Ecuador’s most-northern coastal town was once linked to Ibarra
in the highlands by the extraordinary autoferro
railway that took most of a day to descend from an altitude of 2,210 m [7,370 ft
] to the coastal plains. The rough road that linked the two towns has been gradually upgraded and now supersedes the railway, which was badly damaged by the El Nino floods of 1997 and 1998.
Whichever way you come, you may be mildly surprised when you arrive in this hot, tropical coastal town, where the streets are mostly unpaved, full of pot holes and sprouting weeds. Most houses are ramshackle and the inhabitants, most of whom are black, have a languid, easy-going air and never seem to be in much hurry. San Lorenzo isn’t striking for its affluence or energy, especially during the heat of the day. Come nightfall, however, when the air gets cooler, people saunter in the streets, sit in the park chatting with their friends, or just stand around watching the world go by. A salsa beat or marimba riff fills the air. “Walk and learn,” they say here. “Walk and know.”
. San Lorenzo dates back to the 16th century, when a slave boat from Africa was wrecked off the coast. The escaped slaves, or maroons as they were called, established themselves around this estuary of islands and mangrove swamps. In their early days, the maroons allied with the freebooting British pirates, including Sir Francis Drake, harassed Spanish galleons. The British supplied them with guns and cannon for use against their colonial masters, while the maroons gave the British food and a haven.
Cut off by inland forests and high mountains, the community of African ex-pats retained its cultural traditions and independence. Some of these survive in the form of Marimba music and the summoning of spirits with macumba voodoo. Its only lifeline being the sea, the community remained cut off from the rest of the country until the construction of the autoferro
railway to Ibarra
in the 1959 enabling export of agricultural products to the Sierra. With the completion of the road linking Colombia in the north, and the big city of Esmeraldas to the south, San Lorenzo will benefit from more traffic. Locals say that in 20 years it will become a real city, but at the same time San Lorenzo may lose some of its languid charm.
||Article contributed by Dominic Hamilton|||