A beautiful place to sit, eat, and die.

The town of Playas is billed as the “lower middle class beach town”, crammed on the weekends in season, and empty the rest of the time. Sounded perfect. (We arrived Sunday afternoon and high season is not quite here.)

The bus approached Playas through dusty fields, shacks approaching shanty status, and scenery generally in disrepair. It was clearly not a wealthy area. The town’s streets were poorly paved and dusty, plenty of empty storefronts, and there was certainly nothing shiny or polished to attract tourists, with none in sight anyway.

I felt the familiar “where the hell am I?” that feels so tentatively delightful.

There was no clear direction to walk in, so I picked one and started, just to move away. This is a general policy of mine, to flee the bus drop point, and always feels a bit like the beginning some special-ops video game. Hide and Seek. The Hunger Games. Run!

We found Hotel Vista del Mar (Hotel Ocean View), which, sure enough, had an ocean view, if you peered through the laundry lines and over the roofs of the more expensive hotels closer to the beach. The price was a tad high, but via the classic “do you have any rooms with shared bathroom for cheaper?” we bargained him down a notch.

We had a bed, toilet, cold water shower, and most blessed of all, a fan, necessary not for heat but to keep the mosquitoes away. The manager explained that the entire town basically has no internet access, and phones are iffy.

The menu next door featured marine viagra, beach orgasm, and seafood orgy. Alas, no broccoli.

Hungry after seven hours on buses, we went looking for food, hoping against hope for vegetarian dishes for K. Place after place sent menu-wielding salesmen at us like hookers in the park after midnight, but when we asked if they had any vegetarian food they all looked disappointed, acknowledging that they had none whatsoever, and walked away, shoulders slumped, menus hanging from limp arms.

Then we found the place our hotel guy had told us about. Foolish me thought “the Chinese restaurant” meant a restaurant with Chinese food. Turns out it meant a normal restaurant whose owner was Chinese. This man with the steady gaze of a rather severe grandfather acknowledged that there was nothing vegetarian on the menu, but yes, he could make a plate of rice and some veggies. And for me they had the typical Ecuadorian lunch special of soup and main course for two bucks.

The pollo was good, and K found broccoli! We ate our daily warm meal here the whole time we were in town.

There isn’t much to do in Playas, beyond, of course, the playa. The beach stretches for miles of fine sand, not a spec of shade in sight except for the umbrellas and chairs set up every morning by enterprising locals. For a few bucks you can sit and watch the beach life: families picnicking with hordes of children, vendors selling anything and everything, and a whole lot of sand throwing.

We bought watermelon wedges, a fried plantain, and a yellow patty of something like mashed potatoes stuffed with chicken. We declined soda, beer, fried things, coconut water, sunglasses, cigarettes, other fried things, chicle, inflatable swim toys, bootleg movies and cds, ice cream, more fried things, jewelry, hair-braiding, and pictures with the inflatable orca.

The beach was fairly deserted Monday afternoon and we strolled down the beach, stunned by the amount of garbage, dead sea life, and people not making the connection between the two.

I find this tragic and baffling in a place where local fishermen are packed on the sea every morning and at dusk, and a constant flock of incredibly acrobatic frigate birds at one end of the beach attested to the steady flow of fish being cleaned there. Basically 100% of the restaurants in town serve 90-100% seafood, and that is a major reason why people come here from Guayaquil.

And the tideline is speckled with small dead fish and pieces of plastic like a Jackon Pollock painting from hell.

I felt like I was wandering a battlefield after the battle, only the people lounging around couldn’t see the corpses or the wounds. (Like the deleted scene from Henry V where French tourists walk around Agincourt remarking on all the pretty feathered sticks and wondering what that smell was.)

My stunned silence wanted a bullhorn to explain that plastic garbage doesn’t just “go away.” I wanted to cut open the fish that would never grow to reproduce or be served fried with rice and beans, and show the people the bellies full of little plastic shards.

The most horribleautiful™ part was the jellyfish. In their dozens (hundreds?) they lay dead in interstellar beauty gone limp. Bodies that had floated, drifted, and pulsed, were now dead rubber, drying waxy in the sun. The little pockets of organs in the caps were devolving from miniature Milky Ways into just more rotten slime not to step in. I know this probably has everything to do with tides and currents and nothing to do with human waste, but it just fit into the whole picture.

We met a family playing on the beach, sand flying everywhere, who was very curious about us, and welcoming as they chatted us up. (Did I mention I love Ecuadorians?) We had a nice little chat, but I couldn’t resist getting on my Preachy Horse just a bit, lamenting the verguenza of all the plastic garbage killing the marine life. The adults agreed, though the kids looked at each other in what I fear was incomprehension. “What’s the gringo talking about?”

Is the “danger” tape a little heavy-handed? I can’t help it, it was laying there, just another piece of plastic garbage on the beach.

Maybe we should stay here for awhile longer…volunteer in the schools with big posters about littering, decomposition (or lack thereof), and the food chain…

Why is environmentalist so damn fused to economics? Oh, right, everyone needs to eat first.