Ecuador: A piece of mind in Montanita

“Today, we are all beginners. We are new to something or some place.” – Whitney Bennett (California), yoga instructor at Casa Del Sol

Departing Quito at 10:30 on Saturday night via a Panamericana International ($10 per ticket), we were the only gringos on the half-empty bus. Although it was a nice and clean bus with cushioned seats and air conditioning, the ride was very bumpy. And, every time it used the breaks a loud whistling noise would howl through the roof. Since we were descending (toward sea level), there was a lot of howling.  As I looked out the window, through the dim lights that lined the exterior of the bus, I saw washed out roads (due to the recent rain storms) and no guardrails. This made my tummy uneasy. I didn’t fall asleep like Brandon did.

About every hour the bus would stop along the highway near some shantytown where unfinished brick dwellings – 300-600 sq/ft homes people lived in – lined the streets. I still have no clue what our bus drivers were doing at each stop. (Two drivers are on most long distance buses.) Maybe they were switching seats or grabbing food?

Most of the homes had a door and one, or two, large square holes (used as windows) with no screens.

Second-hand sheets were used as curtains. Others, without curtains, I could see in to. Inside a hammock or two hung from the ceilings. Sometimes I caught a glimpse of a leg draped over the edge. I am sure someone was sleeping.

Other furnishings might include a plastic table and a couple chairs. The floors were usually cement and I hardly ever saw a refrigerator. If I did, it was really rusted. There wasn’t any insulation, kitchens, TVs or closets – that I could see. I’ve come to realize these are considered luxury items in Ecuador.

On the outside, cloths lines were draped from one edge of the roof to another where clothing hung to dry.

We arrived to the seaside fishing town of Manta around 6:30 Sunday morning, still 3.5 hours from our final destination of Montanita.

Here we had to transfer to a new buss. The Panamericana staff were very helpful and explained how to get to the next bus station. Because of the language barrier, we didn’t understand a word they were saying. Good thing we had a map.  As we turned and started walking one of the drivers reminded us – again – that we were gringos and to be careful.

Tired, hungry and cranky we attempted to navigate our way to the next bus station. After a few blocks, we stood on the corner of Calle 6A and Av. 24 de Mayo – the bus station was suppose to be here. Next thing we knew, the Panamericana bus that we just got off crept up behind us.

“Derecha,” one of the men yelled, as he pointed to the right.  Then “izquierda,” he said as he swerved his hands to the left.

“Gracias!” we called out. One right and then another left and we had arrived to the smelly and very dirty metro station.

At the station one man noticed Brandon’s surfboard bag and ran up to us repeating “Montanita?”

Ah, yes, finally. “Si.” It cost us $5 per ticket. “Gracias.”

Next thing I knew a guy was throwing our bags on a rinky-dink yellow bus. The seats were torn, some were broken, others permanently reclined and water was dripping from the rusted ceiling. The bus was waterlogged. It was nothing like the Panamericana bus. “This is normal honey,” said Brandon.  Could it get any worse?

The drive was beautiful. If you sit on the right side of the bus you get the best ocean views.  

If there were someone waiting on the side of the road, in all cases the bus would slow down – never coming to a complete stop – so the person could hop on the bus. If there wasn’t someone, it didn’t slowdown. If a person wanted to get off the bus, he or she would sound the driver with a sharp-whistle of the tongue, or walk to the front. There was no announcement of the next stop, music or signs. And, unless you have luggage in the lower compartments of the bus, the bus driver will never come to a complete stop for you to get off. Watch your feet!

When we arrived to Puerto Viejo, Brandon and I perked up. This fishing village was featured in an episode of “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations” (Season 6). We probably watched the episode four times before we left the US. Although we wanted to get off and tour, we didn’t. We were too tired, hot and hungry.

Two hours later we made it to Montanita, a small tropical surfer-hippie village on the coast (population: 1,000).

The bus couldn’t have dropped us off further from our hostel.  We hiked through a muddy alley, and about a mile (it felt like two), down the beach with our gear. The sun was blazing, it was 90 degrees °F and 70 percent humidity.

Casa Del Sol, our hostel, is located about a 15-minute walk north of Montanita on la punta (the point).

According to Brandon, the point is a “clean right-hand point break,” something he was excited about because he is regular foot.

“Where the wave peaks it can be steep and mushy with a big open face – a lot of room for speed and big turns. It breaks over a rock reef on the outside, and as you make your way to the inside it turns into a sand bar and gets punchy and fast. The overall wave is quick and good for experienced surfers to improve their surfing. Because of the strong currents and under-toes this is not a place for beginners.”

The current can be so strong that a local 14-year-old boy drowned a few days ago. The Coast Guard is still trying to find the body. So sad.

Keep in mind the rules of the water (surfers etiquette), which we follow in California, do not apply in Montanita.

If you are taking off on the wave and you have the inside (the right-away), the locals don’t respect this regardless of you being a national or foreigner. Be prepared to be dropped in on or snarled at. If you surf here, keep smiling and be patient.

Speaking of locals.

We’ve become friends with a few locals, business owners and surfers.  Traveling as a couple can dissuade other people so we make sure to reach out, introduce our selves and get involved. We’ve already been invited to a few parties and even helped host dinner at our hostel.

Life here is very laid back – so laid back the bars and restaurants open when the owner get there – in the morning, around noon or perhaps in the evening. This is the pace and location we needed to finally relax and get the ‘city’ out of us.

Casa Del Sol’s owner, Tamera (from Canada), purchased Casa Del Sol last November from TJ and his wife Whitney, a couple from California.

Tamera spent the last 12-years traveling the world. She returned to Canada and worked hard to secure roots in Montanita. Her brother, Greg, and a few close girlfriends (all from Canada – see the picture to the left) help her run the hostel. Her parents were here last week visiting. Getting to know Tamera, the locals and expats has really given us a piece of mind. We have connected with so many people; we all speak the same language and dreams. They get us and we get them.

TJ, Whitney and their four-month-old son live next door and run a small apartment complex.  TJ, once a very successful chef in the states, has made us feel welcome to the community. Whitney is a yoga instructor at our hostel – Tamera also teaches. Both are very good instructors.  These are just a few of the expats we’ve met. There are so many more, like Martin from Germany who is working on his Ph.D. in philosophy, Mike an electrician from New Jersey, Paul a fisherman from Australia or Andres a French-Canadian who owns and runs Tres Palma’s – a good restaurant with the best prices on the point.

We have been here a week and Brandon is covered in mosquito bites – I counted at least 50 on each of his legs.

Dawn and sunset are the worst times of the day to be out on the beach because of the mosquitos. Currently, our bedside table consists of calamine lotion, alcohol, Tea Tree oil, and Lavender oil, juice from an Aloe Vera plant, and Benadryl pills and lotion. To dry them out, the best solution for us has been to dry them out with alcohol and then use Aloe Vera.

We don’t go in to the town of Montanita unless we need supplies or food. It’s a dirty town full of hippies and vendors.

One night we decided to go to town for Ed’s birthday (a computer engineer from San Francisco that’s staying at our hostel). It was a circus. Little beer stands lined the streets. Loud music from the ‘discotecas’ poured onto the streets. Intoxicated people were dancing everywhere. It was hot and sweaty. Ugh, I do not like going to town – day or night.

One of the most exciting experiences this week has been my discovery of the mariposas (butterflies).

They are everywhere – around our hostel, on the beach, over the ocean and in the trees. I’ve never seen so many colorful butterflies in my life. They are free, alive and not shy. If you take a slightly rotten banana peel and set it out in the open, butterflies – of all different shapes, sizes and colors – will surround the peel hoping to get a piece of the sweet juice.

I have become so intrigued and captured by their beauty; I started asking the locals about them. The language barrier has been tough. Brandon and I don’t start our Spanish lessons next Monday.

So, I did some research online.

Since 1993 Jason Hall and Keith Willmott, two US citizens, have been researching and studying the butterflies of Ecuador. Before their research and analysis there wasn’t a complete record of butterfly species.

Today there are more then 3,000 butterfly species in Ecuador.  The country’s geography, dominated by the tropics, Andes and the Amazon basin, has as created high neotropical diversity – “megadiversity” as Hall and Willmott call it.

The disproportionate amount of diversity has made Ecuador one of the world’s three most diverse countries, along with Columbia and Peru. To see pictures of the butterflies I’ve been seeing, and to read more about Hall and Wilmont’s discoveries, visit:

We will be in Montanita for another week learning Spanish and catching more waves.

Until next time, keep on living and shredding. Much love, Katie and Brandon.

3 thoughts on “Ecuador: A piece of mind in Montanita

  1. Brandon and Katie,

    Such wonderful insights on your wonderful adventure. Great times and great ideas for future thoughts on where to live? Keep the journals coming…so great to read.

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