6AM, Nucapacha Hostel, Guayaquil:

Bill, Jeff, Mike, Nick, Gabby, Miguel, and Andres load lifesaving equipment and luggage into a flatbed truck, then pile themselves into a taxi van headed to Manta.

At a clip of 120 kph, our driver plows north through the Ecuadorian jungle towards Manta, passing herds of roadside cattle, brothels, and trees whose limbs bend under the weight of vultures.


The group makes a brief stop in the village of Cascol for corbiches (fish and plantains deep-fried in batter), empanadas and cappuccino.


Along the way, the team talks about the condition of beach safety in Ecuador. Gaby says more than 80,000 people gather across 13 kilometers of beaches in Playas in a single day of Carnival.

In Manta, she says, it’s the same number, though the beach is just three kilometers.

Unlike the in U.S., alcohol is permitted on the beaches of Ecuador. Andreas, a native of Ecuador began his life guard career at Florida State, says that even during a lightning storm, no one is available to clear the beaches in Ecuador. Many beach-goers he says, ride out the storms in the water.

In the States, lifeguards and lifeguard organizations are paid and sanctioned by local government agencies such as the the National Park Service, police and fire departments: and then also private interests such as commercial ports, hotels, and tourist sites.

Ecuador’s beaches are largely (if not entirely) unregulated and virtually no funding exists for lifeguard services despite the obvious need.

This year, Gaby says, more than half of the lifeguard staff in Playas was cut when mayor Michael Acchi took office. Now, fewer than ten lifeguards are responsible for the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

Our last stop before Manta, a gas station along the highway, women crowd around the van to sell us delicious pan de yuca (a sweet, cheese bread) and tortilla de maiz (corn bread).

We head into Manta through an incredibly low cloud surrounding the mountainside. The driver says he’s never seen anything like it as he pulls out his cellphone to take a picture.


Tags: ,,,,,,,,,,,