Finding Our Gringo on la Ruta del Sol

17 Oct

la Ruta del Sol – the sun’s route … or, the route of the sun.

Three hours into the drive, a wrong turn took us here. I call it the “middle of nowhere at the middle of the world.” The road literally ended at the Pacific Ocean.

How romantic.

It was the two of us and a Chevy Spark against the world.

That’s what it felt like for a good nine hours, at least. We casually assumed the map would match the roads. And that the roads would have signage corresponding to said map.

What were we thinking, and who says roads should have signs anyway? They all go somewhere, right?

Yes, it was la Ruta del Sol that baptized us head first into an Ecuadorian adventure and ultimately leading to the pristine gates ofmap of la ruta del sol Las Palmas. It just took a while ( 7 hours too many). The road apparently had some things it wanted to teach the southern hemisphere’s newest gringos.


Dana and I have traveled all our lives. She as far as Morocco and Greece. Me, mostly in just about every major city in the continental U.S. I’ve driven the toughest roadways in Boston, Dallas, New York, Washington, DC, all without fear. So how could a two-lane highway along the mostly uninhabited Ecuadorian Pacific coast challenge a guy like me behind the wheel?

I took about two seconds.

We departed Jose Joaquin de Elmedo International Airport in Guayaquil eager to make good time on a leisurely drive we’d been told would take less than three hours.  Three minutes after I’d pulled onto the freeway, a few things became quickly apparent.

  • Taxi drivers take their work personally. It’s a competition out there.
  • Horns are for both offensive and defensive driving.
  • Left-hand turns from the right-hand lanes are perfectly acceptable.
  • Red lights mean “Stop.” (unless nobody’s coming).
  • Another name for “roundabout” is “death vortex.”
  • I’d made a big mistake thinking this would be no worse than driving back home.

Three hours later, we were out of Guayaquil and on the path to the Ruta del Sol.

route of the sun in ecuador

There was a wrong turn or two. One that ultimately led to the scenario above, just a few moments before we hit a dirt road that literally dead-ended into the Pacific Ocean. That’s right. The road ended at the sea.

Five hours in, we hit the Sol, a beautiful stretch hugging the coast. The Spark was approaching empty, and the first good news I’d seen all day was pulling in for $1.48 per gallon gas.

It’s been years since I locked my keys in my car in the U.S. The newer cars just won’t allow it to happen. In South America, leave your keys in the vehicle, and the car locks tight. We had no cell phones, very basic Spanish skills, we were tired and our keys were locked in the car at a gas pump. Two hours later, a local with a wire and a shoe string set us free.

what do do when you lock your keys in your car

Coasting carelessly now down la Ruta del Sol. Notice the shattered vent window. The keys never got locked in the car again!

Four days later, I did it again, and the 95 degree searing heat at Latitude 1° South helped me come to a quicker, less strategic solution. A hard blow with a crescent wrench will break a vent window almost every time, and you’ll never worry about locking your keys in the car again.

Just a few other things we learned in Ecuador while driving along the Ruta del Sol.

  • Hitting a speedbump at 55 mph won’t kill a Chevy Spark, but it’ll hurt it.
  • Herds of cattle and goats don’t care that you’d like to get somewhere soon.
  • When a driver indicates with a honk, he’s coming around you, he’s not going to change his mind.
  • There’s one particularly famous driving move in Ecuador. I call it the “triple bypass.” Imagine this: Three cars are headed in the same direction in the same lane, one after the other. Car 2 decides to pass Car 1, and Car 3 follows Car 2. Car 3 decides Car 2 isn’t passing fast enough, so Car 3 creates a “third lane” on a two-lane road and flies around both Car 2 and Car 1. I actually saw this happen once.

We’re better prepared for driving the Ecuadorian roadways next time out. Better prepared. Just not fully prepared.



4 Responses to “Finding Our Gringo on la Ruta del Sol”

  1. MyWindow2theWorld October 17, 2012 at 3:56 pm #

    Well said. I don’t think there is ever a way we can convey how literally “lost” we were. You had to be there to know.
    I sure am glad I was with you.

  2. Kristin D September 17, 2013 at 5:34 pm #

    Hello, I am looking to do a similar trip as you did, and your page came up on a search. I am wondering if you have any advice for us. We are coming to Ecuador in a couple of months to scope out some coastal areas. I have read many statements that you should not rent a car, but then I read how dangerous the bus drivers are, so it seems to me that I would rather be at the hands of my husband behind the wheel than a maniac bus driver! We are flying into Guayaquil, staying there just one night since the flight arrives late. Our plan is to then check out Olon, Montanita, Puerto Lopez, Bahia de Caraquez, and Canoa, staying in different spots. Since we want to see several towns and only have 10 days, I don’t think lugging around our bags on busses makes sense, and we appreciate the freedom of being able to divert from our path on vacation (even if it means getting lost). Do you have any recommendations on driving, rental cars, insurance, directions, etc? Any recommendations for how to get out of Guayaquil more easily than you experienced?

    • stevenwwatkins September 17, 2013 at 8:38 pm #

      Mostly depends on the purpose of your trip … whether you’re looking for property or just sight seeing. Ten days is a short time, though, and I’d personally recommend a car rental. If it’s your first time driving in Latin America, get the insurance. You’ll never figure out how to get out of Guayaquil. Pay a cab $5 to lead you out of the city. It’s worth it. If you get lost, so what? That’s part of the experience.


  1. Finding Our Gringo on la Ruta del Sol | stevenwwatkins - October 17, 2012

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