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Pre-Columbian culture: Los Amantes de Sumpa

Santa Elena and Ballenita


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I was keen to visit Santa Elena today because it has a museum with a famous exhibit called Los Amantes de Sumpa, or the Lovers of Sumpa. Los Amantes de Sumpa are two skeletons that were discovered buried together in an embrace. They belonged to the pre-ceramic Las Vegas culture, who existed on the coast of Ecuador (and especially in the Santa Elena peninsula) between 4600 and 8800 BC. The skeletons were found in the 1970s during a excavation of a large cemetery, a rubbish dump and some remains of homes - what is now the present museum site. My Ecuadorian friend/colleague 'E' came with me because although she had heard of the Lovers of Sumpa, she had never seen them. We also planned to visit the beach at Ballenita for a swim.

Santa Elena itself didn't seem to have anything worth writing home about apart from the museum, which although small was very good and well worth visiting. It was set in some dusty and very empty back streets.

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When I signed the visitors' book I saw that I was their only visitor in the last few days to have come from a different country; to be honest I wasn't surprised, because although the Santa Elena peninsula gets a lot of local tourists (the seaside resort of Salinas is extremely popular), with the exception of Montañita international tourists prefer the places further up the coast. This meant that our visit almost felt like a private tour, because we only saw one other visitor apart from us.

The museum had free entry and it turned out we weren't allowed to walk round by ourselves - a teenage guide showed us round. She didn't know any English, and all the exhibit information was in Spanish, so although my Spanish has definitely improved since May, I was glad E was there to translate what I didn't catch! As well as Los Amantes de Sumpa there were three other skeletons, showing different burial techniques of the Las Vegas people. They were very well presented, and it was amazing to think how old they are - between 8000 and 10,000 years old.

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Then we were shown round a traditional coastal 'campesino' (peasant) hut with everyday objects in it such as Montecristi hat moulds, cotton spinning and weaving equipment, anvil and leather bellows, saddles, wooden water barrel, stove, irons, pestle and mortar for grinding corn, and so on. Outside there was a massive clay bread oven.

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Further on there was a traditional balsa raft, made from three balsa logs and one sail, next to a glass case of net weights and large net- and sail-mending needles (apparently one or two of these rafts are still used by fishermen in Playas, south of Guayaquil).

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Last of all there was a building with some impressive displays of objects from pre-Inca cultures, not only from the Las Vegas but also the Machalilla, Valdivia, Manta and La Tolita cultures; clay burial urns, pottery, metal and shell ornaments, and in the Valdivia display case I thought I saw small, flat, greenish metal axe-heads, but they turned out to be examples of their currency. It also had some finely carved stone figures.

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There was also a very interesting display of old black and white photographs of everyday life in the Santa Elena peninsula from the late 19th and first half of the 20th century.

After this we went to the seaside village of Ballenita, which was only five to ten minutes away by bus. We were both starving by now, so the first thing we did was sit down at one of the opensided seafood restaurants/ cafés by the seafront and have a late lunch.

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I had shrimp rice (which came with the inevitable slices of plantain and avocado on the side) and E had mixed seafood rice and a glass of freshly squeezed/ blended, sweetened lime juice. I had one or two sips from it and it was lovely - zingy but not sour.

We took our time with the meal because we wanted to wait to see if the sun would come out. It hadn't by the time we finished, so we walked down the stone steps to the beach anyway. The sand was brown and the beach quite narrow. I saw a large, dead white and grey fish washed up so I went over and had a look. Nearby I came across a very well camouflaged pufferfish; unfortunately it was caught up in some yellow netting which I assumed was the cause of its death.

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We spread our towels out on the sand and lay down for quite a while. There was quite a breeze blowing and it was a bit overcast, so I didn't fancy swimming unless the sun came out. It was still peaceful and restful, though, lying on a beach with my eyes closed, listening to the waves crash nearby.

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Eventually we realised that the sun was not going to be making an appearance, though, so we left to get a bus back to Santa Elena terminal and then another one from there to Guayaquil. The bus had a video screen that played a very violent film - this was between about 5-7pm with several children on the bus.

Posted by 3Traveller 13:50 Archived in Ecuador Tagged beach museum buses ecuador explorations ecuadorian_cuisine pre_columbian_artifacts

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