Ecuador: Ama la vida

August 2016 marks the first time I got to surf in the Pacific Ocean. It was a gentle swell with soft little waves just inviting me to come and play. Rather long periods between the sets meant I spent a lot of time looking out to sea. It was my first time so close to the equator and it seemed to me that the earth looked more rounded than it did further up or down the meridian. Maybe I was just imagining it. Gently swaying to the roll of the ocean while sitting on my board, I noticed some movement off to the left: a huge whale emerged below the surface of the water high into the sky before rotating onto its side and splashing down into the water. It was over before it really hit me! Focusing my eyes to the horizon more intently, I could make out the big spout of water being blown high and falling like rain back to earth. It was magical! Welcome to Ecuador!

My trip so far hasn’t been all gentle waves and whale sightings. The journey here from Florianopolis Brazil was long and tedious, even though I opted to fly rather than take the bus for days. Amid getting bad advice for the buses to the airport and nearly missing my flight in Brazil, to being overweight with my baggage allowance whilst rechecking in in São Paulo, to booking a “surf camp” for 34$ which wasn’t a surf camp, and paying 42$ a day in the end: I’ve had some ups and downs so far this leg of the trip!

The town I am staying in is Montañita Ecuador: a coastal village famous for it’s surfing and deafening tawdry party scene. Cocktail Street (yeah, it’s really called that!) looks like a smaller version of the Rambuttri Allee next to Khao San Road in Bangkok. Normally I would try to steer clear of an area like this, but did I mention it was renown for its surfing? I hear the last few months were very quiet following the murders of 2 Argentinian girls at the beginning of the year, the tourism hadn’t picked back up yet. Nevertheless, beach chairs line the shore towards the Point and the weekends are noticeably more crowded as the residents of Guayaquil flood to the beach. Even with surfers from the city joining the line-up, it still isn’t at all crowded. The long beach offers ample space for beginners to spread out and try without the stress of others. Even the Point, Montanita’s reef break, is relatively empty with about 25 people max, in the time I have been here at least.

Little kids tear up the shore break and make it look easy while flocks of elegant pelicans fly in formation overhead. Walking along the beach or through town you are accompanied by music most of the time, usually reggaeton, which kind of adds an extra bit of bounce in each step. By night time, the whole village is transformed into one big party… music blaring from all sides, crowds of people eating, drinking and shopping at the many many handcrafted item stands lined up after the cocktail stands. There are many Ecuadorians as well as other South Americans as the primary visitor. So far I have run into a few American and European travelers, but Spanish is what you hear about 80% of the time. There are many old hippies and young yoga fans roaming the streets among the tourists. Some seem to have made Montañita a more permanent vacation spot. As the Lonely Planet guide put it: “… some travelers put down temporary roots and take up hair braiding and jewelry making or the staffing of their guesthouse’s front desk.”

Even though I am essentially at the equator, it isn’t as warm as you might think. I guess I pictured “sweltering” all year round. The beach breeze is fresh enough to warrent a sweater and pants by the evenings even though you can happily swim in the ocean when the sun is out during the day. Board shorts are enough to surf in but I have found it nicer to use a 1mm spring suit because of the breeze. On windy/cloudy days, I have even busted out the 3/4 wetsuit for the evening session. It’s more for the air and less for the water.

The bus ride here from the airport was pretty beautiful, offering different landscapes from dry tundra and cacti to rolling, tree covered hills in front of the sandy beaches lining the. I hear the further north or inland that you go, the greener and lusher the vegetation becomes. I don’t know if I will have the chance to travel around too much here: the northern coast is still quite devastated by the 2016 earthquake and hardly has the infrastructure for locals, let alone tourists. The southern coast has more advanced breaks which I am likely not ready for! I still think it would be an amazing road trip, not to even mention how amazing the Galapagos must be! Hopefully I will see a sunset soon, it has been cloudy every evening as it is again tonight. I sign off as the darkness overtakes my panoramic view of the Ecuadorian coastline, in exactly the kind of hut I had envisioned living in before embarking on this adventure. Buenas noches de Montañita.

**Pictures are not great: cell phone quality… I need to get out and take some better ones!!

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