Eight Days of Ecuador…Day 4

Fishing boats off the coast of Isla de la Plata island in the South Pacific Ocean, Ecuador.

By Sheri Oneal

Eight Days of Ecuador…Photography Travel Abroad Class

Day 4 –Monday, April 23

In the morning after my cricket fiasco I got up and was ready to go, we were told we could come back after our excursion to shower before checking out of our rooms. We walked down the road toward the pier in Puerto Lopez, this is a beautiful and quaint fishing village in an arched bay in the Ecuadorian Manabí Province. The beach had boats along the shore and fishermen coming in and going out for their daily activity of earning a living.

Fishing village of Puerto Lopez, Ecuador

We stopped for breakfast along the way at the Patacon Pisa’o Restaurant before heading out by boat for our special experience.

As we left the restaurant Mathew stopped a guy on a motorcycle and asked if he would give Eric a ride to the pier, the man obliged!

Eric gets a ride from a local.

As I got to the pier there was a local gentleman standing at the entrance and I motioned if he would allow me to take a picture, he smiled and I was able to get this photo as I walked toward the boat.

A man on the pier of the fishing village of Puerto Lopez, Ecuador.

Ecuador has 1627 confirmed bird species and today we get to experience one seabird that will keep the jokes coming all day long. Fishing is one of the most important enterprises in Puerto Lopéz and their most common fish include amberjack, dolphin, wahoo, marlin, and several different species of tuna.

We boarded a boat not far from the restaurant and after about an hour boat ride we arrived to the Isla de la Plata island in the South Pacific Ocean.

The weather was hot and humid and there was a slight drizzle of mist that made it feel hot and sticky along the dry trail. Today we were to visit the ecological reserve of the Machalilla National Park where we hiked up a mile long loop of stairs to at Los Acantilados.


Isla de la Plata island, Machalilla National Park, Los Acantilados, South Pacific Ocean, Ecuador

It was 90+ degrees and at least 90% humidity, that mixed in with the extreme staircase uphill hike made for a very difficult adventure. I was worried about some of the other students having heat stroke, several of my students were very fair complected and I hoped that they remembered to put a strong sunscreen on as the sun was now fully shining.

Along the hike we saw various colonies of marine birds that inhabit this landscape including the blue footed booby. For hours we all laughed at the comments you can imagine come from seeing boobies…yes we are all 12 years old but what is life without a little humor!

Blue footed Boobies on the Isla de la Plata island, Machalilla National Park, South Pacific Ocean, Ecuador.

Once we got to the top we enjoyed a breathtaking view of the water below, it was a great place to rest before heading back down the trail.

Isla de la Plata island, Machalilla National Park, Los Acantilados, South Pacific Ocean, Ecuador

Mathew shot some footage of the students near the cliff for the video he would put together later for the college.



After the hike we got on the boat and searched for an area to snorkel off the rocky shore line. In the distance we spotted a humpback whale jumping out of the water but it was too far away to really enjoy, we were not in the peak season for seeing the whales unfortunately.

Half the group went in the water to snorkel, it was colder now and I was coming down with something so I opted to not swim. The ones that did go snorkeling seemed to enjoy the view of coral below.



It was time to head back in to shore and after our long ride back we realized we were late and two of the rooms had been cleaned out for new guest. Once we coped with the craziness of cleaning up, packing and getting on the bus in a hurry we stopped for some lunch. I couldn’t wait to get some Ceviche with shrimp and octopus…it was wonderful.

Now it was time to head a couple of hours north on to Bahia de Caraquez. We would stay at this location until our last day and looked forward to having the same room more than one night. Once we arrived we were greeted by Chantal and Alfredo at the Saiananda hotel, it was so nice to know we would be staying at this beautiful place on the water for the next 4 days. Later Alfredo had his staff prepare a vegetarian Ecuadorian dinner with rice, plantains, soup and salad and we ate family style in an open area of the hotel right next to the water.


After this fourth day of travel our experience will take a big turn. This is the first trip we have ever put together for a travel abroad class and although it appears to be going perfectly, the truth is it is not working from a standpoint of how a true photography travel assignment would go. I am frustrated with so many travel miles, historical hikes and super long days with no ability to teach or shoot during the right daylight hours. The students are exhausted and showing signs of being upset. I have been extremely stressed myself not to mention Mat and I are coming down with some funk I am sure is due to pressure and lack of sleep. It is nothing that could have been anticipated beforehand but Mat and I both realize we need to spend more time shooting and less time traveling. After I get an ok from the folks at Nossi back in the US, Mat and I meet with Chantal and Alfredo that evening to see how things can be changed to allow us more shooting time. We need better opportunities to shoot with good light at the right time of day, we also need to capture more than candid behind the scenes travel, birds, and landscape photos. My goal is to let the students capture the culture and other aspects of the way the Ecuadorian people live. I have shot many travel assignments in my 20+ years of being a commercial photographer and this trip is a wonderful opportunity for the students to document the culture. Moving forward that is exactly what they will get to do.

We finished out our night with a complimentary meditation of “Tibetan Singing Bowls” in a special room of the hotel hosted by Alfredo and Chantal. It was a wonderful way to end a long hot stressful day of travel. This is a snippet before the lights went off and I was able to enjoy the experience.

I hope you will come back soon for day five when our trip takes a complete and transforming turn that will forever change all of us.


*NOTE all Sheri Oneal blog post are ©2018 by Sheri Oneal. Feel free to share my blog link but any other use of photos or content must be agreed upon in writing.

*If you would like to leave a review of my work please do so here, here or here!




Eight Days of Ecuador…Day 3

People in the ocean in Puerto Lopez, Ecuador

By Sheri Oneal

Eight Days of Ecuador…Photography Travel Abroad Class

The temperatures in Ecuador don’t change much throughout the year, so the seasons of spring, summer, winter, and fall pass unnoticed. It is hot, humid and tropical to subtropical with a rainy season lasting for several months depending on the region you are visiting. Because of its location at the equator, Ecuador experiences little variation in daylight hours during the course of a year. Both sunrise and sunset occur each day at the two six o’clock hours.

Day 3 –Sunday, April 22

I was up before the sun the next morning because I didn’t sleep well and I wanted to catch the sunrise. I walked out alone to the beach but unfortunately it was a little cloudy, as I walked back to my room I awoke one of two dogs lying outside of a room and was startled. I noticed a van in the lot next to the room with a sticker that said “raised on the road,” it intrigued me so I wrote the name in my journal. The evening before I noticed a young couple with two small kids and the two dogs walking around the beach. Upon my return to Nashville I searched Instagram, found their page and have enjoyed following them and their interesting story, a family of 4 traveling the world in a Land Rover.

Hotel Rosa Mística at Montañita, Ecuador.


Montañita, Ecuador beach area.

When I got back to my room I saw that several others were also up early so we walked back to the beach and sat at the beachfront restaurant area of our hotel watching the dogs roam around.

A dog in Montañita, Ecuador on the beach.

Eventually the rest of our group joined us and we all enjoyed a breakfast of bread with butter and jam, eggs, fruit and fresh juice before packing up for out next destination.

Breakfast from Hotel Rosa Mística at Montañita, Ecuador.


Restaurant Hotel Rosa Mística at Montañita, Ecuador.

We were off to Manabí via the Spondylus Route “Ruta del Sol” visiting small fisherman villages along the way. We stopped at the Santuario Blanca Estrella del Mar near the ocean side where we saw a cross in the distance, a local vendor setting up along the quiet highway and the shore line from a cliff where we could see for miles.

Santuario Blanca Estrella del Mar along the ocean in Ecuador.


Santuario Blanca Estrella del Mar, Ecuador.


Santuario Blanca Estrella del Mar, Ecuador.

When we arrived at the beach of the surf town Manabí, the students experienced the culture where the locals would grind ice by crank and add the syrup of choice creating a tasty shaved ice snack similar to what we call a snow-cone.

Snow cone on the beach of Manabí, Ecuador.


Beachside of the surftown Manabí, Ecuador


Beachside ceveche vendor of the surftown Manabí, Ecuador.

As we walked along the beach taking it all in there were all kinds of things to take pictures of and so many things were different than what we are used to in the states. The students photographed the men with ceviche carts as they shucked oysters and made their fresh delicacies ala carte oceanside. We all sampled one from this guy and it was wonderful!  

Beachside ceveche vendor of the surftown Manabí, Ecuador.


Surfers on the beach of surftown Manabí, Ecuador.

Everyone was so laid back and happy everywhere we went, and they appeared to not care very much about material possessions or time. Mathew said that most of the Ecuadorian people loved tourist because they appreciated the money tourist spent on their products and services.

Beachside vendor of the surftown Manabí, Ecuador

After shooting at the beach we were off to our next destination stopping for some dessert in a small town along the way with beautiful vibrant colors of pink, blue and yellow. Mathew wanted us to experience the sweet desserts that were made from the cane sugar the locals grew in their area. All of their food was fresh made and everything tasted so different because nothing was processed like we are accustomed to back home.

Ecuador Deserts




Ecuador desert



We stopped at the Agua Blanca-museum for a tour of the and learned of some history about Balseros Del Mar Del Sur, an archeological area revealing one of the most ancient cultures in South America. 

Agua Blanca-museum, Ecuador


Agua Blanca-museum, Ecuador

At another museum we learned more about the early culture of Ecuador, about the pottery and other relics. We saw samples of local snakes in a jar (I thought they were cool) and we walked out along the trails for more history from Norby and a guide from the museum.



Our next destination was Puerto Lopez where we would stay the night. We stopped on the way into town at a seaside restaurant for a late lunch and did a little shopping along the beachside streets. This was the mixed seafood stir fry with fresh local avocado I had…it was really, really good and only 12$!

Students shopping, mixed seafood stir fry with plantains.

The Cabañas Playa Sur hotel where we checked into our rooms that evening was really cool. The rooms were more like huts, they had nice tiled bathrooms and were clean with the typical Ecuador construction of bamboo and palm-leaf thatch roof. In mine there was screen in the upper section and an oscillating fan. The back part of the property had several hammocks  available for the guest to lounge in and the path to the front led directly to the beach….a Gilligan Island of sorts!

Cabañas Playa Sur hotel in the beach town of Puerto Lopez, Ecuador

The guys, Eric and Jason, seemed excited about this new place and went out for a swim with some of the other students before sunset. It was the first down time we had found since the beginning of the trip…but only lasted about an hour because we needed to get out on the beach for the sunset to shoot.


Inside of my room there was a cute wooden table with two stools and the bed had mosquito netting above that I would use that evening as all the rooms were equipped the same. I would find out later why…


By the end of the day we wrapped up with another night of shooting on the beach in the town of Puerto Lopez capturing the locals and a few visitors along the shore. 

Beaches of Puerto Lopez, Ecuador

There were fishing boats pulled up on the sand, some were coming in and others were just heading out into the surf of the Pacific. People played soccer along the beaches, dogs roamed freely and everyone seemed to enjoy the beautiful evening sunset.

Boats on the beach of Puerto Lopez, Ecuador


Nossi Students shooting pictures on beach.


Fishermen heading out from the beach in Puerto Lopez, Ecuador

After yet another very long day we settled into our rooms at the Cabañas Playa Sur hotel where you could hear the waves along the beach while lying in bed. It almost felt like camping but with a mattress in place of a sleeping bag. Soon I would find out just how similar it was being out in the woods! As I laid there exhausted I felt so comfortable and relaxed as I drifted off to sleep, this was the first time on the trip so far I had no problem with falling asleep. Each of our rooms had mosquito nets over the beds but around 3:30 AM I learned in the middle of the night it is best to tuck it under the mattress to keep other kinds of bugs out. Trust me its better to keep them out than keep them in with you! In a panic I instantly awoke with something crawling on me and flicked it away. I found my phone (which I was learning needed to be next to me all night in case I needed a flash light), a cricked had somehow managed to spend most of the night with me and I was desperately searching the bed for the rest of his family. Once I felt I was alone in bed I tucked the netting as far under the mattress from the inside of this tented device and tried to go back to sleep…it took a while.


*NOTE all Sheri Oneal blog post are ©2018 by Sheri Oneal. Feel free to share my blog link but any other use of photos or content must be agreed upon in writing.

*If you would like to leave a review of my work please do so here, here or here!



Eight Days of Ecuador…Day 2

Guayaquil, Ecuador city photos

By Sheri Oneal

Eight Days of Ecuador…Photography Travel Abroad Class

Ecuador is one of the most diverse travel destinations in the world. It offers rainforest, beautiful beaches, 27 volcanoes, the Galapagos Islands, the Amazon Jungle (La Amazonia) and the Andes mountains. It has wonderful seafood, fruit, chocolate, roasted guinea pig and your choice of monkey, snake, turtle or tree slugs in the Amazon region.  All I experienced was the seafood, the chocolate and the fruit on the beautiful beaches….no monkey, snake or guinea pig for me and I am ok with that!

Day 2 – Saturday, April 21

In the morning we grabbed a quick breakfast at the hotel and headed to an art college specializing in photography named the L.EX.A. Institute. Our host Chantal Fontaine is a promoter, Artistic Advisor and member of the Board of Directors at the Institute. She picked up an interest in photography from her father as a child, with more than 35 years of experience, she has specialized in seminars and photography workshops held in Costa Rica, Mexico, Brazil, Cuba and Ecuador. She is an image consultant for TV, founder and Director of ASOFOCREA and promoter and Director of the Sathya Sai Human Values ​​Institute for Ecuador. Her crew spent half the day educating us about the culture and history of Ecuador. We learned from the locals how diverse Ecuador is and had a chance to see some of the photos from projects the photo instructors from the college were involved in including working with the minority groups of indigenous people living in the Amazon. It is amazing to me that in this day and age there are still tribal people living in the jungle so close to modern civilization. 

Students from Nossi College of at at L.EX.A. Institute, Guayaquil, Ecuador.

We soon met Mathew Wijatyk, a freelance videographer and teacher at the college who would join our crew as a translator and teacher while documenting the trip with video footage. We also met our tour guide Norby Lopez the GM of Biotropica Expeditions. After our historical update on the country, seeing the work of some of the teachers at the school and enjoying such a warm welcome from the students and faculty we shared our work with them before heading out for our first day of fun. We were off to explore Guayaquil which included the historical part of town and the boardwalk area.

Nossi College of Art students and teacher Sheri Oneal take photos in the streets of Guayaquil, Ecuador.

We first visited Parque Seminario, a park built in the XIX century, in 1868 also known as the Iguana Park, since dozens of iguanas live in its ornate gardens. It also showcases several sculptures and an octagonal pavilion.

Iguanas at a park in Guayaquil, Ecuador


Student Gabriella Karademos takes photos of Iguanas in a park in Guayaquil, Ecuador.

Around the outer edges of the park there were street shoe shine booths as well as food, water and newspaper vendors. It was interesting to see how these people earned a living selling their services near the park. Mathew caught some video as we were making our tour.

Videographer Mathew Wijatyk films local shoe shine vendors in the streets of Guayaquil, Ecuador.


Shoe shine street vendor in Guayaquil, Ecuador


People in the city streets of Guayaquil, Ecuador.

From there we headed down to the boardwalk area where we were able to experience the century-old uneven cobblestone streets, colorful brightly painted houses, restaurants, bars and shops. All were built around the beach side area of town leading into a winding, 444-step staircase up to the Las Peñas Lighthouse built in 1841. Due to our needing to get some lunch and head to the bus so we could make our next destination by dark we would save the journey up all those steps to see the lighthouse for our last day of travel.



A painters easel in the historical district of Guayaquil, Ecuador.


Nashville TN students photograph the pigeons in a park in the downtown city of Guayaquil, Ecuador


Guayaquil, Ecuador city photos


A woman sits in her home in the historical part of Guayaquil reading a newspaper.


A shop on the downtown streets of Guayaquil.

After lunch we were off on our 110 mile journey by bus to Montañita, one of Ecuador’s prime surfing towns. Once there we checked into the hotel Rosa Mística, a quaint and colorful hotel a block over from the beach showcasing colorful hammocks out in front of the rooms. We all got cleaned up to head out for our evening of fun (after a few students had to be rescued from a spider hidden behind a bathroom mirror).

Hotel Rosa Mística in Montañita, Ecuador

By the time we all got out to the beach the sun had set so we regrouped and sat in the restaurant area on the beach trying to decide what to do next. As we watched a few students walk along the beach we suddenly saw something glow in the surf, we were experiencing the unusual sighting of blue sparkling waves in the surf off of the shore. It is a phenomenon called bioluminescent phytoplankton and it occurs on the tropical surface waters as the waves crest due to a light-producing chemical reaction called chemiluminescence. Certain types of chemicals when mixed together produce energy that ‘excites’ other particles on vibration, that generates light which causes the glow on the water. It was something we were not prepared for and extremely difficult to capture on camera without the proper gear so we all just watched in amazement. One of the locals said they had not seen it happen in 3 years.

We walked down the beach onto the brick covered streets to find some seafood for dinner, the streets almost appeared to look like a movie set. Vibrant colors of blue, pink and yellow were everywhere and many of the buildings were constructed from stiff guadua cane (we call it bamboo) with palm-leaf thatch roofing. There were happy people everywhere laughing, talking and enjoying all the festivities.

Nashville students embark on the streets of Montañita.

The surf town became busier later in the evening and the street vendors all appeared laid back as they enjoyed the visitors roaming the stores. Their spaces offered grilled food on sticks, frozen drinks, alcoholic beverages, clothes, jewelry, travel trinkets and hammocks. The students enjoyed the corn grilled right in front of them on a street corner topped with what appeared to be a special buttery seasoning.

Students Gabriella Karademos and Alexandra Cale eat corn from a street vendor in Montañita, Ecuador.

The clubs blasted loud dance music and the streets were crowded with happy people giving off a wonderful beach party vibe. Later that night one of my students decided to get a tattoo….a 50$ lizard AKA iguana. While I was a little unsure how to respond as his teacher he was old enough to make the decision so half of the group went back to the hotel while the rest of us got to experience the crazy nightlife of the town while waiting for Eric’s tattoo time to be completed. We passed the time experiencing the local libations served in 1 liter bottles for 2$ and the people watching was epic.

Erick Dulberg gets a 50$ lizard tattoo in Montañita, Ecuador.


Student Eric Dulberg from Nossi College of Art gets a tattoo while in the surf town of Montañita, Ecuador.

As things winded down for our group the streets were thinning out but the crowd on the beach was getting busier as the music blasted louder near the 1AM hour. It was apparent that these people had transformed into a drunker and more aggressive group. We headed back to hotel Rosa Mística for the night and I was exhausted. I opted to sleep in the bunk bed after pulling it away from the wall rather than the bed closest to the bathroom because I saw a big roach in there but it slipped away by the time I grabbed my shoe. I didn’t sleep well at all, the AC didn’t work, the window wouldn’t open and there was no fan. I did put my phone right next to me on the top bunk just in case I needed a light to see what was crawling on me in the middle of the night…

Stay tuned for more, please come back in a few days, things are just getting started!

*NOTE all Sheri Oneal blog post are ©2018 by Sheri Oneal. Feel free to share my blog link but any other use of photos or content must be agreed upon in writing.

*If you would like to leave a review of my work please do so here, here or here!



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