It was our third time at the small fishing village in Ecuador’s Manabí Province. But the first time it was sunny. Previous visits in July and August were great for whale watching, but left our days cloudy and cold. And the change in weather made all the difference. I could finally see why our uncle was so taken by this quaint coastal town.
We stayed at Hostería Mandála, which lies at the very edge of a bustling boardwalk filled with vendors, fresh seafood and bars that sit directly in the sand. A walk to your right takes you into near seclusion where we scoured the shores for beach rocks and chased fiddler crabs. The Pacific water was warm, while the waves gentle enough for a swim. Pink and orange sunsets set the scene every night for playful silhouettes dancing along the horizon.
It was relaxing, albeit tiring in a way that beach vacations can be between all the activities under the hot sun. And I found myself spending most of my time in a hammock. Listening to the sound of the ocean. Rising only to take another lazy walk through the surf or fill my belly with something from the sea.
My favorite meal of the trip was at Restaurante El Pelicano in Salango, about a ten minute drive south. I ordered the seafood soup which was highlighted on the message board outside, as well as the camerón al ajillo. While we waited for the two person kitchen to prepare dishes for six, I came across a photo of Anthony Bourdain. And I was immediately glad I had ordered two entrees. The soup was delicious. The broth deeply flavorful. The seafood cooked to perfection and bursting with salty sweetness.
Other big wins included the pulpo al ajillo from Sadhana. The octopus was finely chopped and simmered in a delicious garlic butter sauce keeping it super tender in the way you want octopus to be.
And then there was the pasta from Bella Italia. Homemade and cooked al dente, I had the carbonara and my husband had the mushroom cream sauce. Forged from the Andes Mountains, these were no white buttons. They were meaty and earthy with the right amount of chew.
With meals ranging from a few bucks to less than ten per plate, it was the kind of vacation where even though you had a stove. You didn’t want to use it.