I just spent a glorious 3 weeks in Ecuador, a South American country that uses US currency and is flanked on its western coast by miles and miles and miles of soft sanded beach. At low tide one could walk between the three small pueblos of Manglaralto, Montañita and Olón - each sporting its own unique identity and flavor.
We stayed in Manglaralto which is a sleepy gritty place that has not yet been overtaken by people like me - gringos. The dogs loll in the midday sun in the middle of the streets and cars slowly swerve to miss them along with the footballs (soccer) kicked by youngsters using the pavement as their playground; roaming roosters crow as you pass and cows leisurely walk up and down the berms grazing on whatever green they can find. Old pick up trucks full of colorful, vine ripened fruit and veggies drive through the streets mid morning. They play loud (they like stuff loud down here) recorded rapido Spanish mantras letting the women know they are near. My friends from downtown Indianapolis (who sold everything and moved here after one visit) have a comfortable home and a welcoming casita on the beach in this peaceful village.
Montañita is the next town up the road and, my how different 2 miles feels. This beach town is known as the surfing capitol of South America and pulls in the backpacking crowd from around the world. A room in a funky beachside hostel can be found for $8 a night, an omelette for $3, shrimp ceviche with a flavorful lime broth for $5 and a liter of beer for $1.75. Surf lessons and yoga studios round out the offering making this a kicking place at night.
I was gifted the opportunity to teach yoga to this crowd a couple of times and was reminded how much I love challenging and gently encouraging their young butts! Lol.
Another two miles north will find you in Olón. A little less sleepy than Manglaralto, but a lot more sleepy than Montañita! I’ve been told that the majority of the expats live here, and it’s where I rented transportation - yes of course, a bike! Olón is where I bumbled through Spanish lessons and took surfing lessons during a period of time when they were experiencing ungodly wave surges that were the largest in over 10 years; surfers from around the world were flying in to take advantage of this anomaly! Needless to say - surfing for we mere mortals was more than hard! But fortunately we discovered a fun Venezuelan couple that ran a tiny vegan restaurant that willingly talked about the origin of their recipes and made the best plate of nachos I’ve ever had… 😋
Lonny and I found our way to one of the National Parks called Isla de Plata where an hour boat ride out to this island led us to - yes - Blue Footed Boobies!! We watched a strutting male try to impress a potential mate, and saw fluffy white offspring panting in their earthen nests. I asked the guide how the name came to be and was told a whimsical story that the Spaniard explorers called these birds “BoBos”, which means stupid. And it is true - you can walk right up to them as if they have no cause for alarm! I laughed thinking this was a clever story used to entertain the tourists, but when I researched further - it was fact!! Who knew!!
Four years ago I was in Ecuador with my then 20 year old daughter. We found ourselves high up in the Andes exploring other small burroughs that felt vastly different from these warm beach towns. We were here in June-July during the winter/wet season though the low was maybe in the 60°s (16-17°C). This visit was during the summer/dry season with the temps ranging from low 80°s (27-28°C) during midday to low 70°s (21-22°C) at night. Perfect if you ask me! The only thing to note is the strength of the midday sun - scorching - as we were only 100 miles from the equator!
And though you can’t drink the water nor flush the toilet paper, the incredible diversity of things to do and see in the Amazon jungle, rain forests, Andes mountains, miles of beaches and the Galapagos makes this country a treasure!
I am surprised that so few people I know have been to this lovely underrated country. The locals are kind, full of smiles and incredibly hard working rendering an average annual income of a mere $6,000. Many are poor by traditional economic standards and the towns full of unfinished block buildings and yet, not a homeless person was to be found (yes, I was robbed on the bus of my iPad, but that’s for another story.) My friends that have moved here have done an amazing job in creating community in a short amount of time with both the locals and their fellow expats. My slow travel experience was greatly buoyed by their kindness in the sharing of friends, insights and community. Lucky, lucky me…. Pretty sure we’ll be back!
Argentina, Uruguay and Chile… here we come!