We decided to go to Vinces on the back of buying some delicious chocolate produced from the Pepa de Oro cooperative stand at a food fair in Guayaquil. The other reason was that I wanted to see if it deserved the mantle of Little Paris that it has been given here. I didn´t think it would…and it doesn´t.
Ecuadorians seem to be heartbreakingly proud of whatever settlement they are from. I say heartbreaking because often it is really hard to work out why. I try to respect the lack of cynicism but sometimes I just end up disillusioned with the sense of unreality. One of the guys who used to work on my street fixing fridges is from Vinces and he was always inviting me to go back with him one weekend to visit his family and go drinking with his mates. He said everyone was friendly and Vinces was really nice. The people definitely seemed really friendly but on the other point I just don´t really get where he was coming from. Somewhere in my brain he´d planted this idea of sitting at a cool riverside bar drinking beer and listening to salsa but in Vinces that bar is still a dream.
Anyway, Vinces is a small communal town on the Ecuadorian coastal plain, just inside the province of Los Rios, about 2 hours north of Guayaquil. No major highways pass through which is the main reason I´d never been there. However there is a more direct route by river and in the 19th Century this was the main route for exporting cacao, a trade which made some local plantation owners seriously rich.
I´ve read articles suggesting that Vinces still has some vestiges of this grand past in the form of attractive old buildings and a mini Eiffel Tower. But as soon as we drew into town I knew it was just like any other in the region: busy, dusty and not very pretty. As we approached the main park I caught a glimpse of the mini Eiffel Tower – it looked even tinnier than I´d expected. MF made some told you so noises and I started to regret the 2 hour drive.
It didn´t help that it was one of these grey overcast days we get here which just seem to magnify and dust and grime. At least the little square was in good nick having recently been remodelled and all the beaches were filled with middling to aging Vinceños who looked on in amusement/bemusement at Naomi and I (we don´t fit in).
Here´s a photo of the Eiffel Tower. It looks quite cool. Trust me, it´s not. I think I must have seen a similar shot in a magazine that had increased my expectations. Why have an Eiffel Tower at all? The plantation owners wanted a little bit of Paris to go with their wealth so why not build a library, a university, a nice boulevard or a big park. Vinces is still waiting.
The town is located on a wide curve in the river. There are a couple of footbridges at different points so we did a little circular walk. There is even a beach of sorts (a sandbank) though I didn´t see anyone brave enough to bathe in the river. It could become a really nice place to go and relax with the following:
· A lick of paint
· Plants and trees
· Public toilets
· Imaginative play area for kids
· Knowledge centre and public library
· Civic space
Not beyond the realms of possibility.
We did see one nice building. Here it is.
We didn´t see anywhere nice at all to have lunch so we drove off in search of a hotel called Hostería Señor de los Caballos. I kept asking direction until I was sure they were coinciding. We took a paved road out of town that passed banana plantations and ended up in a little village called Antonio Sotomayor, also on the east bank of the river. It seemed like most of the village were playing or watching football but we found someone to direct us along a stony track towards the hotel. We bumped along for 10 minutes and I started to wonder if the mission was really worth it. However the hotel is really nice – creative, attractive design to create a totally relaxing ambience. We convinced them to serve us lunch (usually reservation only) although it was pretty average and then enjoyed the boating lake, swimming pool and loungers. Didn´t have time for horse riding but normally there are a whole series of activities for guests.
It looks like there are 2 equidistant routes to Vinces from Guayaquil. We went via Daule and Palestina and returned via Babahoyo. There is more traffic on the latter highway and subsequently it´s slower.