Los Barcos y Buitres de San José

Apr 26, 2018

It was late in the afternoon on a rainy yet sultry September day along Ecuador’s northern coast. Edie and I had already wrapped the better part of a twelve-day trip to recon the Pacific Ocean along Ecuador’s shores. From Cuenca to Guayaquil and then Salinas, we had driven. Navigating north from there, I had taken every back road along or near the coast as El Fantasma’s GPS drew a fine bead on San Lorenzo, near the Colombian border.

We took on sand and rocks, rain and mud during nine days of difficult atmospherics. It was fun driving if you like adventure but not so great for any meaningful photography. We had originally planned a return trip that was more inland. However, in hopes of nicer light, we were returning southward, again along coastal roads. The rain just kept up. Neither love nor money was buying sunshine.

At the precise moment that my patience had worn as thin as the soles of cheap shoes, a single ray pierced the grey, drizzly blanket. Five minutes later, the sky began to quickly clear from the west in front of a stiff onshore wind. We were somewhere south of El Mangle but still north of La Boca on a pig trail of a road when we rolled into the small town of San José. By then, the sun had come out but it was somewhat weak from mixed clouds and the diminishing light of late afternoon.

Edie and I clamored down from El Fantasma, rejoicing in the sunshine and glad to get the fresh ocean breeze on our faces. Before me lay the Pacific at low tide. The beach’s slope was as gentle as I’ve seen in Ecuador, a mud flat laced with sand stretched out a couple of hundred yards to the crashing surf. The sand was white but the shallow flat, roiled by waves, had taken on a dirty brown tinge. I smiled as I could see that faint ribbon of Pacific turquoise where the horizon met the deepening waters.

Over 100 Great Egrets and buzzards were patrolling the shoreline for tasty morsels from the brine that had been lost or discarded by local fishermen. A handful of colorful boats lay askew in the mud, their hulls hungry for the incoming tide. Two of them had names painted starkly in white on their burnt-orange sides. The names proclaimed, “Dios es Fiel” or “God is Faithful” in English, ever reminding me of the devout Catholicism of Ecuador.

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In the distance, two women on foot traversed the slick mud flat carrying a few fish. Along the edge of the surf, several boats spoke of latecomers unable to bring their craft further inland in the face of a receding tide. One craft headed back out in hopes of finding fresh fish in the nets.

Rain and grey overcast had been replaced by broken white clouds. They scudded through pale blue skies propelled by the ocean winds. The scene, with all its pieces, seemed too whimsical in a way. But, that’s a part of the quaintness of these small fishing villages along remote coastal areas in Ecuador; they all have a storybook air about them. It’s what young boys, like me as a twelve year old, used to read stories about before their mom told them to turn off their bedside lamps. Yes, that’s been some time ago now. The camera comes up firing as the memory card starts soaking up the simple magic of the scene, one that I think I might have seen in an old book, a very long time ago.

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