Travel to Montanita, Ecuador

The bus station in Libertad basically consists of a small street with a few jalopy buses. A burly man spotted us and screamed “Montanita” and beckoned us onto his broken down bus full of locals. Its funny how as soon as they see white people they assume they know where you are headed. Montanita is located about two hours drive north of Libertad. We drove along the coast and tried to enjoy the blaring salsa music coming out of the bus speakers. I tried to take a brief nap as my eyes fluttered at every jolt on the road. A few school girls sucked on oranges while a dangling plastic statue of The Virgin swung in front of the driver’s window.

The bus smelled of arm pits and the streets smelled of fish. We drove past several small ocean side villages which were really beautiful in a quaint sort of way. Many of them are fishing villages and the beaches are covered in colourful boats. We arrived in Montanita and jumped off the bus. In seconds the bus was roaring off the street with a plume of smoke in its wake. Standing directly in front of us was the quintessential surfer’s paradise. We walked down the main street past loads of restaurants and bars covered in palm trees. Hotels dot the city and can be identified by the hammocks that swing in the breezy balconies. The sandy street is full of hippies selling jewelry and street side juice bars. We were able to nab the last room at the “best hotel” in town according to Lonely Planet. Our room had a perfect balcony that looked out onto the ocean directly in front of us with a small pond to our right. We could hear the beach activity as soon as we stepped into our hotel room. I could spot several bar huts right on the beach with blaring DJ euro beats creating a very lively atmosphere.

We walked down to the beach and stared out into the raging surf. The beach is far different from what Salinas has to offer. The average age on the beach in Salinas is probably 45 whereas there is not a person over 30 in Montanita. It is a haven for the 20-30 something beach lover. Walking along the beach we passed the four beach bars and noticed many granola hippies and surfers. The beach is surrounded by jungle, a very different ambiance from the busy touristy streets of the Malacone in Salinas. We stopped at Charo restaurant and enjoyed fried calamari, chicken in garlic sauce with rice and plantain and an ice cold daiquiri. A three man band (drum, guitar and flute) walked into the restaurant and played a few numbers. They were “Montanita hippies”, all of whom appear to be members of a Jewish circus. As we ate our lunch we noticed a small group of people glued to a television in the corner of the restaurant. A huge scream made us jump in our seats. Literally in seconds about 100 people from the street rushed into the restaurant. Everyone was screaming. We soon found out that Ecuador had just won a major football competition! These people take their football very seriously.

After lunch we walked through the few streets in town. We stopped off at several curb side markets and bought a few wrist bangles made of tree nuts and seeds. We walked back down to the beach and rented two chairs and spent the next few hours staring into the open ocean. I relished in my love of people watching. I couldn’t get over how attractive surfers are. Sign me up. I hopped up and dipped my feet in the waves by the shore. I was rather nauseated after noticing thousands of small snail like creatures burrowing themselves into the sand. When discussing the difference between Salinas and Montanita Sarah so poignantly blurted out, “the other place was all families and fat guys.” I dozed off for a bit while listening to Benni Bassi’s thumping Satisfaction which blared out of the DJ hut down the beach. I started my last novel of the trip entitled, At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O’Neill. It is written in old Irish so was a bit challenging to dive into. I looked down at my feet and saw several crabs skittering across the rocks. I could have easily missed them as they are perfectly camouflaged against the beach sand. I soon noticed ten or twelve of them staring up at me. I got up to chase one (obviously) and they all jumped into little holes located throughout the beach. I’m sure there are millions of them living in a complex transit system under the beach. Waiting to take over the world.

After our day at the beach we walked back into town and I laughed at the various names of the restaurants and bars: Wipe Out Bar, Shark Attack Karaoke and Galapagos Disco. We bought a four dollar bottle of vodka and a jug of orange juice and sat on our balcony while the sun set. I took a moment and krumped to the noise of the crickets in the jungle. We had a fantastic dinner which started off with fried plantains dipped in hot chili sauce. I ordered a chicken curry with garlic rice, fries and salad with a fantastical little banana daiquiri.

We walked. Storm clouds soon blew over our little surf town and it suddenly started to pour rain. The streets were soon filled with thick mud. We were up to our knees in muck. After the initial “ew” moment we got used to the feeling of mud in our toes and embraced the moment entirely. We stopped under a little umbrella by the entrance of the best bar in town and a man approached us. He looked at Sarah and asked if she and I were a couple. She said no. He then told us he was from Columbia and offered us cocaine. We declined. The all time best quote of the whole trip, “Tonight, you and me, it is possible.” Possibly the best pick up line ever. We walked back to the main street after we heard a musical commotion down the street.

Turning the corner we walked into a block long circus performance. All of the hippies that we had seen at night were now dressed up in crazy outfits juggling and flame throwing down the street. Nothing like a clown filled flame throwing parade in the early evening to brighten your spirits during a jungle rain storm. We walked into the jungle bar at 11pm and it was fairly dead. In the next hour or so the place was packed with tourists from around the world dancing in the muddy sand to the cover band playing on stage. I got up off my stool and started pounding my feet into the mud. There is nothing more freeing than precariously dancing during a rain storm. Rain dripped from my forehead and mud crusted itself to my shin. I stared out into the crowd and noticed that everyone was wearing either Billabong, Quicksilver or Rip Curl clothing. Dance, mud, dance, rain, rinse, repeat…sleep.

In the morning we had to walk very carefully to avoid walking in the mud which covered the streets. Several shop owners had shovels to remove the mud in front of their doors. I enjoyed a snack of falafel while chatting with a couple from Vancouver/Ireland. They told us their rather terrifying story from last night. They had come back from dancing and were getting ready for bed in their hotel room when a drunk local man opened their door and barfed in their room. Her boyfriend who is rather large grabbed the guy and pushed him down the stairs.

After lunch we decided to walk north along the beach for about 40 minutes to the small town on the other side of the bay. The beach is much more rustic here. We noticed several crabs, oysters and dead fish on the shore. As the bay curves around the rocky point we had to stiffen our legs in order to avoid being dragged into the ocean by the powerful waves crashing against our knees. The beach was covered in a wild variety of multicolored shells, rocks and coral. Just as we were turning to head back to the beach front of Montanita I felt a sting on my ankle. I think I was stung by a jellyfish as I was told that it is jellyfish season right now. The most irritating sting flowed up my leg and stuck there for the next few hours.

In the late afternoon it started to rain yet again. I sat on the balcony and read in my hammock. We had noticed many coaster sized advertisements for the Full Moon Dance Party which was taking place this Saturday. We had been told many wild things about the Full Moon parties which are infamous in Montanita. Locals living along the coast take the bus simply to party the entire evening and head home the next morning without a wink of sleep. I sat at the hotel lounge waiting for Sarah. I sat on satin pillow filled swings which hung over shell filled sand. Oyster shells are full of cigarette butts over here. We walked up the street and I noticed several vendors selling huge cobs of corn which are deep fried and rolled in cheese. The specialty food here is called Civiche and consists of raw fish. I would never eat it here as the food safety practices are negligible. A poor mans sushi. We walked back to the same place we had lunch and enjoyed their two for one happy hour. I slurped down several strawberry daiquiri’s, munched on a bowl of free popcorn and enjoyed a plate of hummus and toasty warm pita as “Everybody Dance Now,” blared throughout the bar. A few Israelis were enjoying a puff or two from their hookah as we walked to Montanita’s famous Full Moon Dance Party.

We headed back to our hotel and hung out with three Ecuadorian guys who were on vacation here. I found it a bit odd that when we started to talk about religion they asked “Do you believe in the Virgin?” Rather than “do you believe in God? We chatted until the full moon was properly sitting in the sky above. We walked to the disco and paid five dollars cover and saw a few astronauts jamming on guitars as we entered the live band theater. Last night the bar was only open for live music but tonight we were able to walk through a rather psychedelic tunnel (neon lights, strobe lights) to another huge dance floor flowing with dry ice and green laser glow.

We had made it to the electronica room which was full of a incredibly loud pulsing beat. My favorite part of this beach side bar was the open air concept and the several furry bright pink beds which you can sit on and stare out onto the dance floor. Bubble machines spewed out a plume of soapy spheres over head. I stood in front of a five foot tall sub woofer and could feel the hair on my arms and legs shaking to the bass. At about 3am we walked back to the hotel (I noticed a huge line up of people arriving at this time). We were covered in mud. Fell into bed, closed my eyes and realized my ears were ringing. It was not until I sat up that I realized the bar which is just a few feet from our hotel was so loud it actually felt like we were still in their dancing. When the moon is full in Montanita, expect to shake, dance and never sleep.

In the morning we sat on the corner of the street and enjoyed breakfast. I ordered a mug of coffee, croissant, fried eggs and a banana and strawberry crepe. After seeing the local surfers for the last few days I have decided they must be competing for an award entitled “who can wear their surf shorts as low as possible without exposing their genitals.” We both walked to the other end of the beach and unloaded our things at the edge of the sea wall in front of the boardwalk. I plugged myself into my iPod and designed a moat which circled my body 360 degrees. I taunted the waves as they inched closer by the minute. Finally the water splashed itself far enough to fall into my well constructed moat. I looked over my shoulder and saw Sarah soaked. She had not wised up and created her own moat, pft. A few minutes later my taunting taught me a lesson and I was soon soaked. I danced up and down the beach to a bit of Dance Mix 95 and soon smelled of salt. We decided to actually go for a swim today. I am not a fan of salt water but ended up enjoying myself thoroughly. We slowly waded into the water jumping into the surf as it crashed against our bodies. I looked over my shoulder and saw Sarah get hit by a huge wave. She looked like a drowned rat. Perfect moment. We body surfed for an hour or so. I swam out as far as I could and sort of slid down the waves as they began to curl. I lay on my back and stared into the sky. When all is quiet the ocean actually sounds like a breathing organism.

We spent our last evening at the Hola Cafe sitting at the best seats in town right on the side of the street. We spent the next few hours fixating on early evening people watching. We ordered a basket of French fries and dipped with garlic mayo. After our snack we walked down the muddy street and laughed as it appears that every bar and restaurant tries to compete for your business by blaring their music louder than their neighbors. We spent our last dinner at Tiki bar where we had an amazing icy fresh limeade. We were initially frightened by what it would taste like as Sarah could see into the kitchen and saw the chef throw whole limes into a blender. Apparently they just passed the pulp and rind through a strainer. Perfectly tart. I ordered a large dish of chicken, white wine, cream, Gruyere cheese and garlic with onion rings and rice.

A few of the granola hippy clowns we had been seeing over the last few days came into the restaurant handed out advertisements to a show they were putting on this evening. I was a bit skeptical about the show and wanted a bit of alone time. Alone time is crucial. I walked out to the beach and my jaw dropped when I set foot on the sand. It took my eyes a few minutes to adjust to the pitch black night. The surf had moved out about a mile! Amazing what the tides can do. The wet sand glistened under the full moon and the sky was perfectly shining with a star filled sky. I was all alone (other than a few surfers dancing by a bon fire down the beach). I spent the next two hours walking out to the new shoreline about 800 meters. I played Bork’s Medulla album on repeat and hummed to her song Oceania (a perfect ballad for the moment). I danced, did a few cartwheels, and ran after a few thin white heron. I walked along the beach and stared back at the beach side hotels along the boardwalk. Little lights flickering in the jungle. That is all Montanita looks like at night from this vantage point a mile out to sea. I jumped over a few dead jellyfish and felt incredibly free and alone. The “Middle of Nowhere” is an incredibly freeing space. I tasted the salt filled wind and realized there is something special about dancing alone on a jungle beach that frees your spirit. I felt like I was soaring over the sand and could not have been more content.

I walked back to the center of the beach and noticed the circus troupe playing with fire. I walked up the boardwalk steps and sat myself on a rock and saw Sarah mesmerized by the show. These circus kids all look under 30 years old. They play with fire on a regular basis it seems. They come from all over the world: USA, Venezuela, Cuba, Japan. We later learned that they are a traveling circus group who put on performances around the world. They sell jewelry during the day and also teach lessons on how to throw fire. They were all half naked and body painted to look like indigenous people. I sat staring at the quick moving flames and flinched a few times when the fire got a bit too friendly with some of the circus kids. They dip chains, poles, and ropes with cloth filled balls attached at the end and throw them around for a mesmerizing performance. Evenings full of clown enchantment are perfect. They all sort of played off each other and danced to the bongo drum as the full moon shot itself over the crowd.

In the morning the sun finally came out and we walked through the dried up streets. We ate our last lunch at Wipe Out Bar. I ordered my last banana coloda and tapped my foot to the Reggae music playing overhead. I ordered two tapas plates. Crustini with BBQ chicken with risotto and Parmesan cheese. Crustini with Honey Peanut Chicken on cream cheese smeared crustini. We walked back to our hotel and stopped by the market and talked with an interesting 50 year old woman from NYC. She was selling some very interesting jewelry from around the world. We soon found out that she sold all of her earthly belongings five years ago and has been traveling around the world buying up indigenous beads and then creating jewelry for sale. She pointed out stones from India, beads from Africa and crystal from Thailand. We quickly passed by the beach one last time. We walked across the volleyball court and realized our feet were now stained purple. Apparently that section of sand has a purple mineral in it. We washed our feet in the salty waves and stared out across the beach in both directions. I spotted a few cowboys riding their horses across the shore. We waved goodbye to the cute little town of Montanita and soon found ourselves on a three hour bus to Guayaquil.



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