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Canoa and Mompiche

February was mostly spent in Guayaquil catching up with family and friends, visiting the dentist and doing other things that needed to be done. By the end of the month we were ready to start moving again. This time we were lucky to be able to borrow my grandmother’s car so it added a whole new dimension of comfort into our travelling.

Although Mick had visited Ecuador several times, he had never reached the northern province of Ecuador called Esmeraldas. I hadn’t been to this area in probably ten years, so for me as well, was something I really wanted to see.

Travelling from Guayaquil to Mompiche, this is the town that we wanted to see in Esmeraldas, can take up to 8 hours so we thought it was better to break the trip into different parts and decided to drive to Canoa which is half way.

Canoa is a small town in the northern part of Manabi. It’s a beautiful long beach, surrounded by mountains and trees. The more north you go on the coastline of Ecuador the greener it gets.  Canoa is very popular now among the tourists. It has plenty of places to stay, a variety of restaurants and lots of little shacks on the beach where you can find different happy hours from 6 till 10 pm. It’s also very popular because it’s a beach break and a very soft one so it’s the perfect place to learn how to surf.

We only stayed there for a few days and then we continued going north until we reached Mompiche.  I couldn’t believe my eyes when I arrived to Mompiche after all this time. It was a completely different place.

The first time I came here, there wasn’t even a paved road into town so the only way to access it was by boat. Threre weren’t any restaurants and there was only one hotel.  It was an untouched paradise, so green and lush and with a long beach of white sand and palm trees.

At present time, Mompiche  is a very popular destination. It has plenty of hotels and restaurants, an esplanade and great roads to get there and around all the other towns. Because of erosion, the long beach that I used to know, it’s completely different and during high tide there’s no sand left, but the ocean hitting the rock wall built to protect the town’s esplanade. How sad!

We arrived in the afternoon and it was high tide. We were staying at a hotel in front of the ocean. Mompiche is a point break with a beautiful left hander breaking over reef but today there were no waves there.

Once we left all our things in the hotel, we came out of our room to check the ocean again. Right next to the hotel there was a river and because of strong rain the night before, the river was coming strongly into the sea. The ocean was glassy with a bit of off shore wind and all of a sudden, something magical happened; a perfect peak with a little right and a left started to form right in front of our hotel.

We ran back to our room, got changed and dipped in the ocean to catch some of these waves. We were so lucky because we had the waves to ourselves for maybe half an hour. Mick and I were having so much fun, we couldn’t believe what was happening.  More and more locals started to paddle out and now every time we would get a wave, we could feel that we were being watched and not particularly with a smile. It got so crowded and we started getting such bad vibes that we decided to paddle in, we already had had our fun. The next day talking to other locals, we found out that this was the only day that this wave had worked.  We were really lucky.

After that session, the ocean was flat for a few days, so we used our time to explore the beaches around Mompiche.  We drove the car only for 10 minutes, kind of in the back of Mompiche, to a place where you can take a small boat that crosses an estuary to Portete. It’s a small island full of palm trees and white sand, so beautiful. We spent the whole day there and had lunch in one of the restaurants along the beach.

After a couple of days, we got a few waves at the point. We were up really early so that we could beat the locals, and at least the first day of the swell, we got half an hour of ok waves with not so many people out. The next few sessions it was a bit more crowded and I must say that the locals aren’t that friendly. We even got a few young guys, with not much experience, dropping in on our waves and even yelling at us for no particular reason.  It was sad to see some of them have developed this silly attitude , knowing that the first times I visited Mompiche, no one used to surf there and everyone was so friendly.  It’s a really young crowd of surfers who think that being a local means breaking all the rules and having all the waves to themselves. Hopefully with time, this will improve.

The most fun day we had, was a day when the waves were that small that no one even made the effort of going out. It was only Mick and I, and another guy from Germany. The waves were tiny but still breaking perfectly. Mick and I had only travelled with short boards so we took the waves and just stood still, moving our bodies enough to continue on the wave. Our German friend was so nice that he shared his wonderful balsa board with us, this fun fat, round but fast board and we could really feel the difference in the fun we were having with our boards and the fun he was having with his. It was a great morning of sharing and cheering each other’s waves.

After the surf, we went to have breakfast and ran into our German friend again. He started talking about the things he was doing in Ecuador and asked Mick about his visa arrangements. Mick and I had never thought that we even needed to apply for a visa, because when I used to live in Ecuador the rule was that the foreigners could stay around six months and if they wanted to stay any longer they could leave Ecuador, cross the border to Peru or Colombia and come back again for another six months. Well, apparently that had all changed and now travellers could only stay three months and then had to apply for a visa. Mick was two week’s short of having been in Ecuador for three months, we were in trouble!

The next day, we packed our bags and drove in one go all the way back to Guayaquil. Luckily the visa situation wasn’t that difficult to manage and we had it all sorted in a few days. Mick was legal again and with that we continued with our travels.

Sunsets over sea: A month in Ayampe

A week had passed in Ayampe and we were finally feeling like things were getting were we wanted them to be. We were both relaxed and getting into the rhythm of our now simpler life.

We had left in the past, the stresses of work and not having enough time to do the things we liked and enjoyed so much. We were waking up early and making the most of each day. Every day we were in the water, surfing twice or three times a day, resting with a book in between sessions, walking to town to find some fresh produce to cook with or going for a bike ride to the nearest town.

Ayampe had the perfect waves to slowly get back to surfing fitness. Being a beach break, there was lots of paddling involved, duck diving, and quick responses to the very diverse types of waves that we got at different times.  It’s such a long beach that if you don’t really want to surf with anyone else, you just have to keep walking a bit more and you’ll find a lonely pick all to yourself. Mick and I were loving it!

It was easy to fall into our own relaxed routine. I was back doing yoga. Luckily there was a yoga school walking distance from our cabin, run by this lovely Canadian family that had not only created the first yoga school in the area but also a nice cafe where tourists could have surf lessons,  Spanish lessons and interact with locals. The place is called Otra Ola and is worth checking it out if you are ever in the area. http://www.otraola.com/

During our time there, we also made some new friends like Tim and Loren, this beautiful Australian couple travelling through Europe and South America. They were staying in the hotel next door from us so we would run into each other almost every day. Tim was a very keen surfer, so we shared a few sessions with him.

We also decided to get together for Australia Day and cook some fish at least to celebrate the day. Mariscal, our neighbour worked in one of the hotels and told us of another Aussie couple that was there volunteering for the month.  We invited them and they also told some other friends, so at the end of the night there were like 10 of us all eating, drinking and listening to triple J the hottest one hundred on the internet radio. It was a great Australia Day.

Mariscal became a really good friend and part of our lives there. Every morning we would say hello to each other, share some food and chat about life and things. He’s originally from Latacunga, which is a small town near the capital Quito. He’s been leaving in Ayampe for a while now and he has seen first hand, how the town has grown and changed in the last 5 years. Mariscal is like the unpaid deputy of Ayampe. If people saw anyone camping in the area of the estuary, they would go to him, and he would approach the tourists with his polite way and explain why they couldn’t sleep there. (If youre asking yourself why so strict about the no camping rule, it’s because of the area being a place where the green turtles come to hatch). He is a man with a big heart and always very friendly with everyone.

One day, we went  with him on an amazing bike ride to the back of Ayampe where there’s a beautiful rainforest. I’m not much of a bike rider and I have to admit that it was quite a demanding ride through dry river beds, avoiding rocks and branches, but it was so much fun. That’s what so special about Ayampe and makes it such a magical place, the diversity of its nature: beautiful beaches, estuaries, mangrove forest and in the back, mountains and rainforest. It’s a place full of wildlife and worth preserving.

Although, Ayampe is growing and changing, there’s still some hope of preserving what makes it magical and not having it change so drastically, like many other tourists towns have around the coast. A lot of the people that live and have businesses there, want to preserve its rustic and natural beauty. Most of them are passionate people that have fought to implement rules on how to build properties around the area keeping a 50% of the land green and not being able to build any high buildings. There is hope here, because people have already experienced and seen how another touristic town has changed so much, Montanita, and now people have an example either to follow or to avoid. In this case, I think people in Ayampe want to avoid what happened in Montanita.

I was happy to convice my parents to come to Ayampe one weekend while we were there. Although they did complain about how long the ride from Guayaquil to Ayampe had been, they loved the place. We organized for them to stay at La Hosteria del Jaguar, which was next door to our little cabin. It’s a wonderful hostal owned by Frisky Cabanilla , who is one of the first people to come and settle in Ayampe. He’s not only a very interesting guy, but he’s like the local ranger of the area. He keeps track of all the trees and vegetation and organizes its reforestation .

An amazing thing that happened, while my parents were there, was that my dad and Frisky discovered that they were long lost cousins! This sort of thing happens very often here in Ecuador, everyone is someone’s cousin or related to someone in some way. My mum was delighted with Frisky’s stories of the area especially when he mentioned that a few days ago he had seen a Jaguar somewhere in the mountains in the back of town.

My parents also got to meet a few of the friends that we have made, like Mariscal, Tim, Loren and also our furry friends Tesa and Sale.It’s incredible how beautiful our relationship with animals can be. Instantly, we became great friends and they were great company during our time in Ayampe. They slept outside our cabin keeping guard and they joined us on many of our walks around town.

So when the time came to say good-bye, it was heartbreaking to leave our furry friends behind, but we knew that they were in good hands. They have an amazing group of people taking care of them and they also get to live in a wonderful place, still unspoiled and magical. Our time in Ayampe had come to an end but we knew that we had made friends for a lifetime and that this would be a place where we would always look forward to going back to.

 

 

 

 

First week in Ayampe

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Ecuador has an extensive coastline and plenty of surf spots to choose from, especially during January, which is in the middle of the best season for waves. We chose Ayampe as our first destination because we were not only looking for uncrowded waves, but we wanted a quiet place to relax and unwind.

We stayed at a hostel called Los Orishas  http://www.losorishashostal.com/default.html  . We loved it there. It’s a beautiful place, with only a few rooms,  beautiful gardens and a great pizza restaurant at night. The owners are a nice couple, Gaby(Ecuadorian) and Marcos (Italian),and their friend Giuseppe (Italian),  that moved to Ayampe on the search for a more sustainable and simple life. You can find lots of recycled plastics used in different parts of the hostel, and they also have a sign in each room , that offer the guests a free cocktail if they returned with a filled bag of rubbish from the beach. (I thought this was a great idea!)

We hadn’t been back to Ayampe in over three years and we noticed how the town had grown and now offered a few more options for places to eat and stay at over night. Another thing that we noticed, was the increased amount of plastic and all sorts of rubbish on the beach. I didn’t remember the beaches so dirty. It was sad to see.  So the following day,  we grabbed one of those bags from the hostel and put in it as much rubbish as we could. The funny thing was that they gave us the wrong bag and it was actually  huge. Mick and I had to carry it  together back to the hostel.  

That same day, my good friend Ana Maria called and said she was coming from Guayaquil to visit us. We met her at a little cabin in front of the beach, where other friends of hers were staying at. We met her friends and mentioned in the conversation, that we were going to start looking for a place to rent maybe for a month to be able to stay here and enjoy it a bit more.

The next day someone came to our hostel. It was the nice couple that we had met the night before with Ana Maria. They said they were going on a trip for a month and they were happy to rent the cabin to us. We immediately said yes and that same afternoon we moved into our new “temporary home”. It’s incredible how things work out easily when they are meant to.

We couldn’t be happier with the place that David and Maria Jose kindly sublet to us. It was right on the beach inside this big property with two other houses and an outdoor kitchen that we had access to. The cabin was basic but we had everything we needed. They even let us  use their pushbikes and some basic utensils to cook with.

Inside the property, as I mentioned above,  were two houses: the main house which belonged to the owner of the property Manolo, who lived in Guayaquil and only came by on the weekends. The other house was rented by Mariscal and his two dogs Tesa and Sale. Mariscal became a very good friend and great company during our month in Ayampe as well as the dogs Tesa and Sale who really enjoyed the extra food we shared with them from time to time.

 

 

 

Christmas and New Year’s in Guayaquil

Guayaquil is the city where I was born and where my parents live. It’s not my favourite place in the world because of how big and chaotic it is and it doesn’t have any surf, but it’s a necessary place to visit every time I come to Ecuador because that’s where most of my friends and family are.

We arrived just one week before Christmas so time passed really quickly with lots of social gatherings and events. I was really happy to be able to spend Christmas and New Year’s back with my family after 9 years of absence and to show Mick how we celebrate it here.

In my family we usually celebrate Christmas Eve with a big dinner with my mum’s family.  We were lucky to have my mum’s brother, uncle Andy, and his family coming all the way from Denmark this year, and my brother also travelling from Costa Rica.  This hasn’t happened in many years, so it was a very happy celebration with a nice roast turkey dinner and drinks.

Christmas Day we usually celebrate it with my dad’s side of the family with lunch at my aunt’s house. We again had roast turkey and plenty of salads and yummy desserts. The Romero’s family is a bit bigger and louder than the Holst’s so Mick blended in just fine and we had a really good time.

New Year’s Eve is celebrated big here in Ecuador. The tradition started with people making their own effigy of an old man, usually using sawdust, old clothes and painting an old person’s face to burn at midnight, representing the old year dying and a new one starting.

This tradition has evolved and grown so much. Some people still choose the old man’s effigy but now there are some neighbourhoods in downtown Guayaquil where they even held a contest of the best and biggest puppet, “the giants” they called them, and they not only make old men effigies anymore but political characters or famous movie and cartoon characters.

I like how our celebrations in Ecuador, although they include alcohol, are not just focused on the drinking but of celebrating something ending and welcoming new beginnings.  The night of New Year’s is full of traditions and customs to end the year well and start a new one fresh and hopeful.

 Right at twelve o’clock, we burned the effigies and while this is happening, people are hugging and kissing and saying: “Feliz Anio Nuevo!” to each other, while at the same time trying to eat twelve grapes, each representing a wish for each month, and after finishing that, if you’d like to bring some travelling to your new year, then you have the choice of running around the block with a suitcase. On top of that, you can choose the colour of your underwear to wear that night to either attract money (yellow) or love (red).  I must admit at one point or another in my life, I have done all of these things. This year though, I stuck to eating my grapes and watching how the effigies burned, while appreciating my parents’ company and their smiles.

My favourite one to do is to write down all the bad things that have happened during the year and burn the paper with the effigies fire. It’s a nice feeling of letting go of all the bad while seeing how it burns and hearing all the amazing display of fireworks. And that’s one other thing that I forgot to mention. People not only burn the effigies but they make them explode using all types of fireworks and explosive things and the whole city does it at the same time which makes the sky turned red with all the smoke from all the different streets burning together their effigies.

Mick enjoyed the burning and explosive throwing and I just loved spending it again with my family, being able to hug them again and wish them happy New Year. I was very grateful to have this precious time with them.

After all the festivities were over and we had done our time in Guayaquil, we packed a small bag and took a bus to a place where we felt more at ease and happier: the beach.

First stop: Fort Lauderdale

To make our trip from Australia to Ecuador more bearable, we decided to have a stop in Florida where my cousin Juan Carlos and his wife Viviana live. We spent 10 days there, enjoying the beaches and having some time together.

It worked really well as it gave us a bit of time before arriving to Ecuador where we knew things would get a bit hectic with seeing family and friends, Christmas and so forth. It was a great time to unwind and accept all the changes happening in our lives.

Juan Carlos had to work most of the time so Viviana took us around and show us all her favourite places in Fort Lauderdale. We went to the beach, stand up paddling on the canals, shopping, eating and cruising around. Juan Martin, their 4 year old son, was great company too, coming with us to all our adventures.

On Juan Carlos’ day off, we took their small dingy out through the wonderful canals all along Fort Lauderdale, making a few stops in some really nice restaurants and bars. The thing I liked the most about this city was the beautiful and big old trees that you can see everywhere and the feeling that you aren’t really in a city but on a nice and relaxed beach town.

It was really fun to spend some time with them and finally see where they live. Juan Carlos is not only my cousin but a good friend and he happened to marry Viviana who was my friend way before they even met. So it’s a rare and nice thing to have a dear friend now officially part of my family. Those two weeks were full of laughter and good times!