simple shacks serving lunches and snacks. Better to keep on to the edge of Cascol where there is a little stop inside the Primax petrol station which sells delicious corviche, a snack native to Manabi. In other settlements you might see people on the roadside holding up a charred object. This is choclo asado – a corn on the cob cooked on a barbecue. The countryside is dry, although thee are little sections of irrigated plots. After 10km you pass a turning to Paján.

The road finally descends down into Jipijapa (/hipihapa/), a small town but the most significant in the south of Manabi. From here a road descends west to join the Ruta del Sol at Puerto Cayo. Another road ascends north, passing a giant model of a corn on the cob (symbol of the town) and continues to a summit where sellers often gather at the roadside to display their fruit and vegetables. When the road descends again, the landscape becomes very dry, scattered with ceibos trees and very dusty looking grasses. It is quite dramatic and a big contrast to the tropical greens of Guayas.

You pass a hamlet where the entire population seems to subsist on selling tortillas de maiz – there is nothing more than there a line of stalls with a few simple shacks behind them and a petrol station at the end of the line. Then, near the end of the route you pass through La Pila and, if you choose, Montecristi. In La Pila you can buy hammocks, pillows and some huge, gaudy vases and statues. People also sell pan de yucca which should be eaten hot before they get too hard and dry. After passing the shops a turning to the right takes you to Portoviejo more directly on a diversion through the middle of nowhere. Otherwise keep straight on for Manta and Montecristi.

Montecristi is famous for the production of the “Panama” hat. It was also the birthplace of the 19th century liberal Eloy Alfaro, a fact which inspired the recent construction of an expensive complex to house the constituent, then legislative assembly, responsible for overturning Ecuador’s legal framework for the umpteenth time.

The road which runs east – west between Manta and Portoviejo is in good condition so you can relax when you reach this. Turning right for Portoviejo you descend into a natural bowl. Hills rise up to your left, in fact Portoviejo is surrounded by hills which helps make it one of the hottest places in Ecuador. The road straightens and passes some love motels before the city proper begins with houses and schools. A turning to the left takes you further north into the province via a bypass. Otherwise you continue straight to a roundabout and the bus terminal. Beyond that is the centre of Portoviejo.


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