Surfing and birds in Montañita and Puerto Lopez

Trip Start Jul 19, 2006
Trip End Sep 19, 2006

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Saturday, August 12, 2006

In order to get from Atacames to Montaņita we would have to first go through Guayaquil (it appeared that this would be the fastest route). However, we had heard that the bus route between Esmeraldas (in the north) and Guayaquil (in the south) can be dangerous. Considering our Colombian experience, we weren't too thrilled about having to take an overnight bus on that route, but it was the only option that really worked. At least there was an armed police officer riding in the front of our bus.

Within 15 minutes of leaving the bus station, we stopped. Brett and I had no idea what was going on. Everyone just got up and started leaving the bus. This didn't seem like a good start to an 8 hour trip.

When we got off the bus, there was one line with all of the adult male passengers and one line with all of the women and children. I was comforted to see that we were actually in front of a police check point. Officers walked along the line checking ID's. This would have made me feel a lot better about the rest of our ride if the police check had been conducted somewhat securely. However, this was done out on a street and the area wasn't really closed off. When we got back on the bus that previously had one person in every seat, there was an extra man standing up. Someone had snuck on at the police check point! Long story short: bus driver stopped after he realized what was going on and there was a big argument with the extra man. However, in the end they just let him ride standing up. That had us concerned, but the rest of the ride to Guayaquil ended up being uneventful.

Upon arrival in Guayaquil early Wednesday morning, we got a bus to Montaņita. This would be about a 3 hour bus ride along the coast that afforded views of a number of small fishing towns. Unfortunately there was a thick blanket of clouds over the sky in the southern beaches of Ecuador this time of year. We arrived in Montaņita later that morning.

Hippies in Montaņita
Just as we had done before in Atacames, Brett and I wandered through the streets in Montaņita with our large red packs marking us as tourists. However, unlike in Atacames, the large packs made us blend in here. Montaņita was a tourist mecca, a hub for international visitors. It was also full of hippies. We're talking hemp and tie-die, big time.

We searched around the city trying to find a hotel for $3/person/night. Most places were giving us a price of $5, which seemed steep for a Wednesday in August (the peak season is around December-February, when surfing is best). We stopped at one hotel that was charging $6, and the woman at the counter refused to bargain with us. At that point another woman came over to us. "You looking for a cheap hotel?" She was from the US. She was ambiguously in her late 30's or late 40's, but she dressed like she was in her 20's. She started guiding us off the main road towards a place that would presumably be cheaper. She moved carelessly, drifting in no particular direction but somehow getting where she wanted. I ventured to ask "How long have you been here?"

"Too long."

She explained that her daughter did not want to leave, so she had been bumming in this tourist-ridden beach town for some indefinite period of time. Wow.

(Gilmore Girls) + (Hippie Ideals) - (Grasp of Reality) = Our personal hotel finder.

Unfortunately she wasn't a very good hotel finder as still the cheapest deal we could find was $4/person/night, and at a place that was much lower in quality than the $6 place. We ended up deciding to go to Casa Blanca, the $6 hotel, which was also the nicest hotel in town. We were living richly, with a balcony and personal hammock overlooking the main strip. From there we could see the street full of vendors, surfers, people with no direction in life, and tourists. This was the life.

Brett decided to take a nap (the bus had afforded us little sleep) while I wandered through the city. I found some information about surfing lessons, and then went in search of surfer necklace that would really make me fit in. Don't get me wrong, I could already pass off in this town. I had the beard and hair that was just long enough to not be clean-cut. Around here the length of your beard was a badge of pride. It was a sign that said "Look at me and my long beard! Look how long I've been able to stay away from The Man!" The Man was not keeping me down, and everyone knew it.

I found a booth that had a nice necklace made with coconuts I think. While browsing, I met Cristian Naranjo. Cristian was a jolly looking guy, about my age, from Quito, Ecuador. I met him the same way that I've met most people on this trip: with the simple question "Where are you from?" As it turns out, Cristian had studied Philosophy in the US and was now in Montaņita celebrating his birthday...sort of. He was actually by himself, avoiding too large of a celebration with his friends. I found this curious, but got a good vibe from him in general. We ended up going back to the town to have a beer. We shared various views on philosophy and social justice. I mentioned the Colombia incident and how I had met some people in Ecuador who called Colombians their brothers, and other Ecuadorians who blamed all that is bad in the world on Colombians. Cristian explained the irony in how people in the US are against South American immigration, and then Ecuadorians turn around and don't want Colombians entering their borders. The complaint is the same in both cases: "They steal our jobs." I got Cristian's cell number and he invited me to stay at his place if I needed when I get back to Quito. I fully intend to give him a call.

Brett and I ended up doing a 2 hour surfing lesson that afternoon. Montaņita is known for its great waves, although we were there during the low season. I had many more problems tackling the waves here than I did at Tamarindo Beach in Costa Rica. This was my second time surfing, but I was only able to get up on the board for very brief periods of time. I'm going to blame the waves. I think Brett agrees.

Isla de la Plata
The next day, we woke up very early to go on a tour of Isla de la Plata, also known as the "Poor Man's Galapagos." I knew by this point that I would not be going to the Galapagos Islands during this trip as that would cost me over $1,200 in total (including $300 flight and $900+ tour boat). Isla de la Plata had nowhere near the biological majesty that is associated with the real Galapagos, but we work with what we have.

The tour included a one hour bus ride up to Puerto Lōpez, the departure point for the island. We met our guide on the shore where he told us a little about the island and the whales that we would see on our way there (this was the peak season for whale watching). It was about a three hour boat ride to the island, during which we saw many whales jumping out of the water. The ride was extremely choppy and by the end Brett and I were very relieved to get solid earth under us again. Our tour group consisted of a number of people from different countries, as well as a family of Ecuadorian tourists. Before we started our hike, the guide told us we could not bring food with us and we turned back to see that each member of the Ecuadorian family had their hand in their own bag of potato chips/snacks. For once the Americans weren't the ignorant tourists.

During the tour we saw three different species of birds, including the Piquero de pata azul (blue-footed boobie in english, I think), the Piquero de Nazca, and the Frigata Magnifica. You can look at the stories with my pictures to find out more about the interactions between these birds. I'll give you a teaser: induced vomiting is involved.

After walking around the island for a few hours, we took the boat to a nearby cove to do some snorkeling. We met an Australian girl on our tour named Rachel who spoke English and French but no Spanish. She was traveling with a friend who she had lived with while studying in France. Her friend spoke French and Spanish but little to no English. This made for some interesting conversation/translation.

On the boat ride back I saw a few whales, however I ended up spending most of the trip focusing intensely on the distant horizon. My stomach was not moving well with the ocean. I was not alone. Rachel, who was sitting right beside me, leaned over the edge of the boat to feed the fishes. A few of the Ecuadorians also made deposits in the Pacific Recycled Food Bank. Fortunately I was able to maintain my focus long enough to survive the 3 hour tour, although I was certain that some of the waves were large enough to pull our boat under. The boat finally deposited us back on land, and not a moment too soon for me.

Get your Ecuadorian boyfriends here
That night we ended up going to a few bars. We noticed something that seemed to be a trend throughout Ecuador (and most obviously along the coastal areas): foreign women seemed to be finding Ecuadorian boyfriends. It didn't seem to go the other way so much, though.

When we were in Atacames, there was a girl from the midwest US staying in the room next to us who had been living in Ecuador for a year. She had an Ecuadorian boyfriend who spoke very little english. The bar was filled with gringo female/Ecuadorian male couples. Sometimes this made for an interesting spectacle because Ecuadorian people in general are rather short. You could see an average-sized gringa (wearing all of her beads and other hippy regalia) dancing with a man 3/4 her size. But he could seriously dance. I guess I should learn how to salsa.

So if you're a hippy girl and you want to improve your spanish, the best idea is probably to just live in a beach town in Ecuador for a little while. You could get a husband out of the deal, too.

The Casa Blanca hotel tried to pull a fast one on us for our Thursday night stay. They tried to increase our rate from $6/person/night to $10, claiming it was some special festival or something. They even pulled out their poorly scribbled poster claiming that Thursday was the beginning of some festival. Ok, fine. We'll give you $7. They eventually agreed with that. Maybe we should've just left, but we paid the extra dollar for the convenience of staying put.

The next afternoon we got out of Montaņita (only after enjoying a few pancakes). We took the 3 hour bus ride to Guayaquil, and from there we caught the only bus that was available going into Peru, which ended up being a 10 hour bus for Piura, Peru that would get us there around 8am.

Ecuador has been nice, but it's time for a change of scenery.

Quantifiable Summary
Bus from Esmeraldas to Guayaquil: Trans Esmeraldas, 8 hours, $8
Bus from Guayaquil to Montaņita: $4
Hotel Casa Blanca in Montaņita: $6/person/night
Surfing Lesson (2hr): $12
Isla de la Plata Tour (all-inclusive): $50!!!
Still alive.
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Laurie on

Rick, you shoiuld be a writer you have avery nice way of putting things to gather. good going. Thanks for the nice entry.

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