Montanitas

The surfer statue marks the north end of Montanitas, Ecuador

That 6am bus came a few minutes early, before sunrise, and after consulting the driver to make sure I was on the right bus, I loaded up. Of course, it was the wrong bus, which took a very circuitous route, picking up lots of mountain folk, before arriving in Riobamba at 8. Here, the conductor made an exchange with a driver from another company whose bus was indeed bound for Guayaquil, just not direct, or even close, as what I had paid for. So began a lengthy, slow, but very scenic crossing of the Ecuadorian Andes, with vast, deep valleys and beautiful steep landscape. We made about 30 quick stops en route, picking up and dropping off passengers, many of whom were indigenous with emblematic hats and dress. Eventually we dropped down out of the highlands and traversed a couple of hours of lush tropical terrain, the last section being miles of banana plantations, and shortly thereafter we rolled into the massive dusty sprawl of Guayaquil.

The bus station was modern, adjacent to the airport, full of shops and food like a mall, and packed to the gills with people trying to get to Montanitas, my destination too. The lines to buy tickets were so long that it was hard to tell where they started….just a couple of hundred people that way. Once I found the single ticket window selling the route I needed, the waiting began. South Americans are used to waiting, so people obediently stand in line as long as it takes. And it took a while, over an hour and a half, until a bus company employee came up and solicited passengers for the 4:30 bus, still 2 hours away. I jumped at the chance, thinking that the desired 3 pm departure would sell out. So 10 minutes later I was freed from the line and ready to kill some time.

Downtown Montanitas

That 4:30 bus was packed and semi cush, blasting a stupid American movie and racing the sun to the coast. Upon arrival in Montanitas, after a few questions I found Hotel Sumpa, where I had a reservation. Of course it was New Years Day and the town was overflowing, so the hotel was sold out. After some interrogation of an employee I got the owner on the phone and he came to meet me in minutes. Nice enough guy, name of Aristede, and he had had a few problems with booking.com., along with others, and later, myself. He offered to put us up in the TV room, free of charge, and since I was saving $75 I didn’t mind. Especially since the place was swarming with assorted surfers and millennials, and was nowhere as nice as it looked on the web page. Ensued a night of sleeping on the sofa, getting up to turn off lights and close doors after knuckleheads obliviously leaving them open and on, and finally passing out into a deep idiot sleep.

The Punto Verde eco hostel from the beach, a fine place to stay on the cheap

Up and out next morning and up the hill to the eco hostel Punto Verde, high on a hill on the way out of town. The owner, Joos, is a Dutch woman who traded her Amsterdam barge boat for this property, sight unseen. And she is a trip, running around doing all sorts of chores and construction, laughing, smoking, and drinking. She has plans to enlarge and improve the place, and she’ s already done a ton, including building one big dwelling from scratch which holds all the bunks, a real nice deck, and her place and kitchen downstairs.

She had a Slovenian volunteer named Greecia, a real good dude who was a surfer and quite a music freak and hound dog to boot. Most of these hostels work on the system of very few paid employees, but always a traveler or two willing to trade some labor for a couple of weeks of lodging and meals. Here, all the bunks had mosquito nets and the floors creaked like crazy, but the sound of the surf 10 foot minutes away was always there. It didn’t take long to figure that this was the place we had been waiting to find, close enough to get to town and the playa quickly, and far enough to lose the incessant pounding of the disco scene. I highly recommend this place.

The neighborhood around Punto Verde is seeing lots of development

The next days followed a pattern of beach time early and a walk through town for a licuado breakfast and a look around. Then it was a wander around and a bus ride someplace close. Then a siesta, shower, and session to get into the night mood. One solid day trip was a ride up to Puerto Lopez an hour north, along with a visit to pretty Playa Frailes, a reserve that was the best beach of Ecuador for me. The terrain all along this coast is reminiscent of Baja California, dry with heaps of cactus and a few iguanas.

Frailes Beach has a small coral reef off that point in the distance

After the initial inundation, the town cleared out but then seemed to get busier again every day. lots of wandering, sunburned vagabonds, along with hordes of tatted out gypsies selling trinkets and their typical shit. Some nights were totally dead with nothing going on, but the scene was a late one, not happening until near midnight. At that hour I was usually back on the hill, unconscious on the top bunk. Not a lot to offer but the beach, killer ceviche and a chill vibe, but if that’s what you’re into, you could a lot worse than Montanitas.

My daily meal in Montanitas, ceviche and a banana smoothie

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