I'm in the town of Moyobamba, Peru, population of around 55,000. I'm going to stay here for a week and recharge my batteries. After two and a half months of backpacking through Ecuador and northern Peru, it's time for a break.
First, my thoughts about my trip through Ecuador. I started in Tumbes, at the border with Colombia, and spent my first nights in Ibarra, and which was followed by Atuntaqui. These two towns have a lot of history and are very nice places to visit. I found them a bit on the cool side for my liking. After Atuntaqui I went to Quito. I was there for a week and two days. It is cold in Quito, as expected, due to its very high elevation. From Quito, I traveled to Santo Domingo and a much warmer climate. But, Santo Domingo is not a town worth visiting, so don't bother if you happen to pass through the area. As I was on my way to the coast I stopped in the town of El Carmen. This is another forgettable place.
Finally, I arrived at the coast in the town of Pedernales. My original plan was to go north to Esmeraldas, but the overwhelming opinion of the locals I talked to was "don't go, it's a dangerous place". So, I took their advice and skipped Esmeraldas. I liked Pedernales, but I didn't like the searing-hot sun. Even after 7 years in Tucson, Arizona, and 9 years in Barranquilla, Colombia, the hot sun felt much more intense on the Ecuadoran coast. As I continued south, I visited Canoa, a tiny fishing town and quite likable except for the sun cooking you, then San Vicente, another town that is too hot and is loaded with fishermen and shrimp farms everywhere around it, then the resort town of Bahia de Caraquez. I didn't like the touristy side of Bahia, but the old town side isn't so bad. Then I went inland to Tosagua for one night, nothing much to say about this little town, then on to Portoviejo. I did like Portoviejo, enough to consider putting it on my top-20 list of potential new homes. After Portoviejo I went further inland to Montecristi. I liked this town enough to keep it on the top-20 list along with Portoviejo. That was followed by Manta, too big for my liking, then Jipijapa was added to my top-20 list (I liked Jipijapa). Then, I continued down the coast through San Lorenzo, Puerto Lopez, Salinas, and Playas, spending one or two nights in each. None of which are on my top 20 list.
Heading inland again, I skipped Guayaquil due to what people were telling me about how dangerous the city can be, especially for a solo traveler. I went east of town to a small town called Milagro. Milagro is a decent-enough small town with a lot of agriculture around it, especially pineapple farms. Then came Christmas in Quevedo. while it's not particularly beautiful, it is walking-friendly and also has many animal sculptures all along the downtown sidewalks that are a lot of fun for the children. Next to Ambato, sitting at close to 8500 feet elevation, it's a bit on the chilly side, too much so for me. I then moved on to Puyo with a climate much more to my liking. In fact, I liked Puyo enough to put it on my top-10 list. Nice little town, and great climate. Next, Cuenca. Cuenca is on the UNESCO World Heritage list and for good reason. If you like history this is a good place to visit. But be prepared for weather that might be on the chilly side, and wet. From Cuena, I started my way back to the coast and warmer weather. I stopped for a night in a smaller town called Santa Isabel, perched on the side of the mountains. Why it was put there I can't imagine, when the valley floor was below and had better temps. Anyway, from there I went to Machala, on the coast of southern Ecuador. Machala is nice, but too big for me, and is growing, a lot. There is a lot of new development in that small city.
From Machala, I started back inland to visit a few more pueblos in or near the mountains. The First was Catamayo. I like Catamayo enough to put it on my Top 10 list. Then came Loja (a nice place to visit but I wouldn't want to live there - too cold and wet) and Vilcabamba. Vilca has a large ex-pat population, some say as much as a few thousand. I met at least a dozen ex-pats from different countries, all of whom live in the Vilca area. I wouldn't live there, for me, it's too small. I like a small town, but not that small. From Vilcabamba, I headed west again, to the coast, this time passing through Catacocha and Santa Rosa, but little towns but not particularly impressive in any way. I arrived in Huaquillas, at the border with Peru, on January 16. I spent one night there, then crossed into Peru on January 17.
In general, I found the people of Ecuador more friendly than the people in Colombia. But, I found the towns to be dirtier, especially along the coast. Many are terribly littered along the streets and out of the towns. The mountain towns/cities I found to be too cold, and the coastal towns/cities to be searing hot. The other thing I noticed is that in western Ecuador, which is pretty much all either sand or a plain, the green plants are a lackluster green because they are covered in dust and sand. It makes for not-so-pretty scenery. So, having passed through or visited 31 towns/cities in Ecuador, I have two on my top 10 list - Catamayo and Puyo.
I started my Peru visit on January 17. As of today, January 29, I have visited six towns. This town I am in is also on my top 10 list - Moyobamba. In fact, it is at a higher position than both Catamayo and Puyo. I will be here in Moyobamba until February 3. On the third, I will head for the town of Cajamarca, then on to the coast, again.
As for the rest of Peru, I can plan my trip to Lima and a bit further south, but not much further, because of the political problems (roadblocks, protests, etc). If you're not aware of what's happening in southern Peru, former president Castillo tried to stage his own coup, but it failed, and he went into exile, was caught, and is now in prison. His followers, mostly poor farmers and mostly in the southern and eastern highlands of Peru, have been protesting his imprisonment. At any rate, right now, the roads heading south of Pisco are blocked, preventing me from going south along the coast, and the roads going east toward Cuzco or Lake Titicaca are also blocked. Right now, there is no way to go south or east by bus. We'll see how things change, or don't change, in the coming couple of weeks. Then I'll decide if I fly out of Peru or can find a bus that can get through to Chile or Bolivia.
Check back frequently for updates and new photos.